In Step with the Master Teacher

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As I was studying the methods and content of the teaching of Jesus, the word reality kept coming back to me. Jesus kept things real in exposing religious hypocrisy. But reality for Jesus was far more than life in this world.

I also thought about a quote from a book we’re using in our parents of teens group:

“The more accurately you think about something, the healthier your life will be. The converse is also true. The more inaccurate your thinking the more dysfunctional your relationship with your teen will be — even if you assume your thinking is fine, which most of usually do.” 

“Reality can be a hard pill to swallow. But last time I checked, when you fight reality, you lose. Reality wins.” (Tim Sanford, Losing control and liking it, p. 10,14).

But what is reality? It depends on who you ask. If you look closely at the teaching of Jesus, any version of reality that disconnects earth from heaven is a dangerous kind of unreality. Jesus relentlessly insisted on this connection.

Earth and Heaven

As the Master Teacher, Jesus moved from what is seen and known to what is unseen and eternal. He transformed everyday earthly objects into lessons about God, heaven and eternity.

The people of his time had grown blind to the connections between earth and heaven. So Jesus connected the truth around them in the visible world with the truth before them in the Scripture — truth about eternity.

“They didn’t think of God’s word when they sowed seed, or the new birth when they felt the wind, or faith when they gathered the tiny mustard seed; but Jesus did.” (Warren Wiersbe, Teaching and Preaching with imagination, p. 161)

He connected what they could see in creation and life with truths about eternal life to come. Through many object lessons, he turned his listeners ears into eyes to help them see the truths he taught.

  • Jesus spoke of salt, light, wind, bread, vine and branches, flowers, trees, seed, fields white for harvest, birth, gates, coins, treasure, pearls, nets, cups, dishes, tombs…
  • Jesus used, fox, birds, sheep, goats, pigs, dogs, serpents, fish, gnats and camels, a hen and her chicks, ….
  • He referred to physicians, shepherds, land owners, builders, friends, bridegrooms, virgins, farmers, tenants, sons, teachers, wine merchants, the rich and the poor, an unjust judge and a widow, blind guides,…
  • He spoke of banquets, weddings, feasts, temples, his father’s house with many rooms…

The teaching of Jesus is characterized by “an evident absence of artificial oratory” (C.H. Spurgeon). Yet what Jesus taught is consistently a combination of simplicity, and complexity that was often provocative and challenging.

Jesus told stories that often exposed the religious and social prejudices of the establishment. Yet there don’t appear to be any great shifts in tone and inflection; no special vocabulary or arresting theatrics, — just stories. The problem, however, is that in Jesus’ stories the wrong people win. The Samaritan shines as a keeper of God’s commands; the gentile demonstrates faith, the tax-gather goes home justified before God and the sinful women with a past is welcomed and forgiven. 

It was hard to miss his point — and they didn’t! 

Many times the simplicity of application cannot be missed. But this didn’t reduce the complexity and challenge. After hearing Jesus, one might respond with, “I get it … I think…” But wait,… does he mean…? Or, should I take it as …” His words invited deep contemplation and reflection. 

The elements of simplicity are unmistakably clear — on one level. When Jesus exposed hypocritical approaches to praying, giving, fasting; we get the point each time. But we also feel the challenge to consider subtle ways that we seek attention and praise for our acts of service.

When Jesus said, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice” – we get it (Matthew 7:24). But it troubles us that so “many” people could call Christ “Lord” and engage in works of the kingdom (“did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?”) only to hear the Lord say to them,  “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Where are we hearing but not doing?

Back to reality

All of this takes us back to that word “reality.” According to the Master Teacher, the person who lives without making deep connections between earth and heaven lives in unreality. He might be a “man of the world” but if he thinks this is his only world, he is profoundly misguided. In 70-80 years, the connections will become clear.

To build your house on the rock, as a wise builder, you must follow the teachings of the one who continuously connected this life with eternity. He taught his followers to pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. He taught us to think of reward with our father in heaven and to store treasure in heaven — that place where corruption cannot damage treasure. 

A matter of perspective

How will you see things? How will you respond to the successes and trials of this life? If you live only on the horizontal level, only looking at things that are temporal, you’ll build your life fantasy not reality. Instead, join with Jesus Christ and make connections between what is known and visible to what is unseen and eternal.

Then when the torrential rain comes and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against your life, the rock-solid foundation of Christ’s words will withstand all the way into eternity.  

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

Steve Cornell 

 

Who is adequate for this?

