SEAL_Team_Two_(Echo_Platoon)

Make Church Count!

As I reflect back on my time in the SEAL Teams, I realize more and more that so much of military life translates to the local church.  One of my favorite training drills was “IAD’s” (Immediate Action Drills).  This is a training scenario where the platoon is faced with enemy contact.  An insane amount of firepower is blasted towards the threat as the team does a sort of dance breaking away from the threat.  It is overwhelming to see the amount of lead a SEAL platoon can sling downrange and for a significant amount of time.  As the platoon disengages from the threat, in addition to expending a ton of rounds, we will travel a considerable distance.  We will “rally up” once it is deemed relatively safe.  In the “hasty rally” we will survey one another with two questions: 1) How much ammo do you have, and 2) are you okay?  Guys with more ammo will share with guys who are running low and major injuries will be handled.  We then quickly move to get out of there.  There is no way to convey this experience into one paragraph (click here to see 2 minute video), but these experiences have transformed how I understand church life.

When I look out at the local church in our nation today, it seems like going to church is out for most.  For others it is a time to “pay back” God with an hour of boredom (well that was my childhood), or to appease someone like the wife, mom, or girlfriend…if one goes at all.  In this process we put on our “Sunday best” in order to show everyone how well we have this life mastered.  This is so backwards as the emphasis is on externals, not on our reality.  Hebrews 10:23-25 states this, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  I believe these verses paint a picture of church being more like the “hasty rally” in the SEAL teams, than the “doing our hour once a week” culture.  Let me explain with a couple of points.

“How much ammo do you have?”  Have you ever noticed how many military illustrations the Bible uses?  Christians have been enlisted for military service (2 Tim. 2:3-4) and we need equipping for the warfare we face.  As this relates to church our ammo could be likened to multiple things, but I will stick to the importance of Sundays worship service.  The music and Bible teaching should draw one closer to God and deeper in their understanding of Him.  As we grow in our understanding and relationship with Him we increase our fighting power.

“Are you okay?”  Humans handle this question in a funny way.  Without a doubt we answer, “I’m fine.”  I don’t care if it’s the battlefield or the church.  We like to hide our problems when things aren’t going well.  We need to get over ourselves, let our guard down, and be real about our ups and downs.  It’s okay to share your struggles, worries, and needs to fellow believers.  We aren’t here to judge one another, but there are times when a brother’s confrontation of your sin can be the best thing for you (Prov. 27:6).  The church is supposed to be a close-knit family where we can help and serve one another in this journey.

To the Believer.    Choose your church wisely.  Find a church where the Bible is taught.  I am convinced that a church that teaches the Bible (actually going through and teaching the books of the Bible, not random topical teaching) is the best environment to foster spiritual health.  Connect to a local church, be faithful, and don’t church hop.  Get grounded in your local church.  Part of the struggle is planting roots and developing meaningful relationships where you feel comfortable and there is someone who genuinely cares about you to listen.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  I’m not against the large church, but the reality is these types of deep relationships are harder to form to form in a crowded setting.  Whatever size church you go to, get plugged in and be intentional about developing meaningful relationships.

To the pastor.  Preach the Word.  Develop a culture of transparency by being transparent yourself.  Help the people of the church to develop meaningful relationships…I don’t have the answers of how to do this for your setting, but I am very convinced that we need to foster this in our churches today!

fed

Intentionality in Discipleship & Evangelism

Jesus said that we are to make disciples by going, teaching and baptizing. (Matthew 28:19). In that Great Commission, making disciples is the key. The work of the church is always to be building disciples. Yet, there are times when I wonder if the body of Christ is more concerned with making converts than with making disciples. At the same time, there are many churches that have little to no evangelistic fervor.

I was recently told of a church that was doing a phenomenal job of seeing people introduced to Jesus. The church was evangelistic to the core and God was using them mightily. But then the person said that this church has no vision for discipleship. This person lamented that although people were being saved (which was a great joy), the young believers were stuck in infancy.

On the other side of the coin, there are many churches that have a heart and passion for discipleship. The only issue that because of a lack of passion for souls, they are constantly discipling the same people as no new believers are being added to the fold. Oftentimes, these churches have strange hang-ups about contemporary ways of proclaiming the good news. There are the ‘altar call’ wars and issues. It makes me think of DL Moody who was purported to have said, “I like my way of doing things better than your way of not doing things.”

I then remembered hearing a pastor say, “You shouldn’t share the gospel with someone unless you are committing to discipling them also.” Now, I don’t know if I agree with the sentiment. But the pastor was trying to get across the responsibility we have, as believers, to not only share the good news, but also to take an active concern with someone’s progress in faith.

