We live in a culture that worships youth and vitality and that devalues the wisdom and experience of our elders. Many churches have responded to the culture by hiring younger pastors, embracing contemporary music and emphasizing ministries that appeal to society. Sermons emphasize the need to perform community service and meet the needs of our neighbors. Topics such as sin and repentance, considered unappealing to the young, are seldom mentioned and evangelism, actually talking to people outside the church about faith, is a footnote to the church’s social justice agenda.
Chuck Swindoll stands out in stark contrast to the youth movement that has invaded the church. A nationally known pastor and Bible teacher, he is approaching his 81st birthday with no plans of retiring from the ministry. He continues to preach on a regular basis in the church he began in Frisco, Texas at the age of 64, launching a new ministry at an age when most others would be looking for the exit.
Chuck was the senior pastor at the First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California for 23 years. I had the privilege of sitting under his teaching for 13 of those years. From Chuck I learned innumerable lessons including the importance of Scripture. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was also being taught how to preach. The hundreds of sermons I heard from Chuck taught me how to think about the Bible, how to organize my thoughts and how to apply lessons of Scripture to daily life. When he left Fullerton to lead a seminary in Dallas it was a sad day for me.
Chuck returned to Fullerton on Sunday, the guest speaker for the worship service celebrating the Fullerton church’s 60th anniversary. It was an emotional service for me. Sitting next to me was the wife I had met at that very church and our two children, whose child dedication ceremonies had been led by Pastor Swindoll so many years earlier. It was the first time my children had heard him speak.
During the message Chuck related a story of Howie Stevenson, the man who served at his side as worship pastor for 20 of his 23 years in Fullerton. Chuck told us that each Sunday before he would rise to speak Howie would lean to him over and quietly say, “Preach Grace.”
The message Chuck preached on Sunday was a beautiful sermon from Isaiah 6, a passage where the prophet shares a vision he had of God in His infinite glory. As only he can, Chuck took the congregation into the vision and reminded us of the awesomeness of God. The response of Isaiah to this vision of God’s holiness was to feel the weight of his sin and shame. Isaiah was completely undone by the realization that God is Holy and that he was wretched and sinful.
Then Chuck preached grace. He read the verses describing an angel touching Isaiah’s profane and unclean lips with a hot coal, burning away the sin, taking away his iniquity and bringing forgiveness. Isaiah was wretched, God was Holy, and in His grace, Holy God took away His sin.
We were deeply moved by the message. After the service my 25 year-old son, member of the modern church’s targeted demographic, said to us, “I would pay to hear preaching like that!”
That morning was a wonderful reminder of what matters in life. In addition to being reminded anew of the amazing truth that a Holy God loves and forgives a sinful man like me I was encouraged by the fact that God is not done with me yet. If God can use a man in his eighties to touch the heart of a man in his twenties, there is hope yet for me.
You can listen to Chuck's message here . More of his messages can be found at www.insight.org.