Sunday, May 27, 2018

Who Is My Neighbor?

I apologize to certain ones of you up front for what I am about to say. A physician, an engineer, and an attorney were discussing whose profession was the oldest. The physician said, “Remember, on the sixth day God took a rib from Adam and fashioned Eve, making him the first surgeon. Therefore, medicine is the oldest profession.” The engineer replied, “But, before that, God created the heavens and earth from chaos and confusion, and thus he was the first engineer. Therefore, engineering is an older profession than medicine.” Then, the lawyer spoke up. “Yes,” he said. “But who do you think created all of the chaos and confusion?” Like I said, I apologize to our legal scholars in the room. Lawyers have always been on the wrong side of a good joke. I admit, there are some wonderful lawyers in this world—too many to count. But there are also some who, reality seems so simple. But some lawyers have a knack for making things more difficult than they really are.

Jesus met one of those lawyers one time…

READ LUKE 10:25-28 (CEB)

I want to stop right here before we get into the parable. This section of Luke’s gospel is very familiar to most of us, but for some reason, we often skip this prelude in order to get to the story of the Good Samaritan sooner. But these four verses contain some interesting information! The first thing to realize about this conversation between Jesus and this lawyer is that this question to Jesus is not unique. In fact, in just a few chapters a rich young ruler is going to ask Jesus this same question.

“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is not a new question to our heritage is it? We usually turn to Acts 2:38 for our answer, but realize we were not the first to ask this question! First, a lawyer asked it. Then, a rich young ruler asked it. But what I wonder is why these two men asked the question at all. You see, according to Jewish thought, there was no “eternal life” in heaven. When the good die, they go to Sheol—the place of the dead. When the bad die, they also go to Sheol. For most of their history, Jewish people had no concept of reward and punishment in the afterlife. But shortly before the time of Jesus, they began to develop a new thought. If we were to turn over to Daniel 12, we’d see that there is a curious passage there. Especially if you were an Exilic Jew!
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. -Daniel 12:2
When we read these words, they roll off the tongue, nothing new here! But to those ancient Israelites, these words posed some serious problems. What do you mean “everlasting life?” What is it? Who gets it? This passage in Daniel caused several generations to stay up late at night. No one really understood it. So, people took various positions on it. Two different schools of thought were formed around two different positions. This group said “You’re wrong." That group said, “No, you’re wrong.” This group said, “Well then, I’m just going to start a new church.” Well, maybe not. But you get the picture!

This was a hot topic by the time Jesus arrived on the scene! And there is a good chance that this lawyer had this passage in mind when he asked Jesus that question. He wanted to know where the new, young, popular rabbi stood on “the” big issue! So, Jesus utilized a great teaching technique. He answered his question with another question. The lawyer wanted Jesus to choose sides, but Jesus refused. He pointed this man back to the basics, “What does the law say?” This question really had nothing to do with this ancient debate at all. This man wanted to hear about Sheol. He wanted to hear about everlasting life and eternal torment. But Jesus refused to engage that debate and simply pointed him back to the basics. The basics that this man, as well as every other person in the crowd, knew like the back of their hand. This first part; “Love the Lord with all your heart.” The Shema. Recited twice every day by faithful Jews. The second part was a significant aspect of the Jewish holiness code.

Do you see what is happening here? This lawyer wants a debate! Where do you stand? Which side do you support? But all Jesus would do was talk about loving God and the other! Don’t you just hate it when that happens? You’re ready for a fight. But all that person across from you wants to do is talk about loving God and the other!

Well, the lawyer couldn’t trap Jesus with the first question, so he tries another one. “Well then, Jesus, who is my neighbor?” To a Jew this question was simple, your neighbor is your fellow Jew! That’s what Leviticus 19 means; go read it! Moses didn’t call these people to love Moabites and Philistines. He called them to love their neighbor, their fellow Jews. But this lawyer was no idiot. He’d watched Jesus’ ministry thus far. He knew Jesus had been associating with people outside the tribe! In samaritan villages talking about “loving enemies." I believe this man asked the second question thinking: Well, the first one didn’t get him into trouble. But he’ll never get out of this one! But little did he know…

READ LUKE 10:29-37 (CEB)

What this lawyer meant as a trap proved to be a defining moment in Jesus’ ministry. “Who is my neighbor?” Well, everyone there that day thought they knew the answer to that one. But, once again, Jesus went down the other path! We’ve all heard this sermon before, haven’t we? I dread preaching sermons on texts like this that are so common. I think we became desensitized to the revolutionary quality of the text sometimes. Jesus’ main point here is that we need to quit thinking in terms of who is in and who is out. Our neighbors are not defined by race, gender, or belief. It doesn’t matter who they are or where they come from, you just love them!

With this parable, Jesus redefines the “neighbor” of the Jewish holiness code. And this no doubt caused some heads to turn. The idea that a Samaritan was the good guy! That was impossible. The Jewish people were an exclusivistic people with an exclusivistic religion. Make no mistake. It was important for them to know who was in and who was out! It was very important for them to understand who was a neighbor and who was not. I hope I don’t have to point out the obvious. Church, we have often been guilty of this same thing. Only we don’t use the term “neighbor” much anymore.

We are more concerned with brothers and sisters now, aren’t we? “Who is my brother? Who is my sister?” I wonder how Jesus would answer that question, which seems to have plagued many of our churches over the years. I have a sneaking suspicion I know exactly how Jesus would answer that question. I really don’t want to dwell long on this point, but I will say this. Church, we must stop using the terms “brother” or “sister” as exclusivistic terms delineating who we will and will not stop along the road side to pick up.  God didn’t draw those boundaries, and neither should we!

What I want us to concentrate on with this text this morning is Jesus’ final words in each response. The lawyer asks two separate questions here: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” and “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus finally answers both questions the same way, “Go and do.” I believe there are so many messages for us in this text, but I finally had to choose one and this is it: I think we, as the people of God in America today, have a tendency to get so busy asking the questions that we forget to “Go and Do.”

This lawyer was so concerned first with having the right questions & then with providing the right answers. Don’t you get it? He was so concerned with what to think. He wanted to make sure Jesus was right in His thinking. Before long, you realize that religion to this man had simply become an intellectual enterprise. God is something you think about. Religion is something you try to figure out. Religion is only about belief. Religion is about thought, not action. You can almost hear the frustration of Jesus in this text when after each question, His admonition is clear: “Just go and do something!”

I believe Jesus might say the same thing to us today. Glenwood, let’s “Go and Do.” Let us not be like so many Christians of this age who are content to sit back and simply ask questions.

  • “Who is in?”
  • “Who is out?”
  • “What is off limits?”
  • “Who can we fellowship with?”
  • “Who can we not fellowship with?”
  • “What exactly does this particular word mean in the text?”
Maybe it’s time we start talking a little less and doing a little more.

