Where’s the Fire in Middle Georgia Preaching? FPD’s Chaplain Charley Chase Explains Why He Wasn’t Burning Before, But is Now
Macon, Georgia, March 22, 2015:
Being in the Bible Belt with as many churches as Macon has, you might think there’d be more fire flaming from Macon’s pulpits. There’s still some fire, though, if you know where to look for it.
Macon Monitor staff and friends had the opportunity this past week to hear one fired-up preacher, Dr. Charley Chase, who, despite being of grandparental age, manages to get the rapt attention of a difficult-to-reach cohort, including hundreds of high-school students, perhaps the most difficult of all to reach.
Chase has been the chaplain for First Presbyterian Day School in Macon, Georgia, for the past eight years, and you can see why. The Monitor invited Chase to explain what fires him and his student followers.
Monitor: What had you done before coming to FPD, and how did that inform your work with young people in the past few years?
Chase: I’d served in parish ministry for 30 years before coming to FPD. For most of that time, my preaching wasn’t really on fire. It was more like a birthday candle than a nuclear blast. I had a sort of Road-to-Damascus moment shortly before I came to FPD, though, and began to re-explore the New Testament.
Monitor: Was Paul a guide for you in that process?
Chase: Yes. Paul was a great preacher and evangelist after he converted to Christianity. He wrote and preached about what it took to be on fire for Christ. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” Paul wrote. Giving myself more fully over to Christ, and to die to my old ways, has helped me to experience in recent years some of what Paul’s fire must have felt like to him.
Monitor: Having been a preacher and pastor for thirty years before your “Damascus” moment, you must sense a danger in lukewarm approaches to sharing Christianity.
Chase: Of course. It’s so easy for preachers to lose track of the fire of Jesus in the weekly grind of sermonizing, and just seeing to the institutional life of the church. That spills over to those listening. Uninspired preaching is one reason so many Christians are blander than hospital food, and live lives no more appealing than a steak is to a vegetarian.
Monitor: What advice do you have for preachers who are in a rut?
Chase: Let me offer a golf analogy. It’s no surprise that sometimes you’ll hit a water shot where the ball goes astray. But just because you hit a bad shot doesn’t mean that you’ll never hit another good shot. Jesus offers you a mulligan, whether you’re a preacher or someone else who may have lost the way. The important thing is to accept that grace, put another ball down, and swing true. I’m playing my own mulligan here at FPD.
Monitor: How do you keep that fire fueled?
Chase: I’ll let Paul answer. In Romans chapter twelve, he tells Christians, “present your bodies as living sacrifices to God.” That’s the fire. Notice what he says before this: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God. . . .” That’s the fuel.
Monitor: What do you understand Paul to be referring to as the mercies of God?
Chase: They’re all that God is and does for us through Jesus Christ. In other words, the fuel is an appreciation for what being a Christian is. Paul is saying, “Appreciate what being a Christian means — grasp the wonder and glory of what God is and does for you through his dear Son — and you’ll burn with devotion to him.” The fuel for the fire of devotion to God is appreciating what a Christian is.
Monitor: You’re working with young people who are in the process of trying to figure out what a Christian is. What do you tell them?
Chase: The standard answer is, “Someone who has accepted Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior.” But that’s not going to light a lot of fires. It’s more like a wet, green twig, unable to be lit, much less used to light, a fire. It’s no wonder our lives are flickering candles with such a low view of what a Christian is.
Monitor: So what is a higher view of what a Christian is that can capture the hearts and imaginations of young people?
Chase: Paul has got the answer for them in pointing to the mercies of God. Even skeptical teenagers can taste the deliciousness of God’s mercies. Who wouldn’t want to be the focus of God’s work on the emerging masterpiece that is you? The personal, individual love of God for a person, for all eternity, is irresistible.
Monitor: But sometimes bad things happen, and optimism may seem to have been foolish. What do you tell young people about the tough times that inevitably will come their ways?
Chase: On the cross, Jesus had the toughest time of all. But God was working his amazing plan through the cross. Because of this, anyone who trusts Jesus is taken off of spiritual death row, with all the charges dropped, and assured an eternity of beauty and bounty. It’s a breathtaking gift of mercy, and is an invitation to burn hotter than Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace in passionate commitment to living for the Lord.
When people are around us Christians, they ought to see a pleasure in belonging to Jesus, and a delight in pleasing him, that makes them think, “Jesus Christ really is the one thing worth everything.” It makes me want to sing the line from the old hymn, ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’