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Seizing Life for the Glory of God

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Reflections on 15 Years of Church Ministry

About 15 years ago, right around this time, Andrea and I were on our way to Tulsa, OK to begin working in youth ministry. Today, I am the Teaching Pastor in Wichita, KS. A lifetime of experienced have been gathered in this 15-year span, and here is just a sample of lessons I have gained.

  1. God’s designed the church to be a kaleidoscope not a collection of clones. While we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), and are one in the body of Christ (Romans 12:5), there is a variety of maturity levels and areas of giftedness in the local church. Some struggle in the same sins that others have continual victory over. Some people value a particular author that others don’t enjoy. Some grew up a few miles from the church; others moved to the United States just a few years ago. Some are wrestling with questions like, “Where does evil come from” and others are working on the question, “Does God love me”? God loves variety in the local church.
  2. If you preach the Word, it will do what it promises to do. I have learned to live with many things (that are not essentials) in church ministry and seen the Word of God change hearts. The Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). It will soften hearts. It will move people in a specific direction when taught accurately and applied rightly. Trust God’s Word and preach it when people want to hear it and not hear it (II Timothy 4:2).
  3. I am not as dumb or as smart as I think. Just when I think I “nailed it”, I am reminded of how far I need to go. And just when I think I completely bombed, God uses me to bless someone else.
  4. God can and does use me for His pleasure despite my sins, inconsistencies and weaknesses. That is the beauty of God’s sovereignty. He uses us, but doesn’t NEED us. His ways are always perfect; our ways are always flawed. If God can use a talking donkey for His pleasure, He can certainly use this jar of clay (II Corinthians 4:7-9).
  5. Sanctification is a community project. When God saved me, He didn’t save me to myself. He put me into the body of Christ. I need my church to help me become holy. Their encouragements, criticisms, gratitude, “push backs”, praise, invitations, emails, handshakes, etc. all help develop me into the man of God I need to be. I won’t become holy without them (I Corinthians 12).
  6. Senior Christians are undervalued. Too often, and to our shame, we don’t expect our senior saints to contribute to the local body. We encourage them to hit cruise control, lean back in their pew (or chair) in the service, be a spiritual sponge, and keep all their wisdom and spiritual insight to themselves. We need our older Christians if we want to be more faithful in disciple-making (Titus 2:2-8).
  7. Home is my Sabbath rest. I love coming home. Even when I open the door and hear the boys running circles in the living room with their light sabers and see Annie hiding in another room with her ear plugs in – I love coming home. Home is an escape from the pressures and stresses of ministry. Home is where my heart enjoys being and my family rejuvenates me in all kinds of ways to serve the church.
  8. God has never disappointed. Sure, there are times when I have asked him, “Why did you let that elder die when we needed him” or “Why did you allow that church to split?” But I have never been disappointed in His sovereignty. He knows what He is doing (Romans 8:29-30).
  9. Prayer is my fuel. Without prayer, I am apathetic, slow, impatient, harsh, and critical. When I see Paul showing thanks to God for a church like Corinth, I get fired up to pray for others.
  10. The whole counsel of God needs preaching. It’s easy to preach a Gospel or a short book like Philemon or Jude, but there is tremendous value (II Timothy 3:16-17) in preaching a series in the Minor Prophets – which I have yet to do. There needs to be teaching on the book of Deuteronomy – which I have done. There needs to be preaching from the Song of Solomon – which would be an interesting experience. All of it needs to be taught (Acts 20:27).
  11. I read to know that I am not alone. Ministry can be incredibly lonely. Even if you serve with a great team of elders, which I do, ministry is often one-way. There is a lot of shepherding and equipping of others, but few take the time to shepherd and equip you. That’s why I love to read. Some of my shepherds sit on my shelves in my office, and I value their speaking of life to me (II Timothy 4:13).
  12. What I think about God is the most important thing about me. Tozer gave me that thought about 20 years ago when I read The Knowledge of the Holy. My view of God changes everything about me – how I approach each and every one of my own sins, how I husband, how I father, how I preach, how I show hospitality, how I vacation, etc. I want to know more about God today than I did when I first placed by faith in Him (Philippians 3:10).
  13. I am still in the classroom. Just because no professor is overseeing my assignments doesn’t mean that school is over. Church ministry is more of a school than seminary or college ever was. There are tests and quizzes every day. There are questions and answers. There is dialogue and debate. There is non-stop learning.
  14. Criticism is inevitable. Leadership invites a bull’s-eye on your back. When you stand in front of others, you are, at best, a sinful, imperfect leader. I have made unwise decisions; I have said erroneous and foolish things. I will continue to fall short in my communication the rest of my life. On the other hand, I have said what needs to be said. I have preached hard truths. There will always be people in ministry that won’t like how you lead. How I respond to criticism (Ephesians 4:29) says more about me than the fact that I actually receive criticism.
  15. God does not need me. He is all-powerful; I have limitations. He is everywhere; I am in one place. He knows all; I forget stuff every day. He is eternal; I had a beginning. He created the world I live in. He gave me spiritual gifts I didn’t earn or deserve. He softens the hearts I preach to. He gave me words to impart. He is doing just fine without me.

The 3 Moms In My Life

In Proverbs 31:10, the writer (maybe Solomon?), asked, “Who can find a virtuous wife? For her worth is far above rubies.” These kinds of women are rare. You won’t find them in every home or church building. The writer, if it was Solomon, had about 1,000 women in his palace (300 concubines and 700 wives) and he didn’t see the virtues of a godly woman often.

So, it makes sense that when you find such a woman, that you honor her. This isn’t just a Mother’s Day kind of thing, but it’s a Proverbs 31:28, 31 kind of thing – “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…A women who fears the LORD, she shall be praised.”

In the spirit of those verses, I want to give honor to the three mothers in my life. I can answer the question of Proverbs 31:10 because there are women of great virtue in my life.

First, there is my mother, Susan Heck. My mom possesses the faith of anyone listed in Hebrews 11 and the energy of the Apostle Paul. She is either on the move to disciple someone or in her home pouring herself into memorizing or studying God’s word. She is not idle. In fact, we joke about the turntables you put in a kitchen table called the “lazy Susan,” because that is most certainly not my mom. She continually shows us kids and grandkids commitment to God’s Word, love for mentoring others, and a dedication to dispensing wisdom when God allows, and I love her for it.

Second, there is my mother-in-law Kathy Greene. When I married Annie, I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it came to joining Annie’s family. I knew her mother a bit, but not near as much as I do now. What Kathy possesses that is rare in other women I see is discernment. She can process conversations, news reports, passages in books she is reading, and immediately get to the heart of the issue. Perhaps, that is why she is such an effective and often-sought-after biblical counselor. She loves helping people solve their problems and has deep empathy for people in her life, and I love her for it.

Third, there is my own wife Annie (short for Andrea). I get to see her “up close and personal” every day as she mothers our 3 boys. And it blows me away with the kind of intentionality she has with our kids that I have never seen in anyone else. She shepherds them in the way that Psalm 23 describes. In fact, I have often thought that if God allowed women to be pastors (and that’s another subject for another time), that Annie would be a far better pastor in the church than me, because she has a natural bent towards taking people where they need to go and inspiring people to love God and His Word, and I love her for it.

I am blessed with these 3 women. I have found the virtuous woman…threefold.

Image result for happy mothers day

Do I Feel Called to Full-Time Vocational Ministry?

If you ask me that question on Monday’s, my answer would sometimes be “no.” I told my congregation at Wichita Bible Church yesterday I am my worst critic when it comes to preaching and pastoring. And Monday’s tend to be a day of reflection for me and I often wallow is self-pity.

But I digress.

When I think about my personal calling from God on my life for full-time ministry, I believe the answer can be narrowed down to a series of three primary questions I have continually asked myself since I believe God began to make me aware of His vocational plan for my life.

First, I ask myself, “Is there a desire for me serve the church with my life?” Paul says he was compelled to preach (I Corinthians 9:16) and then wrote elsewhere that anyone who desires such an office of elder or pastor desires a noble thing (I Timothy 3:1). I have always believed that if a man can do anything else but enter the ministry, he should do it. Someone who is called to full-time ministry will have an unquenchable desire to serve the Lord in the local church and won’t find any satisfaction in anything else until he has adhered to that calling. He may be content doing other things but will not experience the blessing of being in the center of God’s will until he is serving God in His church. For myself, the desire to pastor in the church has been present since late high school. And I have also discovered that any time I have moved away from that calling to pursue some “secular” employment, the desire to pastor grows even stronger. Answer to this question: “Yes!”

Second, I ask myself, “Is there giftedness for the work of pastoral ministry?” The Bible says that God will enable and equip the man for the work he calls him to. Part of that enablement is for the qualifications according to I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. For myself, I have recognized pastoral gifts (e.g., teaching/preaching, administration, love for people and a care for their spiritual well-being, leadership, etc.) since high school. And even though they were immature and undeveloped and the raw material was there to be nurtured for His glory for His church. Answer to this question: “I believe so.”

