CEO or Shepherd?

shepherdhorseI recently read that Walt Disney was difficult to work with. Apparently he was very demanding and often assumed people knew what he wanted of them when he had not made it clear. I remember watching Walt Disney introduce his shows on TV. He seemed like a nice, congenial Uncle Walt! Apparently those who knew him knew differently. The late Steve Jobs was the brilliant head of Apple, but, again, he is reported as having been difficult to work for. The same article listed additional CEOs who have pushed their companies to greatness, but at great expense to the relationships with others in the company.

As a pastor I’ve often tried to glean insights on being a great leader from secular examples. I still believe there’s validity to this, but I am no longer as enthusiastic about such an approach. The Biblical model for a pastor of a church is not a king or a wealthy and powerful businessman. The model for the pastor is the shepherd. Jesus identified Himself as the Good Shepherd. He calls upon us to take care of His sheep. Aiming for success, casting vision, establishing measurable goals, and other methods used by secular leaders and managers are characteristics that are scarce in any Biblical references to leading the church.

Yes, I think there’s a place for such things in the pastor’s toolbox, but they don’t seem as though they should be the favorite tools of the pastor. There’s nine tools listed by the great church leader Paul in Galatians. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

We pastors are in a strange situation in that the people we are called to lead are the same people we are called to nurture in their walk with Christ. I’m coming to a greater peace about the fact that firm and stubbornly forward thinking leadership needs to take a back seat to nurturing the people I lead. I find the image of the shepherd to be a good balance. Yes, the shepherd leads the flock, but the shepherd also feeds, leads to calm waters, dresses wounds, and in all kinds of ways looks out for the best interest of the sheep. The Lord from whom we receive our call is the Good Shepherd. My goal is to be a “pretty good” shepherd for Him!

(The shepherd in the picture is a neighbor of our daughter and her family, where they live on a mountainside in Mexico.)

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A Christmas Poster

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christmasballQuotable Quote:

“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor…
Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.”
Oscar Romero
Archbishop to El Salvador

I remember my parents sharing how little they got for Christmas as a child. My Dad talked of getting an orange, and maybe something else. I don’t remember what the “something else” might have been; all I remember is the orange. It struck me as a child, an orange? Really, an orange? I did better as a child, receiving two gifts for Christmas, one from my parents and one from my surviving grandparents (on my mother’s side). Nowadays most kids get more than two gifts. I can hear kids today exclaim, “Two gifts? Only two gifts?”

There are many who don’t seem to have much to celebrate at Christmas, and it has little to do with the shortage of gifts. People face this Christmas with the fresh loss of a loved one, having just lost a job, or having just gotten a bad report from the doctor. In fact, almost all of us can think of one or more reasons why it’s not easy for us to get in the holiday mood this year.

The quote above from the late archbishop of El Salvador, a crusader for the poor, reminds us that the celebration of Christmas does not depend on abundance or on life going well. In fact, the core message of Christmas is God giving something we all desperately need. The message of Christmas is God sending a savior into our world, implying we need saving, that things are far from being right and good as they now stand for us. The angel announced to the shepherds outside Bethlehem, “A savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

Amazingly, it’s the admission that things are not as they should be, that I’m not even as I should be, which makes Christmas resonate in a real way. I need what God wants to give me and what He wants to give me is Himself! We can wish to pack our Christmas, our lives, with lots of things, money, accomplishments, good health, experiences, or even of being a help to others. Then Christmas, then life, would be good, right? But as long as we seek to fill ourselves with anything and everything else and not with God we will be leaving no room to be filled with God! Oscar Romero’s words ring true like the best of Christmas bells!

“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor…
Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.”

Preaching Christmas

ChristChildMediumEdgeDoes anyone else have a challenging time coming up with a fresh approach to Christmas in your preaching?  It’s a most amazing event, the incarnation of God, but a combination of the awesomeness and the familiarity of the theme seems to psyche me out sometimes when it comes to preaching.  I find it helpful to “prime the pump” with reading short pieces by others about Christmas, but I usually want my themes for the Christmas sermons before those inspirational writings come around.

What do you do to keep Christmas fresh?  Share your thoughts, please.

I have come to realize that it helps if I keep from taking a primarily “professional” view of Christmas — the logistics of getting our church through this season and delivering Christmas messages.  I’m challenged to be open to letting the message of the incarnation fall afresh on me.  If Christmas is, once again, a delight for me then I’ll be less likely to see the season as a duty to get through.  That’s my goal, anyway.

