5 Posts from January 2012

Saying it Well: Touching Others with Your Words

I wrote my new book primarily for you—for speakers in general and preachers in particular. After five decades of honing the craft, I feel that I’m finally ready to put into print much of what now works for me as a preacher and public speaker.

Saying It WellI wanted to communicate everything I’ve learned, but that’s unrealistic. Some things—let’s face it—can’t be put into words on a page; they must come naturally from within. Each of us has an inimitable “style” that is ours and ours alone. But there are some things I mention that might be of value to you; I certainly hope so.

Our own individuality is what makes our message compelling and our delivery unique. Let’s never forget that. From this point on, it’s important that you release yourself from the straitjacket of others’ expectations. Furthermore, you must determine to overcome your fear of not sounding like some other person you admire. You can learn from each of them . . . but don’t waste your time trying to be them—or acting a little like them. That’s phony. The goal, remember, is authenticity. Until you free yourself from that trap, you’ll not find your own voice. I repeat: you are YOU and none other. Never forget that each insight or principle or suggestion—whether from me or another author—must be fitted into YOUR style and YOUR way of expressing yourself when YOU speak or preach.

How I wish someone in my formal education had told me these things! Because no one did, I spent far too much time trying to look like or sound like someone I wasn’t. Thankfully, all that is behind me—and I hope the same is true of you. If not, maybe my book will help to free you to become the preacher God created you to be.

I pray the book is a major encouragement to you and an enhancement of your pulpit ministry.

—Chuck

His Power, Our Preaching

In the middle of the week not long ago I walked into our church’s sanctuary. The room was empty and quiet. In fact, it was dark except for the exit lights that never go out. I came down the middle aisle and stood there with no one else in the room. You know what? It wasn’t at all exciting or inspiring. Without the presence of God’s people and without the Spirit of God igniting the place with His power, there wasn’t a whole lot to it. It was just an empty, dark room.

I have learned that the same is true of the preacher.

It is important that we pastors hone our skills in preaching and teaching. But it is more important that we lean heavily on the Holy Spirit for power in these things. Any pastor who does not feel weak—and on occasion, fearful and trembling—is not being honest with himself. Don’t go there.

Even Paul struggled with such weaknesses: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:3–5).

You have to love Paul’s humility, vulnerability, and dependence. He tells the truth. He admits his weaknesses. He describes his feelings.  He doesn’t worry what others may think. Paul tells the Corinthians in effect, “I’m a needy person just like you, and I have to depend on the Spirit for the strength just like you. Because it is not about me; it’s about the Lord.”

This week, take a walk all alone into the room where you preach. Stand there for a few minutes in the dark, quiet, and empty space. Let the silence envelop you. Remind yourself, as I try to do regularly, that it is ALL about Him—about His power and glory—and it is not about the preacher.

Without His power working in our weakness, brothers, our preaching is like that dark, empty room.

––Chuck

Powerful Preaching

As one responsible for communicating biblical truth, I want to share four principles especially for you. Pay close attention; read slowly, thoughtfully and carefully as I apply this to your ministry of proclaiming God’s Word.

First, always stay on the subject—Christ. For Paul it was always about Christ. Paul spoke of the “God who made the world and all things in it” to the followers of the “unknown god” of Athens, and everything for Paul pointed to Christ (Acts 17:10–34). Preaching that which doesn’t exalt Christ is empty preaching. Paul wrote to the Corinthian believers, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (1 Corinthians 2:2). For Paul, to live was Christ and to die was gain. Clearly, his subject in preaching was Christ.

Second, always speak the truth. Do not hold back. Do not fear. Do not be overly impressed with those who have come to the class or who sit in the church where you serve. It makes no difference how much they’re worth or how little they contribute. Speak the truth.

Third, always start where your audience is. Paul hooked those men in Athens with his first sentence. You can, too, if you spend some time thinking about it. Know your audience well enough to build a bridge quickly. Find a way to get into their world and then build a bridge to Christ. Remember: Begin with the familiar in order to acquaint them with the unfamiliar.

