Monthly Archives: July 2019
This article was originally published in the Winter 1999 edition of Leadership Journal. I wrote it while I was serving as an Associate Pastor at Crossroads Bible Church in Bellevue, WA. Since two people have brought it up recently and said how helpful it was, I decided it was time to repost it.
John was a man with a mission—to oust the pastor. He had a long-standing grudge and refused to let go of it.
John would sidle up to newcomers and say, “Does the pastor strike you as a little cold? Does it bother you that he votes on his own salary? Did you hear about the squabble last year? Let me fill you in on what really happened.”
John rehashed his complaints with each new staffer and board member. If the leader didn’t take his side, John accused him of covering up the issues.
My turn came one hot, summer evening. I had heard about John’s tactic. I refused to be part of any gossip. To each accusation, I said, “John, you need to deal with your bitterness. I won’t listen to any more until you do that.” John has yet to do that, and now he considers me part of the cover-up.
Church staff, board members, and leaders are natural lightning rods for complainers. Afraid of voicing objections publicly or confronting the pastor directly, the disgruntled often come to us. Serving in staff positions over the past 10 years, I’ve learned some hard lessons about loyalty and integrity.
1. Step away from the gate.
If we are not careful, associates can easily become an Absalom at the gate, stealing away the hearts of Israel (2 Sam. 15:1- 6). Like King David’s son, we begin to think that things would be different if we were in charge, that we are the answer to the problem. We’re tempted to think we’re more “in touch” than the senior pastor. We discover there’s support for our way of thinking, and we can become the catalyst for a power struggle or church split.
2. The shortest distance between two points does not go through me.
Rather than playing Absalom, we should follow the biblical pattern of confrontation (Matt. 18:15-17). Instead of listening to rumors, we need to ask the complainer, “Have you talked to the pastor yet?”
If he hasn’t, we should politely tell him to follow what Scripture says about confrontation without commenting on the concerns. If he has done that and the matter has not been resolved, we should encourage him to follow Christ’s instruction by taking another person along for a private meeting with the pastor. If there is no resolution, then take it to the official leadership of the church.
3. “They” will get you into trouble.
At the church I serve, we have adopted the “they” rule. If a critic says “they say” or “several people are upset,” we ask the complainer to identify who “they” are. It’s hard to know how serious a situation is if you don’t know whether “they” are one person or 100.
If the individual bringing the criticism is unwilling to identify “them” or have them speak directly to the party that has offended them, we won’t listen to their accusations. After all, the end of Absalom’s life shows the danger of playing to the crowd.
4. Loyal David is a better example.
Rather than Absalom’s rebellion, a much better example for us is David’s respect for his superior, Saul. Instead of manipulating the present for my own ends, I need to relax and trust God for my future.
To keep my heart pure and my perspective straight, I’ve had to discipline myself to do two things. One is to pray for my seniors on a daily basis. It’s hard to criticize someone when you are praying for him. Lifting him up before God tends to diffuse any frustration and helps me to see him as God does. And two, I remind myself that, ultimately, I am serving Jesus Christ.
If we are truly honest, there are many aspects of the gospel that is offensive to our modern sensibilities. One reason is that we are uncomfortable with death. We avoid talking about it and don’t know what to say when we hear of someone’s death. A second reason is that we are sensitive to the issue of cruelty to animals. The idea of a sheep, bull, goat, or birds being killed to atone for my sins bothers us. A third reason is that we squeamish at the sight of blood or violence. A fourth reason is that we are reluctant to admit that we have a problem. We don’t want to confess that we are sinners.
And yet, the Bible is very clear that it was necessary for Jesus to die to pay the penalty for our sins. Hebrews 9:15-28 explains that through his death on the cross, Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant and accomplished the forgiveness of sins.
Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant (15). Verse 15 is the hinge verse of chapter 9 and provides a three-point outline for the second half of the chapter. The only way a person can come to God is to have the penalty of their sins paid. Jesus provided this payment for everyone who trusts in him.
The new covenant is established through death (16-22). If you want to pass on your house, property, and estate to your children or grandchildren, you write out your last will and testament. It does not go into effect until after your death. In the same way, Christ’s death made possible for us to receive forgiveness of sins and the positive blessings of the covenant.
While there was provision for a grain offering for poor people, the general principle of the Law was that an animal had to die for forgiveness to be possible. Blood had to be shed for forgiveness to be made available. We need to understand that sin is a terrible offense because forgiveness is so costly. Only death can relieve the burden and penalty of sin.
