3 Posts from January 2011

Hang in There

I spent the first ten years of my marriage trying to make Cynthia into me. (Can you think of anything worse than a female Chuck?)

Finally, she’d had enough. I’ll never forget when she said to me, “I don’t want you to keep telling people we’re ‘partners’ because we’re not partners. I bear your children, and I cook your meals, and I clean the house, but I’m not really your partner.” Then she added, “You’ve never accepted me for who I really am.”

“Yes, I have,” I shot back.

“No, you haven’t.”

Yes, I have.”

No, you haven’t!” As we stood toe to toe in our kitchen, I got louder and she got louder, until she finally walked out in tears . . . and I was staring at a sink full of dishes.

While doing the dishes I pondered her words and finally softened. I had to admit to myself, She’s right.

We began a process that took four years to break that habit in me. It involved some serious counseling that we both sought . . . it was painful but extremely helpful. It just about wiped me out, though, realizing how true her criticism was. I did very little encouraging back then. She really wasn’t my “partner.” Thankfully, that began to change. I changed!

Many years later, at a gathering with some friends from our radio ministry, someone asked Cynthia, “Why don’t you share some things about the broadcast?” She walked up and briefly told the history of Insight for Living. She closed by saying, “The best part about this is that Chuck and I are in this as partners.” At that moment her statement put a big knot in my throat. She hadn’t said the “p” word since I heard it on that cold kitchen floor years earlier. I’ll be honest . . . we almost broke apart those first ten years. We didn’t though, because she stayed with me. She stuck it out.

Last fall, the church where I serve as senior pastor celebrated its twelfth anniversary. I can’t tell you the times during those years I was tempted to say, “I’m out of here!” On one such occasion, I lay in bed with tears streaming, and I sighed to Cynthia, “That’s it. It’s over.”

“No, it’s not,” she replied calmly.

“Yes, it is.” (I’m sure by now you’ve picked up on the fact that we’ve gone to bed more than once with a little disagreement going on.) “You just don’t understand,” I told her.

“I do understand,” she countered. “You’re not going to quit.”

“I am,” I sobbed. “I’m going in tomorrow . . . and I’ll tell them it’s over.”

“You have how many people in our congregation?” she asked me. “Most don’t even know there’s a problem. Don’t you dare do that to all of them.” She was right . . . again.

I owe so much to Cynthia—more than our marriage and our ministry. She has encouraged me by her example to hang in there when things got tough. And as a result, I’m able to look back and see the hand of God. I am able to celebrate more than twelve years at our church, more than thirty years at Insight for Living, and more than fifty years of marriage with my “partner.” Those are things I would have missed if I had walked away.

Some of you are on the edge of quitting something when you ought to stay. You’re determined to live for Jesus in your marriage, but it’s tough sledding. You pray for that child—or that aging parent—and nothing changes. Or maybe you’re not getting the credit you deserve at the church, or you’re not getting the results you expected. Waiting on the Lord is the hardest part of the Christian life. (Just ask Cynthia.) But God does some of His greatest work in the lives of those who wait for Him (see Lamentations 3:22–32). I urge you, my friend, to hang in there. God is working even though you cannot see it.

I’ve never regretted the times I did not quit . . . though at the time it was all I could do to stay. I’m so glad I did.

You will be too.

—Chuck

Do Whatever It Takes to Reconcile

Let me ask you a tough question: is there someone you need to forgive?

If there is, quite likely, it’s someone in your family. Perhaps it’s a parent . . . or a sibling . . . or even a spouse . . . maybe a relative. It could be someone in your congregation . . . or an elder or deacon. What keeps you from taking the initiative and making things right?

May I suggest the reason? Pride.

Let’s face it: no excuse keeps you from the biblical obligation to forgive that person. No self-justification . . . no plea of victimization . . . no “boundaries” veiled behind a bitter spirit. Nothing! Our implacable culture offers endless excuses. Only a narcissist uses someone else’s failure as leverage for manipulation. You and I know there’s a lot of that going on! There is no place in an arrogant life for forgiveness. At the same time, there is no place in a believer’s life for blame and bitterness. After all, don’t you preach against those things?

As believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, we are called to a different standard. His standard. That’s why our forgiveness of others is inseparably linked with God’s forgiveness of us. Look closely—and I mean very carefully—at the words of both Paul and Jesus:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. . . . For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” (Matthew 6:12, 14–15)

Those are hard statements, but essential.

Are you unforgiving toward someone? If so, according to Jesus, you are out of fellowship with God. That is why Christ commanded that you reconcile with others even before you come to worship (and certainly before you walk behind the pulpit):

“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23–25)

If someone has asked you to forgive him or her, please be big enough to accept the grace of a confession. If that person has not asked for forgiveness, remember that God has commanded that you do so anyway.

When we cling to a painful memory, rather than choose to renew our minds (that’s part of forgiveness), we will suffer emotionally torturing wounds that are, tragically, self-inflicted (read thoughtfully Matthew 18:34–35).

I urge you to do whatever it takes to reconcile. Go to a biblical counselor for some assistance, if necessary. Pray for strength to obey. Humble yourself. Don’t go to your grave with that grudge.

For sure, don’t go to church with it.

—Chuck

Starting Over This Year

One of the most encouraging things about a new year is the word “new.”

It means “unfamiliar . . . made or become fresh . . . different from one of the same category that has existed previously,” says Webster. Simply put, it’s a place to begin anew.

Starting over requires knowing where you are. Honestly admitting your present condition. Facing the music.

Remember Jonah? Somewhere down the line he got his inner directions cross-wired. He wound up, of all places, on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea bound for a place named Tarshish. That was due west. But God had told him to preach to Nineveh. That was due east. Jonah never got to Tarshish, as you remember. Through a traumatic chain of events Jonah was forced to get his head together in the digestive tract of a gigantic fish.

What a place to start over! Slopping around in the seaweed and juices inside that sea monster, Jonah took a long, honest look at his short, dishonest ministry. For the first time in a coon’s age he actually prayed (Jonah 2). He literally yelled for mercy. He promised the Lord he’d keep his vow and get back on target. Only one creature on earth felt sicker than Jonah. The fish, in whose belly Jonah bellowed. Up came the prophet who hit the road running—this time toward Nineveh.

Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, so there are no rebels in fish stomachs. Perhaps you can identify rather easily with Jonah. This past year hasn’t been your all-time-spiritual-high-plateau year, right? You’ve dodged and ducked, squirmed and squeaked your way through one Tarshish trip after another. But no more. You’re tired. “Exhausted” is a better word. “Swallowed up” may be best. You feel oppressed, guilty, overused, and undernourished. You’re not that old . . . but you’ve run a long way. Few moons but many miles. The enemy of your soul is feeding you the lie, “You’re through. Finished. Useless. You’ve been replaced. Forgotten.”

That is not true! If God can take a disobedient prophet, turn him around, and set him on fire spiritually, He can do the same with you. The Lord is a specialist in making something beautiful and good out of something broken and confused.

If you’re standing alone inside a fish, you need to come to terms with those things that need attention. Before you find your way out, you must determine where you are—and how you got there. Once that’s accomplished, you’re ready to start over.

Where are you? Start there. Openly and freely declare your need. Don’t hide a thing. Show God all your wounds. He’s ready to heal every one . . . if you’re ready to run to Nineveh, also known as the New Year.

—Chuck