The Tragedy of Rejecting The Blessing…

I read this today:

You can really get a great sense of what God is up to by looking at the people He has placed around you. If He is surrounding you with amazing people…I believe it’s because amazing things are about to happen.

I whole heartedly agree with this. And this why I think it so tragic when some leaders drive away the amazing people because of their own insecurity and inability to follow what God is doing. There are times when God puts a team together ready to do amazing things only for someone take it apart because of their disobedience.

The Shaping Of An Effective Leader by Gayle Beebe

Gayle Beebe correctly says there is a leadership crisis in America today. Beebe’s book is an attempt to put under the microscope WHY there is a crisis in leadership and what can be done to change this.

The book is based around 8 principles: 1. the necessity of character, 2. The importance of competence, 3. The advantage of team chemistry, 4. The interplay of culture and context, 5. The strength of compatibility and coherence, 6. The guidance of convictions, 7. The significance of maintaining our connections, 8. The opportunity to make an ultimate contribution.

Much of the book comes from Peter Drucker’s philosophy (Beebe was a student under Drucker) and there are many quotes and pointers to Drucker’s thinking. As a former banker I can see much in this book that would be helpful for those within the cut and thrust of the business world. The eight principles are, generally, useful and Beebe’s comment that character in a person is often not enough to succeed is true in business. But I read this book through the eyes of a Church leader – a pastor. And from this perspective, I did not find a lot to help me. The eight principles are interesting, but they are presented without any spiritual dimension and therefore as a Christian they alone cannot be foundational.

Also, there is almost no mention of God or of any biblical principles that I noticed (I may have missed them). This is important because the Apostle Paul – one of the greatest leaders ever says that we must never lead from or through the wisdom of the world, but through the wisdom of God (1 Cor 2) – and that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. Paul effectively says do not apply the world’s wisdom into leadership. The probability is that Paul’s resume in 1 Cor 2 would mean he would not be hired by any corporation or business as their leader.

Beebe quotes Plato, Aristotle and Drucker – but not Christ, Paul or the Bible.

If the book is directed only for those in the corporate / business world, Beebe has given some interesting thoughts for Executives and CEO’s. But for the Christian and the Church pastor there are better, and more useful books on leadership.

The Shepherd Leader by Timothy Witmer

For Witmer, the art of Shepherding is becoming a lost one in the Church. Surprising? Maybe, especially as the word Pastor comes from the latin to shepherd.

In a conservative Christian culture whereby the focus is preaching, shepherding has been left on the side lines. For most pastors, the time and effort that visiting and looking after people take away from the ‘preaching’ preparation means that shepherding is neglected.

Witmer challenges leaders to plan and implement a Shepherds ministry.

The pastors role is far more than just preaching and teaching. Alongside feeding the sheep a Shepherd also should know his sheep; lead his sheep and protects his sheep.

Witmer is also very practical. In chp 9 he gives 7 Essential Elements of an effective shepherding ministry (1. Must be biblical; 2. Must be systematic; 3. Comprehensive; 4. Relational; 5. Include the four shepherding functions of knowing, feeding, leading and protecting; 6. Accountability; 7. Prayer) as well as suggestions for beginning to implement one.

Witmer wisely forms his theology around the idea that the shepherd ministry is not just a pastor responsibility but a leadership responsibility. It should be flowing OUT from the eldership and elders must be involved with this process. Witmer’s book definitely espouses team ministry – which is a great thing.

This is a very practical book and one which will be useful in forming your approaching to making sure that all people in your church are indeed shepherded.

Sermon – 4th Sunday In Lent – 2 Chron 36:14-23; Eph 2:4-10 & John 6:4-15

What does Mercy look like to you. Do you have an image of what mercy entails? What do we mean and expect from God when we say in our Liturgy “Lord Have Mercy Upon Us?” The dictionary defines mercy as having compassion or forgiveness toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

The misconception that I think we have is that we can regard mercy as a passive action only. We tend to think of mercy as a THOUGHT – a mental ascent – I will forgive you, or I will not exercise the punishment you deserve. This tends to be because, for us, mercy is usually reactive – someone does something TO us and we respond.