The death of Jesus brings about the forgiveness of sins (23-28). Through Jesus Christ, we have better purity (23), better representation because he appears before God on our behalf (24), a better sacrifice because he died once for all as opposed to the animal sacrifices that had to be repeated (25-28a), and better hope knowing that he can save us completely (28b).
The blood of others
|Jesus’ own blood|
Putting away sin
For Israel only
|For all sinners|
The priest left the holy of holies
Jesus entered heaven and remains there
|The priest came out to bless the people||
Jesus will come to take his people to heaven
Tomorrow’s judgment is escapable because today’s sin is forgivable.
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Bible Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 28, 2019. It is part of a series of expository sermons on the book of Hebrews. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.
During a luncheon following a funeral on Saturday afternoon, a person commented, “I hope your sermon is in the can for Sunday.” Not knowing quite how to respond, I simply commented that I tend to work ahead and I was prepared.
I cannot imagine waiting until Saturday to begin my sermon preparation. That strikes me as disrespectful—both to the Word of God and to the people of God who are expecting to be fed. It takes time to adequately study and understand the passage of Scripture, prayerfully consider the needs of the congregation, and blend the two into a satisfying, helpful, need meeting, interesting presentation. Even after 33 years of ministry experience, I could never accomplish that task in one day, let alone one afternoon.
As my wife and I discussed the comment, we were reminded of sitting at a Little League Baseball game on a Saturday evening some years ago that our son was playing in. One of his teammates was the son of a pastor whose church was nearby. During the game he was rapidly making notes on a 3X5 card. We guessed he was working on his sermon outline for the next morning.
The burden of preaching does not allow me to treat it lightly or frivolously.
Soon, there will be no more manholes in the city of Berkeley, California. There will also be no chairmen, no manpower, no policemen or policewomen.
Book Review: Strong: How God Equipped 11 Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Power (and Can Do the Same for You), by Catherine Parks
Catherine Parks has written a series of short biographies of 11 men in her book, Strong: How God Equipped 11 Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Power (and Can Do the Same for You). Her goal is to profile a different kind of strength than we usually think of.
This is a different view of strength; one that doesn’t require large muscles or athletic ability. There’s nothing here about winning fights of never crying. This strength comes from outside of ourselves—from God. And we don’t get this strength so that we can win games or show off; this strength helps us do the things God has planned for us, hanging in there and being patient even when things are hard. The purpose of our lives isn’t to prove how strong we are; it’s to show His strength.
Each one of the stories about the eleven men in her book exhibited strength in different ways. Alvin York showed strength in generosity; George Muller in faith; Dietrich Bonhoeffer showed courage; Brother Andrew demonstrated obedience; Elka of the Wai Wai showed how to stand alone; Eric Liddell showed strength in knowing what matters; John Newton demonstrated godly ambition; William Carey showed humility; George Liele demonstrated compassion; Jim Elliot showed sacrificial love; and Jack Robinson demonstrated endurance.
The book is a very fast read as it has larger than normal font and more space and margin than usual. Each chapter ends with questions that can be used for discussion. Since the profiles are relatively brief, you may want to consult other sources to learn more in depth about the various men. The style of writing seems like the book is aimed at elementary or junior high boys. Perhaps it could be used in a Sunday School class or a father reading the book with his son.
Disclosure: I received this book free from B&H Publishing through the B&H/Lifeway Bloggers program http://www.bhbloggers.com/. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.
Book Review: The String, by Caleb Breakey
The String is a taut, well written, thrilling story about impossible decisions and deadly consequences. It grabs your attention from the opening sentence, “The branding iron pulsated reddish orange in the corner fireplace. It was time.” It doesn’t let go until the final note. And even then, it leaves you wanting more.The book follows the twisted path of “the conductor” who blackmails numerous students and staff of Trenton University into playing the game as musicians in his symphony. He has two simple rules: #1 Participation is mandatory. #2 If any one player refuses to play, everyone suffers the consequences. Thrown into the mix is a university cop, Markus Haas, who refuses to play and struggles to find a way of the impossible dilemmas presented to him.
Along the way, the author weaves in references to faith and prayer. The inclusion of faith seems natural rather than forced or preachy. The book is a fast paced, exciting page turner that is difficult to put down.
Disclosure: I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers www.bakerbooks.com/bakerbooksbloggers program. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review.