134 Posts Categorized as about "The Pastor's Soul"

Follow Our 2014 Israel Blog

My fellow pastors,

I’ll be in Israel for the next couple of weeks, helping to lead our Insight for Living Israel Tour. During that time, I won’t be posting my regular pastor’s blog.

However . . . I invite you to follow along with our tour by subscribing to our Israel Tour Blog. The blog will feature daily updates of sites we’re seeing and lessons we’re learning.

I believe you will enjoy it! 

Please pray for me as I teach at many of these locations. Pray that God’s Word would take firm root in the hearts of those pilgrims who travel with us.

                    Shalom,

                    Chuck

 

Erosion

When I was a little boy, we used to have our family reunions and vacations down at my grandfather’s cottage beside Carancahua Bay, near Palacios, Texas. It was a sleepy, little spot that smelled like shrimp 24/7. We would seine for shrimp early in the morning, fish for speckled trout and redfish during the day, and go floundering at night. Wonderful memories, all!

My maternal granddad was the most influential adult in my life as I grew up. One day he said to me, “I want to explain something to you.” And he used a big word I had never heard before: erosion. The bank that dropped off into the bay was continually being eaten away by the pounding waves and rainy weather. We walked over near the edge, and he measured a certain distance from that point to where the bank dropped off down to the water. He drove a stake into the ground. “You’re going to be here next summer,” he told me, “and we’ll measure this again then.”

When I came back the next summer there had been two hurricanes, several super-high tides, and rough waters. Eight inches were gone from the bank. I would never have noticed if we hadn’t measured it. I think the next year he wrote me and said, “Twelve inches dropped off this year.”

No one I’ve worked with in ministry who has fallen morally sat on the side of his bed one morning and thought, Let’s see, now, how can I ruin my life? How can I implode my reputation? Erosion doesn’t happen like that. It is always silent; it is always slow; it is always subtle. But its final blow is always severe.

Paul’s words to the Corinthians haunt me, as well as challenge me: “Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). He goes on to write, “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man” (10:13). Even the apostle Paul back in the first century lived with the horrible possibility that after even he had preached to others, he might disqualify himself (9:27). All of us who preach must remember his solemn warning.

Every day is a day I could begin the fall. Every day is a day I could choose to compromise . . . secretly, subtly, and silently. And the public would never know it . . . not then. But I would know it. Those close to me would someday begin to sense it, but the world at large wouldn’t know it until the final implosion.

I regularly evaluate my life. I measure the depth of my devotion to Jesus to discern if any commitment has eroded. My daily time with God is good for that. Driving around town in my pickup is also an excellent opportunity for self-appraisal. And of course, the Lord’s Table was designed for such self-examination. Whenever I find that erosion has occurred, I refuse to justify it or ignore it. I begin the hard work of repentance and renewal.

Slowly and steadily, I want to be moving closer to Jesus in my life and ministry . . . and not eroding away from Him. I want the same for you.

You’re not keeping any secrets are you?

—Chuck

Longhorn Sermons

There are all kinds of sermons: topical sermons, biographical sermons, expository sermons . . . and longhorn sermons—a point here, and a point there, and a lot of bull in between! It’s easy to preach those kinds of sermons, isn’t it?

A mentor of mine told me about the time he worked for an older pastor who used to come to the pulpit unprepared. So he would try to prepare during the song service.  “Lord, give me something to say,” he’d pray. “Give me Your message.” After another song he’d ask again, “Lord, give me Your message.” Every Sunday it happened.

“One day,” the pastor said, “the Lord finally gave me His message. God told me, ‘Ralph, you’re lazy. That’s my message.’”

To be blunt, the issue of pastoral sloth is one of the major battles we must fight as pastors. It breeds longhorns.

When I’m sitting there some Sunday morning during hymn number 275 and I’m trying to remember point number two of my message, there’s a quiet sweating that goes on. Because—to be honest—I feel unfaithful. I think, These people have come wanting to be fed, and I feel as if the Holy Spirit is saying, “You have not sufficiently prepared for this moment.”

So here’s what I’ve found that helps me to present myself “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). 

·         First of all, tell yourself the truth. If you’re faking it, you’re faking it. (Most people know it whether we admit it or not.)

·         Next, sit down with your calendar and schedule the time. Except for life-or-death situations, have your assistant cover for you. Or have your wife cover for you at home. But guard that time in the study.

·         Then, when you have time alone, stay there! It’s amazing how you can fritter away your hours—wiping dust off your books, getting a drink of water, going to the bathroom, catching an article in Time magazine. Don’t let yourself do that! Put your tail in that chair, turn that light on, get that pencil moving (or keyboard clicking), and start putting something on the page. Force the beginning of it. I force it at times. Tell the Lord you have to get this down. Ask Him to give you the thoughts. When He does, you’ll be thrilled with how it begins to fall together. I am always amazed with how God multiplies the fish and loaves I pray over.

