4 Posts from December 2011

Goal for the New Year: Preach the Word!

I thought we should start off the New Year right by reminding ourselves of an essential role we have as pastor-teachers. 

Take some time right now and watch this message I delivered to those about to enter ministry. My challenge to them is the challenge that you and I will face every week this year: to preach the Word. 

—Chuck

Give Your Presence This Year

Do you feel the tightening squeeze this time of year brings?

On top of an already demanding schedule of preaching, teaching, counseling, and calling, you have had to add Christmas parties and programs, a creative Christmas series that you’ve never preached before—and still another eloquent sermon is coming up for the Christmas Eve service.

Such a schedule has a tendency to turn us into Scrooge-like characters, doesn’t it? (We secretly think: Humbug!) Work, work, work . . . nothing and no one will get in our way.

May I assume the role of one of old Scrooge’s ghosts for you? Let me escort you to your home. Peer into the window. Look closely. Is your chair empty at the dinner table?

Okay, that was a cheap shot.

We in ministry don’t like to talk about it, but too many of us sanctify workaholism. And the holidays can be the busiest time! We can allow ourselves to be so involved in “the Lord’s work” that our family is neglected. And I do mean “we.”

This may sound like heresy, but we have to learn to adopt the attitude: “I’m more committed to my home than I am to my ministry.” Try saying that out loud. I doubt any pastor’s final words will be—and I know mine won’t be—“I should have put more time into studying supralapsarianism for that sermon on election.” No way! But I will regret not spending more time loving and laughing with my wife, children, and grandchildren.

Are you feeling adequately guilty yet? Me too. So let me suggest some positive things for us to consider. Here are six rewards that represent huge dividends for yourself, your family, and even your ministry if you make your home your priority. You will enjoy:

  •        the sustained cultivation of a great character
  •        the continued relief a clear conscience brings
  •        the increasing personal delight of knowing God intimately
  •        the rare privilege of becoming a mentor
  •        the priceless treasure of leaving an unforgettable legacy
  •        the crowning reward of finishing strong

It took three ghosts and a sleepless night to convince old Ebenezer Scrooge that work without regard for others amounts to foolishness—and a wasted life.

I have a pastor-friend whose wife often tells him, “I don’t want your presents as much as your presence.” Let’s give ourselves to our families this week, okay?

—Chuck

Listening to Them

I’ll never forget one man’s criticism of me that helped me as much as anything I’ve ever heard.

I was about to graduate from seminary. I had completed the finest courses in theology, Greek, Hebrew, and homiletics—you know, I was fully prepared for life and ministry. (Yeah, right!) But I still had something essential to learn.

I’ll never forget this man’s words. He looked me in the eye and said, “You know, Chuck, you’ve got a great sense of humor . . . but it’s often at someone else’s expense.”

That stung, but it was true.

When you have a sense of humor, and you can add a little barb with a touch of cynicism or sarcasm, you can usually get a better laugh. But usually there’s one who’s not laughing down inside. That person receives the brunt of the joke. In years past, that person was my wife, Cynthia. My critic who had witnessed this in me cared enough to say something. In some ways, he saved my marriage.

For ten years Cynthia and I went through difficult, difficult times. She didn’t feel I valued her. It weakened my relationship with my wife, mainly because I wasn’t teachable. I didn’t realize what a treasure I had in this woman who was not only my wife but also my wisest counselor and my best friend.

In the years that have followed, I cannot tell you the times that I have been grateful for those times I listened to my wife. And I cannot tell you the times I have regretted when I didn’t.

Who else is more in my corner than the woman I’ve married? Who more than her wants to see me succeed? Who else has put up with fifty-two years of me? Nobody.

So why do I sometimes think she’s not in my corner? The adversary occasionally tries to convince me of that. And he does the same to you, I’m sure.

Don’t go there, guys.

Some of the brightest people on the planet are the people we’ve married. They know us better than anybody. We need to value them . . . which means, listening to them.

–Chuck

I'm Third

Occasionally, when Cynthia and I attend a party, she’ll say to me, “Let’s not be the center of everything. Why don’t we just sit on the side and listen for a change?” That’s a great reminder in our narcissistic culture, and especially for pastors who are expected to exhibit a servant’s heart.

This reminds me of a story that always makes me smile. Imagine the scene: James and John approached Jesus one day and asked Him to write them a blank check, to do whatever they asked of Him. When Jesus inquired about what they wanted, they said, in effect, “We don’t want to be the center of Your kingdom, that’s Your place, but we want to sit right beside You, one on Your left and the other on Your right.” Can you imagine?

Obviously, the other disciples, who heard this exchange were . . . well, ticked off! The selfishness of James and John in wanting to be first was more than the others could stand.

That’s when Jesus gathered all the disciples around and talked to them about being servants. “You know that those who are recognized as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great men exercise authority over them. But it is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant” (Mark 10:42–43).

Ready for a little advice? Work on servanthood—genuine humility—and you’ll find people respecting your leadership. It melts away resistance. All we have to do is follow Jesus as our model leader. The only reason we have the positions we have is to give and to serve. Not to be seen, not to be heard, not to be quoted, not to be in the center, but to give and to serve.

One of our granddaughters returned from Kanakuk Kamp wearing a button that illustrates this beautifully. It read: “I’M THIRD.” Naturally, there’s only one question to ask when you see a button like that. I loved her reply.

“Well, you need to know, Bubba, Jesus is always first, others are second, and I’m always third.” She got it right!

Remember that phrase in our narcissistic culture—“I’m third.” No matter how much money you make, what your title is, how influential you may become, how many people know your name or applaud you, or how many wonderful letters you receive—keep reminding yourself, “I’m third.”

—Chuck