Here’s another reason to pray for your pastors:

“Few people grasp the preacher’s challenge. Where else in life does a person have to stand weekly before a mixed audience and speak to them engagingly on the mightiest topics known to humankind: God, life, death, sin, grace, love, hatred, hope, despair and the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Who is even close to being adequate for this challenge?” (Cornelius Plantinga Jr.Reading for Preachers: The Preacher in Conversation with Storytellers, Biographers, Poets, and Journalists (Eerdmans, 2013).

The task of leading God’s people can be daunting and overwhelming. It’s not strange to fee that the size of the calling is larger than the one responding to it. The weight of Paul’s question is always present: “Who is equal to such a task?” (II Corinthians 2:16). Even strong leaders battle feelings of inadequacy. But we must be propelled by these feelings to turn to the source of adequacy and strength. 

The task of spiritual leadership is a continual reminder that God put His treasure in jars of clay so that the power would be from Him and not from us (II Corinthians 4:7). If man’s extremity furnishes the greatest opportunity for God to display His power, leadership affords many of those opportunities!

Reflect on the messages in Psalm 62:1-2 and II Corinthians 4:5-10.

Steve Cornell

4 Essentials for leadership

After 30 years of leadership in one Church, I’ve learned a few important lessons. A number of key principles have guided me throughout my journey. Consider four essentials for effective leadership. Each one is framed as questions for personal evaluation.

1. Do I need others to encourage and affirm me?

I appreciate encouragement and my work would be harder without it. But if a leader depends too much on being appreciated and encouraged, his leadership will suffer. It’s easy to feel like you are taken for granted in pastoral work. This possibility only increases with time because of the old adage, “Familiarity breeds contempt.”

The many hours you pour into individuals are often unseen by most people and frequently invested with little tangible expression of appreciation. Sometimes this is because people feel you are supposed to be there for them. Or, worse, they think you’re being paid to help them. Others are so consumed with their own problems that they fail to show appropriate appreciation toward those who help them. Always remember that only one leper returned to our Lord to give glory to God for healing him (Luke 17:11-17).

Churches need to be taught to respond to their leaders with deep appreciation (see: Galatians 6:6; I Thessalonians 5:12-13), and leaders must determine that the idol of human appreciation will not rule their hearts (see: Luke17:10; Hebrews 6:10).

This also applies to criticisms. Someone suggested that we often need ten ‘Atta boys’ to compensate for one criticism. But leaders who rely too much on approval ratings will be tempted to abrogate their roles when needed most. Stay out of leadership if you need the affirmation of others to feel good about yourself. Grow in your identity and security in Christ before entering the arena of leadership.

As a leader, I have been deeply appreciated and fiercely criticized — even hated. Effective leaders need a tough hide and a tender heart. If your hide is too tough or your heart too tender, you’ll get hurt and possibly compromise your calling (see: Galatians 1:10; Colossians 3:23; I Corinthians 10:31).

2. Is my pace sustainable?

I am type A high D! For those unfamiliar with these categories, it means that I tend to go full throttle and must fight the temptation to take on more than I can handle. My battle is with myself. Maintaining reasonable margin takes forethought and effort.

Case in point: Along with my leadership role in a thriving Church, for the past fifteen years, I’ve done daily and weekend radio features; written monthly columns for two newspapers as well as numerous articles for other sources; volunteered as Chaplain for Millersville University football and basketball for many of those years and traveled to speak regularly for university groups and conferences.

Did I mention raising four energetic children? When I look back on the stuff I’ve packed into life, I get tired thinking about it. Leadership requires taking inventory and making adjustments. Several key phrases help me: Simplify and prioritize. Keep the main thing the main thing. Say “No” more often. Pray before responding. (See: Burn out? Not me!)

3. Do I practice team leadership?

Team leadership is non-negotiable! It’s also the best formula for protection from burnout. Leaders who are called to highly visible public roles must circle themselves with competent co-leaders. My friend good Crawford Loritts recommends that we fly in tight formation with a faithful few. These fellow-leaders should have strengths to compliment the front leader.

Selection of associates must be done with great care and prayer. An associate who resents or becomes jealous of the front leaders’ role is dangerous to the unity of the work. Studied consideration of giftedness, sense of calling and aspirations of associates is essential. Maturity, integrity and a healthy sense of personal identity and security are some of the most important qualities to look for in co-leaders. Immaturity, insecurity or lack of integrity in one leader, threatens unity of a team.

