Cool Guys Don’t Say “Good Morning”

by Dick Wamsley 

I was taking my early morning ride on the way to a bike trail in central Illinois.  It was a beautiful, though typically humid, summer morning.  As I approached the trail, bordered on both sides by trees and brush, I did not see the young woman walking on the trail.  As soon as I turned from the road onto the trail, I had to swerve left to miss her.  As I passed, I said, “Sorry.  Good morning.”  She replied, “That’s okay.  Good morning.”  

Later during my ride, I saw a biker approaching me in the distance.  In a few seconds, I could see the rider was a young, good-sized athletic guy with sunglasses.  His t-shirt and shorts looked like they had been painted onto his muscular frame.  When he came close enough to hear me, I said, “Good morning” and gave a brief hand wave, as I always do when I meet someone on the trail.  He did not flinch, nor say anything.  He looked straight ahead and kept up his pedaling cadence.   I said to myself, “I guess cool guys don’t say ‘good morning.'”  

Later that morning I sat down at my computer and found the daily “Focus on the Family” newsletter.  One of the stories they linked was headlined, “Why lawmakers are cursing more now than ever,” from The Hill.  The article said in part that “Profanity — once considered a major no-no among those seeking public office — is no longer an earth-shattering political snafu.  And according to new research, this year could be on track to see members of Congress swearing up a storm more than ever before.  The research … shows a stark uptick in the overall usage of curse words by legislators on Twitter.”  (Link to The Hill story)  

These experiences remind me how social civility and common courtesy are waning in our culture and in some churches as well.  There is a growing lack of respect for elected officials, police officers, teachers, political candidates, those with differing opinions on social issues, pastors, parents … and the list goes on.  Instead of sitting down at a table and debating our differences, some choose to shout down and even physically attack those with whom they disagree.  

As Christians, and especially as Christian leaders, we are commanded in Scripture to: “live peaceably with all” (Romans 12:18); to “Pay … respect to whom respect is owed” (Romans 13:7); and to always be “prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do[ing] it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).   

A recent blog by Thom Rainer was entitled, “Ten Common Responses from Fired Pastors.”  After listening to hundreds of fired pastors, here are three of the ten responses he commonly hears from them:

  • No one gave me a reason for my firing.  Rainer adds, “Though this comment may seem unfathomable, it is commonly true.  Pastors are often dismissed without any reasons.  They are then told not to say a word if they want a severance.”
  • No one asked for my perspective.  Rainer says, “Countless personnel committees and similar groups fire someone because of comments they hear from others.  They have no desire to hear the other side of the story.”
  • A power group pushed me out.  Rainer comments, “This reason often explains the [previous] response. The perspective of the power group or the bully is the only one they hear.”

(Link to Thom Rainer blog)  

Is it any wonder that a large percentage of those who enter vocational ministry leave it during their first seven years?  The apparent lack of civility and common courtesy is a “black eye” for the church as a whole and contradicts the command given at least 22 times in the New Testament to Christians, “love one another.”  

If the tide of social civility and common courtesy is ever to rise in our culture, people will need to see those traits in the church and especially in its leaders.  As Jesus said to his disciples and future church leaders, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).

Leadership Backbone

by Ken Idleman

Do you remember the scene at the beginning of Acts 23?  Paul had just been taken into Roman custody after the riot in Jerusalem in chapter 22.  The morning after the riot (Acts 22:30), the commander delivered Paul to the Sanhedrin to get a sense of what all the drama was about.  The high priest Ananias ordered one of his henchmen to strike the apostle Paul on the mouth for saying something politically unpopular to the ears of the self-important rulers.  Paul might have turned the other cheek, but he also said, “God will strike you, you whitewashed wall!  You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!”  When a bystander pointed out Paul had insulted the high priest, Paul retorted with what I can only imagine was biting sarcasm: “I wasn’t aware, brothers, that he was the high priest; for it is written ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler…’” 

Whoa Paul!  That is ‘leadership backbone!’ 

But that wasn’t new for him.  It was a character trait he used and developed throughout his life.  In Acts 13, he looked a sorcerer squarely in the eye, interrupting his conversation with the governor of Paphos: “You who are full of all deceit and fraud, you son of the devil!…”  The sorcerer was struck blind on the spot.  Only a few lines later, in Acts 14, Paul was stoned by a crowd!  But that wasn’t enough for him.  Thinking him dead, some number of believers gathered around his body, at which point he revived – and went back into the city (verses 19-20)! 

Occasionally, we see similar courage displayed by political or business leaders, though not often.  One example that immediately comes to mind is Ronald Reagan.  He demanded, on the world’s stage, that Soviet Secretary Gorbachev “tear down this wall” as he stood mere feet away from the Berlin Wall.  He called the bluff of air traffic controllers when they threatened a labor strike.  He declared 1983 “the Year of the Bible” at the National Prayer Breakfast in February of that year. 