In many ways, it we are keeping the main thing the main thing within the church, we need to be intentional in building disciples. Realistically, if we are seeking to make converts, we are doing that so that they can become disciples. Their salvation is the starting line for their life of discipleship. So it isn’t an either/or reality. Instead, evangelism and discipleship are like matched gloves, both equally necessary for the work of the Lord.

So here are some quick thoughts about being intentional in discipleship.
1) Understand where your gifting is.
2) If you are strong in evangelism, seek out a compliment in discipleship. And vice versa.
3) Make a commitment to both evangelism and discipleship.
4) Gather a tribe to pour into (like Jesus did with his 12).
5) Always remember, there are more fish in the wild then in the ponds.
6) Think through various benchmarks in spiritual development for believers
7) Don’t neglect the transition points within the ministry (ie. from Junior High to High School to Young Adults to the Body at large)
8) Remember that Paul didn’t just share the gospel but also his very life.
9) Make discipleship as much a part of your ministry as preaching.

no revival

Pastoral Ministry in a Non-Revival Age

America has experienced significant revivals in her short history. Most notable among them are the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings (18th and 19th centuries)—revival scholars such as J. Edwin Orr name several others as well, including the Pentecostal and other significant moves of God in the early 20th century.

These revivals were characterized by large numbers of people repenting of their sins and confessing faith in Christ. Whole regions were radically affected by this turning to God. Taverns closed, divorce rates declined dramatically, violence and murder waned, drunkenness decreased. Churches filled up, with a notable hunger for prayer, Biblical preaching, and Christ centered evangelism. (For a brief history of revivals in America, read http://www.peacekey.com/1-1-a/OSAS/Revival_Prayer_1.HTM).

While not an American revival, the Welsh revival is famous for its sudden and dramatic impact. Evan Roberts was one of its main leaders. His message to believers or professing believers hit home with great power. Summing up his message in four parts, Roberts emphasized the following points:

1. Confess all known sin.

2. Deal with and get rid of anything ‘doubtful’ in your life.

3. Be ready to obey the Holy Spirit instantly.

4. Confess Christ publicly.

Let’s fast forward to our present day. In some parts of the world, revival-like conditions exist. Perhaps even in the U.S. there are pockets of revival in a few places. But overall, we who minister in the U.S. are ministering in non-revival conditions. Evan Roberts’ four points do not generally describe the way things are in our churches. When these things are seen today (in individuals or in small groups of individuals), they are viewed as exceptional … definitely not the norm for 21st century American Christianity. Confession of sin?  Sins are renamed and are viewed as mistakes. Getting rid of things that are doubtful?  Today’s believer wants his/her liberty, and wants it now. Instant obedience to the Holy Spirit?  Hardly. Confess Christ publicly?  Most believers never share their testimony or the gospel. With anyone.

I hope I’m not jaded, but that’s how it seems to be, at least to me. According to one author’s intriguing book Not a Fan (Kyle Idleman), Jesus has lots of fans, but not too many followers. He writes about a guy who had been attending the church where he pastors. This fellow sent in an email asking to be removed from the church membership. His stated reason? “I don’t like Kyle’s sermons.” Curious, the pastor found this man’s phone number and called him. “Hey, this is Kyle Idleman. I understand you’re leaving the church because you don’t like my sermons.” After a brief silence and some rambling, bumbling words, the man complained like this: “Well … whenever I listen to one of the messages I feel like you are trying to interfere with my life.”  Bingo! As Idleman says (representing what we pastors are supposed to do),  “Yeah, umm, that’s kind of like my job description.”  This ex-church member was a fan of Jesus, but not a follower. Of course Jesus interferes with our lives! That’s the core and essence of discipleship.

My question has been (and still is) … how do we do pastoral ministry in a non-revival age?  I’ve some suggestions, maybe we can banter this around a bit.

  • We need to start praying for revival, begin a prayer movement.

Revival accounts that I have read all say the same thing: no revival ever occurred without what J. Edwin Orr calls extraordinary prayer. “What do we mean by extraordinary prayer? We share ordinary prayer in regular worship services, before meals, and the like. But when people are found getting up at six in the morning to pray, or having a half night of prayer until midnight, or giving up their lunch time to pray at noonday prayer meetings, that is extraordinary prayer. It must be united and concerted.”  (http://www.pastornet.net.au/renewal/journal1/orr.html)

  • Live for Christ myself.

Recently, I listened to the audio reading of David Platt’s radical book, Radical. It moved me. I need to be that guy. Not David Platt, but the radical disciple. I need to be an authentic Christian. I need to live in the new covenant. I need to confess sins, a lot. By living this way I’ll be more understanding, gracious, truthful, and intentional in my ministry to Christ’s people.

  • Preach and teach the whole Bible.

Only a whole Bible can produce a whole Christian. Teach and preach the Bible book by book, chapters and verses. Tough to dodge vital issues like sin, repentance, and confession when going through the entire Word.

  • Continue to emphasize the need for a focused, personal devotional life.

