Life Lessons from Chuck Swindoll

In early March 2011 I sat in a roomful of men and women who have dedicated their lives to various forms of broadcast ministry. We were all about to hear Dr. Chuck Swindoll deliver a message that he told us he had been “writing for over 50 years.” In a moment you’ll understand what he meant by that.

This was the first time I had ever heard him speak live. And to be honest, I’ve not spent much time listening to his sermons or radio addresses, or reading his books. But if there was one time I could have heard him speak, this was the one to be at.

Dr. Swindoll took the stage graciously, despite the inconvenience of going on 30 minutes late. Over the next hour or so he shared these 15 thoughts which he had carefully collected over the course of his life, marriage, and his years of service in ministry.

  • Tell people how you feel about them now. Not later… Later may never come.
  • Things that I’m not even aware of are being noticed and remembered. Little things mean so much to people.
  • Authenticity will keep you from a lot of trouble.
  • When things fit they flow. When they don’t fit, they have to be forced.
  • It doesn’t pay to talk anyone into, or out of, a big decision.
  • Days of maintenance are a lot more in number than days if magnitude.
  • Half of ministry is just showing up. Most of it is just plain hard work. It’s not “fantastic.”
  • Some people aren’t going to change, no matter what. Ruth Graham says of her husband, Billy Graham “It’s my job to love Billy, it’s God’s job to make him good.”
  • I seldom feel sorry for things I did not say.
  • Perception overshadows reality.
  • Time spent with my family is always worth it.
  • Grace is worth the risk.
  • Learn to stop saying “never” and “always.”
  • Thinking theologically pays off… Big time.
  • Some things are worth the sweat: Truth, admitting inadequacies, expressing gratitude, apologizing, and being generous.
  • You can’t beat having fun.

What a great list! When hearing Chuck Swindoll deliver them you could just tell they were intensely personal lessons he had learned through many trials and even more errors.

None of us are perfect, not even great men like Chuck Swindoll, but we can always strive to be better than we are. Don’t get caught up in yourself. Do better, be better, and choose better.

God Knows We’re Dense

I’ve been working through the book of Matthew over the past few weeks; two chapters a day. I used to see the Gospels as a collection of valuable stories that taught great lessons… like Aesop’s Fables. Now I’m seeing them for what they are: baby steps. Jesus had to dumb things down a bit for people in the first century.  He had to simplify the concepts and bottle-feed even the disciples with parables because people were too thick-headed to listen and understand the raw truths themselves.

Idiots. I mean, really, I’m picking up on these ideas pretty quickly here… what’s the matter with these people?

Then I realize that I’m reading the exact words Jesus spoke to them in order to get them to understand.  Apply a little deductive mental computation here and you’ll begin to understand what I’m driving at… we’re just like them. Obviously God saw fit to speak to all of us like this. From the least to the greatest. After all, He did commission the work and methods of Christ, as well as the subsequent record of his labor (The Bible, folks). He knew that Christians twenty centuries later would need the same handicap.  We’re just as thick-headed and unwilling to hear and see the truth as those who actually saw and touched Jesus.

Maybe we can’t handle the raw, unabashed, unsweetened version of what God is communicating to us. Instead we must be coddled and spoon-fed the truths in the hope that one day we’ll catch on and be able to be nourished and healthy. But I’m okay with this. I like stories and simplicity and multiple levels of meaning. (It also breaks things down into nice bite-size sections using the heading The Parable of…). And I’m comfortable deferring to God’s judgment on how best to teach me the things he wants me to learn. Sometimes I think I could have even used some flash-cards or something.

Your Life and the Right Thing

Do you ever wonder if you’re doing the right thing with your life? Sure, you’re getting by just fine, making the dough… bringing home the proverbial bacon… you know, that old chestnut. (Wow.)  But are you really doing the right thing with your life?

I don’t know about you, but I come back to this question regularly.  Sometimes out of doubt, sometimes simply to evaluate where I’m at and if this is where God has called me to be. Admittedly I have a difficult time distinguishing the so-called hand/voice/leading of God in terms of my work. But that’s a topic for another time.

Today I was very unexpectedly spurred back to this question by a tweet from David Platt (@plattdavid), author of the book Radical, that said:

Pray for unreached people whose family members have been swept away by a tsunami this week…

It hit me…

Here I am sitting safe and sound at my desk during the beautiful fall weather that I long for all year. (Northeast PA is so nicely isolated from tsunamis, hurricanes, and the like.) Meanwhile, on the other side of the world disaster has struck. Thousands are dead, dying, injured, and/or sitting next to the rubble that was once their lives. They have nothing left. They are suffering. And many of them are doomed for an eternity in hell.