You know, I can’t help but think Jesus had something else in mind when this lawyer asked the question about eternal life. Throughout His ministry, Jesus not only refers to life in the blue yonder as “eternal life.” He also suggests that eternal life takes place today. You and I have the ability to live the good life, eternal life, today. By helping our neighbors.  By praising God. By enjoying community with each other. Maybe our fascination with this age-old question really does have a simple answer.

How do we inherit eternal life? We could start by putting on our sandals. Following in the footsteps of Jesus. Going & doing. And finally, prayer.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Living on Fertile Ground

I did not grow up in the country. My family moved around a lot as I grew up. 13 different places before I graduated high school. But rarely did I live in the “country.”
  • Little Rock
  • New Orleans
  • Albuquerque
  • Atlanta
I spent more times in cities than in small towns. So, Stamford, TX shocked my system! There is a road that runs from Stamford to Abilene. I travelled that road a lot when I was in school at ACU. It is only about a 30-minute-drive, FM 600. One thing I learned is that cows always have the right away on FM 600. A few months after we arrived, I was driving, and a cow was sitting in the middle of that road. Either he or I was going to have to change our course. It didn’t take long to realize, he wasn’t going anywhere! I had to stop, redirect my car, and move on. After I left, he was still sitting in the middle of the road. For all I know, that cow is still sitting there!

I also had to get used to seeing those massive farming machines. I used to wonder how it would be physically possible to till so much land! But then I saw those massive machines! When the arms spread out, those machines can till an enormous amount of land. Technology has made the farmer’s job much easier! But, they haven’t always had these massive machines. I doubt anyone in this room ever had the pleasure of sowing an entire field with their bare hands. But there was a time when that was how it was done. Here is why I bring this up.

Jesus had a fascinating teaching technique. He expressed some of the most important doctrines of God by telling stories. But not just any stories. Stories that the people could relate to! For instance, these people who Jesus spoke to sowed entire fields with their bare hands. They knew something must of us don’t know. When you sow a field with seed, some seed doesn’t grow. There was little they could do about it. It frustrated them. But they had never thought about that problem theologically! But Jesus took this simple, commonplace frustration and turned it into a story about evangelism. And those same people who came to hear Jesus speak that day. The farmers who had sowed hundreds of miles in their lifetimes. I bet they never were able to sow another field without thinking of Jesus’ words.

READ LUKE 8:4-15 (CEB)

I wish so much that we could hear again for the first time. Many of us, however, have heard this story so many times, our minds immediately jump to Jesus’ interpretation. But remember, only the disciples heard the interpretation. The disciples left with life-changing instruction. The crowd left with a mundane, ordinary story about farming. Nothing new. They already knew everything Jesus said. And some of these people were probably wondering why a Jewish rabbi was discussing farming! But those who had ears to hear. The ones who stopped long enough to ask Jesus. Those people left Jesus’ presence with something new.

I wish we could return once again to that day. Because I would be interested in seeing which ones of us would stick around and ask the follow-up question. No doubt, some of us would. Others of us would simply walk away unchanged. One thing you must understand about these stories, or “parables.” The power to change is often not found in the parable itself. But instead in the heart of the hearer. Some people are ready to hear and be changed. Others are so unprepared that when it finally arrives, they miss it completely!

This first parable of Jesus in Luke’s gospel is unique because Jesus uses it to discuss how parables work. He used parables to communicate most of what He had to say while He was on this planet. So, at the outset, he had to explain how they worked. Here is what Jesus has to say from the beginning: A person must be ready to hear a parable. They must come into the presence of God with open minds. Sincere hearts. Ready to learn. Ready to be changed! But in reality, not everyone is like that!

Some people who come into the presence of God could be compared to a seed that falls along the path. Jesus says this person: Hears the word, but the devil comes and snatches the word from their hearts. They never believe. In Jesus’ setting, this group is represented by the large crowd. They heard the words. They were in the crowd with Jesus. But they left Jesus with nothing more than a story about farming. They didn’t ask the follow-up question. They didn’t “have ears to hear.”

What this group is really guilty of is not changing, not wanting to change! There are some folks who simply do not want to change. They are content to just hear the story and move on. Guess what happens when you refuse to change? You become stagnant.

The story is told of a man who eagerly anticipated his 44-year high school reunion. For months he saved to take his wife back to the place and the people he'd left four decades before. The closer the time came for the reunion, the more excited he became. One night before he left he even pulled out his old yearbooks. Read the silly statements and the good wishes for the future that students write to each other. He even tried to guess what some of his friends would look like. What kind of jobs and families some of these special friends had. What had they made of their lives? Following this reunion, this was his assessment: “It was one of the saddest experiences of my life. It wasn't what happened but what didn't happen. It has been forty years, forty years, and they haven't changed. They had simply gained weight, changed clothes, gotten jobs, but they hadn't really changed. For reasons I can't fully understand, it seems as though some people choose not to change.”

It is a sad thing when people refuse to grow, especially in our faith. But before your faith can grow, you have to come to Jesus ready to be changed. You cannot be content to stay just the way you are.

Other people who come into the presence of God could be compared to the seed that falls on the rocks. Jesus describes this type of person as one who receives the word with joy when they hear it. But they have not rooted. They believe. But when tests arise, they fall away. This type of person has no foundation, much like the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Surely all of us have seen pictures of this 810-year-old landmark.

If you didn’t know before, know now. The Leaning Tower of Pisa is going to fall. Scientists travel yearly to measure the building's slow descent. They report that the 179-foot tower moves about one-twentieth of an inch a year. Presently, it is about 17 feet out of plumb. Quite significantly, the word "pisa" means "marshy land," which gives some clue as to why the tower began to lean even before it was completed. Also, its foundation is only 10 feet deep!

Sadly, some of us enter the presence of Jesus with this kind of shallow foundation. We are so excited at first. We even go beyond the stagnant group, and we change! But it doesn’t last long.

Church, there are many foundation-less Christians today. One way we see this is when we make “happiness” our idol. Christianity is not all about happiness. Some of us have been duped into thinking that as long as we are happy, our relationship with God is strong. That works great when life is free of anxiety. But what happens when difficult times arise? And they will! Your relationship with God should be deeper than your emotions. If your measurement of your spiritual depth is contingent upon your happiness. I’m afraid you are in for a rough ride.

An extremely important step in moving out of this category is building a strong foundation. Leaning into God’s Spirit. Spending time alone with God, allowing yourself to be challenged and changed. Spending time in God’s Word. Nurturing your relationships in a spiritual community.

Here is the truth: Without a foundation, you will fall down when the slightest hint of trouble arrives. Still, some people who come into the presence of God could be compared to the seed that falls among thorns. Jesus describes this type of person as one who hears the word. But as they go through life, they are choked by worries, riches, and pleasures. Consequently, they never mature.

Have you ever met someone who is just debilitated by fear or anxiety? They are always afraid of what’s just around the corner. They are constantly worried they will not have enough. They always think someone is out to get them. Or, they always feel like people around them have some “hidden” motive.

Let me be clear. Some folks do suffer from real, serious mental conditions that lead to anxiety. But there are others who, without any mental problem, are always worried and afraid and suspicious. I am not suggesting we go through life sugar-coating our problems away. But there is a difference in enduring life’s problems. And living in a constant state of catastrophe! The root problem of this kind of person—they lack faith in God. We talk a big game, but we rarely have faith that God is bigger than the troubles of this world. So, when life gets tough; we get angry. Or, afraid. Or, we might even leave. Jesus says some people like that.

But, some seed fell on good soil. Some people hear the word and produce a good crop. It’s possible to hear this story and get discouraged. Maybe you find yourself in one of the first three categories. Maybe you wouldn’t have heard Jesus’ words that day…

A few years ago, archaeologists began excavating the courtyard of a medieval monastery. They found seeds that had been dormant for more than 400 years! King Henry VIII had closed the monastery in 1539. Those seeds had been there ever since, left unattended. But something interesting happened when those archaeologist began to disturb the dirt around them, they sprouted to life.

Growth can begin again in your life. You may just need someone or something to “disturb the earth” around you. Moving you out of your comfort zone. Helping you come clean about the sin in your life. Maybe it is time for you to enter into a time of confession and repentance! Sometimes that is the only thing keeping God’s seed from taking root and growing in our lives.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Mother's Day 2018

Mary Bellus is the Senior Marketing Designer at the Aspen Group. She is married to her husband, Dan. They live in a suburb of Chicago. She is a Christian woman. She is not a mother. She writes:
My husband, Dan, and I have been married for about 13 years. A little over five years ago we moved into a very family-friendly neighborhood, complete with kids, dogs, parks, and even a jungle gym right in our backyard. We couldn't help but see that weather-beaten swing set as a sign of a family to come. But after a couple years of trying, nothing happened. So we kicked it up a notch with charting, temperature taking, and ovulation tests. Still nothing. After years of praying, stressing, and pure frustration, we've felt that we were hearing a clear "no." During this struggle, we haven't been to church at all on Mother's Day. When I look back to past Mother's Days when I did attend, I've been so disenchanted with the way the services have been handled. There always seemed to be an over the top celebration, with flowers and prizes and even brunch, that left me thinking, "Wow, this is IT. This is the pinnacle of a woman's success." Of course, I didn't really believe that, but it was hard not to wonder if that's what the church was thinking or trying to convey.
I'm starting to realize and trying to accept that motherhood is never going to happen for me. I've had such hope in the past that "something will happen," but I'm trying to come to a place of acceptance. But it's still hard. Every day I see countless baby announcements, sonograms, and newborn pictures on social media, and I try to smile and see the joy in a new, precious life (and I do). But right now, there are certain things that are too difficult for me, and going to church on Mother's Day is one of them.
That is how Margot Starbuck, author of Not Who I Imagined: Surprised by a Loving God, puts it. After preaching nearly 20 Mother’s Day sermons now, I tend to agree. Those who had wonderful mothers: Women who are mothers and who love motherhood, they love today! Rightly so! They want to celebrate. They want to honor their mothers. They want to be honored as mothers! But, church, Mother’s Day is…tricky.

There are many women in churches today across our nation who do not get to wear a red rose on their lapels or stand to be recognized. Some women would love to be moms…but aren’t. Some women are unable to conceive. Some women have had abortions. Some women never married. Some moms are “invisible.” Some adoptive moms may offer prayers for the women they never met this morning. The women who gave birth to their children. There are also mothers in our pews who were shuttled away to homes for unwed mothers in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. They gave birth and returned home with empty arms. They were assured they would forget and move on, but these mothers never forgot. When mothers are asked to stand today, the child they’ll be thinking of, as their pew neighbors are clapping, will be the ones they never held.

Many women will stay home today because Mother’s Day—not matter how well we try to handle it in worship is…tricky. So, what should the church do on Mother’s Day? I think the most important thing we should do is be real. We should acknowledge the messiness of life on this planet. We should acknowledge that families, too, are messy! As much as we’d like to gloss over that messiness on Mother’s Day, or, on Father’s Day. I think the Gospel calls us to resist that temptation. The Gospel is the story of a God who came here to be near us because life on this planet is messy. The Gospel is the story of a God who came here to redeem us because there is no such thing as a perfect family. Praise God, the Bible does not gloss over those imperfections.

Consider Motherhood in the Bible. In Genesis 16-17, we find the troubling story of Abram, Sarai, and Hagar. Abram (who became Abraham) was married to Sarai (who became Sarah), but she could not have children. So, Sarai gave her husband permission to sleep with her slave girl, Hagar. Hagar bore Abram a son, who was named Ishmael. Now, does Genesis 16:4-5 surprise anyone?
He [Abram] slept with Hagar, and she became pregnant. But when she realized that she was pregnant, she no longer respected her mistress. Sarai said to Abram, “This harassment is your fault! I allowed you to embrace my servant, but when she realized she was pregnant, I lost her respect. Let the LORD decide who is right, you or me.” -Genesis 16:4-5, CEB
Mother’s Day was invented until 1914, when Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation designating the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. But suppose Mother’s Day existed in the days of Abram and Sarai and Hagar. Imagine what that Sunday morning would have looked like! But the familial dysfunction does not stop there. Two more women from this same family, Rebekah and Rachel, were also unable to have children initially. Once again, other women were brought into the picture to “make things right.” But in the end, they were not made right. They were only made more complicated and messy.

Another woman, Jochebed, was the mother of Moses. Interestingly, we do not even learn her name in the narrative! Her name appears twice in the Bible—both in a long genealogical list. For all that happened to her, the story doesn’t even mention her name! She gives birth to Moses, but quickly has to give him up. Pharaoh issued an edict to kill all male Hebrew children. She puts him in a basket, and places that basket in the river. Pharaoh’s daughter finds that basket and raises Moses as her own son. Jochebed was brought in to nurse Moses. Everyone around her thought she and this baby were perfect strangers to one another. Only she knew she was holding her son! What must that have been like day after day after day? Finally, when she had to leave him for the last time? You know, this was not the picture of a perfect mother/child relationship.

Hannah had a child named Samuel. It also had taken her many years to become pregnant. In desperation, she prayed to God. “If you will give me a son, I will give him back to you.” She had a son, and she gave him back. We tend to gloss over this story and move on to Samuel’s great legacy as Israel’s judge and priest. Like so many other times, the mother in this story is forgotten. The Bible tells us that as soon as Samuel was weened, he went to live with Eli the priest in Shiloh. What must life have been like for Hannah? Having to turn over her young son to live with a stranger. Seeing him only during the time of festival when she and her family traveled to Shiloh. If Mother’s Day had existed when Hannah was alive, I wonder what that Sunday would have been like for her.

We could go on and on. We haven’t even mentioned: Samson’s mother, who had to watch her child make mistake after mistake. Or, Naomi, who had to watch both of her sons die at a young age. Or Mary, the mother of Jesus! She became an unwed pregnant teenager. She also had to watch her own son die.

The Bible is clear: family dysfunction is normal. At least, it is normal in our fallen world. That is certainly not the way God intended for this to work.

