Let Me Be the Donkey!

Donkey and Palm BranchesMark 11:1-11

All three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) make the point that the donkey Jesus chose to ride into Jerusalem was one upon which “no one had ridden” before.  Now I’ve never broken in such an animal before… but I have heard that sitting upon a donkey or horse that has never taken a rider can be “quite the experience.”   One would quickly find themselves launched into the air… praying gravity is kind in its choice of your landing spot. And yet with Jesus, this colt of a donkey upon which He rides is quiet, obedient, and responses easily to His commands.   Very un-donkey-like if you ask me!  It displays the nobility of a majestic white steed without any of the pride. There were a lot of reactions to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem that day:

The Crowds:  They spread their cloaks in the road, and shouted “Hosanna!”

The Disciples:  John 12:16 says indicates that they were puzzled by the whole spectacle.

The Curious:   John 12:18 says that many went out to get a look at Jesus.

The Pharisees:   They were tearing their hair out!  They cried:  “Look how the whole world has gone after him!” (John 12:19)

There seems to be (besides Jesus) only one person calm in this entire account.  Serving in a steadfast and gentile manner is the donkey. There have been times in which I have read this passage and pictured myself in the crowd with the palm branches.   My hosanna ringing louder than my neighbors!  But this is the same crowd that would turn on Jesus at the end of the week.  I certainly don’t want to be like them. I don’t want be dumbstruck like the disciples or a curiosity seeker like others that day or be stubborn and angry like the Pharisees… so if I have to put myself in the story.  Let me be the donkey.  He is the model of Christian servant-hood and leadership here. We could learn a lot from this donkey.

As pastors and a Christian leaders it is imperative that we do.  In an essay entitled “Becoming a Leader of No Reputation,” Scott Rodin wrote of his convictions about leadership after serving for several years as a seminary president: If I could put one Bible verse on the desk of every pastor and every Christian leader in the world, it would be this, ‘If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ (1 John 1:8) As Christian leaders we must be engaged in a constant process of self-evaluation and repentance. It is so easy for us to be tempted in a variety of directions, and when we stray, we impact our entire ministry. Good leaders undertake their work with a deep humility and a keen awareness of their own weakness and shortcomings.  (Quoted by Crawford Loritts, Jr. in Leadership as Identity, p. 57.)

As Christian leaders, Pastors, Elders, Deacons, etc. bear a tremendous load.  And they are called to bear it with dignity and grace.  They must also be steadfast and yet not falter… never losing sight of their goal and mission. And added to all these things… humility is paramount!

Corrie ten Boom was once asked how she was able to maintain her humility after becoming such a sought after speaker.  Her reply was, “When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday on the back of a donkey, and everyone was waving palm branches and throwing garments on the road, and singing praises, do you think that for one moment it ever entered the head of the donkey that any of that was for him?  If I can be the donkey on which Jesus Christ rides… I will give Him all the praise and all the honor.”

Amen to that!

Blessings!

Whatever Happened to…?

church directory22 Timothy 4:11

VH1 used to host a show devoted to today’s question:  Whatever happened to… Christopher Cross or M.C. Hammer… etc. ?  Several magazines I’ve seen recently have asked:  “Whatever happened to the cast of [insert television show of yesteryear]?  We seem fascinated to solve these mysteries.  Here is one you can research on your own today.  Pull out a church directory that is over 2 or 3 years old.  Look at the names and faces.  Who is missing from the sanctuary these days?  Did you know they were gone?  Ever wonder what happened to them anyway?

Chances are they didn’t run into a Barnabas.  He was the Apostle to the lost cause.  He once stuck his neck out for a man name Saul who was facing a Christian community scared witless over his recent “conversion.”  Everyone stayed clear of him… that is except for Barnabas.  Fast forward a few years and you have this “son of encouragement” standing with a man named Mark.  Mark had deserted Paul and Barnabas the first go around, but now wants to get back in the game.  Paul (formerly Saul) says:  “No dice!”  But Barnabas is willing to stick his neck for yet another “lost cause.”  He takes his cousin Mark and they sail to Cyprus.

We need men and women like Barnabas in the church today.  People that aren’t so quick to update the directory.  They are aware that there is a story behind every photo… and some of those men and women are redeemable.

Barnabas’ faith was later vindicated by Paul himself.  2 Timothy 4:11 reads:  “Only Luke is with me.  Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry.   … When you come… bring my scrolls, especially the parchments.”  What do you get when you put Luke (author of the Gospel Luke and the Book of Acts. a master historian), the scrolls and parchments of Paul, Paul himself and Mark together in the same room?  You get the second book of the New Testament.  The one that bears the name of a one time  “quitter.”  God love Barnabas for not giving up on this kid!

Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley shared this story about a “Barnabas” type named Ruth Graham:  “Disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker testifies of her kindness.  Despite the fact that Bakker’s public scandal, which involved sex, hush money, and defrauded investors in a real estate scheme, had brought suspicion and scorn on all evangelists, both Grahams maintained a friendship with Bakker throughtout his imprisonment and afterward.

Moreover  “the first Sunday out,” Bakker said, “Ruth Graham called the halfway house I was living in at the Salvation Army and asked permission for me to go to the Montreat Presbyterian Church with her that Sunday morning.  When I got there, the pastor welcomed me and sat me with the Graham family.  There were two whole rows of them—I think every Graham aunt and uncle and cousin was there.  The organ began playing and the place was full, except for a seat next to me.  Then the doors opened and in walked Ruth Graham.  She walked down that aisle and sat next to inmate 07407-059.  I had only been out of prison forty-eight hours, but she told the world that morning that Jim Bakker was her friend.  -Harold Myra and Marshall Shelley  (The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, p. 323.)

Who is that person you see missing from the pews?  Could they be the next Mark?  Don’t be too quick to quit on a “quitter.”  He or she might just surprise you just how far they can go with a little encouragement from you.

Heated Debate

fightActs 15: 36-41

37 Barnabas wanted to take John, called Mark, along with them also. 38 But Paul kept insisting that they should not take him along who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. 39 And there occurred such a sharp disagreement that they separated from one another, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus.

I read a recent article on a Christian website titled:  “10 Honest Observations from a Former Church Insider.”  The author of the article had been a pastor for many years and then at a relatively young age (for reasons not cited) had to step down.  He mentioned what it was like to now be an “outsider” in church.  He listed 10 things that he saw were problems that perhaps someone so close to the heartbeat of a church might be blinded to.  I agreed with him on just about everything and appreciated his insights… and was about to move on.  Then I read the comments from pastors that read the article before me.  Many were not kind!  They didn’t like much of what the author had to say, but sometimes it bordered on people not liking him personally.  One critic wrote:  “I will gladly take advice from anyone willing to get in there and do the work. Not just leave when things are not going their own way.”  Another wrote:  “I became bored with hearing the same “complaints” from yet another disenchanted church goer.”   The idea of hearing ideas from a “quitter” was too much for some.

Just when I was completely discouraged… a number of Barnabas people stepped in and saved the day… offering encouragement and peace.   Some were among bloggers that I trust David I. Guinn and Joe McKeever.

I call these men Barnabas people because the comment page appeared to me at times to be a retelling of the sharp disagreement Paul and Barnabas had over Mark way back in the book of Acts.  It was a “sharp” disagreement… as the Greek will bear out.  Barnabas wanted to give his cousin another chance.  Paul wanted to show him the door.

The Bible does not tell us who was right or wrong,  just that the debate was heated and the result was a split of the Apostolic Missionary Super Team.   NT Scholar A.T. Robertson remarked:  “No one can rightly blame Barnabas for giving his cousin John Mark a second chance nor Paul for fearing to risk him again.  One’s judgment may go with Paul, but one’s heart goes with Barnabas.”

There is so much irony in this passage.  the second missionary journey began with the idea of checking up on people and churches from the first journey and seeing how they were doing spiritually .   Yet Paul is ready to give John Mark the boot before he even takes the young man’s spiritual temperature!  The second ironic thing is that Paul should have known by now the heart of his friend, Barnabas.  It wasn’t too long ago that Barnabas pulled a snot nosed kid out of the gutter and offered that young man a chance when no one else would even trust him… I refer, of course, to Paul himself.

My heart goes out to those who wrote out of concerned for this young man and his quest to find God… and to all Barnabas types that may face some rough criticism, but are still willing to extend a hand to “quitters” in an effort to help.

More on this… and a story too… later this week.

Declare Something!

