People to Ignore: Critics and Groupies

I haven’t read much of Max Lucado’s writings… OK I haven’t read anything he has written.  But I saw this interview in the Leadership Journal and it has some good stuff.

As a pastor (or leader in general) you have to keep your feet on the ground.  You can get knocked off your feet by what people say. When you are the object of bitter (and false) criticism that hurts. But another unexpected danger comes from praise. At some point every pastor will have someone telling them that they are amazing. That “no one preaches like you do,” that “no one else understands.”  Its true we need both honest feedback and encouragement, but these two voices are not giving us either of those things.

Max Lucado talks about this danger in his interview.   It is easy to think about the danger of critics, and they get a lot of press.  But I appreciate the fact that he is dealing with reality on both sides.

Here is a highlight:

“As a pastor, what are some uniquely loud voices that you’re hearing?

“Every time somebody says, “You’re such a wonderful spiritual leader,” there is a temptation to believe that. Because I’m not. I may have a little more experience than they do, but I’m certainly not as good as they’re saying I am. But there’s a temptation to believe that I am. And there is a temptation to believe I am as bad as some people say I am.

“In every church there are naysayers, there are critics, there are unhappy people. I’ve been at this church since 1988. I’m closing in on 30 years, and I still have people who complain and are grumpy and critical. I have to fight that thought: Am I as bad as some people say I am? Those are the two extremes we in ministry really have to struggle with: feeling self-righteous or defeated. Their voices are completely different, but both of them require leaning into the truth. There has never been a Sunday that I’ve driven home from church having preached that I didn’t battle with insecurity.” (Emphasis mine)

Source: Max Lucado: Dangerous Voices | Leadership Journal

Is It Unloving To Give A Cancer Diagnosis?

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Is it rude to point out a growth that might be cancer?

Is it judgmental to diagnose a malignant tumor?

Is it mean spirited to suggest that unchecked, the cancer will grow, and grow, and grow?

Is it uncaring to point out that growing cancer will spread and destroy vital organs and ultimately lead to death?

Is it condemning to explain that radical and unpleasant treatment is needed to save someone’s life?

Is it too negative to say that treatment should begin while the problem is still small and manageable?

Of course, to suggest any of this is ridiculous.  But in the realm of moral cancer, few of us want a physician to deliver bad news.   No one wants to hear that a certain relationship is toxic, that our habits are self destructive, or that our innocent pleasures are growing into addictions, or that our compromises are numbing our conscience.

And yet when pastors and leaders fail to be clear and direct about sin they are engaging in spiritual malpractice.

This happened in the book of Lamentations. After destruction had fallen on the nation of Israel, the prophet Jeremiah offers a post-mortem assessment of one of the factors that led to the death of the patient: “Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes, but have seen for you oracles that are false and misleading.” (Emphasis added) (Lam 2:14)

It is never fun to find out you have cancer. But if you have cancer, finding out about it may be the most merciful thing that can happen. It opens the door to hope before it is too late.  When God’s law points out the cancer of sin, it is actually a mercy because it points us to the Christ the great physician.

4 Lessons for Teachers from Ezra 7:10

Ezra 7:10
“For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.”

Ezra had just completed a 4 month journey from Babylon to Jerusalem. Verse 9 says that his journey was successful because God’s hand was upon him. Verse 10 gives an explanation of one of the reasons why God’s hand was on Ezra, his heart was right in God’s sight. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, But the LORD weighs the hearts (proverbs 21:2).” In this case, the Lord had searched Ezra’s heart and found it pure and sincere. What was pleasing to the Lord about Ezra as a teacher?

1. Ezra had made the study of God’s word a matter of the heart. When we grow in learning we may become proud. We may begin to think that our knowledge gives us privilege or some special standing. Knowledge is nothing if it doesn’t change our heart. The heart is our innermost being where motives, intentions, and goals arise. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, had condemned the Pharisees for their great learning and meticulous detail because their hearts were blackened, “these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me (Isa. 29:13).” There is a word for people who study and teach the Bible without the involvement of their hearts: Hypocrit. This indictment was not true of Ezra. He drew near with his mind and his heart. Those who do not know the truth with their hearts do not really know it. And no one should teach the truth that doesn’t really know it.

2. Ezra’s approach was intentional. To put it another way, this focus on his heart was an active duty. He had prepared his heart. Focusing on our hearts in the study of the truth is the hardest thing of all. Our flesh resists. It is so much easier to learn the truth in order to win an argument or teach a lesson. But to preach the truth to your own heart is difficult. Why is it difficult? It involves seeing unpleasant things about ourselves. It also requires the humbling work of repentance when we see our sins. It requires that we see God’s word as a way to draw close to God Himself. We cannot do this in our own strength; we need God’s help. But this will never happen on accident, it must be the resolve of the heart. Lastly, the hard work of applying the truth to the heart is difficult because it is unseen. There are no bulging biceps, no certificates on the wall, no initials or letters to leave after your name, no pay raise. No one compliments you for it, because no one else sees it. It is one of the truest signs of real religion because it is done for God.

3. The study of the word, applied to the heart brought about certain results. The effect was obedience. Ezra was a doer of the word. What this means is that you would not need to say about Ezra, “do what he says but do not follow his example.” A careless life will sweep away the best teaching. Those who obey the truth through the many seasons of their lives have the best insight into what the word really means. Furthermore, teachers who are “doers” appeal to more than just the mind of their hearers. They are able to petition the heart. A life committed to God calls out to something inside the hearer, to something that looks at an orderly life and finds it attractive. A teacher who is a doer is a man who dresses up the gospel. The example of an obedient, happy life says that the obedience is not only right, it is beautiful; by grace it is possible by real people, and it is satisfying to the heart.

4. The last step in this description of Ezra is last for a reason. It comes after all these other things. It is unfortunate that so many want to put it sooner. They want to teach before the truth has affected their hearts, and their lives. They want to study and then teach. This can be done with many subjects…but not with the Law of God. Note as well that teaching God’s people was Ezra’s resolve and final goal. To be a faithful teacher to God’s people takes resolve and commitment, and should be done willingly.