Objectives, People, and Places

In every ministry, there are at least three essentials that produce an atmosphere of joyous cooperation. They are objectives, people, and places.

First, whatever God plans, He pursues. That has to do with the ministry essential of objectives. There’s nothing wrong with having a clearly defined mission statement that gives direction and purpose to the vision of a ministry. In fact, there’s everything right about it as long as it is the Lord who provides the direction. God’s plan unfolds in ways that confound human wisdom and sometimes defy common sense. But it is His plan. Objectives are essential when they are His objectives, not ours.

Second, whomever God chooses, He uses. That has to do with the ministry essential of people. And, I must quickly add, the people God chooses are never perfect. That includes me. That includes you. In fact, we prove more useful to the Lord as pastors when we accept that reality . . . and trust Him with our imperfections.

Third, wherever God selects, He sends. That has to do with the ministry essential of places. I wish He would send all of the great people to Stonebriar Community Church. And I wish He would never let any of them leave! That’s a desire based on my limited human perspective. I never prayed this prayer, but I’ve been tempted to pray, “Lord, send us only the great ones and keep them here forever. Don’t ever take them anywhere else.” (Being imperfect, I’m not above a few selfish prayers!)

God’s plan, however, includes removing some very gifted people from among us and sending them elsewhere. Out of those who ministered in Antioch, God chose to send Barnabas and Saul (Acts 13:1–2).

His ways are not our ways. His places are not the places we would choose to go on our own. None of that matters. What matters is this: God sends people of His choosing to places of His choosing. The sooner we accept and embrace that truth, the more contented we will be.

–Chuck

No Hooks

We who love to fish know that the better the lure, the more deceptive it is. We try to appeal to the appetite of the fish by hiding the hook in a worm. We use a certain kind of lure that’s attractive, with eyes that sparkle or a body that glitters. The fish gets caught because it thinks it will get something soft and delicious, but it gets something sharp and painful. That’s deception.

The pastor is not to be deceptive. I love Paul’s simple declaration: “Our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit” (1 Thessalonians 2:3).

Paul was who he was . . . wherever he was. He made no empty promises. He didn’t pilfer from the ministry’s money. He didn’t say one thing in one place but something else in another. There was no “deceit”—a term that means in the Greek: “to lure by bait.” Just like a fish.

I’m sure you have experienced, as I have on occasion, those you thought you could trust . . . but you couldn’t. When you got close to that particular person, you found there were hooks. He or she said one thing—which looked and sounded attractive—but behind the veneer there was a hook. There were private maneuverings and hidden agendas. There was a twisting of motives with error and deceit.

Paul says in effect, “Pastors are not to be deceptive.” If we take a positive slant on Paul’s declaration, we can say: “Our exhortation comes from truth, purity, and by way of honesty.”

In other words: no hooks.

–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 dedicated time for study. 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 or two online. 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

Pastoral Risks of Faith

Some pastors live so carefully they absolutely refuse to take risks.

Pastoral Risks of Faith
(Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com)

Everything has to be carefully regulated and kept under control . . . their control. Borders defined, guidelines spelled out, every penny accounted for, and absolutely no surprises. After having expended so much time and effort trying to stay safe, they usually end up never having accomplished much of eternal value. They have built nothing, tried nothing new, and invested in no one or nothing . . . except their own security.

Not Abraham! By the time Genesis 22 rolled around, his faith had matured to the point that his absolute confidence in God’s character gave him the freedom to throw caution to the wind and risk everything to obey. Remember? If you don’t, you need to read that chapter!

This would be an excellent moment for you to do some self-analysis.

The Praying Pastor, Part 2

Whether from the outside or from the inside of the church, the Adversary will stop at nothing to try to disrupt and dismantle the body of Christ. But these struggles are not the demise of God’s people. On the contrary. They are our opportunities to apply biblical principles and priorities—the only solutions to the challenges we face.