What are your thoughts???

(By the way, you may use or share the image in this post.  I created it from a picture of our grandson a few years ago.  Click on the image to get the full size to copy)

My Life WITH God Sermon Series

Posted below are the five messages I did recently based on Skye Jethani’s book, WITH: Reimaging the Way You Relate to God.  Remember, they’re posted in reverse order, so scroll down to start reviewing them in the proper sequence.  The book was very helpful in getting my own focus adjusted on what the Gospel really is, and I hope I communicated that to my people in the sermons.  I hope you find them helpful/stimulating as well.  The best deal, of course, would be to get Jethani’s book.  My sermons are really Jethani for Dummies!

Life WITH God

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This is fifth of five sermons I’m delivering based on the insights I’ve gained from reading Sky Jethani’s book WITH, Reimaging The Way You Relate to God.

Life WITH God
Part 5
Does God Really Want to Be with Me? – Life WITH God
Inspired by (and with credit to) the book WITH by Skye Jethani
Based on Matthew 1:18-25 and Selected Texts
Delivered on December 1 & 2, 2012 – 1st Weekend in Advent
by David J. Claassen

It’s all a matter of perspective! The way we look at something — the view we take, the way we approach it — can make a lot of difference, and so it is with our relationship with God. We’re concluding a five-part series about Life WITH God. This series has been inspired by, and owes a debt of gratitude to, the book by Sky Jethani titled With: Reimaging the Way You Relate to God. Jethani suggests that there are five ways to relate to God, four of them being less than the best and the fifth being the best. In the past four messages we explored the less-than-ideal ways to relate to God: life UNDER God, life OVER God, life FROM God, and life FOR God. In this message we’ll conclude with the very best way to relate to God: life WITH God.

Four Imperfect Perspectives
This message is being delivered on the first weekend in Advent, that special time of the year in which we anticipate and prepare for celebrating the amazing event of God’s coming into this world with the birth of His Son, Jesus. Jethani succinctly summarizes what Jesus’ coming into the world did and did not accomplish: “When God desired to restore His broken relationship with people, He sent His Son to dwell with us. His plan to restore His creation was not to send a list of rules and rituals to follow (LIFE UNDER GOD), nor was it the implementation of useful principles (LIFE OVER GOD). He did not send a genie to grant us our desires (LIFE FROM GOD), nor did He give us a task to accomplish (LIFE FOR GOD). Instead God Himself came to be with us – to walk with us once again as He had done in Eden in the beginning.” (eBook location: 1402)

The Message of Christmas: Immanuel – God WITH Us
Jesus has many names given to Him in the Bible besides the name Jesus. One of those other names is Immanuel, which means “God with us.” That’s what God wants more than anything else concerning us: that we be with Him and that we allow Him to be with us.

PositionsFThe Gospel writer Matthew gave us the account of a young woman named Mary who was chosen by God to miraculously give birth to God’s incarnation of Himself. Matthew told how Mary became miraculously pregnant: miraculous because it was without the benefit of a male participant. It was a virgin conception. Matthew went on to record that Mary’s fiance, Joseph, found that hard to believe; who can blame him? An angel — a messenger from God — came to Joseph in a dream and said that it was all right: the pregnancy was of God. Matthew then added an editorial comment, referring to a prophecy in ancient holy Scripture: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:22-23)

God wants to be with us! As Sky Jethani wrote, “relationship is at the core of the cosmos.” (eBook loc. 1402)

Jesus was born as one of us: God with us. His principal purpose in being born among us as one of us was to grow up and die for us on a cross, to take care of our sin and to bring us back into a relationship with God. We needed — and still need — His coming to be our savior, because we were alienated from our relationship with God and Jesus came to provide the way for us to be reconciled with God again: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation –” (Colossians 1:22). We celebrate Communion on the first weekend in Advent as a reminder that He came to be with us so that He could die for our sins, so that we might be with Him now and forever! Christmas gives us a wonderful name for Jesus: Immanuel, God with us!

WITH God throughout the Scriptures
The amazing news that God is with us is a message that expresses the desire of God’s heart throughout Scripture. Throughout the Bible it’s clear that the principal way that we’re meant to relate to God isn’t life UNDER God, life OVER God, life FROM God, or life FOR God; the main way should be life WITH God! Let’s take a quick tour through the Bible to see that truth revealed.