The biblical understanding of mercy is far more than this.. Mercy is not passive. In fact, with God, it’s just the opposite – God’s mercy is very active. God’s mercy is about ACTION – sometimes very intense action – and it is also proactive. In other words god acts in order to BRING ABOUT a situation where he can show mercy!

Our reading from 2 Chronicles is an example of this. God’s chosen people have walked away from the ways of God. Being God’s people is more than a status – it is more than just being THE PEOPLE – it requires interaction with God. God had laid out very explicitly how it was that His people can have and stay in relationship with Him.

The people had chosen to ignore this. They ignored God and they ignored God’s ways.

So what does God do. Does he wait for his people to return to Him with their tails between their legs. Is he waiting for them to come to their senses and say sorry?

No. God sends messenger after messenger to his people – prophet after prophet – to tell the people to change – to turn back to him. Why? Because, he had compassion on His people. God is active and proactive in getting His people to recognize his compassion and mercy. It is over hundreds of years that God sends his prophets to tell HIS people to stop walking away from Him.

God’s mercy is patient.

How patient is he with us? How patient is he with his church? Outrageously patient. The religious leaders of Israel, the priests and the officers were unfaithful to God and this has meant that the people are also unfaithful. The nation from the top down had not just turned away from God, they had begun to follow other God’s. This is not about the breaking of some religious rituals. God desired an intimate relationship with His people – they were in a covenant. So, for God’s people to be worshipping other God’s was literally them committing adultery. That is what the whole book of Hosea illustrates.

How patient has God been with you and I – when we get it wrong when we ignore him, when we fail to do the things he has asked of us? When we are unfaithful to Him because we put our love into other things than God? God is Infinitely patient with us. He has not given us what we deserve, but time and time again he has given us what we do not deserve.

And notice, that the messengers that God sends – these prophets – are in a minority. Their message is one that goes against the entire direction of the culture of their day.

One of the prophets sent to tell the Israelites to return to God is Jeremiah. He becomes a lone voice – a minority against the huge majority who are defying God.

We must remember an important principle, one that we can only touch on this morning. It is this. To be in the majority does not mean you are necessarily right your thinking or position – the majority can be wrong – just as being in a minority does not mean you are wrong or mis-guided. A minority in scripture often has another name – a remnant; God’s people who stood against the tide of unfaithfulness to him.

God is patient in his Mercy, sending prophets to warn his people.

But the people refuse to listen. What a dangerous place to put oneself – ignoring the words, the commands, the pleading and the petition of the living God.

The consequence is that God sends Babylon against Israel. Jerusalem is destroyed and the people of God sent into exile for a generation – 70 years.

Has God’s mercy ended?

No. But how can sending an army to destroy the nation of Israel and send them into exile be merciful?

When we persistently ignore God he will get our attention – and that may sometimes require what we would consider extreme action. God’s judges Israel for it’s rebellion but his judgment is NEVER, NEVER devoid of mercy in scripture. Even in God’s judgment there is mercy and that is shown by the fact that Israel survives. And why does God judge Israel? Because he has lost his patience? No. His purpose is two fold. 1. The covenant God made with Israel had blessings and curses. Blessings if the people followed the ways of God and curses if they did not. God is a God of His word – and so if Israel disobeyed Him God, to keep his covenant HAD to judge them. 2. This means that the point of God’s judgment is to make Israel turn BACK to God.

God’s mercy is active & proactive. God acts now in order that Israel may be shown mercy in the future.

God’s active mercy is both physical and spiritual. We see in our Gospel reading physical mercy – the crowd is hungry and from the other gospels we know Jesus had compassion on them and he tells his disciples to feed them. The disciples see no way that they could feed a crowd this size, but Jesus takes what is available and miraculously feeds them all.

Jesus’ healing are also physical acts of mercy.

And in our Epistle reading we see God’s active mercy spiritually. Paul says that God is rich in his mercy – and that is shown in the incredible verse that says even when we were dead in our trespasses HE made us alive together with Christ.

Again, see how God’s mercy takes the initiative. He makes it possible for us to be reconciled with him. And He does that through judgment – judging his son, Jesus Christ, in our place on the cross. The cross itself is a sign of God’s active and proactive mercy – dying even when we were still his enemy, so that his mercy may be made available to us – and through the resurrection of Jesus Christ making us alive spiritually and physically.

So, we have seen that God’s mercy is firstly patient and secondly it is active, both physically and spiritually.

God’s mercy is also available – to absolutely anyone. Paul says that the life given through Christ happened while we were still dead in our sins.

This mercy has nothing to do with us – whether we are nice people, or whether we are from good homes or not, or whether we have tried to be moral or not – it has absolutely nothing to do with these things – it comes down to one thing – do you believe what God has said and done in and through Jesus Christ is absolutely true? If yes then the mercy of God is poured out upon you.

All that is required to receive God’s mercy is to ask him for it.

Just hear the words of Isaiah, 30:18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.

What a fantastic image – the Lord God – the creator of the universe waits to be gracious to US. He is waiting to show us the mercy he has prepared for us to walk in. He says this morning to each of us “I HAVE BEEN gracious to you – I have done everything in order to be able to be merciful; to you; I am available – come on Christ the Saviour, I am waiting.”

And his showing mercy to us glorifies his name. We should want him to show us mercy because it glorifies him – his name is made great when we come to him asking for his mercy.

God’s mercy is patient; God’s mercy is active and proactive; God’s mercy is available now.

And finally God’s mercy is eternal.

Paul tells us a wonderful truth in our epistle reading – that when we come to know the living God – being saved by grace alone God raises us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places.

When we believe and accept Jesus as Lord and savior we enter into his death, resurrection AND ascension. Our place is with Jesus for eternity – that is assured – it is guaranteed to all who follow Christ. Of course we are not perfect yet – we struggle, we still do the things we do not want to do – we are not yet without our bad tempers, or bad thoughts, or bad words, or bad actions – but the right to receive it fully has been secured and the new life has already begun here on earth. We are being governed by heavenly standards and motivated by heavenly impulses. Its power, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, enables us to be more than conquerors.

In view of God’s mercy, his patient, active, available and eternal mercy, where are we with God this morning? Is God being patient with us right now? Are we separated from him, doing our own thing, ignoring the ‘prophets’ who are sent to us to say ‘come to God – give your life to him – he loves you and he wants you to be in his kingdom.’

Or maybe is he actively showing his mercy to some of us right now. Maybe things are tough in life – is God trying to get our attention? Is he beckoning us to come to him and allow him into our life? Maybe we are already walking in God’s mercy right now – is God’s name being glorified in our lives? Or maybe we need to hear this morning that God’s mercy is available – its available regardless of what we have done, or where we have been in life – he is waiting to be gracious, he is waiting to pour his mercy on us and we have nothing to bring to God for this – just our yes Lord – we believe and we are yours forever. Or maybe some of us are praising God because we know this morning that the Mercy of God in our life is eternal – and we are rejoicing and glorifying his name – and so Sunday morning’s is about the joy of praising his name.

Wherever we are let us cry out to him this morning asking for his holy spirit to fill us. As we come forward to share communion together let us ask God to meet with us in a powerful way. If necessary ask someone to pray with you after the service – speak to someone if you need to speak with someone. But please do not delay – God’s mercy is available this morning – he is patient, he is active and it is eternal. Receive it – and receive it fully.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

AMEN.

Leadership – A Talk Given At Adult Ed Class

There are a plethora of books on Christian Leadership. It is one of the most popular topics of writing – how to be a leader – what is leadership.