As Christ-followers, we extend grace toward the socially and politically anti-Christian, toward the incarcerated and convicted, even toward the totalitarian and inhumane.  At the same time, John 1:17 reminds us “grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.”  I am taking the position today that we need at least as much truth as grace in our culture. 

Pray with me … Father, the Psalmist declared that “strength and beauty are in your sanctuary.”  We want to reflect both your strength and your beauty in our character because we, your people, are your sanctuary.  So, give us wisdom about when we should bow our heads in quiet submission and humility, and when we should lift our heads to shout with conviction what is right and true.  Jesus is our model as we aspire to “speak the truth in love.”  Give us your mind to know when we need to show your heart and when we need to stand firm with a backbone.  In the Name of Jesus we pray, amen.

Keep Standing

by Jared Johnson 

Numbers 16 is sometimes remembered by Bible students as the “Korah’s Rebellion chapter.”  It’s a bit long as Bible chapters go – 50 verses, about 1,300 words in English.  And indeed, the majority of the chapter covers the drama among Moses, Aaron, Korah, Dathan and so on. 

But these are not the only events covered in Numbers 16.  The final few words seem to give a bit of an epilogue.  The main events conclude in verse 40.  In English, we then see a paragraph break, and this phrase right after the superscripted 41 indicating the new verse: “But the very next morning…” 

O my.  Here it goes again.  That all-too-familiar pattern of Israel’s interminable griping reared itself again – the very next morning!  Leadership, so often, can be a thankless task.  And that is precisely what happens in Numbers 16.  

Moses and Aaron faced the very public complaints of Korah, Dathan, Abiram, On, and 250 additional “community leaders” over the course of a couple very stressful days.  “The elders of Israel” are mentioned on one occasion with Moses (verse 25), but there is no mention of Joshua nor anyone else – the chapter has the feel of being very lonely for Moses and Aaron. 

Over 250 highly respected men voiced very public criticisms and complaints about these two.  God very obviously reaffirmed His choice of Moses and Aaron, who simply “left it at that.”  Moses and Aaron let the Divine punishments speak for themselves.  They didn’t punish anyone else in any additional way – what God said and did was the final word on the matter. 

Then verse 41: “…the very next morning the whole community of Israel began muttering…” 

Thankfully, Moses and Aaron set a great example here.  In the face of fresh rancor, how many of us given a similar situation – I know I’d be tempted! – would wearily cry out to God and take Him up on His “do over” offer as He made in verse 21?  “Get away from all these people so that I may instantly destroy them!” 

Not Moses’ nor Aaron’s MO.  They shielded the people in verse 22 (prayer), and again (prayer and action) here at the end of the chapter.  Verses 46-47 record that “Moses said to Aaron, ‘Quick, take an incense burner … purify them and make them right with the Lord…’  Aaron did as Moses told him and ran out among the people.” 
 
Moses and Aaron intervened on behalf of the people they led in situation after situation, just because it was the right thing to do.  Pastor Appreciation Month was far in the future.  No Starbucks gift cards would be showing up in their Tabernacle Office mailboxes the next morning. 

But here’s the verse that really hits me, verse 48: 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

I cannot imagine. 

It was a plague.  Death came quickly.  In today’s terms, think Ebola or some other severe hemorrhagic fever or an extreme, rapidly progressing bacterial infection.  A plague, in only minutes or hours, had come into the camp of Israel and the leaders intervened. 

He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. 

Aaron ran to where he was needed to intervene – he went immediately to the front line between the living and dead.  He undoubtedly saw people expiring before his eyes.  He probably heard people gasp their last – the “death rattle” when fluid fills the throat and bronchial tubes, then the lungs, suffocating the victim.  Whatever this plague was, it’s not unreasonable to think it involved massive bleeding, flesh that looked like it should not, flesh doing what it should not. 
 
And all Aaron had – literally! – was an incense burner and prayer. 

But He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped.  God worked in and through Aaron’s servant-leadership. 

Keep standing, pastor.  Keep standing, elder.  It will often be thankless.  It will be spiritually, relationally, emotionally messy.  It might even be physically messy; modern medicine is a wonder, but that doesn’t mean hospital visits are for the faint of heart. 

Keep standing, shepherd.  Someone will live eternally because you will have chosen to stand with – and in defense of – the living.

“I” Problems

by Rod Nielsen 

My dad, a long-time elder in the Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, sometimes talked with me about situations where one could see “I” problems.  He meant that some people have a problem with their ego.  They make decisions about the church and what the church is doing based on their personal preferences rather than on the Word of God.
 
In my years of being a preaching minister, I have witnessed this again and again.  Well-meaning church members are sometimes critical of the church, what we did or how we did it simply because they did not like it, or we did not do it the way they would have preferred.  While I appreciate that they care about what the church does and how we do it, “because I don’t like it” is not a very good point of reference.
 