In the beginning, God created a world where two individuals—male and female—would join together as husband and wife. In God’s design, those two would produce wonderful, obedient, healthy children. In God’s design, those families would stay together forever. But that is not the world we live in. I am thankful that the Bible bears witness to our fallenness.

God reveals to us, through the Bible, this truth: “I know life is not perfect. I know life is messy. I know family is difficult!” Thank you, God, for not painting this picture of perfection on the pages of the Bible! If that were the case, we would spend our lives wondering to ourselves: “Why is my family so different? Why can’t my family be like the ones God talks about in Scripture?” No, God was honest with us about fallenness. Because God blessed us with a picture of reality in the Bible. There is no reason for us sugarcoat the truth here on Mother’s Day.

So, there are many different experiences of women in the room this morning, and I’d like for you all to hear the good news from Jesus. Emily Pastor is a wife, mother, and disciple of Jesus. She recently was asked the question: “What do you need to hear in church on Mother’s Day? What would be a blessing to you?” Here is how she responded to that question:
I need to hear that my role as a mom to young children is hard, valuable, kingdom work. Remind me that my unseen sacrifices and struggles are seen and valued by the Lord. I often feel undervalued, misunderstood and looked over by a culture that applauds outward and visible contributions to society. So much of my work as a mother is hidden away in the unseen moments of grace with my children. As I bend over with my tremendously pregnant body to pick up the thousandth crayon, I receive no applause. When I respond patiently toward a tantrum throwing toddler, no one says "Way to keep your cool!" I sacrifice and struggle because of love, and loving others is kingdom work.
To Emily (and the many like her), some in this room. I want you to hear: You are seen. Your work is valued. In many ways your work as a mother is an act of worship to God. You are helping to form and mold your children more into the image of God with your gifts. And to borrow the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount:
Your Father sees what you do in secret (when no one else is around) and He will reward you. -Matthew 6:4, CEB
To those who are not mothers, but who would like to be. I do not have words to say that will make your pain go away. The fallenness of the world manifests itself in all sorts of ways, and many of those ways are incredibly painful. But I want you to know that a woman’s worth is not wrapped up in being a mother or not being a mother. You are loved because you are God’s child. You were made in the image of God! God loves you just the way you are. God can use you just the way you are.

To those who had horrible experiences from their mother. Again, no words to take your pain away. But you do not have to let that painful past dictate your future. In fact, you may be able to use that pain to bless someone else. Though it may seem like it sometimes, you are not alone. There are others who have experienced the pain (and ironically) the shame that sometimes comes to us from an abusive parent. Perhaps God can use your experience to help someone else pick up the pieces of her life. There are some things you can offer that someone like me—who did not grow up in an abusive environment—can never offer.

I pray on this Mother’s Day (more than anything else) that God will bring you peace. I pray also that God will make you an instrument to bring peace to others who share parts of your story. God created families. When families work as they were designed to work, they are beautiful things—pictures of God’s nature in fact. But we live in a fallen world.

That is where the church comes in. We are a church that has as its mission to graciously help a fallen world stand up again. “Mothers” are not the only members of our families that are sometimes broken. So are fathers and children. Throughout the New Testament, the church is often referred to as the “family of God.” Hills Church of Christ in Nashville puts that metaphor on their sign: Woodmont Hills Family of God, a Church of Christ.

Two of the best moms I know of are here in this room—my mom and my wife. But both of them would tell you how glad they are that they did not have to raise their children alone. I had many spiritual mothers in my life. My children have many spiritual mothers in their lives.

  • Kim Hodges
  • Celeste Smith
  • Jacqueline Goode
Church, Mother’s Day is like any other day in the Kingdom of God. We are thankful for the blessings we have. We long for the day when those blessings will be made complete.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Moses: A Reluctant Leader

There is an old Greek tale. There was once a king named Dionysius. He ruled in Syracuse—the richest city in Sicily. He lived in a fine palace. Surrounded by beauty and riches. He was waited upon by a host of servants. They were ready to do his bidding at a moments notice. Naturally, because Dionysius had so much wealth & power. Many people in Sicily envied his good fortune. Damocles was one of these individuals. He was one of Dionysius’ best friends. He was always saying to his friend, “How lucky you are! You have everything anyone could wish for. You must be the happiest man in the world.”

One day Dionysius grew tired of hearing this day in and day out. “Come now, do you really think I’m happier than everyone else?” Damocles replied, “But of course you are. Look at the great treasures you possess. Look at the power you hold. You have not a single worry in the world. How could life be any better? Perhaps you would like to change places with me.” Damocles’ face quickly beamed with a huge smile. “Oh, I would never dream of that. But if I could only have your riches and pleasures for one day, I should never want any greater happiness.” “Very well,” said Dionysius. “Trade places with me for one day. For one day you shall have everything you want.”

And so the next day, Damocles was led to the palace. All the servants were instructed to treat him as their master. They dressed him in royal robes. They placed the crown of solid gold on his head. He sat down at the table in the banquet hall. Rich foods were placed before him. Nothing was wanting that could give him pleasure. There were costly wines, beautiful flowers, rare perfumes, delightful music. He rested himself among the soft cushions. He felt like the happiest man in all the world. “Ah, this is the life!” He called out to his friend Dionysius who was at the other end of the long table. “I’ve never enjoyed myself so much.”

As he raised up a cup to his lips, he lifted his eyes toward the ceiling. What was that dangling above him? It’s point was almost touching his head. Damocles stiffened. The smile faded from his lips. His face turned ashy pale. His hands trembled. He wanted no more food. No more wine. No more music. He only wanted to be out of that palace! Far away! He didn’t even care where! For directly above his head hung a sword. It was held to the ceiling by a single horsehair. Its sharp blade glittered as it pointed right between his eyes. He started to jump up and run. But he stopped himself. He was frightened that any sudden movement might snap the thin thread and bring the sword down. He sat frozen in his chair.

“What’s the matter my friend?” Dionysius asked. “You seem to have lost your appetite.” “That sword! That sword! Don’t you see it?” “Of course I see it. I see it every day. It always hangs over my head. There is a chance someone or something may cut the slim thread. Perhaps one of my own advisors will grow jealous of my power and try to kill me. Or someone may spread lies about me, and turn people against me. It may be that a neighboring kingdom will send an army to seize this throne. Or I might make an unwise decision that will bring my downfall. If you want to be a leader, you must be willing to accept these risks. You see, they come with the power.” Why do you suppose this tale existed all the way back in ancient Greece?

There is something about leadership that just scares people! You see Damocles is not alone. Many people look to the leaders of the world and think, “If only I were in charge. If only I had the power. Life would be greater if I were in charge!” And the truth is, many of these people eventually realize their dreams. They become leaders. They experience the power and control and authority. And many of them fall flat on their faces.

I don’t completely understand it, but I have noticed something about good leaders. They usually don’t begin with the intention of being a leader. Their leadership is given to them over a period of time. They don’t grab the respect or the position for themselves. It’s given to them by those who respect them. Those who think like Damocles usually climb the mountain and fall with a great crash. But those who are pushed and pulled to the top by others. Those are the ones that succeed. Those are the ones that become great leaders.