When leaders work together in unity, those under their leadership are blessed. One of my greatest joys is the working relationship I have had with my leadership team for many years. Preserving this requires encouragement of one another supported by regular public acknowledgement from the senior leader concerning the value of those who lead with him (see: Exodus 18:13-26; Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3-5).

4. Do I distinguish office from person?

Police officers are reminded as part of training that people don’t resent them as much as the uniforms they wear. Sometimes people express anger toward leaders because they need a target for their frustrations. I become that target because I am (in their eyes) the pastor. Assuming I have power and influence, they attack me because of the office I hold.

In our culture, people like to “go to the top” when they have a complaint. In the Church, they could go one office higher to Jesus himself, the head of the Church, but more often they head for the senior pastor’s office! If I was “Joe normal” in the Church, I wouldn’t be under nearly as much scrutiny. But, as senior pastor, such treatment goes with the territory. If you can’t take the heat—get out of the kitchen!

Don’t take everything personally or you’ll go crazy. Don’t take the bait and escalate! I’ve always regretted it when I’ve violated this principle. A wise mentor once instructed me, “Respond to God – don’t react to man.”

Surviving and thriving as a leader requires tenacious commitment to key principles. Review the four principles above with your leadership team.

Steve Cornell

7 Links worth seeing

Mommy, Somebody Needs You

The sooner I can accept that being Mommy means that I never go off the clock, the sooner I can find peace in this crazy stage of life.   That ‘Mommy’ is my duty, privilege and honor. I am ready to be there when somebody needs me, all day and all night.  Mommy means I just put the baby back down after her 4am feeding when a 3-year-old has a nightmare.

For the Moms stuck inside 

Call it cabin fever, seasonal affective disorder or just feeling cooped up, caring for young children during the winter is no joke when the walls feel like they are closing in around you. On top of feeling stuck inside with your kids, it takes more effort to bundle kids up and do anything or see anyone. That means a lot of moms feel isolated during the winter.

The Heartbreak of Foster Care

I mean, there’s nothing glamorous about it. You voluntarily allow a child into your home whose parents are probably less than stellar. They come with lice (or worse). They don’t know how to eat at the table properly. They probably cry for parents you wish could be locked up for decisions they’ve made. It means child services in your home, scrutinizing you in ways no one does for a biological child.

Profiles of Courage: Jo’s Story, Part 1 (Foster Parenting)

I used to say I wanted to adopt someday. I envisioned a dark hand in my pale one. And maybe a few more little hands as well. A full colour pallet of little hands. It was a pretty picture that I now realize was sustained mostly by a rosy-colored romanticism.

Develop a Thick Skin

I argued that emotional self-control is a critical part of professional maturity, and that emotional outbursts really have no place on a warship—especially in a watch-standing context.

Why Privatizing Marriage Can’t Work

Young Evangelicals are not stupid. They see the writing on the wall, and they don’t want to drown when the approaching cultural tsunami hits land. Their suggested compromise makes an enormous amount of sense to them. Unfortunately, it cannot work.

Faithful Compromise

Daniel and his friends are remembered for their uncompromising witness: they refused to defile themselves with the king’s delicacies; they refused to worship the image of the king. They were willing to bear the costs of such faithfulness, and we rightly celebrate such public witness.

But Daniel was also willing to make compromises, to almost embrace his exile in a way that secured influence. He learned the language and literature of the Chaldeans; he served in an administration that had captured his own people; he provided counsel to an idolater. His faithfulness did not find expression in an enclave of purity, nor did it require him to insulate himself in some holy huddle that protected him from compromise. Instead, he was faithful amidst compromise.

Strong and Honorable leaders needed

After 30 years of pastoral work, one thing I learned about leadership is that leaders must sometimes make tough and unpopular decisions. While leaders should do their best to listen to those under their charge, they cannot be controlled by approval ratings. A helpful proverb warns that, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25).

During my training for leadership, I attended a church that had an annual vote of affirmation for its senior pastor. A couple of months before the vote, the pastor had to win as many points with the people as possible to get a high approval rating. But this annual popularity contest finally led the pastor to a state of exhaustion and cynicism. He decided that he no longer cared who liked him because he had a job to do.

By this point, however, the pastor had developed a reactionary attitude that was not good for him or those under his leadership. Ironically, he went from one form of looking out for himself to another, while considering his new outlook noble. Was the pastor’s attitude entirely his fault or was the system set up to hurt everyone? I found myself asking if it was the best way to inspire greatness in leadership.