Praying Hands
(Photo Courtesy of freeimages.com)

We must keep our fingers on the pages of Scripture like a boat moored to the pier in a raging storm. While we do not worship the print on the page, the paper and ink lead us to the knowledge of the One whom we do worship—Jesus, our Master and Savior.

We need to stay on our knees. As I wrote last week, prayer is a radical interference with the status quo. It is the means by which God grants power to those who rely on Him. This dependence never changes. Even as a sixty-something-year-old man who had been preaching faithfully for years, the apostle Paul continued to walk in a state of dependence on God. You have to love Paul’s humility.

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. (Colossians 4:2–4)

There was no pretense with Paul. No degree of success or number of years in the ministry gave him a false sense of ultimate accomplishment. He knew he had not yet arrived. He remained dependent on the Spirit of God. And so with a genuinely thankful heart, he entreated his fellow believers for their prayers. Can you see the power of that kind of attitude? Very refreshing in the first century. And very rare in the twenty-first. No wonder the man made such a lasting impact for Christ! The Lord honored and blessed Paul’s ministry because he upheld prayer and promoted God’s Word.

Rather than trying to ape the world’s system, God points us in another direction. It’s a way of life that stays out of step with the world and yet is not aloof from those in the world.

The early church didn’t ask God to bless their gimmicks. So, the church today doesn’t need gimmicks to attract people—it needs pastors who lead prayerfully, biblical truth preached passionately, and Christianity lived out authentically.

—Pastor Chuck

See also: The Praying Pastor, Part 1

The Discipline of Self-Control

I would like to talk about self-control.

My words to you this week come in video form . . . from a message I gave at a chapel service at Dallas Theological Seminary.

So grab a cup of coffee and your Bible. Let me both encourage and challenge you about an essential trait we all need for longevity in ministry—self-control.

—Pastor Chuck

Good Communication—The First Step

I don’t mind being called a preacher. One of my lifetime goals has been to be a good preacher. That takes hard work. You know that. Good communication is never automatic.

Good Communication—The First Step
(Photo by Photodune)

Sometimes you may think you’re coming through clearly only to be surprised when a member of the congregation, or even your wife, without your asking, shares with you that your message didn’t come through. We’ve all been there!

I want to write in the next few blogs about helping your message come through. Today, let’s take the first step.

Make the Time for Solitude

We pastors love being with people . . . but not all the time. Let’s be honest: people (especially talkative people) can be draining.

Alone with God
(Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

In times of solitude with God, however, the only person who needs anything is you.

  • You bring your needs to God’s inexhaustible supply.
  • There He sifts the essentials of life from the chaff.
  • There He trains your mind on what’s important.
  • The result? You’re left with a healthy perspective of who you are and what He’s called you to do.

The gospel of Mark tells us:

Before daybreak the next morning, Jesus got up and went out to an isolated place to pray (Mark 1:35).

Why so early? Was Jesus a morning person? Not necessarily. Early morning was probably the only time He could be alone. He arose early even though the previous day had been non-stop.

Even as a busy man, Jesus found a way to balance the demands on His time with His need for solitude with the Father.

That requires creativity.

When I Fell in Love with Thanksgiving

My love affair with Thanksgiving takes me all the way back to my boyhood days. I had just turned 10 years of age and was in fifth grade at Southmayd Elementary School in East Houston.

Thanksgiving
(Image from Unsplash)

As I recall, I was still going barefoot to school—and I combed my hair, maybe three times a week. Girls didn’t matter a lot to me when I was 10! It was on a Wednesday, the day before our Thanksgiving holidays began.

The year was 1944. Our nation was at war across the Atlantic into Europe as well as in the Pacific and far beyond.

Times were simple back then but they were also rugged. Everything was rationed. Framed stars hung proudly in neighborhood windows—and sometimes they were quietly changed to crosses.

Everyone I knew was patriotic to the core. Without television, we relied on “newsreels” that were shown at the movies, bold newspaper headlines, and LIFE magazine, which carried photos and moving stories of courage in battle and deaths at sea. Signs were posted inside most stores and on street corners, all of them with the same four words: