Note: This is the first of a three-part series about Christian marriages.
An alarming number of Christian marriages end in divorce. What can the church do to reverse this trend?
I had just started my new position as an associate pastor back in 1983. There I was at a barbecue for the adult Christian singles. The majority of those attending were divorced. With each hurting conversation and each prayer of restoration, my burden grew for these singles.
Later that year, I sat in a small support group for divorced men and women, hoping to find how to best minister to them. One of the singles, perhaps sensing my dilemma, blurted out: "The best way you can minister to the divorced is to minister to marriages." It was then that I realized that the greatest ministry I could have to the divorced single was to build strong marriages.
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. — Philippians 4:8
The human brain is an amazing component of our bodies. With it, we are able to sense, to recognize, to understand, and to remember countless things. Our brains keep track of countless important details (like heartbeats) that keep us alive. All without conscious decisions on our part. Even with the most advanced products of scientific research, we have not been able to rival what has been given to us by God with the gift of life.
One thing we must be careful about is the type of material we give our brains access to. Since the brain is like a sponge, it retains all the information it receives. A few years ago, Denny Gunderson, former president of Youth With A Mission, asked an interesting question: Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were to be shown on a movie screen for all to see?
What we think about can have a very strong impact on the way we handle a situation or view a series of events. Thoughts lead to actions. And, if left unchecked, these can turn into negative character traits rather quickly.
The Lord wants our minds to be pure and useful for the tasks he has planned for us. It is difficult to serve effectively when a person is considering thoughts of revenge, envy, or other wickedness. Paul understood this and challenged the Philippian church to think about things that were honorable, true, lovely, admirable, and worthy of praise. This way, their actions would match their thoughts.
Would you feel comfortable if your thoughts were shown on a movie screen for all to see? It's not too late to allow God to perform some "editing" so our thinking is in line with his. The question is whether you are willing to let him do it. Can you take the list from Philippians 4 and note three or four items for each of those traits?
Why it’s important to pour out for others what’s been poured into you
As a brand new member of the Saddleback staff, I know I’m here because of the principle of stewardship. Saddleback Church poured into me and the church I pastored for 18 years; then I passed on to other churches what I learned from them. Paul taught this same principle in his second letter to Timothy: “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others” (2 Tim. 2:2, NLT).
You don’t have to be big to make a big splash for the kingdom. You just have to be willing to help someone the way God helped you. There are no perfect models or churches—just growing ones!
I remember inviting a neighbor to my small group once, and his reply was honest and revealing: “I don’t need a small group”—to which I replied: “Maybe one needs you!”
Ever since God called me to preach, I’ve battled with deep insecurity about my delivery style. I can’t electrify a crowd like T.D. Jakes, pack an arena like Reinhard Bonnke or get audiences to turn sermons into trending topics on Twitter like Craig Groeschel or Steven Furtick. Those guys hit home runs when they preach. I get base hits—or strikes.
For years I felt like the reluctant Moses, who complained to God by saying, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent” (Ex. 4:10). For years the Lord kept pushing me out of my comfort zone, urging me to surrender my fears so that I would take the microphone willingly. Once He told me: “I didn’t call you to be T.D. Jakes. I called you to be you.”
On many occasions after speaking in a church or conference, I would sulk. I battled constant discouragement and wondered if my words had hit the mark. Did I preach OK? Did the message sink in? Finally I asked an older pastor if he had ever struggled with disappointment in his pulpit performance. He smiled and told me: “Son, I feel that way every Monday of my life.”
I’m learning an uncomfortable secret about preaching: Those who dare to allow God to speak through them will always squirm in holy agony. Preaching the gospel is both a glorious and a horrifying responsibility. When we speak under the anointing of the Holy Spirit and impart the very truths of Christ, we get so dangerously close to Him that our pride is challenged.