God’s Word—It Never Returns Void

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 . . .”

“LOVED!”

“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.

“Hey, Swindle!”

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.

—Chuck

A Chance to Start Over This Year

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.

New Year
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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.

Feeling Overlooked

As pastors, it is satisfying to know that we can make a lasting contribution and assist others in their need. Being in the swirl of activity, resourceful and responsive, we tend to think it’ll never end.

MAN
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But it does. Sometimes ever so slowly through a chain of events or sometimes abruptly without warning, we find ourselves sidelined and no longer in demand.

A tiny blood clot in the brain can seize our usefulness and leave us in its devastating grip. Another factor is age . . . merely growing older can move us away from today’s main thoroughfares.

By being passed over for a promotion or by being benched because a stronger associate joins the team, we start feeling overlooked. It hurts.

Take Time for Your Spouse

God gives a pastor a spouse for life, knowing full well that it will take time to cultivate that relationship. Unfortunately, we live in a day in which people think if our activity is not at the church, it lacks devotion to Jesus.

Take time for your spouse
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As pastors, we can fall for that lie if we don’t continually guard against it. Just the opposite is true.

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.

One of my cherished mentors, Dr. Howard Hendricks, once made a tremendous statement:

It’s About Character

Our culture is overly impressed with the externals. You must look good on TV to win the political race. It’s the image you need to polish. Spin it just right.

Character
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But we all know—and all have seen—that a leader without character is a tragedy getting ready to happen.

As pastors, we know about the importance of character, of course. But knowing it isn’t our assignment. Your congregation requires your character. Your role is filled because character is present, or it decreases if it is absent.

It’s the same with me. The church where I serve as senior pastor has a respect for me and appreciates my efforts (all my weaknesses not withstanding).

But this respect hangs on the fact that I’m committed to modeling character, and I’m not going to let it slip away in the stuff of leadership.

I remember the day my dad drove home and the front windshield of our car was broken. He had blood running down his face and I thought, He’s been mugged!

Pastoral Discouragement

While reading Psalm 5, I see that David is just plain discouraged. He prays to the Lord, “pay attention to my groaning” (Psalm 5:1 NLT). Unless I miss my guess, he sang these lyrics while hearing dissonance in his mind.

Discouragement
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So many pastors I meet play out their entire lives in the dissonance of discouragement. There is the grinding dismay that follows unachieved goals or failed relationships.

Some are discouraged over their marriages which began with such promise but now seem weak, borderline hopeless.

Lingering ill-health can discourage and demoralize its victims, especially when the pain won’t go away. And who can’t identify with those ministers who gave it their best shot yet took it on the chin from a few self-appointed critics?

Focus on Worship

The conflict between the urgent and the important is inescapable. How easy to get the two confused! It is common for us to think that by staying busy and working hard we’re dealing with the important things.

man
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But that is not necessarily the case. Those things most urgent rarely represent things that are most important. And therein lies the reason so many people today feel such a lack of satisfaction after working so hard and for so many hours each day.

Not only is that frustration true in the world in which we live, it is all-the-more true in the church. When we substitute the urgent for the important in the church of Jesus Christ, we emphasize . . .

Remember Your Roots

How refreshing it is to come across individuals who realize they have their parents to thank for so much of what they have in life. Marian Anderson was one of those individuals.

Roots
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She had a magnificent contralto voice that gave her worldwide acclaim.

On one occasion, a reporter asked her to name the greatest moment in her life. Those in the room hearing the question wondered what she would say.

There were so many great moments, like the night Arturo Toscanini said publicly,

Discerning God’s Best

How do you make a choice when all your choices are good? How do you tell the difference between what’s good and God’s best? I’m not talking about making a decision between a morally right path and a morally wrong path.

Choices
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We know the way we should go in that case. Rather, I’m referring to those times when we must decide between two equally good alternatives. Which do we choose? Which way is God leading? Which way is best?

Initially, it helps me to determine priorities by asking pointed questions like:

The Secret of Stability

You may be facing what could be an unsolvable problem. You alone know what it is. If so, let me encourage you this week. Often the situations with no human answers form the basis upon which God does some of His best work—even in the lives of His messengers.

Decisions
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This is illustrated beautifully in the life of Job.

I know, I know . . . we’ve all preached on Job. Personally, as pastors, we tend to flip the page when his name comes up. We’re too familiar with his story.

The account of his misery has become common and—may I say it?—boring. I mean, what else does this sad, suffering saint have to teach us?