Fifty years into pastoral ministry, Dr. Charles F. Stanley is spreading his influence wider than ever through radio, television, podcast and the Internet. Through In Touch Ministries, the prominent Southern Baptist reaches 110 million homes nationwide and can be heard in almost every nation across the globe.
Despite decades of pastoral work and global audiences, Stanley still faces fears when doing the basic job from the pulpit – preparing sermons for his First Baptist Church of Atlanta congregation each Sunday. He wants to make sure he's ready each time to deliver the Word of God.
Now out with a new book, Landmines in the Path of the Believer, Stanley spoke with The Christian Post just before a book signing in New York this week, to talk about some of the nine destructive temptations believers face.
CP: This book you just published talks about landmines that the enemy strategically places in the path of a believer. How timely do you feel the release of your book is as we face the 9/11 anniversary and as we're also in the midst of several sex and money fraud scandals in the Church?
Stanley: The reason I wrote the book was because I kept watching what was happening – our men being killed and maimed for life because of landmines. And the landmine is the kind of device that you don't see until you step on it, and it's too late. This is exactly what happens to believers. I've been a pastor for 50 years; I still am. And [I've watched] what has happened to people over the years, how they find themselves, and how people get jealous in their life and insensitive to the spirit of God in them and do things their way. And what happens is they get hurt, their family gets hurt, people around them get hurt. I didn't really time it for 9/11 but it's a good time for it to come out.
CP: Regarding the Church, many people are losing faith in the Church – maybe not necessarily the person of Jesus Christ, but the institution of the Church. Which landmine among the ones you list in your book do you feel is affecting or attacking the Church most significantly today?
Stanley: I think one of the primary ones – one of the ones that is so evident right now because the things that are happening in particular churches – is immorality. I think it's a major issue and of course another one, naturally, is pride. I think pastors oftentimes get into that without even realizing that they're prideful and sometimes can be arrogant that turns people off.
And then there's a lot of insecurity. People talk about trusting Jesus and having faith in him, but feel very insecure and full of fear. These are the kind of things that slip up on you; that's what a landmine is. You step on something because it's so well camouflaged. All of these things are emotional things, whether it's pride or jealousy or envy, unforgiveness. Many people don't know what they're dealing with, don't know how to deal with it, and one of the reasons for writing the book is to help people identify what's really going on inside of them and how to deal with them.
CP: You say in your book that "you don't have to be a casualty." In a video feed on your ministry website, you also said that – I'm rephrasing this – if God tells you to run your head into a brick wall, you should obey and He'll make a hole for you. Does the principle of those two statements relate and can you elaborate on those?
Stanley: What I mean by that (latter statement) is this: the bottom line in the Christian life is obedience and most people don't even like the word. But my whole perspective on life – here's the bottom line – is obey God; leave all the consequences to Him. That's what I mean by if God tells you to do something that's difficult and you don't see your way clear and you obey Him, He's going to make a way for you. He says: 'Trust in the Lord with all your heart and may it not be your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your path' (Proverbs 3:5-6). God will never direct us to be prideful, arrogant and unforgiving, immoral or slothful or full of fear. We step into these things because we are insensitive to the leadership of the Holy Spirit within us [through which] He will guide us. That's why He sent the Holy Spirit. He said He'd call him a helper. In other words, to help us identify those things in life that shouldn't be there; to identify those things that lay around us that can destroy us; and to identify what is His will and His plan for our lives which is always the best.
CP: Is that also the main premise to avoid being a casualty?
Stanley: The main thing to avoid being a casualty is simply this: to have a kind of intimate personal relationship with Jesus Christ whereby you're able to hear God speak to your heart, you're sensitive to what He's saying to you to do, and that you're willing to be obedient to Him.
CP: One of the first things you said in the book is to "realize you are in a spiritual war." Would you say believers today are in the dark about that reality and if so, how is that affecting them?
Stanley: We are in a spiritual war, there's no doubt about that. And I think we're probably in one of the most difficult times that we've lived in because so many things are going on – there's so much tragedy and so much insecurity and the whole threat of terrorism and what's happening all over the world. That's where we are. This is why we need to be very sensitive in the body of Christ. We need to be strong and at the same time, helping other people to identify what's going on around them [so] they don't have to step in a landmine. If you're sensitive to God, He's going to protect you.
CP: What do you feel is more difficult, realizing that there are landmines in your path or defusing those landmines?
Stanley: For many people, they think 'I don't see anything out there.' They don't connect the consequences of their mistakes and their sins. They don't connect that. But the fact that what God has said – that you'll die if we sin against God and suffer consequences – people don't like the idea of consequences. They want to be able to live their life freely and do what they want to do without any consequences. And we know that's just not the way life is. Only God can give us direction to avoid those things.
CP: We just recently lost a significant figure in the religious right, if you will – Dr. D. James Kennedy. He's been commended for his courage in defending biblical truths. Just before his death, Dr. Jerry Falwell also passed. You're also within this generation of leaders and trying to instill Judeo-Christian principles into American life through your ministry works. Do you feel this movement is losing influence or do you feel it will be picked up powerfully by the next generation of evangelicals?
Stanley: I don't think any one of us or these guys see ourselves as part of a political right. We just [do] what the Word of God says and it happens to be that we and the people who consider themselves on the right are all in agreement about that. And I think [now] that God has taken this man home, on the one hand, there's a big loss for the whole body of Christ, not just for the religious right. And yet God always raises up His servants to get His work done.
CP: So you do believe the next generation will pick up the torch more powerfully?
Stanley: I think so.
CP: It says in your bio that you often say, "I feel I cannot honestly tell you how to believe Bible truths, and put these truths to work in your life, until I have first let God work them into my own life." That tells me that you've probably faced several landmines in your life of faith as well. Can you tell me about the most difficult landmine you faced these past decades you've been serving the Lord?
Stanley: I think that it's true, first of all, that it's very difficult to explain to someone else and to be able to do it with a sense of real genuine compassion and love to help other people if you haven't been there yourself. And I think in my own life, there have been fears. One of the fears that I've had over the years – it sounds foolish but it's true - is that I always want to be sure that I'm ready come Sunday. And Satan would just work me over, [make me worry] that I may not be ready. Now all these years I've studied hard and I've been ready, but it's just … you know what, if you think 'Of all the things you have to be concerned about, [you were concerned about] that?' Yes, I was.
CP: Part of your future plans includes the Charles Stanley Institute for Christian Living, the global training center. Can you tell me more about what you've got in store for the future?
Stanley: We're enlarging in every single area of the ministry at In Touch. We're on radio and television. We're in over 110 million homes in America plus radio on satellites. We just acquired the NAMB FamilyNet television network, and with that expanding possibilities of [spreading] the gospel. Also, we are just sending 50,000 'messengers' - a little device [that is] a little larger than your cell phone – to our service men in Iraq. We just got lots and lots of things going and I don't have any complaints. God's blessing us in every area and I'm very grateful.