5 Posts from August 2011

Sovereign Serendipities



In my 75 plus years on earth—more than 45 of them in ministry—I have made a trade. It’s been a wonderful trade. I’ve traded youth for truth. And I wouldn’t be years younger if I could make it happen.

I think more than anything else, it is the hardship, it is the difficulty, it is the dead-end street that shapes us. It is the trial that occurs that makes us into the individuals God wants us to be (if the attitude is right and the learning is still on a willing curve). It’s how we react, how we respond to the pains and the struggles.

For some, it’s the bankruptcies, the injustice committed against us, the disappointments, the criticisms, and sometimes even the divorce that just rocked us back on our heels, turns us around, gets our attention . . . and puts us into an orbit we would never have otherwise entered.

My short thought this week, brothers, is that it wasn’t the things I planned or the things I had hoped for in life, but it was the serendipities—the results of those surprises that leveled me—and turned my life in the direction God wanted it to go.

I wouldn’t trade how old I am or the experiences I’ve gone through or the heartaches and disappointments I’ve endured. Nor should you. Because all of it has worked together in God’s plan.

    —Chuck

It's About Character

Our culture is overly impressed with the externals. You must look good on TV to win the political race. It’s the image you need to polish. Spin it just right. But we all know—and all have seen—that a leader without character is a tragedy getting ready to happen.

As pastors, we know about the importance of character, of course. But knowing it isn’t our assignment. Your congregation requires your character. Your role is filled because character is present, or it decreases if it is absent. It’s the same with me. The church where I serve as senior pastor has a respect for me and appreciates my efforts (all my weaknesses not withstanding). But this respect hangs on the fact that I’m committed to modeling character, and I’m not going to let it slip away in the stuff of leadership.

I remember the day my dad drove home and the front windshield of our car was broken. He had blood running down his face and I thought, He’s been mugged! No, he decided to cross the picket line because he didn’t believe the union’s plan was the best plan. Furthermore he had a family to raise. So as he weighed the options, he chose to stand against the union. That took guts.

I learned from my dad that you must think for yourself. You don’t follow the crowd when they go against what you believe. If that means being unpopular, be unpopular. Who cares? It’s about character, not others’ approval and applause. What a valuable lesson for life and ministry! I learned more from a cracked windshield and a bloody face than I could have ever learned from a preacher or a professor. Character is modeled . . . not just mandated.

Our roles as pastors are invaluable roles. So, let’s never forget our roles begin with our character. I call it swimming upstream. Our flock learns this more from our lives than from our lips. The Scottish people have a great saying: “Some things are better felt than telt.”

I came across a great verse again recently. Listen to its poignant challenge: “Roam to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and look now and take note. And seek in her open squares, if you can find a man, if there is one who does justice, who seeks truth, then I will pardon her” (Jeremiah 5:1). In other words, “Go look to find a man of character, but you won’t find him.” What if Jeremiah roamed the halls of our churches? How about your study?

Reading verses won’t make our lives automatically change, but it sure will motivate us to cultivate character. God expects it, and rewards it, when He finds character: “For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Character is not some ancient biblical term that gets lost in the dust of the Minor Prophets. It’s what makes you contagious. It’s what gives you the right to lead without ever having to remind anybody you’re the pastor.

It pays off, guys . . . it pays off. It’s about character.

—Chuck

Meet Me in the Library

On a lonely Greyhound bus in January of 1958, a young Marine slumped in his seat with his head down. His heart ached for the wife he’d left behind and feared for the place he was headed. In his hands. he held Elisabeth Elliot’s book, Through Gates of Splendor. As he turned the pages, his life was turned around forever . . .

That was me.

I had no idea what God had in store for me when I boarded that bus. It turned out to be one of my life’s defining moments . . . and it came to me through a book. God used Elisabeth Elliot’s volume to rearrange my attitude, my thinking . . . my entire future.

Meet Me in the Library God has used other books and their significant messages in my life. I’d like to introduce you to a few. I want to encourage you with the truths I’ve learned from them and to tell you a bit about their authors. My hope is that you will be strengthened and challenged by these grand messengers that have pointed the way for me.

At a time when the publishing industry pushes out thousands of new books in print each year and even more than that electronically, I want to share with you selections from eight works that endure—works that have inspired me to reach higher and further. You’ll see they touch on various aspects of the Christian life: suffering, joy, prayer, and servanthood, to name a few.

Across time and generations, these great books carry the truths of God and the thoughts and feelings of the human spirit. They are worth passing on, and each one should be read in the next generation and beyond.