I work at a Christian non-profit ministry called Lamplighter Publishing. Here we have a mission of our own: to make ready a people prepared for the Lord by building character one story at a time.  Very needed – and I can get behind it.  But right now my heart and head are being challenged.  When was the last time I really helped someone in need?  When was the last time I witnessed first-hand the awesome power of God — who can destroy and entire land with a tsunami, and then build it back up again and save souls at the same time?  When was the last time I didn’t sit on the sidelines, reading the headlines, and got in the game?

So, today I wonder about these two questions:

Can I work in ministry every day and not become complacent, jaded, and apathetic? Even self-righteous and quenched?

Am I doing the right thing.  Not the age-old question that means “am I making the right choice.” I’m referring to the question that translates to: I know what the right thing to do is. Am I going to take action on it?

Chasing the Unattainable Vision

The trouble with Vision is that you have to have it to know where you’re going. But it also needs to be far enough away that you’ll never reach it so that you’ll always have a reason to keep going. Happily, the Christian life comes with this edition of Vision built-in, and it’s free of charge. For the rest of the world Vision comes at the price of actually attaining it and then having nothing to do afterwards. There is a great nothingness beyond Vision that can only be avoided by setting high and lofty unattainable goals. The Lost are doomed to achieving their goals and then finding them empty and meaningless in the end. That is a high price to pay. Especially when the alternative is so readily available.

God has prefabricated our Christian lives with this great feature of The Unattainable Vision. It’s an extension of the Vision that He gives us individually that allows us to work with a greater purpose. It’s the rainbow that stays just off in the distance looking beautiful and mysterious . We chase it, knowing all the while that we’ll never catch it. But maybe along the journey we see something new. Maybe the chase reveals something about ourselves that we had not yet uncovered. Or maybe we just needed to chase it to remember how we love to pursue Him. Imagine the despair you would feel if you actually reached the rainbow and found out what you always knew… it was just a bunch of water molecules basking in the sun and reflecting it’s light. It’s the chase we really want. Shakespeare quickly sums it up when speaking about the pursuer of a cruel lust:

Past reason hunted and, no sooner had,
Past reason hated.

This doesn’t mean that we hate everything once we’ve attained it. That would be extreme. But, what it does mean is that it’s the thrill of the chase that we crave. And often, when we’ve reached something, we discard it in search for a new chase. And thus, with God, and by His design, we cannot be completely satisfied when it is He and His Vision we are pursuing. This should come as a comfort to know that we will always be able to chase after Him, and that only in the boundlessness of Eternity will we know what it’s like to have caught Him.

1st Century Model for Christian Media

This is old news, but until this past Sunday evening I had never heard of Matt Heerema of Desiring God Ministries or the out-of-the-norm approach their ministry has taken to making content available on their website.  Matt showed up at a Tweetup at the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) Convention shortly before his keynote address, and if it weren’t for him it would have continued to be an awkward mess. Matt’s passion and skill in marrying internet tools and the mission of Christians was immediately evident and his vigor for the Word of God is unmistakeable – a trait that is wildly vacant from the lives of many young Christians, admittedly including myself.

During a panel-style keynote address hosted by Bob Lepine of Family Life, Matt Heerema and DJ Chuang discussed the influence of New Media on modern ministry and its integration into traditional media like radio, television, and print. One of the most energized topics was the approach that Desiring God has taken to delivering content on the web.  Three years ago the decision was made to pull John Piper’s radio broadcast from the airwaves and make the move to distributing content solely online. Taking it a step further, the team at Desiring God made the ministry’s entire catalog of content available for free – no holds barred. No membership, no credit card information, no surveys – nothing was to stand in the way of people receiving over thirty years of quality Christian audio, video, and text-based content.

What stood out to me the most was Matt’s intrepid delivery of a principle that we often forget in the bustle of online media.  It’s not about the media – it’s about The Message. Passionately citing a passage from 2 Corinthians 9: 8-10, Matt revolutionized my  personal view of ministry and the truth behind motives of giving and receiving, even in ministry capacity.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written, “He scattered abroad, He gave to the poor, His righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness…

I really appreciate what is communicated in this passage – God supplies to us in order that we might supply others. And as we do so, God will continue to re-supply us. God’s blessing will never tire, so long as we are doing what His will is for us. And if the well dries up, it is a signal that God has a different task for us. God’s many promises of prosperity throughout the Bible are a reflection of His desire for us to obey Him so that He may fulfill the desires of our heart, so that in turn we will pour it back out on all around us. We are not vessels made to endlessly retain His blessings. We are made to spill them over and flood the world around us.

It reminds me of those many cartoons who get shot by a tommy-gun and then pick up a bottle of whiskey marked with ‘XXX’ and begin chugging. And just as soon as the stuff goes down, it starts pouring out of a hundred holes in his body. Classic stuff, really. But that’s what I think of. Even when I’m getting pelted by the world with bullets and arrows, I want to be the kind of Christian that lets God’s blessings and promises pour out of my wounds to heal those around me.

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