I want us to reacquaint ourselves with one such leader this morning…Moses! I want us to walk down the same path Moses walked through his life. As we all know, Moses’ entrance into this world was less than ideal. Moses grew up as a child of two cultures. He was a Hebrew—he could not escape his obvious appearance no matter how hard he tried. But he grew up with an Egyptian education. Moses undoubtedly felt different from the beginning. Like he didn’t belong. Like he was inferior to everyone else around him. “What was this slave child doing in the palace?”

It reminds me of something W. E. B. DuBois—the great 20th century thinker—said about his identity. In one of his greatest writings, The Souls of Black Folk. He wrote that he was an African American. He said he always felt like there were two identities waging war against each other in his soul. He was African. His skin was black. He held all the strengths that come with that heritage. As a black man living in early 20th century America, he experienced all the challenges that came with that identity. At the same time, he was American. His people had been American as long as any white skinned European. His people helped build this country. So, at the same time, he was African & American. These two identities waged war against each other every day of his life. I bet Moses felt some of this too.

If he did grow up in the palace in Egypt, we know some things about his earliest days. As far as his education, he would have studied law. He would have learned to express himself and handle responsibility and authority. He would have been expected to become adept in problem solving. The royal building projects were supervised by Pharaoh’s household. He would have grown up already trained in leadership. Think how these various things prepared him for his future. God spoke God’s commands to a legally trained mind. Moses—the expert in the law—served as judge for Israel. From the very beginning, God prepared Moses for his task.

As a young man he also met another great obstacle—not only was his birth clouded with difficulty, so were his growing up years! No one knows how many times Moses witnessed the brutality handed to his own people and did nothing. But one day he snapped. In a blind rage, he killed an Egyptian. A Hebrew killed an Egyptian! Even in Moses’ privileged position, this did not bode well for his future in Egypt. And one might think that this act of bravery would give him respect among his own people. But to the contrary, they rejected him. At an early age Moses experienced what all leaders ultimately fear—rejection by the people they are called to lead. More than any other biblical leader, Moses seemed profoundly alienated by his people. He was never quite accepted by the Hebrews. Yet look at what he accomplished among them!

This catastrophe sent Moses on a flight into the desert. And, even in exile, God was training Moses for the future. He encountered 7 young women in distress at a Midianite watering hole. He rescued the women. He got a dinner invitation. He met his wife. He got a job. Not bad for an afternoon’s work! From the beginning, Moses modeled his strong sense of right & wrong. He saw the Egyptians abusing the Hebrews and he acted. Here, he saw these ruffians abusing these women and he acted. He was constantly involved in personal intervention on the behalf of others. He was particularly sensitive to the needs of the underprivileged.

Moses lived for a long time in Midian. This desert school of leadership built accountability and stewardship into Moses’ character. In this wilderness he had to provide for his master’s flock; food, water, protection. In another wilderness Moses would provide for his Master’s flock; food, water, protection. He had to learn wilderness survival techniques. Searching for food and water. He knew the area like the back of his hand. He probably never realized his daily routine was preparing him to be a savior of a nation.

We have an advantage over Moses. We sit centuries beyond his life’s journey. We can see how God was preparing him. We understand the larger picture. But Moses had no idea! He didn’t realize that each step of his journey was preparing him for something amazing! And so, when it came time for Moses to assume his position, he was reluctant!

God had visited Moses through shadows his entire life, but on one afternoon, God moved into full view!


Moses’ encounter with the burning bush moved him from reserve status to active duty! God finally expresses to Moses’ His plan for him, but Moses instead offers excuses. First he said, “Who am I?” Then he said, “Who are you?” Then, “They won’t listen to me!” Then, “I can’t even speak good.” Finally, when God knocks down all of his excuses, Moses just says, “Send someone else!”

This character that we’ve been following. The one God had prepared since birth. The one who was primed to be the perfect leader. This man felt ill-prepared to lead! He didn’t want to do it! He didn’t think he had what it took! And the fact is, many great leaders begin enter their positions of leadership with that same reluctance. The fact is: There are many people in this very room who feel just like Moses. Not prepared enough. Not godly enough. And you may be the ones, just like Moses, who fail to see the way God has prepared you since day 1.

The question is now: Will you move from reserve status to active duty? Will you live out your days in the training camp without ever using your God-given abilities to lead?

There is a reason I wanted us to revisit this story together this morning. You see this church body has begun to process of searching for new shepherds. And many of us have been on the lookout. Who do we believe God has been preparing? Have we seen qualities in the life of people in this family that would lead us to believe: God has been preparing them for this?

This morning, I want the Moseses among us to consider the way(s) in which God has brought them to this point. Your first inclination may be to run! But is it possible that God has been training you, molding you, shaping you to make you ready to shepherd this church? Leadership is a dangerous business. The sword is indeed just above a leader’s head. And sometimes that tiny thread is broken, sometimes its ripped apart! But remember that God works through your weaknesses. God understands your reservations. But when its all said & done. God still prepares wonderful, godly, courageous people to shepherd His people.

May God grant us wisdom as we continue in this critical moment in our congregation’s story.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Shepherding Glenwood

Did you know that there exists an annual study in America that tracks the public’s confidence in America’s leaders? The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard conducts the study every year. Here are some recent results:
  • 69 percent of Americans think we have a leadership crisis in the country today. 
  • 70 percent agree that unless we get better leaders, the U.S. will decline as a nation. 
  • 68 percent disagree with this statement: "Overall, our country's leaders are effective and do a good job." 
I don’t think it is assuming too much to say that many in this room would find themselves with the majority in this study. As a general rule, in our time, we distrust leaders. And perhaps we have reason to distrust leaders. Political leaders, on both sides of the aisle, have been involved in highly public scandals in recent years. In the business world, also, we have seen stories about corruption and embezzlement.

I’ll just say it this way: In our world, we have grown accustomed to seeing leaders fail. In politics, in sports, in business, in schools. And because of all of these highly visible failures, Americans distrust leaders.

That has been true within the church as well. Again, there have been plenty of highly visible stories to make us feel that way. In the 1980s there were so many stories about televangelists conning people out of millions of dollars. There were sex scandals involving church leaders that surfaced again and again. We have seen church leaders beg for more money on TV. Imploring people to give money to the ministry. Those same leaders driving around in sports cars that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Living in multi-million dollar mansions. The scandals over the past 2-3 decades have conditioned us to distrust leadership.

You know, our world is saturated with stories of failed leaders. But this morning, I want to help us remember something so very important. There are some really good leaders too! I’m afraid that so much damage has been done by the really bad ones, and they get all the press! That we forget that the vast majority of people who lead have wonderful hearts. They do what they do because they love their business or this country or the church. I hope I don’t have to convince you of this, but I’ll tell you: our elders are wonderful, godly, Spirit-filled men. I will keep their identities anonymous, but I want you to know: I’ve seen some of these men dig deep into their own pockets to help struggling families pay their bills. I’ve been in the room as they prayed with a family whose loved one lay dying in the bed. I’ve watched as they have discussed for hours how to best help a couple whose marriage was failing. Our elders love this church!

