My wife is a deal ninja.
She shops at second-hand stores for her clothes, waits until anything retail goes on sale, and sifts through closeout bins for additionally discounted items. If you know her, she is not cheap. She is the definition of class. But she also defines thrifty.
Last week she was manifesting her "gift of thrift" at the sale rack of a local grocery. She came across a couple of ceramic , brand name travel coffee mugs for $4. They retailed for $20 each. Since our son, Schaeffer, is bringing a friend home from college over Easter break, Kristy wanted to include a fun gift in their "Easter baskets." She asked what I thought.
They definitely were deals. Really great coffee mugs. I kinda wanted one for myself. But upon closer examination, I found a fatal flaw.
There was a crack in the ceramic.
Cracked, flawed ceramic is not very effective at keeping coffee hot, much less contained in a mug.
But we are not talking about coffee mugs. We are addressing the topic of leadership, and the question is this:
How can a flawed sinner be an effective leader?
The specific application today is how a flawed sinner be an effective elder in the church?
What about a flawed lead pastor? But also, what about a flawed father or mother? How about a flawed spouse, son, daughter, employee, coach, or teammate -- or referee?
I wonder if we have too high of an expectation for each other? Sometimes, it seems that we expect flawed sinners to function as perfect people. Don't we get disappointed, angry, and frustrated when others are not perfect, whether it is the poor decision a 19-year-old quarterback makes to throw back across the field for an interception or the email an employee misses that costs the company a sale or a husband who forgets to bring home the gallon of milk.
We expect spouses to be perfect and children and roommates and coaches and referees and politicians.
Is there any hope for those in any arena of leadership to be both flawed and effective?
The Bible addresses this issue in Psalm 32.
The author is King David of Israel, who himself was a deeply flawed sinner as well as an effective leader. In this song, he describes how it is possible to be both.
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him. 7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. 8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you. 9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. 11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
How can a flawed sinner be an effective leader?
Psalm 32 answers the question with 4 reasons...
We see this in verses 1-2, where David has learned that...
It's not "the good life" that is true blessing. He had the good life. He was king. He was the CEO of a nation. He was famous, wealthy and had immeasurable power.
But none of those things are listed as the source of true blessing.
David knew that true blessing is not the good life, it is the graced-life.
David looks at himself and sees transgression, sin, and iniquity. It is an ugly portrait. The King of Israel was a desperately flawed leader. In a moment of brutal honesty, he realizes that his greatest need is to have that sin covered.
There have been a couple of occasions in my life where, after a meal at a restaurant, I went to pay a dinner bill only to have the waitress tell me that someone had already covered the bill. There was nothing left for me to pay. Nothing. Not even the gratuity. What a blessing!
God hasn't covered merely a dinner bill. He has covered the entire account of our sin debt. It required the costliest of payments.
That is the blessing of which David speaks. Atonement, a word that literally means "to cover an offense."
How can a flawed sinner be an effective leader? He understands the true blessing is being a recipient of grace. Not the good life as we define it in contemporary terms, but the graced life as defined in gospel terms.
We see this in verses 3-5, where his experience with grace is not theoretical but severely personal. He has learned grace... and learned it the hard way.
For David, his guilt had become a physically and spiritually debilitating burden. He had tried to cover his sin with rationalization and excuses for a while, but eventually he had to cry "uncle."
Carrying around unresolved sin is like wearing a weight vest that folks use to burn extra calories while working out. But if you wear it continuously, eventually it will crush you under the burden. That is what sin becomes for us. A weighty burden that, at some point, we can no longer ignore.
In verse 5 David says, "I acknowledged my sin to you."
In the original Hebrew, the word acknowledged is yada, which means "to know, to see, to uncover, or to expose." It is more than intellectual knowing. It is personal knowing. Yada is the word used for when Adam knew his wife, Eve. It was a very intimate knowing -- not theoretical but personal.
This is the kind of self-awareness that prompts true repentance.
When he allows his sin to be exposed...
This freedom comes in the form of forgiveness. The result of honest confession is the forgiveness that feels like the removal of a massive weight--a literal lightening of the load.
A load which Jesus would take upon himself as a sinner substitute upon a cross.
It is a load that any of us may unload if we will confess our need -- even leaders. Especially leaders.
This is necessary for leaders because of the third aspect of how a flawed sinner can be an effective leader.
We see this in verses 6-9, where David describes three key themes in his teaching. The first is...