·         Finally, after having formed the habit, explain to the board and others the value you place on those times of study. It’s not that you don’t want to be with them, but that when you are with them on Sundays, you must have a prepared mind and heart. Very few times will the board say, “We don’t believe in that.” Rather, they’ll say, “Thank you for caring enough.”

Falling into Saturday night panic is a habit. I’ve done it just enough to know I don’t want to go there another time.

Discipline is also a habit, I’ve discovered.

It kills those longhorns.

—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

Preventing the Accountability Breakdown

Isolation . . . Loneliness . . . Solitude.

Though surrounded by scores of people, pastors know these feelings all too well. Our position as shepherds, separated from the flock in many ways, can cause us to become closed off to much of the world. Living a private life in secrecy or inaccessibility leaves room for self-betrayal and, ultimately, to what I call an accountability breakdown.

To prevent that breakdown, we need the vulnerability that connecting with others provides. Recognizing our need for others means that we stay aware of any tendency to compromise. We also understand that we are not immune to a fall. We must be willing to open up and connect.

So how do we maintain genuine accountability as pastors?

First, seek out a few men of integrity with whom you can be vulnerable. I advise you to choose people outside the sphere of your own work. As a pastor, don’t choose other pastors! Connect with those who can evaluate your life with objective eyes. (And be sure to choose people who are not in awe of you.) These need to be people without anything to gain or lose.

Second, be committed to absolute, gut-level honesty. Refuse to hide or excuse or deny. Self-betrayal is a danger for all people, especially pastors. For some reason we feel that being an “example” means we never goof up . . . and so we cover up! Be vigilant against any half-truths, because the only ones we fool are ourselves.

Finally, determine to answer questions on a variety of practical topics to facilitate your candor. I’ll be painfully specific:

·         Have you been with a woman anywhere this past week that might be seen as compromising?

·         Have any of your financial dealings lacked integrity?

·         Have you exposed yourself to any sexually explicit material?

·         Have you spent adequate time in Bible study and prayer this week?

·         Have you invested sufficient priority time to your family?

·         Have you fulfilled the mandates of your pastoral role?

·         Have you just lied to me?

That last one is the clincher! Unless you are a practiced hypocrite, answering these questions in a small group of individuals will provide you the spiritual and moral moorings you need to accomplish your God-given role as a pastor. When we deliberately engage ourselves with those who keep us honest, we safeguard our lives, our families, and our flocks from the backwash of the accountability breakdown.

The pain of real accountability is nothing compared to the pain from a lack of integrity. My advice? Begin today.

—Chuck

The Integrity Assault

Our jobs as pastors are not without work-site hazards. We don’t wear hard hats, of course, but maybe we should!

The hazards I’m speaking of are those within our hearts. One of the greatest of these is what I call “the integrity assault.” I believe our integrity is assaulted when we yield to the temptation to allow our position—and the privileges that come with it—to lower our standard and to weaken our witness.

With every privileged position comes trust. You may carry a church credit card. You are trusted to use that card with integrity. You may drive a car provided by the church. That is a privilege. Your time and how you use it are at your discretion. Your board and congregation look to you to give a full day’s work for a full day’s wage.

You have a computer and, probably, a private study. A dangerous combination if you lack integrity. The statistics are maddening to me how many in ministry confess to viewing pornography on the Internet! So many who have fallen morally began their fall by viewing pornography on the Internet.

I remember a layman leaning over my desk, and his knuckles got white as he looked me right in the eye. “Chuck, I want to ask you a straight question,” he began. “Up and down this hallway at this church, is there anybody in any of these rooms who could walk in here and ask you the hard questions?”

“Choose any office up and down this hallway and the person will tell you, ‘I can go in at any time and tell him or ask him anything.’” That was my answer. But let me tell you, it is hard work to cultivate an environment where that kind of honesty can occur.

Remember Asaph’s words? I think of them often. After 69 verses, he ended Psalm 78 this way:

He also chose David His servant

And took him from the sheepfolds;

From the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him

To shepherd Jacob His people,

And Israel His inheritance.

So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart,

And guided them with his skillful hands. (Psalm 78:70–72) 

That’s not just beautiful Hebrew poetry; those words describe character. God chose David not because he had the résumé of a king. Not because he had killed bears and lions. Not even because he killed a giant. He was chosen to shepherd God’s people for one major reason: he had integrity.

My brothers, that is our calling and our standard as well.

—Chuck

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.”

—Chuck

Balance

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.

—Chuck

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

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 said, “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