Absolute Power Book Cover

 

~Chapter X~

"Our Brother's Keeper"

And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness.

 

--Colossians 3:14

 

     Several years ago a long standing member in a prominent COG association approached a deacon and inquired about the practice of taking attendance every Sabbath. The deacon, who was also a close friend, was more than willing to accommodate the inquiry. He explained in great detail the mechanics of how it was done as well as how the results were documented. He then showed the member a three ring binder containing a form with the names of every member (including children) in a vertical column on the left. To the right of each name was a series of small boxes. On the top of the form (from left to right) were the dates of each Sabbath and holy day. These dates corresponded to the boxes below making a grid. Every Sabbath the appropriate box was checked off—thus updating the roster—which was then placed in its binder and provided to the pastor.

     When the deacon showed the member the roster, something stood out concerning one particular name—a lengthy row of unchecked boxes—sixteen in all. The member pointed it out to the deacon and asked if he knew why this person had not attended in almost four months. The deacon indicated that he didn’t even know the gentleman but would investigate the matter.

 

     The person who had not been attending was a very quiet and unassuming man. He rarely spoke and could easily be considered shy and even introverted. He certainly was not a contentious person by any means. But it was still surprising to learn how so many simply didn’t know who he was. It was as if he were invisible.

The Investigation Begins

 

     That week, while the deacon brought the matter to the attention of their pastor, the member decided to contact the missing congregant and inquire as to why he hadn’t been to services. The response he received was quite disturbing. The gentleman informed him that he felt that no one in the congregation seemed very interested in him. He then stated that prior to the member’s inquiry no one had even contacted him regarding his absence—which, according to him, only served to confirm his suspicions that the Church just didn’t care.

 

     The next Sabbath, the investigating member informed the deacon of what had transpired and wondered why no one had contacted the man. His deacon, who had since spoken to their pastor, revealed that the man had apparently “fallen through the cracks.” He also mentioned that their pastor had no recollection of this person even though it had only been a few years since he (the pastor) had personally baptized the man. 

 

     When asked if the pastor intended to contact him, the deacon indicated he (the pastor) thought it was unnecessary. According to the deacon, this shepherd of God’s people reasoned that if the gentleman who stopped attending sincerely wanted to have contact with the Church, he should have initiated it himself. The member then asked how that squared with Jesus’ teaching regarding leaving the nighty nine and seeking out the one that went astray (Lk. 15:4). The deacon simply responded, “You’ll have to take that up with him (the Pastor).”

 

     A few days later the member sought clarification from his pastor concerning the entire episode. During their meeting the pastor indicated that taking attendance was a requirement of headquarters—nothing more. Additionally, he seemed totally indifferent toward his congregant who had walked away. He even suggested that the gentleman’s lack of any close friends was probably symptomatic of a greater spiritual problem and that God was simply purging him from His Church. He also indicated that it was not the responsibility of the ministry to “chase down defectors” and that people who “leave the Church” should probably not even be considered “brethren.

He is Not Alone

 

     The example of this minister ’s approach toward a member who withdraws himself is not an isolated case. On the contrary, it may be more the rule. For example, while listening to a sermon, a member of a very prominent COG splinter became frustrated by the message and walked out of the service. Although there were at least three elders present, in addition to several deacons, not to mention the pastor, none of them pursued the man—NOT ONE.

 

How could this happen?

 

     Today in the Churches of God there is far less intimacy between leaders and their flock. In truth many pastors don’t really know their congregants nor do they feel any obligation to do so. Oh, to be sure, they may enjoy close relationships with leaders within their fellowship but how many times are the less visible sought out? How many of them are invited to their pastor’s home for a private meal and fellowship? The sad case is that all too often the pastor’s affection is toward those who openly display an unbridled loyalty to him. One prominent leader unapologetically declared that he actually had an obligation to “get rid of the problems” and that it is not the job of the ministry to “fix those who are broken.” Another long standing minister proclaimed that “We don’t go after those who leave [the Church].” He went on to say that those who leave “are forsaking the body of Christ.”

            

    But is this man missing a greater point—one that applies directly to him?