To receive the gift of atonement for sin is limited to this life. To the now. We could say it is a "limited time offer."
This ties into the second theme.
In verse 8, when he says, "I will instruct you and show you the way you should go," David is not challenging us to try harder to do better. He is speaking as a freshly forgiven sinner. These are the words of experience, from one sinner to another concerning where to go for mercy.
Charles Spurgeon used to say that in his preaching, he was just a beggar showing other beggars where to find bread -- showing them which way to go.
That is what David is doing, and what any flawed leader does.
The prayer David commends in verse 6 is for any who sense the rush of floodwaters of judgment and flee to the ark for safety. You will find the door open... for a limited time.
Even though grace is available, we will face internal...
David knows the human condition because he knows himself. He knew what it was like to have a hard heart, resistant to repentance. Just like you and me. Thus, the image of the stubborn, unbroken horse.
This is what we need. It is what I need.
To be broken, not just over the legal transgression of sin, but of the damage it has done to others and the resistance it has revealed about my flesh's true attitude toward God.
The breaking we experience that leads to repentance is not meant to harm us but to heal us.
Like a surgeon must use a scalpel to wound, his preeminent desire is healing for the patient who goes under the knife.
That is why those who have heart transplants are from that point known as "heart transplant recipients." That is their new identity. They can't run from it. Nor would they want to.
Their new heart is a gift that represents grace.
It required someone else to die in order for them to live.
It is the same way for any believer, as well as those who lead, which leads to the fourth and final reason a flawed sinner can be an effective leader.
We see this in verses 10-11, where David says, "the steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord." The Hebrew word for "steadfast love" is one of the most important words in the entire Bible. The word is hesed, which is challenging to translate adequately into English. It may be translated as "steadfast, ardent, unwavering love," "kindness," "covenant mercy," and "loyalty."
However we are to translate hesed...
In verse 10, David uses the image is of a wall surrounding him, protecting him from the attacks and accusations of his adversaries. Regardless of what anyone else says about him, whatever identity they would give him -- flawed, failure, a disappointment -- none define him except his true identity that the TRUE King has given the lesser King, which is the identity of "the beloved."
It is not his role as King, but being a recipient of God's hesed love that sustains him. The same is true for any effective leader. But that hesed also...
In verse 11 David completes the Psalm with an expression of worship and praise. Here we see that the hesed love of God not only sustains him but that it inflames his loyalty and love for the King of Kings who has forgiven him of sin and counted him as righteous in the annals of heaven.
He is a flawed sinner. But having his life defined by the hesed love, mercy, and kindness of God has equipped him to be an effective leader.
His motivation to serve as King is not mere duty or obligation. Due to God's hesed love, his motivation for all of life flows from his identity as a recipient of God's grace.
One of the most traditional closings of personal letters used to be "sincerely" or "sincerely yours." According to the dictionary, to be sincere is to be free of deceit, genuine; trustworthy, real, pure and unmixed.
The English word sincere is the composite of two Latin words, sine and cera. Sine means "without" and cera means "wax." When you put them together, you get "without wax."
This is why in ancient times potters would market their bowls as "sin-cere" -- without wax, because sometimes in the firing of the clay, the bowls would crack. Rather than throwing away the broken stoneware, the potter would just fill the cracks with wax and paint the bowl to hide the the flaw.
To represent your work as sincere was to claim that your bowls and pots were fired without flaws. They were without wax.
What we have learned from Psalm 32 is that all of us are desperately flawed. This is true of spouses, children, friends, and yes, even elders.
In fact, there is only ONE who is flawless, and that is Jesus.
The wonder of the gospel is that we who are flawed no longer need to hide our flaws with the wax of denial, excuses, or worldly success. We don't need wax because we have blood--the blood of Jesus that was shed for our flaws and sin.
And we are now covered, not with paint, but with the very righteousness of Jesus. His sinlessless is our sinlessness. His moral beauty and perfection is our beauty and perfection.
That is how a flawed sinner is able to be an effective leader, not because of his merit but because of God's mercy -- as the leader allows that mercy to be the defining reality of his life.
The question not only for leaders but for each of us is, "Have you received this mercy? Is the love and kindness of God to you in Jesus the defining truth of your life?"
How does it encourage you that you can be both a flawed sinner and an effective leader?
Is there someone from whom you have expected too much?
What does it look like for you to live a life defined by mercy?
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