5 Posts from March 2011

The Secret of Stability

Some of you pastors are facing what could easily be called an unsolvable problem. You alone know what it is. It’s you I hope to encourage this week.

Often the situations with no human answers form the basis upon which God does some of His best work—even in the lives of His messengers. This is illustrated beautifully in the life of Job.

I know, I know . . . we’ve all preached on Job. Personally, as pastors, we tend to flip the page when his name comes up. We’re far too familiar with his story. The account of his misery has become common and—may I say it?—boring. I mean, what else does this sad, suffering saint have to teach us?


Think about Job as a living example of your unsolvable problem. Job’s biography includes a clipboard full of questions about it. Is God fair? Is this situation just? Does He care? What am I to learn while slogging through these deep waters?

Job had trusted God in the good times. Now the scene was set to determine if Job would trust God in humanly impossible situations. He endured loss like no one else we know. His home . . . destroyed. His children . . . dead. His health . . . ruined. His finances . . . wiped out. His friends . . . no support.

In the long process of working through his questions and struggles, Job finally resolved to trust God—no matter what. He had worshiped. He had humbled himself. He had sat in silence. He finally responded to his wife, “I accept what God has sent. I have accepted good; now I accept adversity.” Read that once more . . . slowly . . . thoughtfully. It is the secret of his stability.

I find several reasons Job could respond like this:

  • Job looked up and was comforted by God’s sovereignty (Job 2:10). He saw more than God’s actions; he saw His heart. He accepted what God gave and took away. Looking up, he saw God’s sovereign love.
  • Job looked ahead and was reminded of God’s promise (19:25). In the end, all will be made right. Looking ahead, he felt spurred on.
  • Job looked within and was shaped by God’s instruction (42:6). He saw that God had taught him in his suffering and illness as in no other way. Looking within, he gained insight.

It’s a courageous thing for a pastor to give himself to a sovereign God while facing impossible situations. Perhaps that’s exactly what you need to do right now.

My friend, if your days have been difficult and nights have felt like a long and dark tunnel, find your comfort in God’s sovereign control and everlasting love. Your Savior knows your breaking point. The bruising and crushing and melting you are enduring are designed to reshape you . . . not to ruin you.

Your strength and courage will increase the longer He lingers over you. Remembering Job’s secret can make all the difference. 


Two Searching Questions

Let me ask you two pointed questions—from one pastor to another.

First: What makes risk so difficult for you? Be painfully honest as you answer that question. Blow away the fog in your thinking. Clear out the nettles and overgrown vines of tradition or bad habits or just plain sloth. Change, for most people, is enormously challenging. Walking with the Lord is a risky path, and everything within us, when we lean on our own understanding, screams, “Just keep it like it is. Just leave it alone. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But sometimes things need to be rearranged even though they aren’t broken. Sometimes we need a major change of direction, not necessarily because we are going in an evil direction—it’s just not the direction God wants for us. God never wants us to substitute the good for the very best.

Now, here’s my second question: Are you willing to make a major change in your life—assuming that it’s the Lord’s will? I’m now convinced that the real issue is not so much, “What does God want me to do?” as it is, “Am I willing to do it once He makes it clear?”

Before moving on with your day, before working further on your sermon, before answering another phone call or e-mail . . . I urge you to stop and answer those two questions.

I don’t believe you are ready to move ahead until you have done so.


The Narrow Way

Unless you’ve been living in a cave or hiding in your study lately, you’re probably aware of the current issue that’s hot among evangelicals. Is Jesus the only way to heaven? Will a loving God really confine someone to eternal punishment for not accepting Christ?

It’s a current debate . . . but it’s not a new one. The issues surrounding the extent of mankind’s salvation have been argued for centuries. In fact, Jesus Himself was asked a similar question:

And someone said to Him, “Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?” And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:23–24)

Interesting question, isn’t it? “Are there just a few who are being saved?” Jesus never really answered how many will be saved . . . but rather, who will be: those who “enter through the narrow door.” In the parable that follows, Jesus makes it clear that entrance through that door has everything to do with a relationship with Him (Luke 13:25–27; see also Matthew 7:14, 22–23; John 10:7–9).

Jesus never offered people a message that said, “Look, just be sincere. Simply take the religion of your choice. The main thing is to think positively about God and be sincere. Lead a clean life, and God will smile at you when you die.”

There’s a great Hebrew word for that way of thinking: hogwash! Let me say it another way. That kind of thinking is heresy.