Those who are seeking to follow Christ need to learn to become self-feeders.

  • Go on short term missions trips to places where revival is happening.

There are such places in the 10/40 window, sub-Sahara Africa, and Central and South America. I frequently recall something G. Campbell Morgan one wrote, “The value of distance is perspective.” These trips help me to think on the way things ought to be, rather than on the way things are.

  • Make disciples.

Work with pockets of teachable, malleable people. Do 2 Timothy 2:1-2. Not everyone in our churches is cold toward Christ. Those that are hungry and truly thirsty—we should work with them. To do so, we have to drop our expectations of how they’ll fit into our church programs. Instead, we must point them towards reciprocally abiding relationship with Christ … the believer in Christ, Christ in the believer.

  • Aim high.

 We must raise the bar, not lower it. No sermonettes for christianettes. If I’m raising the bar in my own life, I’ll know the difference between the heights of that bar. For example, I recently stopped listening to Sports Talk Radio while driving around. It’s not a law for me, just something I felt I needed to do. It was an unnecessary weight (Hebrews 12:1-2). I’m amazed at how much richer my walk is, now that I’m free to converse with and worship the Lord, and listen to His voice. So also, we need to challenge our people. Interfere with their lives a bit.

  • Get around peers in ministry that are en el fuego (Spanish for “on fire” … learned that on Sports Talk Radio).

 Seriously, iron sharpens iron, we greatly encourage each other as we talk outreach, church matters, ministry challenges, and the rest.

  • Find ways to be healthy … spiritually, emotionally, and physically.

It’s easy to dive into depression, I know because I’ve been there. But if I go there, I’m of no use to anyone. I’ve got to be strong in the grace of God which is in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 2:1).

  • Remember that faithfulness is what Jesus requires of me, not results.

If I’m results oriented, I’ll get easily discouraged. If I focus on daily obedience in faith, I’ll be living as Jesus lived, in wholesale dependence upon His Father. Jesus was the faithful Son over His own house, listening daily for the Father’s instructions (Hebrews 3:1-6; Isaiah 50:4-5). Just before Calvary, Jesus told His Father that He’d glorified Him on the earth and finished the work He’d given Him to do (John 17:4). Jesus didn’t do everything that was within the realm of the possible—that which could have been done, but He did do everything the Father directed Him to do. Faithfulness is the key.

Concluding thoughts…

Recently, we had a word of prophecy from a young woman … it was in an afterglow service during our recent Northern and Central California pastors and leaders conference at Mt. Hermon. The word had to do with revival … that it was coming. I sure hope so. If you have read and agree with Joel Rosenberg’s recent book Implosion you believe that revival is the only hope for the United States. But imagine ministry in a revival atmosphere! It would be a completely different animal, on so many levels. I’m sure you can imagine…

Following that prophecy was a word of wisdom. The word went like this. I’m paraphrasing, and may not be exactly right: “Pray for revival. Prepare for revival. And when (if) revival comes, give God the glory for everything that happens in the revival.”

Amen.

dry

Pastoral No Man’s Land

When I entered ministry almost twenty years ago it was right in the middle of the Attractional or Seeker Sensitive movement. There was a lot out there on how to program you ministry right down to the very last detail. Being fresh out of college without any ministry training or education I kind of got swept into it, except for one small detail, I wasn’t very good at it. It threw me into quite the quandary because that is what success was being measured by. For a long time I felt like I was in pastoral no man’s land.

No man’s land is a metaphor that has been used to describe a lot of situations but to me it comes from the Tennis world. I played in high school and college and no man’s land was the area between the baseline and service line. You didn’t want to get caught in that area because that is where the ball usually bounces and it is hard to return a ball that is bouncing right at your feet. You needed to be behind the baseline where you can hit the ball at the apex or up at the net putting away a volley. If you got caught in no man’s land you usually didn’t win the point.

The problem is that many pastors find themselves in pastoral no man’s land. They are somewhere in between in a lot of areas. You can be in pastoral no man’s land when comes to being attractional or missional, being outgoing or an introvert, or being a visionary or academic. If you read popular books they tell you that you must commit to one or the other to be successful. The problem is that it is the Type A personalities who write these books and they are geared towards that style. From their perspective being in no man’s land is ineffective.

The fact is that I enjoy doing a lot of things as a pastor. I love studying the Bible and teaching but I don’t want to spend my whole day doing it. I enjoy counseling people but after too many appointments I am drained and think everyone is whacked. In secret, which I never admit at any pastor’s conference, I love spreadsheets, profit and loss statements, and numbers. I like variety but if I listened to other people, which I used to, I would think I am in Pastoral no man’s land. They tell you that you have to do one thing really well and delegate the rest and if you focus on too many areas you aren’t doing anything well.