Now, let me define what I mean by leadership. Leadership is more than just a senior pastor or a priest. It relates to anyone who has taken any form of leadership in the church from vestry / eldership / altar guild / youth ministry. It refers to anyone who within God’s church has taken any responsibility at all. And even if there are people within the church of God who have never taken any form of responsibility in the church, they are not off the hook! Much of the exaltations to leaders apply to ALL Christians – not just to leaders! So what we will talk about today relates to everyone in the body.

The issue of leadership is the very topic which consumed the Corinthians. The Corinthian immaturity is reflected in their arguing and their jealousy over positions of authority.

For the Corinthians – and this has not changed over 2000 years for many in the church – leadership makes certain people more important than others. Whenever ANYBODY thinks that a position of leadership makes YOU more important than ANYBODY else then you have lost the ability to be a good leader!

Such an attitude, as we see with the Corinthians, reveals the persons worldliness which will be manifestly shown in their pursuit of leadership; for such a person leadership means power and influence.

Too often have I heard the phrase – when I am in charge I will do such and such. Such a phrase shows the misconception of what leadership is in the church. It assumes that the major aspect of leadership is that the leader takes charge and makes decisions. Now of course leaders do need to make decisions. But the important issue is not that leaders MAKE decisions, but from WHERE do leaders make decisions. From what basis.
What do I mean? Does a leader make a decision from a powerbase or from somewhere else?

V5 of 1 Corinthians 3 shows us where a leader of the church should make his decisions – What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. The word servant is the word diakonos – where we get the word deacon. The same word that is used in Acts when the apostles appoint those who will care for the distribution of the food and to wait on tables – deacons.

Leadership in the church is about making decisions as a servant. A servant of whom? Jesus Christ. It is out of this place that all other decisions and the care of the congregation flow from.

This is nothing new. But what I find remarkable is that so many Christian leaders do not ACT as a servant. Now, I am going to sound judgmental here – and I am aware that I am throwing rocks in a glass house – However, in my experience of Church leaders in the 18 years I am been in the ministry, many, while knowing the theology that a leader is a servant, in practice lead in an autocratic, suppressive and even obsessive manner. They guard their authority jealously – even fearfully, worrying that people may undermine them.

One way you can test this is by observing how ministers are with the preaching plan. For many, they will not let anyone else, with any degree of frequency, teach in what they usually call “my church.” As we have seen on the first week – it’s not, nor will it ever be their church – it’s God’s church. Also, Preaching is a privilege not a right. When a preacher is more concerned about the fact that a congregation gets HIS preaching instead of Jesus’ Word, then such a leader has stopped being a servant. But this is just one example.

The point is that too many leaders act like premadonnas, not servants.

The desire to protect and maintain authority, by leaders, over a congregation, causes people to be neglected or used; It results in dealing suspiciously with anyone who might challenge the leadership, especially other leaders from other churches. Hence, a protective cocoon develops around the leader and the church, and anyone who tries or is perceived as trying to break into or through the cocoon is a threat and needs to be dealt with. This is exactly what was going on in Corinth.

Moving from a power and authority based leadership model to one which embraces powerlessness and a servant outlook will not be easy. As Christian’s we have lived within a worldview of adversarial and combative thinking. It has been so ingrained within us that to move away from it will take time, education and example.

Henri Nouwen captures the essence of this when he says;

I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. This is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love. The great message that we have to carry, as ministers of God’s word and followers of Jesus, is that God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.

If Jesus, as the Philippians says, emptied himself of his divinity, humbled himself and took the role of a servant, why should a follower and a leader of the people of Jesus be any different? Maybe it is because too many leaders do not how to exercise healthy, intimate relationships. They have become empire builders who are unable to give and receive love.

As Paul says in our reading – Jesus Christ is the foundation. All that is done – all that is built, every ministry, every Church, must start on this foundation.

If the motive of a leader is not Christ and His glory there will be problems. And you tell when a leaders foundation has shifted from Christ to something else. When a leader or leaders focus becomes how many are coming to the church, or how much money do we have, or, or or, then a shift of focus has taken place.