M.C. Escher, the artist known for fascinating and bizarre drawings of impossible things, created one drawing he titled “Relativity.”  The drawing depicts a building with stairs going every which way: up, down, left, right, sideways, upside down.  There are people walking on the stairs as if gravity has no effect.  Of course, as a viewer you know this is impossible.  The drawing shows what the world would be like if there were no absolute point of reference.  Turn the page around and around and you cannot find a single point of reference to know which way is up.
 
It is a statement about the impossibility of life without a single point of reference, an absolute up and down or absolute right and wrong.  Our culture has rejected any sense of absolute right and wrong and it has disturbed a sense of moral compass in America.  There are many examples of that which is good being called evil and that which is evil being called good.  It does not work for a people to exist without a consistent moral compass.
 
In our churches we must have a clear and absolute point of reference of what is right and what is wrong.  This is true for individuals and for the congregation.  The Bible does not spell out everything the church must do or how we must do them.  We are free to be creative as we live out our commission to make disciples.
 
So how do we determine what is good and what is bad for the church to do and how the church does it?  That requires careful and prayerful trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  What we must not do is try to accommodate every member’s preference.  This is especially important for the men, Elders, who make portentous decisions for the church.  It is necessary that we do not allow our own “I” problems to become our point of reference.
 
Whenever we are tempted to say, “I like this” or “I don’t like that” we should stop and remove the first-person pronoun and insert “God.”  If we are still at peace when saying, “God likes this” or “God doesn’t like that,” then we are focused on the true point of reference.
 
Our creator God offers us an almost unlimited variety of things to do and methods of doing them.  We are limited by our creativity and the true measure of right and wrong, the Word of God.  Overcome our “I” problems to truly be a Holy Spirit led church.

The “Authority” of Elders Makes me Nervous

by Mark Scott 

Founding Academic Dean of Ozark Christian College, Seth Wilson, said, “If Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), then how much is left over for you?”  The answer is in the question.  I suppose that is why I get nervous when I hear church folk talk about the “authority” of the elders (or the preacher or the church secretary for that matter).  What is implied in how that word “authority” is used? 
 
The Greek word translated authority is “exousia.”  It occurs 102 times in the New Testament and means “the right to command or the power to act.”  Interestingly enough, it never appears in conjunction with any discussion of the elders (their 17 qualifications or 12 duties).  In fact, the word does not appear at all in 1 or 2 Timothy.  Most people know that the word “office” is not really in the Greek text of 1 Timothy 3:1.  It is supplied (sometimes) by translators.  But the word for “work” is in the Greek of 1 Timothy 3:1.  Maybe that is what an elder has – not an authoritative office but a “good work.”
 
Don’t misunderstand me.  To oversee the church does imply some kind of empowerment by someone.  But elders should use caution when they desire the work of an elder so that they can command and boss people.  Again quoting Brother Seth Wilson, “All of our efforts to control people shows our failure to convert them.”  Some might argue that since the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20), didn’t the apostles pass the baton of authoritative leadership to the elders?  I do believe in a certain level of plural apostolic succession.  The farther one reads in Acts the more evident it is that the apostles started fading into the background and the local church elders took on the leadership of the church.  Note Acts 21:17-26 for a classic example where the local Jerusalem elders tell the Apostle Paul what to do – and he obeys them. 
 
But, at best, any authority that the elders have is first delegated (see Matthew 10:1 for an example of what Jesus did with the apostles) and is secondly through teaching and persuasion (1 Timothy 3:2; 2 Corinthians 5:11).  Loving the people (the latest strong emphasis on eldership coming from Alexander Strauch), equipping the saints, watching their souls, protecting the church from savage wolves, teaching the Bible, and pleading with the people to not be idle, etc. all gain the elders’ spiritual clout with the people so that they will follow the elders (John 21:15-19; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Thessalonians 5:14). 
 
Some might ask about church discipline, and in those instances it may seem that the elders have to use authority.  But I would ask elders to carefully examine the grammar of Matthew 18:18.  The original NASB had it right, “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven…”  In other words, whatever elders (they may be the two or three witnesses referred to in Matthew 18:16, 19-20; see Kurt Aland’s Synopsis Quattuor Evangeliorum, 253 and the quote from Ignatius) exercise in terms of discipline has already been decided by heaven.  They are simply declaring heaven’s will – not their own. 
 
Some years ago someone asked then-President of Ozark Christian College, Don Earl Boatman, where the lines of authority were between his ministry and Brother Seth Wilson’s ministry.  President Boatman’s response was, “We don’t worry about authority, we just emphasize responsibility.”  Elders have leadership, influence, clout, sway, and persuasion.  But perhaps the only authority they have is the authority of their own obedience in following Jesus.