“When brethren forsake the assembling of themselves together and

forsake fellowship with each other [Heb. 10:25], how can they help each other? How do the weak receive help? How do the strong become helpers? This verse puts a responsibility on brethren to look out for

their brother or sister—their neighbor.”

 

Long standing COG member

Name Withheld

Who is Your Brother?

     The gospel of Luke records one of the most poignant lessons ever given by the Messiah. It was conveyed by way of a parable during His later Judean ministry. At that time He was approached by a scribe who presented Him with a test in the form of what appeared to be a very benign question.

      

And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? (Lk. 10:25)

           

     Jesus responds to this query by asking a question of His own. Knowing the scribe’s affinity for the law, the Messiah offers him an opportunity to share his wisdom.

And Jesus said unto him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it? (verse 26)

     In essence Jesus was saying, “You’re the lawyer, what does the law say?” The scribe may have seen this question as no challenge at all, for his answer revealed a keen understanding of the scriptures and was filled with confidence and self-assurance. Notice his reply.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (verse 27)

 

     Jesus responded by acknowledging the accuracy of the scribe’s answer but left him with an unsettling admonition.

And he [Jesus] said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. (verse 28)

      Jesus’ words are masterful. Although He affirms the scribe’s understanding, He suggests that this prominent lawyer may be falling short of the law in his daily life. Therefore, He exhorts him, “This do and you shall live.” These were bold words indeed to be spoken to such a prominent leader, but Jesus proclaimed them with force.

 

      At this point the dialogue becomes more focused. And although Luke does not mention any sub-plot, there may have been one here all along. It is possible that Jesus wanted to present this lesson from the very beginning and therefore used language that pressed the scribe to continue the discussion. The Messiah knew all too well how human nature worked and how man is consumed with justifying his behavior. He also knew the religious leaders of His day and how self-righteous they were. Whatever the case, Jesus’ words clearly put this religious leader on the defensive.

           

      The scribe then employs a tactic very common in legal arguments—he seeks to deflect Jesus’ admonition by demanding that He define His terms.

Notice verse 29

 

But the scribe, WILLING TO JUSTIFY HIMSELF said unto Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” (verse 29)

    The Greek word for “neighbor” used in this story is plesion {play-see'-on}. By definition it means a “friend.” It clearly denotes one worthy of love and respect—like a brother or near kin. The scribe may have asked this question because he could not imagine why Jesus would suggest that he was not following the law. With that said, a strong case can be made that this is right where the Messiah wanted the conversation to go.

 

     Jesus has now set the stage for one of the greatest lessons in the history of Christianity.

 

The Lesson

 

     In the parable of “The Good Samaritan” He presents a scenario that will require this scribe to acknowledge something he never could have imagined just moments earlier. This is because Samaritans were held in contempt by the Jews of Jesus day. They looked upon them as inferior interlopers who had no place in the land of Israel, let alone in God's Kingdom. Even the word “Samaritan” was commonly used as an insult and was once employed against the Messiah Himself. The point here is that this scribe would never think of associating with a Samaritan, let alone regard one as a friend or neighbor—But all that was about to change. Jesus now tells a story of true friendship and brotherhood.

The Parable Begins

          

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. (verse 30)

     This was not just a mugging, but a brutal assault. The victim (an Israelite) is in all likelihood left to die. Additionally, he was not only beaten and robbed, but humiliated—he was stripped of his clothing and left without hope. As he lay bleeding, his countrymen (a Levite and a Priest) approach him. Surly this was good news—or was it? Jesus continues.

And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. (verses 31-32)

An Astonishing Reaction

 

     This is astonishing. Common decency would have demanded that these men rush to the aid of their severely injured countryman—but they would not. With what can only be described as “callused indifference,” they went out of their way to avoid him.

 

     Although the scriptures do not say, it is possible that the scribe saw this story as very plausible. He may have even thought of people he knew that would have done the very thing the priest and Levite did. Perhaps he even saw himself in the story. Jesus then presents the core of this great moral lesson. He introduces the NEIGHBOR—And as it turned out, he was a lowly Samaritan.