To be honest God doesn’t look for us to do even one thing well. One lesson I have to learn over and over is that “Where I am weak He is strong.” The older I get the weaker I realize am in all areas. I have taken too much credit for any success in my life. It’s when I give up from exhaustion God usually takes over and accomplishes in seconds what I tried for weeks to do.

The fact is that we have three callings as a Pastor: Prophet, Priest, and King. Most of us specialize in one of these and struggle in the other two. Neglecting one or more of these areas will eventually take its toll on us or on the ministry God has blessed us with. If you feel like you are in pastoral no man’s land take heart. God may have you there to show His glory through our weaknesses. Stop trying to measure up to other pastors and books. Instead decide to be content where God has you and start seeking Him more for the increase.

pass-the-baton

Transitionally Speaking

I am now nine months into my fourth ministry transition as a senior pastor. Four?!? Yes, four. I transitioned out of the pastorate at Calvary Chapel New Brunswick after founding the church in 2007. Then I simultaneously transitioned out of both Calvary North Bay and Calvary San Francisco at the end of 2011. Now I am in the midst of transitioning into the pastorate at Crossroads Community Church here in Vancouver, WA. After sitting down with Warren Bird (of Leadership Network) this past week, where we discussed our current transition, I felt that it was time to start writing about transition.

Side note – By all accounts, the transition here at Crossroads is going exceedingly well. Both in internal and external realities, things are amazing. The church is growing in size and depth. From a leadership perspective, things are healthy. But, since this is a blog about doing ministry, I am going to try and write it in a detached manner to talk through some of the potential issues and downfalls (not that we are necessarily experiencing them).

Transition is an important subject. Primarily because it is always happening. Transitions are always taking place. Within the ecclesiastical world, transition is important because there is a generation of boomer pastors who are on the cusp of transitioning. This is not to say that older pastors are not needed or useful. Far from it. But it is common for congregations to age along with their pastor. There are pastors who have been mightily used of God in congregations for 30+ years. As they look at their congregations, stereotypically, their congregations have aged along with them. For many evangelical churches, they want to learn from the mainline denominational churches who simply let their congregations age without transitioning. So transitions are on the horizon.

So I wanted to sketch out a few broad brush strokes about transition.

1) A race can be lost because of a botched transition.

As pastors, we realize that God’s kingdom and purpose is larger than the ministry that he has entrusted to our lives. We are a part of something much greater than ourselves. As pastors and church planters, we realize that we are part of a relay race. We are not sprinters. The health of the churches we pastor and the cause of kingdom in our cities must continue until the Lord returns. Our leg of the race is vitally important. And we are responsible for it. But in order for a relay race to be won, each ‘passing of the baton’ must be smooth and thoughtful. A number of legs of the race can be run well. But one botched transition can be catastrophic. So it is essential to realize that the stakes are high and eternity hangs in the balance. We need to transition well.

2) There is a difference between transition and change.

For us here at Crossroads, this is one of the big lessons. Transition and change are actually different. The outcome is the same. But the difference between transition and change is the route you take to get there. For most church transitions, there is one pastor and then there is another pastor. There is a new under-shepherd with a new vision. But for most churches, there is an attempt to jam a square peg into a round hole. There is an abrupt change from one to another with little thought about flow, intentionality and concern for people. This is why church transitions have such a high turn over rate. Imagine a speed boat is heading in one direction. A new driver wants to take a different course so they just turn the wheel. All the people sitting on the sides of the boats go flying overboard. This is change. But transition says, “Hey everyone, we are going to change directions here. We want to head to a different place. Please hold on. I’m am going to turn a bit slower than I’d like to but I don’t want you to go flying because I actually care about you and your well being.” Creating change is easy (especially for the change agent). But you will lose the very people that God calls you to care for. Transition happens slower, more deliberately, more intentionally. You still get to the desired outcome. Sure it happens slower but more people will be there.

3) Transitions are hard because they begin with an ending.

This is why transitions are so hard. They always begin with an ending. Here at Crossroads, the beginning of our transition began with the announcement that Bill Ritchie was not going to continue on as Senior Pastor in the next few years. Think about it. The transition began with an ending. Endings are hard for people. The end of an era. Hard. The end of a relationship (even a bad one). Hard. The end of life. Hard. Endings are hard. But when we can acknowledge that an ending is hard and we can minister to that challenge, the people of God respond! In the early Jewish Christians, like Peter in Galatia, is was hard to not think that they were more righteous then the Gentiles who ate non-Kosher food. It takes some time for people to get comfortable with the ending. So in transition, we need to give people the time and space to work through the initial ending. If we allow for time to process, pray and get comfortable with the ending, then the transition can begin with some productivity. But we cannot rush this.

4) Crosscurrents are part of every transition.