Seven years ago, when I moved my family from Lubbock. That was a tough decision for us. We left our entire family there. What finally helped us make the decision to come here were the elders at Glenwood. Seven years later, I still believe they are some of the best shepherds I have ever seen. This morning, I want to spend a few minutes describing for you how they shepherd us.

I made the comment last week that shepherding a church today is much more complex than it was in the 1st century. Churches then were made up of only 1-2 dozen people. It is much easier to know, lead, and guide people in that size group. As congregations grew larger, elders had to organize themselves differently to make sure the church was properly cared for. Several years ago, our elders decided to change the way they function. The reason? They wanted to make sure this congregation was properly cared for. When a congregation is larger than a few dozen people, its easy for the urgent to get in the way of the important.

We don’t like to talk about this a whole lot, but there is truth in this statement: the church is a business. It is not primarily a business. But it does have many functions of a business. More than $1 million flows through this church every year. There is some administrative oversight that has to take place. Our elders found that they were having to spend too much time on management and not enough time on relationships. So, they (like many other congregations) adopted a new model.

All of our elders help to shepherd the flock. All of our elders have different families that they shepherd more closely than others. For example, Roger McCown has 13 families. Bill Chambers has about 12 families They do not ignore the other families of Glenwood, but they spend more time with these folks. Getting to know them. Praying for them. Mentoring them. But, there is some administration that needs oversight. So, the elders also formed an administrative team. This group has additional meetings. They oversee the budget. They work more closely with the staff in day-to-day operations. They provide more oversight in the maintenance of the building and the property. They do not micromanage those areas—we have paid staff. But they do provide oversight more closely.

At any time, 3-4 elders serve on this administrative team. Right now, Lee Browning, Wayne Propst, Don McCarty, and Jack Hooper are the elders. I also meet with them and am part of that team. Every year, one elder rotates off and another elder rotates onto this team. The reason this team exists is to free up the other elders from meeting constantly about administrative issues. An important note: This group does not make decisions about the direction of this church without the other elders. They deal with administrative matters. Any major decision is brought before the entire shepherding group. Additionally, there is a smaller shepherding team that makes sure the entire eldership is focused on the right things. Right now, Reggie Howell is the current chair of that team. Bill Chambers served last year. And Roger McCown will shepherd the elders next year. This team sets the agendas for the elders' meetings.

They also keep a broader look on the entire family. Are their families that need special attention? Are their families or individuals that the elders (as a whole) need to meet with and pray over? I can tell you that the vast majority of the elders' meetings at this church consist almost entirely of prayer! Look, there is no “one-way” to shepherd a church. Our elders have chosen this model because they believe it best situates them to tend this flock. You may not agree with every decision they make, but no one can rightly put into question their love for this church.

I think it is important for everyone to clearly understand this model. Because we are about to recognize men in this church to join this team of elders. We need to look for people with the gift of shepherding. I think there are several “unnamed shepherds” in this room who: are young and old, have been here decades or only a year or so. My prayer is the God will give you the courage to join this amazing team of shepherds and help guide us into the future. And speaking of this amazing team, I want to recognize four of them this morning.

During our Family Meeting a few weeks ago, our elders shared that some of them were contemplating “retiring”. After a lot of prayer and thought, four of them decided now was the time for them to step away. They want to be clear: They are not angry. They love this church! They love this eldership. They love our direction. But, as we begin the process of adding new elders, they think this is a good time for them to transition. When you hear what I’m about to tell you, you will understand.

These four men have served this church as an elder for a combined 92 years! (Yes, you heard that correctly) They are going to hate me for doing this, but I think we have to. I would like for Jack Hooper, Gene Branum, Ike McKinney, and Don McCarty (and spouses) to join me up here. I want us to thank them for their service. I want to invite our other elders to come surround them as Bill Chambers leads a prayer over them.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

What is an Elder?

This morning we are continuing our study of elders. So, this morning, I want us to answer a fundamental question. What is an elder? That sounds like such a simple question, doesn’t it? But, in reality, it’s not that simple.

Though the New Testament does talk about the kind of people who should be elders. And we looked at some of those passages last week. The Bible doesn’t really provide a comprehensive job description of what elders should do. So, congregations of the church over the centuries have asked elders to do all sorts of things.
  • Teach
  • Govern
  • Serve as delegates at church councils
  • Pastor
So, here’s a potential problem: What if my job description for what an elder should do is different from the one my elder is working from? Church, that is a recipe for conflict! And, over the centuries (and recent history), the church has experienced some of that conflict.

This morning my goals are simple, and perhaps a bit ambitious! First, I want to go to the Text and see how elders functioned in the earliest days of the church. I’ll admit straight away, we don’t have much to go on. For all of the emphasis we put on “Church Leadership.” Our world is enamored with the subject of leadership! We have seminars and books written on leadership all the time! The Bible, however, doesn’t say a whole lot about it! At least not in the way we think of leadership. But we will look at what is there. Second, I want us to answer this questions: What should we expect from our elders here at Glenwood? Those are two ambitious goals, and we only have three hours left, so let’s get started.

First, how did elders function in the Early Church? Most of what we know about early church leadership comes from Paul. The first thing I am going to say about Paul’s understanding of elders sounds too academic, but it is an important statement. Paul’s ecclesiology was greatly informed by his eschatology! In other words, Paul’s understanding of church had a lot to do with Paul’s understanding of how the world would end. Or, more precisely, “when” the world would end. In some of Paul’s earliest writings (I Corinthians, I Thessalonians), it is apparent he believed Jesus would return at any moment. He tells the Thessalonians that many of them would still be alive. He tells the Corinthians they shouldn’t get married because Jesus was returning soon. In those earliest writings, Paul didn’t say much at all about church leadership. Why? The apostles had leadership well in hand.

As the years and decades passed, however, Paul’s language about Jesus’ second coming changed a bit. Yes, he still believed Jesus would return. But, he began to accept the fact that it might not happen during his lifetime. So, he wrote to Timothy about his pending death. He began to think about the church after the departure of the apostles. That is when Paul began writing about church organization. Only in some of Paul’s very last writings does he discuss elders or deacons or anything else related to how to the church should organize itself.