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever you spend more, when I come again, I will repay thee. (verses 33-35)

     The Samaritan’s kindness toward a man, who probably had nothing but contempt for him, was extraordinary. He not only treated his wounds, but also sacrificed his own comfort so that this stranger would not suffer further. He even gave of his substance to insure that the man would fully convalesce. This Samaritan never asked himself, “What has this guy done for me lately?” He never saw this as a chance to get even for past wrongs. This act of goodness was simply driven by a genuine outgoing concern for a man who desperately needed it. Jesus then asks the scribe the question of the day. And although the answer is obvious, it must be uttered.

Which now of these three, do you think was a neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? (verse 36)

 

     The Scribe is now compelled to make a stark admission—one that is totally foreign to the self-righteous and arrogant. Notice what he says.

“I suppose it is He that showed mercy on him.” (Verse 37)

     The Messiah then concludes this wonderful lesson with words most familiar.

Then said Jesus unto him, “Go, and do likewise.” (verse 37)

                   

     With these final words, Jesus was giving far more than the scribe had sought. While the scribe originally wanted to know who his neighbor was, Jesus gave an example of what the scribe must do in order to be a neighbor to others. His admonition was that if the scribe wants to know the real meaning of the words, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” he should be less interested in the word “neighbor” and more interested in the word “love.”

     In other words Jesus was admonishing the scribe to be like the Samaritan.

 

     In the words of our Savior, “Go, and do likewise.”

 

     There is a painful reality to the Messiah’s words for many of God’s leaders today. While all too many fail to see comforting damaged sheep as their duty, Jesus saw it much differently. With that said, consider the wisdom of a long standing member of God’s family.

The Threefold Responsibility of a

Church Pastor

 

     Several years ago a long standing COG member was asked what he believed was the primary responsibility of a pastor in God’s work. After pondering the question he offered three things that he thought bore equal weight. Interestingly, none of them had anything to do with biblical acumen or administrative skill. What he offered was much simpler than that. He based his answer on what he thought God might ask a minister If He wanted to inquire about His children under the pastor’s care. The member responded: “A true and faithful minister of God must know: 1) who his sheep are, 2) where his sheep are, and 3) how his sheep are. Without this understanding it would be virtually impossible to properly care for them.” With that said consider what this member presents in his answer.

1) A faithful pastor must know who his sheep are.

In order for a pastor to meet this responsibility he must be totally engaged with EVERY member of his congregation. This is not passive engagement but rather that which is vibrant and meaningful. Imagine a minister asking the son of a member how his baseball team did in their game earlier in the week, or, encouraging a daughter on her violin lessons or her struggles with algebra. Now imagine him being able to do that to every young person in his congregation. Imagine him sending personal notes of encouragement to members or spontaneously calling them just to see how they are doing. Imagine him periodically inviting every household into his home to fellowship in a more informal atmosphere.

 

The point here is that successful pastoral leadership demands that God’s ministers regard their congregants as real members of their Church family—not just products of their work—or even worse, STRANGERS. Furthermore, without having a keen awareness and a deep appreciation of God’s people it would be impossible for any minister to empathize with them and their struggles.

 

The Perfect Example

 

Jesus was the perfect model of this attitude and approach toward the very brethren His ministry served. Furthermore, the scriptures bear this out. It is interesting that on the night He was betrayed He called His disciples “FRIENDS” not acquaintances (Jn. 15:15). In truth, the relationship Christ seeks with all His brethren is not perfunctory or distant. What He desires is intimacy—a genuine closeness. In truth, the Messiah possesses a deep awareness of the difficulties God’s people face every day and can actually relate to them in their trials. The author of Hebrews described Him this way.

For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succor them that are tempted. (Heb. 2:18).

The word “succor” means “to come to the aid of and comfort.” Clearly, that word describes our Savior, why shouldn’t it also describe those who represent Him. Sadly, in all too many cases it doesn’t.

               

Cultivating intimacy

 

There are many ways intimacy can be cultivated by Church leaders. For example: every pastor in God’s service should know the story behind his members’ calling and the challenges they face in their Christian walk. This can be invaluable when providing on-going encouragement and support—not to mention contribute to the substance of his heart-felt prayers. Another way is by being aware of moments that are significant to his flock such as anniversaries, graduations, promotions, and other special events. Such things represents important pieces of a member’s life and as such they should be important to the person God has appointed to shepherd them. Imagine a pastor sending a card to a student for making the “Honor Roll,” or sending a letter to a member he had just baptized expressing private words of joy and encouragement.