Part of a transition is realizing that crosscurrents will happen. If you are truly transitioning there needs to be the opportunity for the past and the future to exist simultaneously in the same space. Crosscurrents can be choppy. They can also drown people if it is unexpected. So we need to help lead people to understand that crosscurrents are just part of this. There is the vision that was and then there is the vision that will be. But we are here in the present with both currents existing. In the passing of the baton analogy from a relay race, each runner needs to understand the other runners style and approach in order to transition well. For Bill Ritchie and I, we are constantly talking about his vision for Crossroads and how that shaped where the ministry is today. I also share about where I see things going in the future. Neither is better or worse. They are sometimes just different. And as long as there is mutual respect and understanding, those crosscurrents can be navigated. As I often tell people, “We are not what we were. We are not what we will be. But we are moving in the right direction.” This is a simple definition of the crosscurrents of a transition.

5) For the sake of the body, steadiness is key.

In all of this talk about transition, I have found that the key to a healthy transition is that it be handled steadily. Steadiness must be from implementation to execution to culmination. A steady hand is totally needed. For most transitions, there can be seasons of steadiness. But there is often parts of the transition that are herky-jerky. Here at Crossroads, we feel great about how we have done thus far. The body has responded (and even grown) in this process. But we are not done yet. Bill and I were just speaking recently about the need to be ‘steady-on’ in this process. So far so good. But we want to set a steady pace and continue on well.

sermon prep

On Sermon Preparation

I’ve been asked to do a workshop on sermon preparation at the NorCal pastors and leaders conference. I’m sure there are plenty of men more suited to the task, but I accepted the invitation anyway.

In this blog I’m simply going to share my notes with you. In the actual workshop, I’ll fill in the blanks. Also, in the part about the necessity of being clear, near the beginning of the talk, I’m going to play a YouTube video entitled the Turbo Encabulator. It’s hilarious, a spoof … but illustrates (using exaggeration) how NOT to speak. I include the URL here for your enjoyment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLDgQg6bq7o

Blessings to all of you who regularly address God’s people by opening up God’s Word. May He gift and enable us to do this task well.


On Sermon Preparation

Sermon Preparation. Suggestions concerning more effective communication of Biblical truth, especially in verse by verse Bible teaching.

NOTE: it’s vital that we do this well, but it is NOT vital that it be pleasing to everyone. We don’t cater the message for our audience, although we may adjust it to meet present needs. Yet, the whole truth and nothing but the truth will set people free. The truth, understood and applied, will change people’s lives. We begin with the truth, and let it works its way to the people, by the Spirit. We DO NOT begin with the people, with their needs (felt or otherwise), and then organize scripture to satisfy them.

NOTE: we must be clear… clarity is of utmost importance in sharing the truth of God.

Thoughts on Hermeneutics

Assumption

  • Hermeneutics is the art and science of the interpretation of texts.
  • Biblical hermeneutics is the science of the interpretation of the text of the Bible.
  • Basic principle: for each and every passage of scripture, there is one primary and intended meaning of the text.
  • THEREFORE, it is the work of the interpreter to discover what that meaning is, and then make application of that meaning.

 TO DO THIS, we must not only understand the passage and its application, but also work hard at making it clear. If the interpreter does not understand the message, clarity will be impossible.

The Introduction

  • Like a takeoff in an airplane ride (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’re going to tell them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s introducing the passage. Tell them about the theme. Let them in on what they’re about to hear.

The Body 

  • Like the actual flight of the plane (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’re going to tell them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s teaching the passage, working through its flow of thought, and working through its meaning and application.

The Conclusion

  • Like the landing of the plane (Jon Courson).
  • It’s telling them what you’ve told them (Toastmasters International).
  • It’s summing up, making the final point, it’s extending the invitation, it’s exhortation to do the application, etc. The conclusion can be many things.

OVERALL: we must give the people confidence that we know where we’re going, that we’ll get there, that they’ll be able to catch your drift, follow you in their thoughts, etc. If they lack this confidence, we’ll lose them. Their minds will drift off, or they’ll tune us out. The devil is ever ready to snatch the word out of their minds if they don’t understand it (Matthew 13:19).

WE STRIVE FOR CLARITY. I want the people to understand what is being said in the text, and how I am interpreting it. If someone tells me afterwards that the message was clear, I’m stoked.