So, what exactly did he say? Here is a nearly exhaustive list of elder functions in the New Testament:
  1. The elders lay their hands on people to impart spiritual gifts (I Tim 4:14)
  2. The elders pray for the sick and anoint them with oil (James 5:14)
  3. We also have examples of the elders making decisions about the direction of the church. In Acts 15, the church is wrestling with how to integrate Gentiles into the primarily Jewish church. Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to discuss that question with the apostles and the elders.
  4. Many times in the New Testament, elders are associated with teaching. Listen to the last half of I Timothy 5:17, “Let the elders who lead well be given a double honor (probably money), especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” The first half tells us that elders were paid!
  5. Part of the service of an elder did include some kind of authority and oversight. Listen to I Timothy 5:17 again: “Let the elders who lead well be given a double honor…” I Peter 5 says, “In the same way, I urge the younger to accept the authority of the elders…”
I think I should stop here and address something that has developed in recent history in our movement. Several years ago, Lynn Anderson wrote a book entitled They Smell Like Sheep. A fabulous book! A book that helped move many of the elderships in Churches of Christ more toward a shepherding model. But, one of the unforeseen consequences of that book is that many took Lynn to mean that elders should have no administrative function whatsoever! This left a huge vacuum in many congregations. Many congregations that had historically been led by elders. The elders had functioned as boards of directors. And then, suddenly they didn’t, but no one else stepped in to fill that gap! I think many congregations went too far: the Bible does speak of some “authority” and “order” that comes from elders.

But we should acknowledge this: Paul is reluctant to talk about authority in the church, unless he is talking about the authority of God. Paul is even reluctant to assert his own authority as an apostle. His second letter to the Corinthians is filled with examples of this. Over and over again, Paul downplays his “authority” over the Corinthians. He criticizes false teachers in Corinth who are using their authority to lead the people in wrong directions. There were some who were using their speaking ability. Or their position as teachers. As Paul says, “to place themselves over you…” (II Corinthians 11:20). Paul criticizes them for that. Instead, Paul says: I may not speak like they do. I may not assert my authority over you like they have. But I have cared for you and loved you and led you just the same. Robert Banks, a scholar who wrote an essay on Church Order and Government in Paul’s letters, rightly points out:
“In view of the widespread use of this term [authority] in Greek for those in positions of influence over others, Paul’s reticence in using the term can only be intentional.” (Robert Banks, “Church Order and Government,” Dictionary of Paul and His Letters)
Yes, elders have authority…BUT…Paul modeled a different kind of leadership and authority. A kind built on humility. A kind built on service. This is the kind of leadership he set up in the congregations he established all over the Greco-Roman world.

All that to say, church, elders in the 1st century and in the intervening centuries wore many hats!
  • Teachers
  • Preachers
  • Administrators
  • Counselors
  • Anointers of the sick
Let me ask you a question: Know any one person who is gifted to do all of these things? The reality is that over the centuries the church has found many ways to accomplish these goals. Many people within the church have come together to perform these important functions. Though each elder may not wear all of these hats, the elders are given the responsibility, the charge, to oversee these important functions. And, as congregations have grown, this task has become more and more difficult. The congregations that Paul worked with had no more than a couple of dozen people in them! In our own time, with congregations much larger than then, the job of an elder is much more complex.

So, the next question…

What should we expect from our elders? We use the word “shepherd” around here more than we do elder. But when we use those terms we are referring to the same person. That doesn’t mean elder is a bad word. It’s a good word. It’s a biblical word. But the reason we refer, most often, to our elders as “shepherds” is because “shepherd” more naturally describes their primary function. Shepherd is a good word too. Shepherd is also a biblical word.


This is my favorite passage about elders in the Bible. I know we typically camp out in I Timothy 3 & Titus 1 when we talk about elders. But those passages, as we’ve said, don’t tell us much about what an elder should do. I Peter 5 gives us the closest thing to a job description for an elder that we have in the Bible. And notice what stands at the center of an elder’s job description: shepherding (as a verb)! And what does the writer of I Peter mean by shepherding?
  • “Tend the flock…”
  • “Watch over the flock…”
  • “Protect the flock…”
  • “Don’t rule over the flock…but lead by example…”
And to us:
  • “Accept the authority of these elders…”
  • “Clothe yourselves with humility toward each other.”
  • “God stands against the proud, but gives grace to the humble!”
How would the church be different if we simply lived by the last words of this passage? When I think of elders, I think of a man I hardly knew. Jack Garner was a long-time elder at Southside Church of Christ in Rogers, AR. My mom and dad attended Southside years ago, when I was an infant. I learned many years later, when I was an adult, that my parents (and specifically my dad) had some tough times early on. He didn’t grow up going to church. He didn’t grow up having any kind of faith. My mom did! She was the product of a strong Christian family—parents and grandparents. She was in church every time the doors were open. This dissonance caused some problems early on in their marriage.

One afternoon, Jack Garner went to visit my dad. I don’t know what was said. I don’t know what methods he used. But I do know why he went. He went because he loved my family. He began to mentor my dad in the faith. He was one of the most instrumental persons in the earliest stages of my dad’s faith journey. My dad eventually became an elder. His children are all believers. Almost all of his grandchildren have now been baptized. I think our family tree owes a lot to Jack Garner. In my mind, that is what an elder is.

Church, being an elder is an important job! I pray for our elders every single day, and I encourage you to do that same thing. I pray that we respect them because of the way they love this family. I pray that when they mess up (because we all mess up), I pray that we will love them all the same. That’s what it means to have humility with one another. Another way to say it is to echo the words here in I Peter 5. We need to give grace to each other. Because God have given grace to us! Join me in praying for God’s guidance as we continue our process to recognize the elders among us.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Shepherds in God's Pasture

Who in their right mind would want to lead a church? A recent posting in a Christian journal advertised the need for a church leader…
WANTED: Shepherd
The applicant will serve as manager, administrator, and correspondent. He will have experience as a preacher, teacher, and also evangelist. He will be a competent writer and speechmaker, and will serve as a decorative piece at public functions. He will also be something of an editor. He will have experience as a social worker, counselor, spiritual advisor, visitor of the sick, and comforter of the bereaved. He will serve as theologian in residence, interpreter of the church at large, and official delegate to all conferences. He will serve as a one-man emergency squad. He will be qualified as a commissioner of oaths, and will offer occasional legal advice, arbitrate disputes, and serve as public relations officer. He will have a basic business sense, and will be a capable salesman. He will also be skilled in marketing and program planning, and will recruit and train workers where available. The applicant will also be called upon occasionally as a garden supervisor, caretaker, and artist. He will lead a blameless life and spiritual walk. The applicant should expect to remain on call 24 hours a day. It is, of course, assumed that the applicant's WIFE will be included under the above arrangements, to work half-days.
I ask again: Who in their right mind would want to lead a church? Well, there must be some people out there who want to lead the church…

At Glenwood, we really just have one qualification: You have to be able to do this without dropping the baby!

That takes a lot of practice!

The apostle Paul wrote about elders nearly 2000 years ago! But his description of these folks does not make the job sound any more appealing! He told his young protégée, Timothy, to appoint elders in his congregation. And judging by Paul’s words, it seems that there were actually some men who were crazy enough to do it. Here was Paul’s “advertisement for church leaders”…

READ I TIMOTHY 3:1–7 The Message

Have you ever wondered what this list is all about? I’ve read this passage from The Message, because I think we hear the other translations so often, we may miss what Paul is saying here. How did Paul expect us to find anyone that would fit in this box he created? Above reproach? Hospitable? Gentle? His children obey him? Well, now that we’ve eliminated everyone in this room, we can begin! What do we do with this list?