“I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved.” (John 10:9)

“No one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

“For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 2:5)

There’s only one way. By Jesus’s own admission, it’s the narrow way. It’s the original road less traveled. The apostle Paul was equally exacting: “one mediator.”

Those who sit in your congregations and who receive your mission work will not go to heaven if they do not trust in Jesus Christ’s death and resurrec­tion for their salvation (1 Corinthians 15:3–4). If their eternity rests on anything other than the atoning effects of Christ’s blood, they will not experience heaven. That’s not Chuck talking, that’s what the Word of God teaches. That’s what we preachers should be teaching.

Are you preaching that truth? Does the gospel take center stage behind your pulpit? Do you share the truth with a balance of conviction and compassion? Refuse to be a preacher who tickles the itching ears of our politically correct, “tolerant” culture. Tell the truth. Share the gospel. Say it straight. But let me quickly add that just because the message of the cross is offensive, we preachers need not be.

We must remind those who hear us that the narrow way of salvation represents God’s love, not His cruelty. The fact that there is a way to God at all is because of His grace.

That narrow way is Jesus. Preach Him.


Unidentified Inner Promptings

Do you ever have those unidentified inner promptings? (Don’t worry; Swindoll hasn’t lost his marbles—at least, not yet!) I’m talking about when the Spirit of God urges your spirit in a very specific direction.

The book of Jude offers a wonderful example of the powerful prompting of the Holy Spirit:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 3)

Jude started to write a letter to his fellow Christians about salvation, about the finished work of Christ on the cross. That was his original plan . . . until the Holy Spirit prompted him to do otherwise. “I felt the necessity to do so,” Jude admits. I’ve underlined that phrase in my Bible: “I felt the necessity.”

That was nothing less than an inner prompting from the Spirit of God. Granted, Jude was inspired, and we’re not. But God still prompts us to follow a certain direction. No audible voice. No image of Jesus in an enchilada. Nothing mystical or magical. But as you are moving along and trusting Him, you stay sensitive to the quiet, yet all-important prompting of God through His Holy Spirit. By doing so, you may well sense inner promptings that will spur a thought, such as, “I can’t believe I’m still interested in that. I wonder what the Lord is doing? I wonder where He’s going with this?”

That inner prompting is crucial because, much of the time, we just can’t figure it out. Evaluate the prompting. Obviously, you know the Spirit of God will never contradict the Bible. In fact, the prompting often is a passage from Scripture.

Nothing wrong with planning. Nothing wrong with thinking it through. There’s everything right and wise about listing all the pros and cons. But stay sensitive to God’s leading. His plans may be different than yours. By the way, His are always better.

The mind of man plans his way,
But the LORD directs his steps. . . .
Man’s steps are ordained by the LORD,
How then can man understand his way? 
(Proverbs 16:9; 20:24)

I love that! When all is said and done, you’ll say, “Honestly, I didn’t figure this thing out. It must have been God.” Talk about mysterious! The longer I live the Christian life, the less I know about why He leads as He does.

But I do know that He leads.


Willing to Do God’s Will? Really?

We pastors are great at telling people the will of God for their lives. It’s probably because Scripture so clearly reveals God’s will in so many areas of life.

But what about following God’s will in our own lives? Truth be told, it’s a lot easier to preach it to others than to put it into practice for ourselves. The apostle Paul’s words come to mind:

[If you] know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? (Romans 2:18–23)

Paul’s words were directed to Jews who knew (and believed) the Word of God. By principle, that’s us as well. As pastors, we condemn ourselves by our own words when we don’t do the will of God that we preach (James 3:1).

Let me ask you a penetrating question: are you willing to do God’s will? Really?

Looking back on my own life, I know that there have been times when I said I wanted to do His will . . . but I really didn’t. That’s a tough thing to confess, but looking back with 20/20 hindsight, I realize that at times I resisted His will. I’ve learned that serious consequences follow selfish resistance.

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul offered words of counsel to those who were enslaved. They have great meaning for us in this context.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but like slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. (Ephesians 6:5–6 NIV, emphasis added)

Doing the will of God from the heart—that’s as deep as it gets. You really want to do the will of God more than anything else? More than pleasing people, more than staying comfortable and safe, more than completing your education, more than building a new sanctuary, more than getting published, more than getting your house paid for, more than anything else . . . you want to do the will of God?

I believe you do. And so do I.

Doing God’s will. Let that be the driving force of your life and ministry.