Today’s Method 

  • I understand that sermon preparation is somewhat subjective, but I’m going to give you a summary of how I generally do things. At best, what I’ll share will spark a new approach for you and help you … at the least, it will provide a mirror at which to look at your own methods. When I was coaching, I often reflected on the good and bad traits of the coaches I played under. Their strengths and weaknesses taught me much.
  • Reading through the entire Bible. (Recommend: 30 Days to Understanding the Bible in 15 Minutes a Day)
  • Get your theology from the teaching of the books of the Bible. Soteriology: Romans, for example.
  • I read the text out loud, in prayer.
  • I outline the passage.
  • I study the passage, using O,I,A (inductive method: observation, interpretation, application).
  • I read commentaries. During the week I’ll listen to studies as I’m walking, driving, working out … I tend not to listen to studies and take notes while I’m listening.
  • I learn the movement of the passage, the theme of the passage. Sheri will ask me what it’s going to be about. I want to be able to answer her with one crisp and succinct sentence.
  • I give it a title. Even if it’s a midweek Bible study, going through a couple of chapters, I give it a title. The title grows out of the passage, not the other way around.
  • I type it out.
  • For a Sunday AM message, I usually sit on it, let it germinate, let it percolate. Then early on Sunday morning I’ll cut stuff out, insert illustrations, try to see the message in the big picture.
  • I pray, get up in front of God’s people, and let it rip. I don’t care how I feel, how frustrated I am with myself, how depressed I am about how things are going … I am not going to cheat the people, I’m going to give them the best I have, with God’s help.

 NOTE:  we cannot … we must not … underestimate the value of what we do. Lives do change, and hopefully, disciples are made. Self-feeders, believers who grow into mature saints.

 Sermon Notes—The Outline (example from a recent message)

“When Faith is Tested”

Matthew 15:21-39

CC Santa Cruz

August 26, 2012

I.  The Story of a Woman with Great Faith (15:21-28)

II.  The Story of the Faith of Desperate and Hopeful Crowds (15:29-31)

III.  A Story of Unexpected Blessing upon Unlikely People (15:32-39)

 

hearseesay

Self-perception or the perception of others? Whose do YOU trust?

Self-perception.  Is it ever accurate?  Jere 17:9

More than 25 years ago I had a conversation with a senior pastor that provoked my thinking and prodded me to do a completely informal survey with about a dozen other senior pastors that I considered friends.  The survey took place over a span of about 5 or 6 years and the fact that all of the senior pastors I spoke with had the same perspective has embedded what I discovered into my mind, never to be forgotten.  A few conversations that I’ve had recently, along with some things that I’ve seen written on a few blogs by other senior  pastors over the past few months have stirred up one of those discoveries that I made all those years ago.

Although I don’t remember most of the specifics of that original conversation, the point of ignition for my further thinking on the subject was a comment from my friend, the senior pastor, that ended with him making a statement similar to this, “…..I’m not really sure why things unfolded the way they did, but I do know that I’m a ‘people-person’.”

When I heard this brother describe himself that way—as a “people-person”, I was more than a bit surprised.  To be sure that I had actually understood what he meant, I asked him to repeat the point that he had just made.  And he did so.  He was convinced in his own mind that he was a “people-person”.   I now knew that he genuinely believed that about himself.  He had just given me his honest perception of himself.

Apparently, because of the look on my face at that moment and because we’d always had a very transparent relationship with each other, he told me that he could tell I wasn’t buying what he was saying and he asked me whether I agreed with his description of himself as a “people-person”.

And so, being the personality-type that I am, I told him that although I would describe him to others in many positive ways, his being a “people-person” would never be one of them.  And not only that, but I also told him that if I went around to the people who he interacted with on a regular basis and asked them to describe him to me, more than likely, none of them would him as a “people-person” either.

Now it was his turn to be surprised.  He asked me if I was serious and I reminded him that he knew better than that.  And this is where the conversation got even more interesting.

I then told him that through my experiences in management in the secular world, the graceful honesty of my wife and immediate family members who loved me enough to tell me the truth about myself,  and many principles that I had I learned from God’s word since becoming a follower of Jesus, I had learned to exercise extreme caution when it came to trusting that my perception of myself was actually accurate.

I said that I had learned that I if really want to know the type of person I am, the most accurate way to do that is to ask a close friend to go around and do a mini-survey of the 8-10 people that I interact with at least once or more per week.  I would give my close friend, the surveyor, very simple instructions.  He should ask each of these people individually, to describe ME in five or six different ways using a few words or phrases for each description.  And when my close friend gave me the responses,  I would accept that these people’s descriptions are more than likely the way that I actually am.  Even if those descriptions might not even be close to the way I perceive myself.

At this point, my conversation with my senior pastor friend turned even more interesting.  He told me that if those who know him best really wouldn’t describe him as a “people-person” it was either because they hadn’t gotten to know him well enough or because they had expectations of him that he could never live up to.

He really said these things to me.

That conversation ended with me challenging him to consider a few things, including the possibility of having a close friend doing something like the mini-survey that I told him about.

And then, as I said above, over the next few years I asked 5 or 6 other senior pastors some questions based on what I had learned from the original conversation with my senior pastor friend.  The questions and a summary of their answers went like this:

1.  Do you believe that you’re a “people-person”?  (All of them said “yes”)

2.  Would those who interact with you on a regular basis describe you as a “people-person”?  (Most of them said “yes”)

3.  But if someone other than you asked them to describe you to someone else, would they describe you to someone else as a “people-person”?