I feel the same concern today when I see the endless approval ratings of political leaders. How do politicians refuse to allow ratings to control them when faced with unpopular decisions? Does it potentially hurt the people when their leaders are always looking over their shoulders to maintain popularity?

A large majority of Americans do not trust their leaders. Perhaps the leaders brought it upon themselves but, whatever the source, it’s bad for everyone. But have we the people become too cynical to inspire greatness in anyone? What happens to us when we expect our lawmakers to look after the interests of wealthy corporations and individuals who contribute to their election campaigns rather than the best interests of their constituents?

Sometimes I fear that we’ve adopted a system that cannot inspire leaders to courage, integrity and honor. The current tone of bitter partisanship between Democrats and Republicans certainly doesn’t encourage respect for leadership. And it’s hard to see how it serves the good of our nation.

I am not opposed to our system itself, but what many have turned it into. I’ve been guilty myself. If we’re happy to find dirt on a member of an opposing party or even willing to misrepresent a leader to advance our side, we’ve become part of the problem. It seems that we all could benefit from serious conversations about what it means to respect our leaders — particularly when we disagree with them.

At the height of President Bill Clinton’s scandal with intern Monica Lewinsky, one of our children heard a news report about the president’s behavior and said, “He’s a jerk!’’ I quickly corrected the comment by reminding our child that, although we don’t agree with the man’s behavior, he’s still the president of our country and should not be spoken of that way. I admitted how hard it is to convey honor for the office of a leader when the one holding it is dishonorable. Yet if we fail to preserve some sense of respect and dignity, we cannot hope to inspire our leaders to be honorable.

We all could benefit from asking if some of our reactions contribute to and encourage distrust for leaders. Perhaps instead of inspiring honor, our endless criticisms and polls encourage our leaders to look out for themselves above everything else. While it’s tempting to see leadership problems as one-sided, let’s be willing to work harder to create an atmosphere that inspires trust and honor in our leaders and allows them to learn from their mistakes.

The Scripture offers a model when it encourages church members: “Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you” (Hebrews 13:17).

Few would doubt that we need strong and wise leaders in these complex and challenging times. And most would agree that it takes a strong person to do what is right when it’s not popular. How, then, can we be part of a solution that encourages our young people to view leadership as an honorable calling for serving fellow human beings?

Steven W. Cornell is senior pastor at Millersville Bible Church. He also is a correspondent for Lancaster Newspapers Inc.

7 essential emphases for local Churches

  1. Emphasis on qualified spiritual leadership: 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Heb. 13:17.
  2. Emphasis on unity: Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:14-15; John 17:21.
  3. Emphasis on humility in service: Luke 17:10; Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:3-5.
  4. Emphasis on every-member-ministry: Ephesians 4:16; Hebrews 3:12-13.
  5. Emphasis on grace in debatable matters: Romans 14:3.
  6. Emphasis on loving God by serving others: Hebrews 6:10;10:23-25.
  7. Emphasis on evangelism, discipleship and salt/light influence: Rom.1:16; Matt. 5:13-16;28:19-20.

A Worshipping and Witnessing Community

The Church is a worshipping and witnessing community (I Peter 2:5, 9) responsible to evangelize, establish and enlist people by bringing them to Christ, helping them grow in Christ, and encouraging them to serve Christ by serving one another and loving their neighbors.

  1. Evangelize – Bring people to Christ to know Him as Savior and follow Him as Lord.  “Follow Me!” (Matthew 4:19, Luke 9:23; 14:33; Colossians 2:6)
  2. Establish – Help people come to maturity in Christ – to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18; Ephesians 1:17; 4:1-16; Colossians 1:28-29; 2:6-7; 4:12)  “Abide in Me!”
  3. Enlist  - To encourage each believer to serve Christ in witness and ministry (Matthew 5:13-16; 28:18-20; Galatians 5:13; I Peter 4:10-11) “Make disciples of all nations!”

Each believer must be: Ministry minded, Ministry equipped, and Ministry enlisted.

Steve Cornell

Listen. Learn. Live.

7 short clips from my daily programs on WJTL 90.3 FM

  1. The Market Driven Church
  2. I will build my Church
  3. You need patience
  4. Ask for whatever you want me to give you
  5. The most important thing your children need
  6. Father’s Day is difficult for some people
  7. Forgiveness not enabling (Resources- 717-872-4260)

Steve Cornell