 

Managing Differences

 

A true and faithful leader must also be willing to engage members in frank discussions on areas of disagreement. When doing so he must be comfortable with the FACT that simply because someone doesn’t concur with a particular doctrine of his Church does not make that person a heretic in God’s eyes. If the scriptures tell us anything it is that conversion is a process and it is safe to say that every one of God’s children are in different stages. All of God’s people (minister and member alike) must respect this fact.

“The greatest form of respect is to listen.”

 ~Anonymous

Additionally, when discussing areas of disagreement wisdom demands comity by all parties, but especially from God’s shepherds. It is doubtful that the Almighty covers His ears when His children speak sincerely—even if their words lack perspective and understanding. It should be no different with His ministry. It should go without saying that there must have been times when Jesus’ disciples tested His patience.

Seeking Clarity

Furthermore, when discussing serious issues of the faith it is critical to seek clarity—in other words, to diligently inquire into the matter in order to genuinely understand a contrary position. With that said, the “golden rule” is this: “The best argument for God’s way is expressed more by how something is said than what is said.”

 

Not for the Arrogant or Lazy

 

The bottom line is this. To truly be a profitable servant in the ministry requires proactive effort. Furthermore, the labor the Almighty requires will never be accomplished by the arrogant, the cruel, or, the lazy. It is performed by those who genuinely love God’s children—rejoicing in their triumphs and suffering in their defeats—and to do that they must genuinely KNOW them.

            

2) A faithful pastor must know where his sheep are.

Every minister in God’s service should view the loss of any member as a personal failure—one for which he will have to answer. It is simply mind-boggling to imagine a pastor being asked by the Messiah, “Whatever happened to Mister Smith?” and hear that pastor answer, “I’m not sure who he is. I guess he must have slipped through the cracks.”

A Family of Kings  

It is a truth of axiomatic proportions that the greatest threat to a member’s connection to God’s Church is the indifference of his pastor. This is why it is so important for a congregation to tangibly feel their shepherd’s compassion. God’s children are not simply a name on a form, or a box to be checked. In truth they are part of a family of kings—chosen by none other than God Almighty to rule for all eternity in the command center (New Jerusalem) of the entire universe. This fact alone should make every leader in God’s service think long and hard about his commitment to the success of his flock in their journey toward the Kingdom.

 

3) A faithful pastor must know how his sheep are.

It is incumbent upon every true and faithful servant of the Almighty to be aware of the physical as well as the emotional and spiritual condition of his congregants. It is not by accident that Jesus likened Himself to a physician (Mt. 9:12, Mk. 2:17, Lk. 5:31) and that healing the sick represented a significant portion of His miracles (Mt. 4:23, 9:35, Lk. 9:6, 11). It is also not by accident that He specifically empowered His disciples to carry on that part of His ministry (Mk. 16:18, Acts 3:1-7). Even James, the half-brother of Christ specifically instructed Christians to avail themselves of the ministry as a vehicle through which God heals (James 5:14).

 

With that said, it is important to understand that Jesus was more than just a healer of physical infirmities. The Messiah was also acutely aware of the emotional impact life can have on His people and promised that He would deliver them from that burden as well (Mt. 11:28-30). Tragically, there are some who have a much different view. One particular leader of a very prominent COG fellowship confided with an associate on more than one occasion that his goal “was to weed all the [people with] problems out of his congregations.”

“To all those who have suffered as a consequence of our troubled past I extend my sincere thoughts and deep sympathy. With the benefit of historical hindsight we can all see things which we would wish had been done differently or not at all.”

~Queen Elizabeth II

A Final Thought

 

     The real irony to the story presented at the beginning of this chapter is that the attendance roster the pastor updated each week simply to accommodate some administrative policy, could have been a wonderful tool in caring for God’s people. With nothing more than that “form,” a faithful minister in God’s service could pray for every member in his flock. He could identify a potential stray of that flock and bring him back. Finally, he could address many of the spiritual, emotional and physical problems that beset the people in his care. In other words it could be a wonderful resource in assisting him as his brother’s keeper.

 

Return to Directory