When I served overseas in the Marines many years ago, I had a bunkmate named Eddie. When he found out I was a Christian, he told me in no uncertain terms:
“Hey, I want to tell you something, Swindle. I didn’t come over here to Okinawa to be evangelized. So just back off, okay?”
“Sure, that’s no problem,” I answered. So, I’d lie up on my top bunk and I’d try to figure out how I could get Eddie interested in the Lord Jesus. One day I said, “Hey Eddie, can you help me with some of these words?” I dropped down about forty of my verse cards, and I said, “Let’s see if I can do these.” They were verses like John 3:16 and other verses on salvation. So I began: “For God, uh . . .”
“SO,” Eddie added impatiently.
“Oh, okay,” I’d reply, “For God so . . . uh . . .”
“Yes, yes, that’s it. For God so loved the world.” We went through dozens of verses just like that.
Fast-forward thirty years . . . and the phone rings one day in my study.
I said, “This can only be a guy named Eddie.”
“Yeah,” Eddie answered, “Hey, you know that trick you played on me in Okinawa? Well, it worked! I’m loving Jesus now.”
Isn’t God good? The power of the Word of God never fails to amaze me. It’s just as the prophet Isaiah recorded:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
And do not return there without watering the earth
And making it bear and sprout,
And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater;
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:10–11)
God’s Word will never return empty. It will always serve a purpose—primarily in the lives of those of us who digest it, who apply it, who memorize it, who meditate on it, who ponder it, who declare it, and by God’s grace, who live it out.
That’s our calling. God’s Word will never return void.
“Elijah was a man just like us,” James reminds us (James 5:17 NIV). Not only was Elijah like us in that God can powerfully use our prayers, but Elijah was also like us in that we can get very discouraged. Because of an enemy’s threats to his life, Elijah, this great man of God, was reduced to a heap of self-pity (1 Kings 19).
Ever been discouraged in ministry? Of course you have! Most pastors—if not all—have. Maybe you’re there even now. Believe me; I understand those lonely, desperate places.
This week, let me share with you a message I gave in a Dallas Theological Seminary chapel service to those about to enter ministry. My hope is that you will find encouragement, as I have, to persevere when you never thought you could. There is hope, my friend.
My word to those of us engaged in ministry is, keep a healthy balance. Here are ten tips I’ve found helpful . . .
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- Because you teach, also remain a good student. Stay teachable.
- Read more.
- Listen better (especially to your spouse).
- Be ready to change. And change!
- Admit wrong where you are wrong.
- Stand firm when you know you are right (but be nice).
- Because you are called to be a leader, follow well.
- You cannot do it all, so delegate.
- You have a big job to do, so let others help you do it. And when they do it well, make sure they get the credit.
- The ministry is serious work, so keep a good sense of humor.
Here’s a bonus tip: take God seriously but don’t take yourself too seriously.
One of the most encouraging things about a new year is the word new. It means “unfamiliar . . . made or become fresh . . . different from one of the same category that has existed previously,” says Webster.
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Simply put, it’s a place to begin anew.
Starting over requires knowing where you are. Honestly admitting your present condition. Facing the music.
Remember Jonah? Somewhere down the line, he got his inner directions cross-wired. He wound up, of all places, on a ship in the Mediterranean Sea bound for a place named Tarshish. That was due west.
But God had told him to preach to Nineveh. That was due east.
Jonah never got to Tarshish, as you remember. Through a traumatic chain of events, Jonah was forced to get his head together in the digestive tract of a gigantic fish.
If I may borrow from Charles Dickens’s famous opening line, Christmas can be “the best of times, and the worst of times.” As pastors, we have them both, don’t we?
Who hasn’t cringed in September as stores drag out and display the artificial Christmas trees? Who hasn’t felt uneasy about the obligatory exchange of gifts with individuals you hardly know?
Something about those annual experiences can make them seem like “the worst of times.”
But they don’t need to be.
It’s baaaack! The age-old yuletide season is about to slip in the door once again. Better not shout, better not pout, for the malls will be playing “Jingle Bells” several thousand times between now and December 25.
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If you’re not careful, the crowds and commercialism will weigh you down like that fourth helping of stuffing at Thanksgiving dinner.
And there’s nothing worse than a jaded attitude that resists the true spirit of the season.
Although this has been a challenging year in numerous ways, we have a practical reason to look back over it with gratitude for God’s protection and grace.
This reflection sets in motion the ideal mental attitude to carry us through the weeks ahead.
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.
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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.
Among the best-loved promises Christians have as their ultimate hope, two are found in the book of Revelation. Here’s the first set of promises:
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Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1–4)
The second set of promises is equally inspiring:
Based on 1 Corinthians 3:10–14, I see three facts about our eternal rewards for serving God. Let’s review the first two facts I mentioned last week, and then I’ll complete the list with the third.
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First, most rewards are received in heaven, not on earth.
Second, all rewards are based on quality, not quantity.
Here’s the third: no reward that is postponed will be forgotten. Make no mistake about it, the Bible clearly teaches that each of us “will receive a reward” (1 Corinthians 3:14).
We pastors have received a priceless treasure (the glorious gospel) in a very frail and perishable container (our weak bodies). There is a reason.
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So nobody will have any question about the source of power, which must be of God and not of any human origin.
Read the words of the apostle Paul—an honest, humble, transparent servant of God: