5 Posts from October 2013

Time Is Short

In the early 1950s, I served as an apprentice in a machine shop. For months, one of my jobs was to work an intricate piece of equipment called a tracer lathe.

I was always told, “Chuck, before you change the tool that cuts the aluminum, make sure to turn off the machine. Otherwise you could hurt yourself. You could even kill yourself.” Sure enough, one day I was rushing to make my production quota, and I failed to turn off the lathe. The wrench I used to loosen the tool slipped . . . and my hand lurched in and out of the spinning chuck. The bone that led to my little finger was now in a place it shouldn’t be—outside my skin.

I went to the industrial nurse and showed her my bloody, boney finger. “I think I might need a shot,” I said.  She gasped and said, “I think I might need one too!” In no time, I found myself in surgery. The physician repaired the fracture, then inserted a long, stainless steel pin into the bone to hold it in place.

Each week I returned for checkups, until finally the orthopaedic surgeon said, “Come back in four days and I will pull out the pin. Well, actually, my assistant will do it, because I won’t be here.” Curious, I asked why he wouldn’t. He pulled up his shirt and showed me a little black mole on his stomach. He said he was going to have it removed.

When I went back to have the pin extracted, I asked the assistant when my surgeon would return for my final checkup. His face became grim as he said: “He’s dead.”

It turns out, when they cut him open in surgery, they discovered his entire abdomen had metastasized with cancer. Two days later, he died.  

I’ll never forget my feeling of shock and emptiness.

Because time is short for all of us, let me ask you two questions only you can answer. Neither question necessarily involves your pastoral duties. I’m speaking to you as a man of God:

  1. Are you ready to die today—with no words left unsaid to someone else who needs to hear them?
  2. Do you take the occasion to engage a conversation with someone about spiritual things—realizing that each day could be his or her last?

I’ll never forget my surgeon’s final words to me: “Come back in four days . . . I won’t be here.”


Make or Mar Your Ministry

I don’t think the Lord gives mates to us pastors to frustrate us.

God gives a pastor a wife for life, knowing full well that it will take time to cultivate that relationship. In fact, when we give our time to our spouse, we are demonstrating devotion to Christ. I don’t think we’re missing out on anything God has for us to do at the church.

A passage we’ve read many times—maybe even preached—also applies to those of us who are engaged in ministry:

One who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. (1 Corinthians 7:33–34)

Unfortunately, we live in a day in which people think if our activity is not at the church, it lacks devotion to Jesus. As pastors, we can believe that lie if we don’t continually guard against it.

One of my cherished mentors, Dr. Howard Hendricks, once made a tremendous statement: “Your marriage will either make or mar your ministry.”

It has taken years for me to get my arms around that significant statement . . . and I’m still learning the truth of its implications.

Does spending time with your wife take away from your time with God and your work for God?

In a word: Yes.

And it should.


Serving Good Sermons

Dr. Bruce Waltke tells the story of his wife’s days in home economics in college. They did a test on two white mice, feeding them two completely different diets. They fed the first mouse whole milk, wheat bread, oatmeal, carrots, and fruit juices. They fed the second mouse coffee and doughnuts for breakfast, white bread and jelly for lunch, candy, potato chips, and Coke for supper. Can you guess the results?

In less than ten days there were marked differences in the two mice. One was healthy and robust, dancing around in the cage. The other one was already showing signs of ill health, losing its hair, becoming irritable, and preferring solitude. As the diet continued, the second mouse soon lay down completely listless and shortly thereafter, died. Why?

Wrong diet.

Let’s apply this to our pulpits. If we feed our congregations the wrong food—spiritually speaking—they will wind up listless, irritable, weak, and lacking inner peace. But if we feed them the right diet of God’s Word and the living water of life, the difference in their spiritual health will be remarkable.

I heard of a young minister who frequently boasted that all the time he needed to prepare his Sunday sermon was the few moments it took to walk to the church from the parsonage next door. You could probably guess what the congregation voted to do: They bought a new parsonage eight miles away!

True, serving good, healthy sermons is hard work, my brothers. But what a difference it will make on others . . . and in ourselves!



My word to those of us engaged in ministry can be summed up in four words: keep a healthy balance.

If you teach, also remain a good student. Stay teachable. Read. Listen. Learn. Observe. Be ready to change. And then . . . change! Admit wrong when you are wrong. Stand firm where you know you are right. Since you are called to be leader, make sure you also follow well. You cannot do it all, so delegate and deliberately allow others to help you. And when they do it well, give them the credit. Our calling is serious, so cultivate a good sense of humor.

Laugh often, and don’t be afraid to laugh at yourself! I do that at least once a week! And once a year, I sit down and laugh out loud. Here’s why. Recordings are made of my messages—which is sort of a frightening thought to begin with. At the end of the year those who do the work of putting the messages on the radio give me a CD of all the things they took out during that year. It’s sort of a “Christmas gift.” Some have even had the audacity to play this CD at an Insight for Living Christmas party for others to hear and enjoy. I cannot believe some of the dumb things I have said! It is enough to reduce one to the size of an ant. A very small ant.

I like to say to other pastors what I often tell myself: Take God seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously. That helps us stay balanced.


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.