From preachingtoday’s “News that Illustrates” 8/8/2011

What’s Happened to Our Convictions?
I stumbled across this provocative video from a poet, teacher, and funny comedian named Taylor Mali. This short clip raises some interesting issues about speaking with conviction in our culture. With humor Mali ponders why it’s suddenly “become uncool to sound like you know what you’re talking about.” Instead, our conversations have become “infected by this tragically cool and totally hip interrogative tone as if to say … ‘I have nothing personally invested in my own opinion. I’m just asking you to join me on the bandwagon of my own uncertainty.” Mali also asks, “What has happened to our conviction? Where are the limbs out on which we once walked?” This would be a great clip to set up a sermon on truth, doctrine, or evangelism.

Do You Have the “Want To”?

1 Peter 5:2 

The next word Peter has for Shepherds is about motivation.  We can all learn from his observations,but Peter has leadership in mind when he says:  “…serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be;”

Years ago I worked at the seminary I attended and lived on campus next door to a fella that was attending there at the time.  He played the trumpet and was very interested in becoming a music minister.  His wife however felt there was no money there.  He needed to be a preacher.  One problem:  The man couldn’t preach!

He once preached a sermon on Joel at the church my family attended.  It was long and dry, but we made it through.  Afterward we saw the wife of the Hispanic pastor coming out of the church shaking her head.

We immediately assumed she had trouble understanding the message because her English wasn’t that good.  She responded, “I understand what he said.  But… boring!  No reason for the Bible to be boring!”

His lack of preaching skills was due to a motivation problem.  He couldn’t preach because his heart wasn’t in it. He didn’t have the “want-to.”

If you are a leader at church, or serve on a committee at church, or work in a para-church organization, hear this:  if you are doing ministry because you feel like you have to… you need to examine your motives.  God wants you to want to.

Every year churches have the same problem with a lot of their committees.  No one wants to be the chair of the committee.  “I’ll be on it (begrudgedly) but don’t put me in charge.  No one wants to take the reigns of leadership!  Sometimes the committee decides:  Let’s just not have a head of committee.  We’ll all just do our jobs and lead together.  The result:  the committee is weakened and nothing gets done.
You might say:  “But I don’t have the skills to lead!”  I would say, “But do you have the “want to?”  God is able to supply the skills to those that possess the “want to.”  I pray that God will move you to a position where you can lead for His glory… where you WANT to lead for His glory.
WE NEED MORE LEADERS.

The Gift of Being “Likeable”?

Romans 1:8-15

Some older but interesting statistics show that some born-again Christians might be a bit confused in regard to what the Bible says about spiritual gifts.  According to the Barna Research Group, Ltd, “… the percentage who say they have heard of spiritual gifts but do not believe God has given them one jumped from 4 percent in 1995 to 21 percent in 2000.  When asked to identify spiritual gifts, only 30 percent of born-again adults listed gifts named in the Bible.  Other respondents named gifts not found in the Bible, for example, a sense of humor, listening, patience, a good personality, friendliness, poetry, church attendance, and being “likeble.”  Nearly half (46 percent) were either unaware of gifts, claimed they did not have one, or could not identify their gifts.”  (Source:  Barna Research Group, Ltd. quoted in Discipleship Journal, July/August 2001, p.14.  – for more current stats (2009) check out:  http://www.barna.org/barna-update/article/12-faithspirituality/211-survey-describes-the-spiritual-gifts-that-christians-say-they-have )

I think that some of those newly listed gifts (sense of humor, “like-ability”, etc,) are not Spiritual Gifts in that they aren’t used to serve the body so much as the individual.  A true Spiritual Gift is a gift that you can’t wait to get to church to share with others.  It is the fresh baked cookies shipped to a college dorm room.  It might have one student’s name on it… but it is earmarked for sharing.

Paul had this attitude:  “For I long to see you that I may impart some spiritual gift to you, that you may be established; that is, that I may be encouraged together with you while among you, each of us by the other’s faith, both yours and mine.”  Pauls says that when he gets to Rome he can’t wait to unpack his suitcase so he can show them what he brought them.  He in turn would be blessed with what God had given them to share.  The faith of everyone would be strengthened as a result.

Maybe the reason more people don’t like attending church is because they feel like they don’t have anything to share with others when they get there.  At least 25% of the church feels they are gift-less.  Who wants to go to the party empty handed?

Take time this week to visit the major passages on gifts:  Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, & 1 Peter 4.  If you are a follower of Jesus you have been granted a gift by the Holy Spirit… given to you so that you might help build up the body of Christ.  And it is a gift that goes beyond personality and temperment…

Go ahead… Open your gift!  But remember to share!