Wednesday, January 27, 2016

My Friend

     I don't normally do this, but I want to talk of a friend of mine who died recently.  My first encounter with Donald "Buddy" Wray was in Northwest Arkansas when I moved to Springdale to begin my graduate work.  He was President and CEO of Tyson Foods, the well-known chicken company based in Springdale, Arkansas.  He was a man with a quick smile and warm personality.
     Not long after we had moved, one rainy evening I received a call from Buddy.  The Razorbacks were playing basketball that night and Buddy called to ask what I was doing.  I told him if I had a friend with tickets to the game, I would go with him.  He said I'll be right over.  The location of Buddy's seats were incredible.  He was on the third row with one seat on one side of mid-court, and the other on the other side of mid-court.  To this young fan, what an evening.
     Buddy was a giver.  If he saw a need, he helped.  I've known of several who needed money for mission work or a wedding or just anything, Buddy was willing to give.  In fact, a lady told me at his funeral that her husband was extremely sick and needed some medicine.  The insurance company would not pay for it because they deemed it too expensive.  Buddy asked this lady what was going on and she informed Buddy of the insurance company's decision.  Buddy told her, "Tell 'em it's covered."  She said, "Buddy, it's in the six figures."  He said, "Tell 'em it's covered."
     No one hears these stories.  But I respect a man who quietly, without fanfare, goes about and uses his gifts and his means to help others.  The present CEO of Tyson foods spoke at his funeral.  He mentioned the type of servant-leader Buddy was.  You don't often hear those two used used together, let alone in the same sentence.   That was Buddy.
     One more story.  Tyson employees are known to wear khaki pants and khaki shirts.  The shirt has the Tyson logo and the name of the employee embroidered on the shirt.  Most all wear this "uniform" to work.  I was in Buddy's office one day (it was oval an egg, he explained.)  and I asked him, "Buddy, why do Tyson employees wear khaki's to work?"  He responded to my question with a question.  (Hmmm, sounds similar to the Lord he served).  He said, "Jim, let me ask you a question.  Would you be more likely to walk into a chicken house wearing khakis or wearing a suit?" Good answer.
     I'll see Buddy again.  He was a godly man, a good man, a family man, a follower of Jesus.  It was a honor to know him.  Rest in peace, Buddy.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Relevant Experience

     I'm no Greek scholar, but the word presbuteros, translated "elder" means one who is older in years, older in experience.  It has been my experience that in our country, experience and older means more bumbling and irrelevant.  Check out the latest television shows and watch the adults.  They are usually buffoons who are fortunate to be able to find their way home.  That may be an over generalization, but I think it's pretty close.
     The Native American culture has much respect for their elders.  Not only are they respected for their knowledge, it's expected that they pass on their knowledge to the next generation.  In the summer of 2014 my wife and I were driving back from Glacier National Park in Montana when we came to the town of Lame Deer, Montana.  I stopped for gas and noticed a large contingent of Native American youth.  There were two, maybe three of these who had a tattoo on their arm of a chief.  I can only assume it was a famous chief of their tribe or maybe even the current chief.  I offered our church's youth a picture of myself so they could do the same on their arms.  I didn't get any takers.
     Asian culture places a high value on age and consider respect for the elderly as the highest virtue.   The aged are well respected and cared for.
     When it comes to leadership in the church, we should want those who are older.  In fact, Timothy mentions that an elder should not be a novice (KJV) or a recent convert (NIV).  They are to have children and a wife.  Both indications of some age to them.  In fact, children seem to be good training for shepherds because the scripture says, "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?".  (I Timothy 3:5).  Inferred in this passage is age and experience.
     I can't begin to tell you how old an elder should be, but he needs to be old enough to see the fruits of his labor.  The consistency of teaching in his family.  The dedication he has shown to his wife.  One who has walked with Jesus and fought with Satan.  One who has been around God's Word long enough to know it and to be able to teach others.
     To be a relevant leader in the church, one must have fought the battles.  He must have taken the stands.  Yes, its' all right if he has failed some.  In fact, I would prefer someone like that.  An elder should be one who has fought the battles and has come out on the other side, still standing for the Lord.

WANTED:  Experienced men.  Men who will lead the flock.  Men of God who are men of the Word, men of courage, men of faith.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

What Makes an Elder Relevant?

     Lynn Anderson has written a wonderful book on elderships entitled They Smell Like Sheep.    I wish I could claim credit for all the information in this blog, but I have to give him all the credit.  As best I can, I'll put his material into my own words.
     When you are struggling with a sin of some kind, one that you really need to talk to someone and confess and repent, to whom do you turn?  Sometime after my father died, my mother told me a story of a preacher and his wife who came to my parents to talk of some indiscretions the man in the marriage had done.  He had cheated on his wife and they knew that the information would destroy his career.  They came to my parents and told them they were confessing their sins, but if it ever got out, they would know where the information had come.  Of course, they had repented and confessed to God.  But I thought it was interesting.  I asked my Mom who it was.  She declined to tell me.  The fact that they would come to my parents to talk about such a sensitive issue says a lot about my mother and father.  Now, if you had such a sin, where would you go.
     What about a major decision in your life?  Perhaps a job opportunity that would affect your entire family.  What if it involved a move or even a challenge to your spiritual life.  Who would be your sounding board?
     We all need someone like that.  Someone with whom we have a relationship, a history.  Someone who could give wise counsel.  Someone who was approachable, available, and scriptural in their thinking.  Someone who had proven through the years their reliability.  This is the kind of person that you look to to be an elder, a mentor, a guide in the church.
     Lynn Anderson said, "The process of appointing elders is simply the process of acknowledging those who have been shepherding for a long time."
     An elder is a shepherd.  He has a flock.  There are people who look to him for their spiritual guidance.  Whether or not he has the title is immaterial.  He is leading 24/7.  He smells like sheep.  When I was in college, I worked at a Mexican restaurant called the Taco House.  After work, I would go visit my friends who were in college and who lived in the residence halls.  I would walk into the room and they would say, "Did you just come from work, Whitey?"  I reeked of tacos.  Such is an elder.   He smells like sheep.  
     An elder is a mentor.  They have walked down the path before and they show us how to live.  They spend more of their time showing us how to live than telling us how to live.
     An elder is an equipper.  He knows the strengths and weaknesses of the flock.  He knows where someone can best use their talents, skills, and abilities.  He plugs them into where they can be most effective in the kingdom.
     Generally three words are used in the discussion of elders:  Elders, Overseers, and Shepherds.  Read I Peter 5:1-4, Peter uses each of those words.  Basically, one who is older, one who pastors or shepherds, and one who leads, or guides, or watch on behalf of.  I won't go into the Greek right now, but these are the three terms used.
     "Why haven't you used the passages from I Timothy or Titus?" you might ask.  These are good traits, but my fear is we use them as a checklist.  Aren't these qualities that all Christians should have?  So really, what we're looking for is the person who best exemplifies Christlikeness.
     A relevant leader is one who makes a difference.  One we are willing to follow.  Paul said, "Follow me, as I follow Christ." Such is the same for a shepherd.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016


     My sermon series for the new year is "Relevance."  It's funny, our worship leader asked if I had misspelled it.  He asked if I meant "Reverence."  I asked several colleagues of mine if they had any material on relevance.  One responded by saying the church doesn't have to be relevant.  She is counter-culture and will never be in the position of being relevant to the world.  I feel as if she MUST be relevant.  True, there will be those who will deny (and we're seeing that right now) the purpose of the church and its existence.  But if it doesn't maintain some kind of relevance, why bother?
     Several years ago I heard David Barton, a well-known historian, speak on the affect of the church on our government in our early years as a country.  He explained that when a legislative matter came up, the state and federal legislature would ask the pastors of the nation what the Bible said on the matter.  Pastors would research the issue, preach a sermon on the topic, then the body would debate and vote on the matter.  We've come a long way since those days.  Rarely, if ever, are the Scriptures searched to see if something should be enacted into law.
     As I see it, the church has two problems.  One is arrogance.  I feel as if we have taken the same position as the Israelites.  We are God's people.  He loves us and us only.  Leave us alone.  We're drawing the circle smaller and smaller so no one else can get in.  So, STAY OUT!!
     The second problem I see is there is increasingly no difference between the world and the church. Although Scripture is very clear concerning our relationship with the world, we just can't seem to let go.  We worship together on Sunday and act one way, then go to work on Monday and act another way.  Some will lie and cheat and say, "It's just business."  Others will forget their marriage vows and say "Oh, it's just a little teasing."  Still others will drink until drunk and call it networking.  And others will back-stab and step on their colleagues as they climb the corporate ladder.
     By being relevant, we aren't changing the message of the gospel.  We are just trying to make the gospel what it was intended to be in the first place....practical in everyday life.  Instead of going to church, we need to BE the church.  We need to not be afraid because God has promised us He would be with us.  A good definition of godliness  is always knowing the presence of God.  His presence should make us bold.
     I recently read about a lady who hosted Elizabeth Elliot.  If you remember, Elizabeth Elliot is the lady whose husband was murdered by natives in South America.  He and his team were trying to spread the gospel to those who had never heard it before.  Instead, they met their demise.  Later, Mrs. Elliot went back to those same people who had killed her husband and lived among them and taught them the gospel.  This lady asked her what she could do to be a better wife, mother, and servant of Jesus.  Mrs. Elliot thought for a moment and then replied, "Do the next thing."
     We have no idea what the "next thing" is.  But we can commit to trusting God knowing that He knows what the next thing is.  In order to be relevant in this world, we must commit to doing what Jesus called us to be...salt and light.  Light to disperse the darkness in this evil world.  And salt to preserve the goodness of what we find around us.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."  Galatians 6:9