Third, I ask myself, “Do others confirm my giftedness?” In other words, there should be a corporate or public acknowledgement of the calling by others who evaluate the evidence of my giftedness and testify to the fruit of my ministry. Again, as I mentioned above, since high school I have sense the calling of God on my life. Part of that sense has been others in the context of the local church affirming my giftedness and ability to serve in such a vocation. And whenever I have strayed from that calling to pursue something else, I have had people in my life like my wife Andrea or others who have rebuked me to be obedient to God’s vocational calling. Answer to this question: “Yes.”

Am I called to full-time vocational ministry? I ask myself that question almost weekly, and weekly God re-affirms this to me. What about you?

How God Saved Me

I grew up in a Christian home in northeast Oklahoma with my father, Doug, serving as a pastor for most of my life. The message of the Gospel was not a foreign subject to myself or my sister, Cindi, as both of our parents shared it often and modeled it daily. Our parents had both of us involved in the church as much as possible and we grew in familiarity with the ways of Christ.

Mostly, I lived a religious life. By and large, I did a lot of good things and good works; I wasn’t in trouble much. I had a good relationship with my parents. I loved going to church. Most of my friends were Christians.

Unfortunately, I assumed as a teenager that salvation would “just happen” to me because of my Christian heritage. I lived in contradiction to the words of John 1:13 that states that those who are born of God are not “of blood or the will of the flesh.”

Thankfully, God intervened in my life in high school through the faithful love of a youth staff volunteer named Travis who continued the labors of Gospel-preaching that my parents had begun. Travis helped me understand that I was deceived about my own salvation and had never surrendered my life to the Lordship of Christ.

One weekend, I was attending a Southern Baptist youth ministry conference and experienced my first altar call. I remember the speaker sharing about the ease with which we can be deceived about our own salvation and I can remember thinking to myself, “How does he know about the true condition of my heart?” As we filed down front and then were taken to another room to be paired up anonymously with counselors, the one that was chosen for me – by someone who didn’t know either of us – was Travis. I immediately began to tear up as I could see a clear moving of God to draw me to Himself. So, I gave my life to Jesus at this point through the direction and encouragement of my parents and this faithful youth worker.

The most dramatic change I noticed after coming to Christ was the motive for why I had spent a short lifetime “doing good things.” All those things I mentioned previously continued on, but I no longer pursued them for selfish purposes. Before coming to Christ, I was a church kid who did all the right things. But my motivation for doing those right things was to please my parents and to keep a good reputation with others.

As a result of the Gospel changing my heart, the motivation for living a godly life turned from living for self to living for God and others. My desire to live a godly life is to herald the name of God and be a witness for him by my commitment to Him. And I Corinthians 10:31 continues to be one of my life verses: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

 

My Beloved Friend, Michael Tyler

I don’t remember the day I met Michael Tyler. I would know that whenever that our first handshake occurred that I never considered the impact he would make on my life.

In the early years that I knew Michael (2002?), my parents and Michael and his wife Helen were inseparable. My dad, who has been in pastoral ministry for most of my life, had established a wonderful friendship with Michael. Pastoral leadership can be a lonely calling and the number of friends you have in life that speak truth into your life and seek to encourage and shepherd you are rare, but Michael was that kind of friend to my Dad (and still is) when I first started getting to know him.

He became that kind of friend to me.

Somewhere during the 1st few years of knowing Michael, he and I started having breakfast on a regular basis. There was no formal question posed by me – “Michael, will you disciple me.” And there was no formal question asked by him, “Charles, can I disciple you.” Yet, that is what started. Michael began discipling me through the natural means of a developing friendship.

Over the years of meeting him for ham steaks and omelets, Michael has poured his life into mine. He has become a type of Paul in my life and I have often felt like one of his Timothy’s or Titus’s.

His humility is striking. Rarely wanting to talk about himself, Michael shifts conversation often to my burdens, my struggles, my life, etc.

His questions are legendary. I cannot remember a meeting with him ever where he did not pose a question I couldn’t immediately answer. He asks questions that are thought-provoking and need a timed respond.

His love for me is a rich blessing. He is one of the most encouraging men I have even known. He goes out of his way to express thanksgiving for our friendship and often tells me what he is appreciate for in my life and ministry, which always feels awkward (as if Timothy can teach Paul right?).

I pray that everyone who knows the Lord Jesus Christ has a Michael-type character in their life. We all need someone who is used of God for our good, who helps us move forward in the process of sanctification, who asks the hard but needed questions, and who wants us to not be passive in our walk with the Lord.

I am thankful for this man who made it through a quadruple bypass surgery just last week. I am thankful there will be more breakfast meetings to come.

And whenever God takes both of us home to be with Him, I cannot wait to have endless conversations about the glory of God with my friend Michael Tyler.

 

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