Over the centuries, the church has been tempted to do one of two things with this list. Some in the church have given into the temptation of treating Paul’s list as a legalistic checklist.

Hospitable? “Well, I saw Brother Jones in the hall last Sunday, and he never said “hi” to me. He passed right by me and acted as if I wasn’t even there.” Cross him off the list!

Gentle? “I would put down Brother Smith, but I saw the way he spanked his child out in public all those years ago. That doesn’t seem gentle to me.” Cross him off the list!

Self controlled? “I guess we’ll have to omit Brother Jenkins from the discussion. Remember the Super Bowl party last month with Brother Jenkins? I don’t think you can describe what he was doing as ‘self controlled.’”  Cross him off the list!

In all honesty, I think we’ve done a lot of harm reading Paul’s words that way. Some have described elder selection like deer hunting. During elder selection, we all go out with our guns, and we shoot the very best bucks around! I know some very good, godly people who have been hurt (almost beyond repair) because of bad elder selection processes!

Some folks have recognized that difficulty, and so they’ve gone in the complete opposite direction. They have recognized the difficulty in finding anyone who can actually conform to Paul’s list, so they’ve simply discarded it all together. They’ve treated his words much like some folks treat the Sermon on the Mount. “Well, sure Jesus said all of those things, but He certainly didn’t think we could follow through with them. Paul didn’t really mean for us to take this list seriously.” Before long, this list becomes nothing more than an old worn out church bulletin. Wadded up, and discarded. You know it’s the Bible somewhere, but you haven’t seen it lately.

What should we do with this list? The first thing we need to recognize is this: It’s not a list! Paul has not given us a list at all. In fact, what Paul has given us is a portrait—a portrait of a leader in God’s church. When we treat this as a list, as a “checklist,” I think we miss the point. For one thing, that gives the church the impression that this list is exhaustive. As if these are the only qualities we should look for in a church leader. What about humility? What about compassion? What about a sense of justice? What about a forgiving heart? You know, these things are not included in Paul’s list. Does that mean we should appoint unforgiving, unjust, uncompassionate, and proud people as our elders? Certainly not! What Paul has given us here is a portrait, God’s picture of what a shepherd should look like.

Have you ever looked at a classic impressionist painting? This painting by Claude Monet for example.

This has long been one of my favorite paintings. It is entitled “Sunrise”. From your vantage point this morning, you have the ability to see what Monet wanted you to see. A beautiful sunrise. Two small boats stopping to admire God’s creation! So peaceful, so wonderful, so majestic!

What would happen if you took this painting and pushed it right up to your nose?

Examining every brush stroke? Carefully dissecting every millimeter of this painting? Does this even look like the same picture? If we pay such close attention to the details, it’s easy to miss what Monet was trying to show us! I think sometimes we do the same thing to Paul’s painting here in I Timothy 3. Paul has painted for us here a picture of what a shepherd should look like.

As you look at his painting, what do you see? I see a picture of a man who loves God and loves his family. I see a man who is steady and strong. I see a man who has the respect of everyone—his family, his church, his community. As I look at this painting, I see a man that I would follow. Paul has given us so much more than a list here—he’s given us a picture of a shepherd in God’s Church.

Being a leader in God’s church is a high calling. Glenwood has been blessed over the years more than most congregations I know of. God has raised up some mighty warriors to lead this church over the years. I’ve told this story a few times, but it is worth repeating (especially on a day when we are talking about elders). When I was a graduate student at ACU several years ago, I took a class on church leadership with Charles Siburt. He told us then about a church he knew of that installed a 28-year-old elder! I learned only later that that man was Edwin Rasco. And that church was West Erwin Church of Christ—the same church that a few years later planted Glenwood. Edwin served this church for many years as one its elders. This church has had some tremendous elders over the years! Many of them are still in this room! From personal experience, I can say that our elders today are pretty special.

This morning, we begin a new “Elder Recognition” process. This is always an interesting time in the life of a church, largely because God doesn’t give us any instructions. In fact, the closest thing we get to instructions in the Bible is for the preacher to appoint elders. Don’t believe me?


I am not lobbying for that role! I cannot imagine bearing that responsibility. In truth, we are not given anything resembling a road map. Just as there is not a “job description” for elders in the Bible. Neither is there a template for selecting elders. So, I’ve seen it done countless ways in different congregations.

Here is how we plan to do this over the next few weeks. This morning, and the next two weeks, I am preaching on the topic of elders or shepherds. What is a shepherd/elder? What is a shepherd here at Glenwood? What should we expect and not expect our shepherds to do for this family? On April 22, forms will be handed out. On these forms you’ll be able to indicate who you believe should shepherd this family. Who has the “gift” of shepherding? And here is an important part of this conversation: Who is already shepherding? The best shepherds are those who have been shepherding long before they took a title! We will give everyone a week to fill out those forms. We’d like to have them back the next week, April 29. In fact, we will probably devote some special time to that service on the 29th to allow people to complete the forms. Once they are received, the elders will spend time going through those forms. They will spend time in conversation and prayer. They will meet with prospective elders. They will allow those men and their families to spend time in conversation and prayer.

On May 20, those men who choose to be considered will be brought before this church body. They will not become elders at that point. For the next two weeks, we encourage you to affirm those men. Speak words of blessing and encouragement into their lives! If there is a reason you think anyone should not serve, we encourage you to go to them and talk about it. If you are uncomfortable doing that, bring someone with you. This goes for our current shepherds too. They are entering this process as well. So, affirm them and encourage them as well. If there is something you need to work out with one of our current shepherds, we invite you to use this two-week window to do that. If there is a reason you think one of our current elders should not serve any longer, go to them and have that conversation. If you are uncomfortable going alone, bring someone with you.

On June 3, we will have a special service here to ordain our new elders for service in this church. We’re exiting a challenging time for our family. And, now we are headed into the next chapter of this congregation’s history. This is an important time for us. I think God has been preparing some of you to lead us into the future. I can’t wait to see where God’s Spirit will lead us.

So, church, I want to encourage you to be in earnest prayer about this process. Pray that God will raise up shepherds for this church. Men of integrity and prayer. Men who look at awful lot like Paul’s painting! Let me say one more word about this. You may think you do not “fit the mold.”
  • “I’m too young.”
  • “I’m too old.”
  • “I’m not good enough.”
  • “I don’t want to attend a lot of meetings.”
Remember, I’ve already said: we were not given a job description for “elder” in the Bible. In fact, elders have performed many different roles for the church throughout history. That means each congregation is free to decide what an elder will look like in their family. We will talk more about the role of a shepherd in this family over the next couple of weeks. But let me say succinctly, in this family, our shepherds will shepherd. They are not a board of directors.  So as you consider which names to write on the form. As you consider whether or not to become an elder. Consider this: Is this person a shepherd at heart? Considers this: Are you a shepherd, or not? Regardless of age. Regardless of life station. Is that the gift God has given you? May God grant us wisdom, and may we see through His eyes throughout this process.