It may well be a cliché, but it is a true cliché – We are not called to be successful but faithful. I have heard many people add to this (and if we are faithful we will be successful). But how does one judge success? By what standards? Man’s of God’s?

Paul says if God has called you to plant – plant. If he has called you to water – water. That is what you are to do. God himself will be the source of growth – nobody else. When a church puts their hope of growth in a person, or a leader – there will always be disappointment – but when it is in God – we will persevere for it.

The question at the end of time for a leader, and for that matter for everyone of us, is not how successful where you – or how many numbers did you have, or how many conversations did you have – the question is did we build with Christ at the center. Was everything done because of Jesus? Was our motive, our desire, our goal that people got to know, grow in and released to follow Jesus Christ. Paul says very carefully let each man be careful how he builds.

The image Paul gives in 1 Cor 3:12 is very powerful. What a leader builds may look very impressive to the world, or even to the church. We can look at say what a great ministry – but everyones work – every ministry will go through the fire. It will be tested.

The point is a sobering one – at the end of time a leaders life work, a Christians lifes work will be put through the fire – and regardless of how impressive it looks to us if the foundation – if the motive – if the goal was not Christ it will be burned. The end of time will reveal the motives of all ministries and all churches.

Now, this is not about salvation. The people’s salvation is not in danger. But here is the sobering thought – there will be people in heaven who will suddenly see that their entire life’s work on earth was a waste of time because it had no heavenly value – it did not survive the fire. They will realize that all the sweat, blood and tears, the long hours and neglect of the family, the planning, the building projects, the capital campaigns and the intense negotiations to get a $500,000 mortgage at 5.1% were all a colossal waste of time.

This another reason why we must realize this is God’s Church; that we must be people of the Cross – that the power of the Church is in the Cross of Christ and that our wisdom must be in God and thus we must be spirit filled people.

Alan Krieder gives four attitudes and four skills of a peacemaker. The attitudes are; humility, commitment to the safety of others, acceptance of conflict and hope. The four skills are; truthful speech, expectant listening, alertness to community and good process (making decisions which are truthful, just and corporate.) While these skills and attitudes can be taught they need to be lived. They must become apart of the DNA of the Church Leader. Powerlessness, brokenness and servanthood are resident within these skills and attitudes.

Leaders are not to build their own edifices – their imprint must be minimal if not nonexistent. John the Baptist said “He must increase and I must decrease.”

Leadership is about encouraging people to build with gold, silver and precious stones – in other words to build their lives and to invest in the lives of others the things of Jesus Christ.

The Reason Why So Many Of Us Do Not Enter Into Our Destiny?

The reason so many of us do not enter into our destiny is because we misrepresent the Father before our spouses, children, community and the people of the world.

This is a quote from Pastor Rod Reid of Victory Christian Fellowship in Georgetown SC.  It came from a tremendous message Pastor Rod preached this past week and it cut me to the heart!

If you are ever in the Georgetown SC area, go to Victory.  You will be blessed to hear a preacher who in my opinion is one of the most anointed preachers I have ever heard.

Spirituality According To Paul: Imitating The Apostle Of Christ by Rodney Reeves

I like Rodney Reeves. Not that I have met him. But as I read this book I knew that if I were to meet him I would like him.  Reeves writes in such a way that you feel at home with him. I just thoroughly enjoyed the way he writes. This is not a frivolous book. Yet he approaches Paul and his spirituality in a winsome, at times fun, often down to earth way while retaining deep and frequent challenging applications for you to chew on – and chew on you will (such as Paul’s view of tithing and how a Church should  be generous). Some books on Paul can be ‘painfully’ heavy to read. This is such a joy to read that even when you are blind sided by one of the many, many, many powerful and potentially life changing, practical insights, it doesn’t hurt!!

All frivolity aside, this is a tremendous book and a valuable one for the church as a whole. With all the ‘controversy’ over Pauline thinking and theology over the past few years this is a breath of fresh air.

Highly recommended!