Adam and Eve apparently “walked” with God in the Garden of Eden on a regular (daily?) basis, because when they sinned they didn’t show up for their usual time with God: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.” (Genesis 3:8)

In the Old Testament, the very first of the Ten Commandments states, “I am the Lord your God, . . . You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:1-2) God wants His people to have an exclusive relationship with Him!

The psalmist declared, “Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.” (Psalm 73:23)

The prophets talked about life with God. God had Jeremiah say on His behalf, “I have loved you with an everlasting love. I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)

Jesus has us picture our relationship with Him as being in a yoke together: “Take my yoke upon you . . . .” (Matthew 11:29) Jesus invites us into His yoke with Him!

At the time of His ascension — His leaving planet Earth after His resurrection to return to heaven — Jesus promised (in the very last words in Matthew’s Gospel), “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

When our time to die comes, we have the promise of Jesus that He’ll be with us and will take us to be with Him: “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:3)

Then eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayer to His Heavenly Father about us: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, . . .” (John 17:24)

At the end of the Bible, toward the end of Revelation — the last book — we read the apostle John’s report of the vision of heaven that he saw: “And I heard a loud voice form the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.’” (Revelation 21:3)

Throughout the Bible the heart of God is revealed as yearning to be with us and to have us be with Him! As Jethani wrote, “relationship is at the core of the cosmos.”

Desiring Life WITH God
We should desire most of all a life with God! That means that we shouldn’t want to be close to God and right with Him so that we get the blessings of God; we should want Him for Himself most of all. That means that we shouldn’t want God primarily so that we can get through life better, though we need Him for that. It means that we shouldn’t want God primarily so that we can go to heaven and escape hell. Jethani quoted John Piper, who made this bold but true statement: “People who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.” Piper went on to state, “If we don’t want God above all things, we have not been converted by the gospel.” (With, eBook loc. 1514)

We need the blessings of God, now and forever. However, we should desire the blessing of God Himself more than the blessings He gives. The blessings, or “presents,” of God are good and necessary, but we should want the presence of God more than the presents of God!

I, for one, don’t always desire God as much as I desire what God can give! Even my prayer — “Lord, I want you most of all” — may not always be truthful. I may have to back up and pray, “Lord, I want to want you most of all.”

The best way to want to be with God more than anything else in the world is, by the gracious help of God Himself, to seek to have a greater grasp of how awesome He is. Jethani wrote, “Those with an incomplete or tainted vision of God either want to use Him or dismiss Him. But when a full, clear, and rapturous vision of God is presented, we will not settle for anything less than being with Him.” (With, eBook loc.1448)

Just think about God and how amazing He is! God, infinitely great and wonderfully glorious! A star becoming a super nova creates a blinding light that’s just a dark smudge against the brightness of His glory. He holds the vastness of the cosmos, 14 billion light years big, in the palm of His hand. He knows everything about everything, from a subatomic particle to the largest galaxy. Distances mean nothing to Him, because He’s all places present. Time doesn’t limit Him because He was and is and is to come.

This Creator and Sustainer of the vast cosmos has given us humans the ability to know about Him and to respond to Him. He seeks nothing less than to embrace us in a relationship with Him that’s supremely personal. To this end He came to us, who inhabit this speck of dust and drop of water we call planet Earth!

God in human flesh! Immanuel, God with us. God – a baby! God – eating, sleeping, talking, walking, dying! Yes, God-in-the-flesh dying for us, then living again!

What is the invitation from this God with us? To embrace Him as we do nothing else. His delight is in sharing Himself with us; His delight is in our delighting in Him!

Earth’s greatest treasure is His presence. Heaven’s greatest attraction is being present with Him!

How awesome is our God! When we begin to understand how awesome He is, we begin to want to be WITH Him most of all!

Practicing Being WITH God
How can we experience the reality of God’s being with us and our being with God? It begins with a change in our thinking, a change in our perception of daily life. It takes practice. As Brother Lawrence famously taught many years ago, we must simply “practice the presence of God.”

When the apostle Paul said to “pray continually” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), he meant to always think about the fact that God is with you and you’re with Him! There’s nothing, absolutely nothing, as wonderful as living from the perspective, or position, of life WITH God!