(All of them said, “probably not”)

4.  Whose perception is most accurate, yours or theirs?  (All of them said their own perception of themselves was more accurate)

5.  If your perception is the accurate one, what is the source of the mis-perception of others?  (In one way or another, they all said it wasn’t anything to do with them, it had something to do with the other people)

Although I believe that a fairly reasonable case can be made that a senior pastor should be a “people-person” along with quite a few other character traits, that’s never been what really bothered me.  What bothered me then and what has cropped up to bother me again today is the core issue of conflicting perceptions.

When self-perception is contradictory to, or the opposite of the perception of a group of other people who know us and love us, what should be provoked within us?

–Should we throw the burden on others to figure out what we already know about ourselves?

–Or, should we move forward humbly recognizing that our own self-perception hasn’t been accurate and that if we desire to be perceived in a different way, we might need to repent and be willing to change a few things in our own lives, and have those that love us help us make those changes?

And finally, referring to someone as a “people-person” is probably not taking place these days among the age groups under 40.  My guess is that rather than describing someone as a “people-person”, this younger group would more than likely describe that type of person as “relational”.

Either way, here’s a brief summary of what a “relational” or “people-person” does:

–Makes you not only feel comfortable in their presence, but makes your being with them so totally enjoyable that you can’t wait to hang out with them again.

–Demonstrates a genuine interest in you that shows itself through the questions they ask, the diligence with which they listen to your responses, and then the next few questions they ask you that are based on your previous answers to the questions they asked you.

–At just the right times, reveals their own thoughts, experiences, struggles, or victories in a way that makes them real to you and gives you confidence that they have a real connection with you.

–Never gives you the impression or the “vibe” that they are spending time with you for any other reason than a sincere desire to know you more so that your relationship with them can deepen and you can be a greater blessing to one another.

–Even when your relationship with them has a “task accomplishing” angle to it, you never feel like if you stopped accomplishing the task for them that they would no longer have an interest in spending time with you or caring about how you’re doing.

 

 

drawcon

Draw Your Own Conclusion?

A couple of years ago I sat through a seminar where a seminary professor lectured on the value of telling stories in the pulpit without necessarily explaining their meaning.  He said that we could trust the people to draw the appropriate conclusion and make the necessary application.  His lecture mirrors the advice I read somewhere online.

It is fascinating to me that in our Protestant religious culture, such a strong emphasis is placed upon literal interpretation. Interestingly, Jesus so often did not speak literally, but figuratively. He spoke in allegories and images. He painted word pictures. Instead of literally coming out and saying what he meant, he so often would tell a story and let people draw their own conclusion. Indeed, these hidden messages of Jesus frequently frustrated his disciples. They wished that he would speak literally and not be quite so subtle.  From Sermon Resources for May 6, 2012.

After the professor’s lecture, I went to my hotel room and read through all the stories of Jesus – parables and otherwise.  I found only one story where Jesus didn’t supply the meaning – but the context in which the story was told supplied the meaning. Yes, He did tell stories where He didn’t immediately give the interpretation, but He did so later.  Many of the parables went intentionally unexplained, but were later interpreted for His disciples.  Why?  Precisely because His disciples couldn’t draw their own conclusions.

Jesus told parables and left them uninterpreted and His disciples and the crowds were confused.  “Explain it to us”, His disciples asked Him.  Well, it turns out that the unadorned parable, the bald story, was not meant to illuminate, but to obfuscate.  It falls in line with the prophecy of Isaiah – in seeing they will not see…  Why?  The uninterpreted parables were judgments against His listeners.  Jesus didn’t expect His hearers to draw the appropriate conclusion – He expected them to remain in the dark!

There is a series of stories in Luke 15 – the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the Prodigal Son.  He tells one story after another without any commentary.  Yet the historical setting in 15:2 provides the interpretive context: Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”  These stories of sheep and coins and sons are told in response to this Pharisaic concern.  Jesus is basically saying, “Here’s why I receive sinners and eat with them.”

I am not decrying story telling or the power of stories to capture the imagination or the aesthetic beauty of stories.  I am not disputing the ability of stories to capture and convey spiritual truth.  I am not challenging the current emphasis on storying the sermon.  I am disputing the unadorned, the uninterpreted story.  I am questioning the wisdom of leaving the congregation to draw their own conclusions.  Consider the following:

I heard a story about a dancer who danced an incredible program. After she finished, one of the women from the audience approached her. “That was an amazing dance,” she said. “I was moved to tears, but I just have one question—what did it mean?” And the dancer replied, “If I could tell you what it meant, I wouldn’t have had to dance it.”  Some things cannot be explained, summarized, analyzed, or tied up with a neat little bow.  Sometimes explanations aren’t sufficient.  Think about the story of The Prodigal Son. What is it about? What’s the theme? How would you explain its message? Is it about love? Yes. Grace? Yes. Repentance? Judging others?  Yes, yes. Salvation? Decision making? God’s sovereignty? Man’s free will?  Yes to all of the above.  And more.  http://www.sermoncentral.com/article.asp?article=a-Steven_James_07_16_07&ac=true

The author mentions so many things the Prodigal Son points to except what the context of Luke 15 indicates!  Love or grace or repentance or forgiveness?  Take your pick – after all, the story is elastic.  And indeed the applications are manifold, but it has a beginning point – somewhere – right?