What books would make your list? Consider the authors who speak into your life—the ones whose writings have defined your life in some way. My short list is the new volume, Meet Me in the Library: Readings from Eight Writers Who Shaped My Life. I could easily add a dozen more books for each topic mentioned, but this is a good place to start.

—Chuck

Stay Sensible

When is the last time you thought about the character quality of sensibility? As pastors, we’re charged with the task, remember? “The overseer must be . . . sensible” (Titus 1:7-8). Sophron is the term. It has in mind “thinking appropriately.” It means you’re not given to extremes. You’re able to see between the lines and apply some common sense.

We have some funny ducks in the Christian ranks . . . some real nutty people. Howard Hendricks says, “Where there’s light, there’s bugs.” It’s really true! They’re usually people who have big, thick Bibles and notebooks full of notes on everybody from Allen to Zuck. I mean, they’ve got all of this information, yet haven’t won a person to Christ in 50 years. They’re out of balance. And there’s another group that believes “a miracle a day keeps the devil away.” They drive up and see a parking place at Nordstrom’s and they think it’s a MIRACLE! And they tell their friends about it. It’s not a miracle . . . it’s just that a car wasn’t there. Pull in, park. Get a life!

We can fall into that kind of extremism when there’s not somebody near us jerking on our coattails telling us we’re getting kind of nutty. Some people even see faces of Jesus in an enchilada! That’s a lack of sensibility.

I want to share with you a terrific piece Rick Reilly wrote for a graduation class. He offers some very sensible advice to athletes that are going to jump into the pro ranks and make a lot of dough. You’re gonna love this. (Go ahead, read it here.)

I want to say stuff like that to every one of the CEOs I meet. Every one of the hot shots who made it by the grace of God. And every one of us senior pastors.

Don’t forget to tingle every once in a while. Don’t forget to cry over the joy of good health, and the freedom of living in your country, and the thrill of studying the Word, and the privilege of anybody sitting and listening when you talk.

Let’s stay sensible.

—Chuck

Accepting Others

One of the reasons I like to buy groceries where I do is because they hire those who are a little slower as baggers. Isn’t it neat to be around people like that? One of them calls me, “Sonny.” I especially like that. There aren’t many people left today who say that to me! He’s about a 35 year old man, I’d guess. “How you doing, Sonny?”

I like choosing his checkout line because he and I always talk together. The other day I told him what a great job he was doing and tears came to his eyes. Isn’t that amazing? You’d think half the people who go through there tell the baggers they do a good job. He said, “Man, I haven’t heard that in a year.” The manager of the store, who was standing about three feet away, said, “I told you that three months ago.”

Now is a good moment for you to stop and think about encouraging those around you. Just start at home with your wife.

I spent the first ten years of my marriage trying to make Cynthia into me. I can’t think of many things worse on earth than a female Chuck. And I’ll be honest, it almost broke us apart. We didn’t though, because she stayed and stuck it out.

I’ll never forget when Cynthia 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 a partner.” Then she added, “You’ve never accepted me for who I really am.” I said, “Yes, I have.” She said, “No you haven’t.” I said, “YES, I have.” She said, “NO, you haven’t!” And I got louder and she got louder, and she finally walks away in tears. And I was left with the dishes. While doing those dishes I thought, 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 . . . and it was very helpful. It just about wiped me out, though, realizing how true her criticism was. I did very little encouraging back then. I had picked the people I liked, and those were the ones I spent time with. The others I just used.

It was years later at a gathering with some friends from our radio program that someone asked Cynthia, “Why don’t you say some things about the broadcast?” She walked up and said, “The best part about this is that Chuck and I are in this as partners.” In that wonderful moment her statement brought a knot in my throat. She hadn’t said that word, since she had said it to me on that cold kitchen floor many years before. I finally came to realize the importance of accepting my wife.

I often remember Peter’s words to us as husbands, and how our lives at home affect our effectiveness as pastors. I’ve emphasized the result of obeying Peter’s words: “Live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered” (1 Peter 3:7). 

She has a different temperament than you and a different way of thinking. Most wives do, you know; that’s why the marriage works. I invite you to make a serious study of the fourteenth chapter of Romans. It sets forth an absence of legalism. It underscores the enjoyment of freedom, the appreciation of diversity, a non-controlling lifestyle. It’s all about accepting people as they are . . . and it also applies at home.

I’ve often found it easier to be more accepting and encouraging of the people in our congregation than my own wife. Maybe it’s the same for you too.

—Chuck