Fourth, always surrender the results to God. Once they have heard the message, your part ends. Your task is to communicate truth. It’s God’s job to draw people to Himself. You prepare the patients; God does the surgeries. Stay away from manipulation. There’s enough of that going on. You don’t need to follow them out to their cars or check up on them at home. God will reach them, just as He did in Athens. Leave the results to God.

When your heart is right, it’s amazing what you’re able to see. And when you see it clearly, it’s remarkable how God can give you the words to say. You may be amazed how God uses you, just as He did Paul in that ancient metropolis so many years ago. When his moment arrived, he was ready.

When your moment comes, stand and deliver. God will give you courage as you tell others of His Son. There is no greater honor on earth.

––Chuck

Answer the Charge

Paul wrote with urgency, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Timothy 4:1–2). In other words, stick with the preaching plan God has promised to bless and use: preaching the Word. Deliver the biblical goods! Be a man of the Book!

Did you notice something here? This exhortation is not addressed to the hearer; it’s for the speaker. The one who is to obey this command is the one proclaiming the message. That’s you. That’s me. That’s all who are called to stand and deliver.

We’re to be ready to do it in season and out of season. Being ready implies being prepared both mentally and spiritually. Don’t try so hard to be so creative and cute that folks miss the truth. No need for meaningless and silly substitutes for God’s Word. They may entertain but rarely convict the lost or edify the saved. Teach the truth.

In essence, Paul says, “Don’t be lazy. Do your homework. Don’t stand up and start with an apology that you didn’t have adequate time to prepare. That doesn’t wash.” And prepare your work faithfully—when it’s convenient and when it’s not.

Sadly, in an alarming number of churches today, God’s people are being told what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. They are being fed warm milk, not solid meat. A watered-down gospel will attract large crowds (for a while), but it has no eternal impact. I’ve not been able to find any place in the Scriptures where God expresses the least bit of concern for increasing numbers. Satisfying the curious, itching ears of our postmodern audiences is an exercise in futility.

The task of ministry is to deliver truth. Frankly, I intend to continue doing just that, by God’s grace, until the day He calls me home. I believe that’s your passion as well. That’s why you became a pastor. Thankfully, there is an ever-increasing body of believers who long for nourishing messages based on the Word of God, not human opinion.

Will you answer the charge?

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations. . . . And surely I am with you always” (Matthew 28:19–20 NIV). There is no greater challenge and no more comforting promise. Believe it. Trust it. And by the grace of God, just do it!

I’m right there with you.

 ––Chuck

Cultivating Enduring Companions

As I scan the lives of those I most admire in Scripture, I quickly discover that very few of them were loners.

Not long ago, I spent almost a year studying the aging apostle John—a man who was still active in his mid-nineties! I’ve logged numerous hours perusing his first letter, which is filled with terms of endearment, like “little children” and “beloved” and his most-frequent exhortation, “love one another.”

John’s life remained intertwined with others. He never “outgrew” his need for people. And believe it or not, when we get into that major work we call Revelation, which he wrote while all alone on the rugged island of Patmos, John isn’t halfway into chapter one before he identifies himself to his readers as, “John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance” (Revelation 1:9).

As I probed into the original Greek term translated, “fellow partaker,” I couldn’t help but think of the phrase, “enduring companion.” How could John be an “enduring companion” while alone on Patmos? He tells us. He was their companion:

  • “In tribulation”—the idea includes circumstances under pressure.
  • “In perseverance”—this conveys endurance, not a passive endurance but a passionate spirit of courage and conquest.
  • “In kingdom”—in other words, he anticipated the time when they would share eternal rewards and kingdom life together.

What stands out is that, even though the old apostle had been banished to a distant and lonely island in the south Aegean Sea, he felt neither distant nor alone. Rather, he felt a common bond with those going through the agony of enormous pressure . . . he was passionately enduring along with the rest of them . . . he was anticipating that day when they would stand before their King of Kings and receive kingdom rewards together.

He may have been living as an island castaway, but he remained closely linked to the lives of his brothers and sisters many miles away on the mainland! Pressure and hardship pull companions close together; pressure and hardship don’t separate us. Those kind of trials can even draw us close to people we hardly know.

Do you have a few enduring companions you can turn to in lonely times? I hope so! If not, are you willing to take the necessary steps to cultivate those key relationships? Ministry requires them, you know.

—Chuck