Summary: This message was for a long standing leader of the church. He was sometimes misunderstood, but always admired for his passion for the church. It was based on his wife's favorite verse about God's sustaining power in the midst of difficult circumstances.
The most important thing that I can say personally about Max **** is that he has made me a better minister and a better man.
Let me share two reasons for that assessment:
There was more to Max than first impressions. When I visited FCC for an interview weekend, nearly 19 years ago, I remember sitting in the parlor for an interview with the Elders. As I left that meeting, there was one person who I had a few inhibitions about, and it was Max. I just knew that this guy was a powerbroker that could make things difficult.
In an Elder’s meeting about 10 years ago, the Elders were taking time to chat before launching into our business of the evening. In the midst of the conversation, Max said, “I don’t think anyone is afraid of me.” To which, I responded, “Max, my first five years on staff here, I was scared to death of you.” Max, looked across the table at me with an honestly puzzled expression, and asked, “Really?”
As I got to know Max, I came to understand that he and I had a lot in common. I learned much about myself from observing him.
One thing I learned is that we could be easily misunderstood. While Max could give the appearance that it was all about business underneath lay a tender heart that was not always clearly seen.
Twice I have seen Max cry. Once was when we visited Barbara in the hospital a few years ago following her stroke. The other was when Max had inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings. When I called Max to tell him about the injury, I was moved to see how overwhelmingly he was bothered that he had hurt another.
The last conversation of more than a Sunday passing word was a few weeks ago when Max expressed concern that my weight was back up, and that I needed to do something to get it back down. When, I got into the office the next day, just after getting settled, I got a call from Max. He wanted to apologize if he offended me. He was concerned about my health because he wanted me to be around to lead the church.
We both tend to operate with an agenda, a list of things that need to be accomplished; and occasionally we could miss the people for the agenda. Sometimes that task-orientation is mistaken for a lack of regard for people.
Max was not just someone who got things done which was obvious. He also cared deeply for people, which could often be missed. I am so glad that I got to know the man beyond the first impression.
Secondly, Max helped me become a better leader – As I look back over those who have served to mentor me in ministry, I never really considered Max a significant influence until I was preparing this message. Max and I never had a formal dialogue about leadership and the church, or purpose and programs. Yet, I can think of few others that have helped to shape how I do ministry at the management level.
As I prepared a proposal or presented a report, I always knew Max would be there and if no one else did, Max would be ready with the hard questions. He didn’t want the church engaging in half-thought ministry. He wanted to know how the proposal would advance to cause of kingdom. He wanted details, rationales, budgets, outcomes … so I would always have to give time to thinking through the details beforehand because I knew the questions were coming.
Max was never sardonic. He did not desire to make others look badly. Max had such a gracious sense of humility that he actually didn’t understand the power that he wielded. He simply wanted the church to effectively achieve her purpose.
Let me share with you a couple of thoughts from Scripture. Barbara asked that I share this verse, and let me quickly share two thoughts from it:
So, do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous hand. (Isaiah 41:10)
This passage occurs in the latter pages of Isaiah. After Isaiah has warned of the destruction that would befall Israel because of its disobedience, even in the midst of that cataclysm God provided this word of assurance – two words that are meant to sustain his people when walking through the most difficult life experiences. As his people faced this devastation, there would be times when faith would falter. They needed a word to help them along.
The death of a loved one is one of those experiences ... An experience that can often be made much more difficult when well-meaning but misguided statements like “It was God’s will” are uttered. Death and sickness were never God’s will. They are the results of living in a world that has been shattered by sin. Peter reminds us of what God wills when he shares that God desires that none will perish, but all will be brought to eternal life.