I love the following story and have told it often.

“There is a story from the Desert Fathers about a young monk who asked one of the old men of the desert why it is that so many people came out to the desert to seek God and yet most of them gave up after a short time and returned to their lives in the city.  The old monk told him, “Last evening my dog saw a rabbit running for cover among the bushes of the desert and he began to chase the rabbit, barking loudly. Soon other dogs joined in the chase, barking and running. They ran a great distance and alerted many other dogs. Soon the wilderness was echoing the sounds of their pursuit and the chase went on into the night. After a little while, many of the dogs grew tired and dropped out. A few chased the rabbit until the night was nearly spent. By morning, only my dog continued the hunt. “Do you understand,” the old man said, “what I have told you?”

“No,” replied the young monk, “please tell me father.”

“It is simple,” said the desert father, “my dog saw the rabbit.”

Even as the ancient monk needed an interpretation, so do modern audiences.  The simple picture of dogs chasing a rabbit didn’t resolve into immediate significance.  The ancient monk’s dilemma is the difficulty of our hearers, especially when the demands of time and life undermine our attempts to live a reflective life and work strongly against any effort given to contemplation.  And if this is true of the pastor, what of the one in the pew?  The uninterpreted story is like dogs chasing rabbits… where is this going?

falling_dominos

When Your Heroes Don’t Measure Up

It’s standard fare for superhero movies. Hero (whoever he/she is, Ironman, Thor, Captain America, Spiderman, etc…) discovers great power, uses it effectively, rendering him/her a super hero. But then the phenomenally super hero experiences a crisis wherein his superhero status is challenged by someone or something for which his powers prove ineffective. Hero, to gain super status once again, must overcome said challenge by digging deep and finding unrealized super ingenious workaround to the challenge for which his powers have been inoperable.

We love these things. Over the last decade plus, Marvel has done a marvelous job capitalizing on our fondness for such epics. Avengers alone grossed nearly a billion and a half dollars. We long for heroes. There are certainly times in life in which we wish an Ironman could appear on the scene to mop up a horrific situation. Furthermore, who wouldn’t want the superhuman ability to fly around in that trick suit? In fact — no lie — my 3 1/2 year-old son just came up to tell me, “Dad, my name is Superman!” which is a change, since for the last two weeks we’ve been unable to call him Ethan, as his name has been Captain America.

 

Yes, we recognize that such superheroes are fictional fare. Frankly, I’m fine with that. If the superheroes were real, then their counterparts, super-villians, would be also, and life is bad enough without Frost Giants. This doesn’t however diminish the desire for heroes.

The scriptures present a long list of individuals to look up to. Men, and women, who did phenomenal things. Certainly Hebrews 11 exhibits an exceptional list of names. Church history over the last 2 millennia has supplied many individuals for consideration. Secular histories too. The reality is, I find myself often looking for figures who’s lives are visible now; heroes with skin, if you will. For me, such heroes would be individuals that have trod a well worn path of service to God, and done so with excellence.

Over the last 15 years or so, there have been a number of individuals that have occupied that space for me. For one reason or another I’ve allowed these persons an elevated place in my mind; yes, a pedestal. Often they have been individuals that have been successful in ministry, having taken steps of faith that  [apparently] involved a level of risk. But the fact is, the closer you come to anyone, the more you see their inconsistencies, perhaps even their failures. I mean, isn’t that one of the downsides to HD TV? Who really wants to see virtually every blemished pore of the anchors on the news or the actors on TV?

I must confess, there have been times, even recently, in which I feel almost let down by the fact that such individuals are… well, only human. That, in actuality, the “superpower” that they “possessed,” I observed or even esteemed in them, seems to disappear in the face of [somewhat] unexceptional humanity.  Truth is, such “power” had very little to do with them. What I was actually in awe of, amazed by or respected in these heroes was Christ in them, in spite of the earthiness of the earthen vessel.

Realizations such as these are reminders to remain humble. They are a reminder for me — a pastor — to live at the level of those I lead. As leaders we cannot completely prevent others from placing us upon a pedestal, but we can determine to not cater to it. Pretentiousness is sin, and the more transparent that I become, the more of Christ people will see.