April 2014 – Judging a Book by its Cover

With the passing of time I find myself tempted to write defensively rather than proactively. We seem to live in such a sad world and I guess with the daily cycle of negative media its no wonder bad news is often initially reflected upon.

Well, before I get into the topic of  interest for this month let me show you something that is variably the antithesis of what I’m briefly going to talk about. Its a photo of a group of missionaries. They served their generation with honour, dignity and sacrifice and now in their twilight years, reflect God’s goodness.

Many are in their 70s & 80s. To meet them and look at them in person leaves an indelible impression of lives that have been worth while. They are what I call “Australia’s Missionary Anzacs”! 

Which leads me to the topic of this blog and is something that has fascinated me ever since I first entered the full time ministry as a missionary/pastor.

The faces of people are like a book, they often reflect the life story of the person, but really can one judge a book by its cover?

One would need to be on another planet not to have heard about the unfolding of the recent Daniel Morcombe case in Queensland. 

I have been deeply impressed by the devotion of our legal system to sift truth from fiction and bring evil to justice. The path to finding the truth was long and laborious but justice was found in the end.

It left me cold to know that this evil man had attended a church and I shiver to think of the consequences if this evil deed was perpetrated on an innocent church member. As a pastor I chill at that thought!

The perpetrator of the evil in the Morcombe case did not look evil. In her summation Judge Justice Atknison said, “You did not look like a murderer – you looked like a normal person.”

This is why every Pastor cannot assume to take on the responsibility of “knowing” alone. This needs a team.

The judge recognized the accused as an “opportunistic liar” so the truism is, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.”

Justice, and right judgments are so intrinsic to God’s requirements for the minister’s calling and I held these things in great importance in my pastorate. I was blessed with spiritually mature men and women on my church boards and devout Elders whom I consulted and prayed with, until the right decision was found.

No pastor should have to go it alone on the important issues of church governance and judgments. I think now of the times I have sat with godly people like Beryl Peterson in Adelaide and listened to her advice after she had spent hours in prayer and fasting over a church matter.

I was also blessed in Toowoomba with the mature local wisdom of Mrs Janet Smith whom I consulted from time to time about difficult church issues & judgements that had to be made. 

As our world seems to advance to more evil it is even more necessary for pastors to have the Holy Spirit’s guidance and discernment. Each church board member is equally responsible to seek out truth with diligence and not be deceived by “wolves” who can enter a church to destroy it. That takes active participation, much prayer and diligence to find the truth.

At the conclusion of the court case of the murder of Daniel Morcombe, the presiding Supreme Court Justice Roslyn Atkinson, made these concluding remarks to the convicted murderer Brett Peter Cowan: “You did not look like a monster. You did not look like a paedophile,” she said.You looked like an ordinary person.’’ “Whenever anyone is considering the prospect of granting you parole many years in the future they should mark my words that you are a convincing liar … and prepared to lie to advance your own interests,” she said.

With these words the judge was sending out a message to the parole board in years to come to think twice before releasing a criminal with a track record.

Herein lies the perennial problem that we all face in normal life whenever we are called upon to make decisions about people who we don’t know.

Should we befriend them, commit to them, fraternise with them, employ them, or give them a wide birth?                            

In my work as a pastor I was called upon to make judgements of people on a daily basis. My business you could say, was “people”; some wanted to be my friend, some wanted to join ‘my’ church, some wanted to sing in the choir, some wanted to teach in sunday school, some wanted to be in leadership and even some desperately wanted to be a pastor! 

I can’t imagine why (lol), but I have seen people worm their way into positions of leadership and even end up pastors only to see the fruit of their ‘ministry’ decimate the church and scatter the congregation.

The difficulty is how does one judge if a person is worthy of your trust?

As a leader I carried the responsibility of judging a ‘book cover’ very seriously. I did not want to discriminate yet I was placed in a position as a pastor to choose the right ‘books’ for my congregation to read – as it were. 

Keeping an eye out for paedofiles was just one aspect of church life that I had to keep an eye on. As an evangelical/pentecostal I was naturally keen to win souls to Christ but at the same time had to protect my flock from ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ and believe me they are hard to detect and are increasing in numbers; particularly as the church grows in numbers. I had to be careful about appointing people to positions of authority and leadership in the Church because of the potential to cause havoc in the church.

On a personal level I had to choose carefully who were my friends. It would have been easy to judge people if they all had the look of a ‘lion’. After all the Bible 1 Peter 5:8 warns us to be on our guard! The truth is, seldom do we come across ‘lions’ but wolves in sheep’s clothing is another thing.

What looks beautiful or attractive could have a dark side that will devastate and devour you. So, “what are the guidelines Pastor?” you ask.

The Bible warns us that there will be imposters who would attempt to pass themselves off as his authorized representatives. Jesus warned of false prophets who would come in sheep’s clothing and may look good but who would have their own selfish motives to fulfill. “Ye shall know them by their fruits,” he said

“Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?”

“Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruits; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.”

“A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.”

“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)

To put it plainly, what have they produced? Their track record will tell you an awful lot about them? Jesus assures us that we will know them by their fruit. A fruit tree may be beautiful, decorative, and offer pleasant shade in the summer. But its primary purpose is to bear fruit, and it is therefore judged by what it produces and not by how it looks. God’s judgements on behaviour are detailed in scripture in the 10 commandments, the sermon on the mount and His law of love.

But thats not all! To determine a persons track record one needs to see if they are qualified for the role or position that they aspire too. When my wife Betty for example first applied to be a missionary, she was told that she needed to study and gain three Nursing certificate as well as a Bible School diploma, which she did. This preparation took her ten years. Too often people get into positions of authority without prior training resulting in chaos and failure when in leadership.

Whenever I looked for ministry staff to fulfil positions in the church, I firstly looked at their qualification, then secondly I investigated their character “fruit” before examining if they had any experience for the role. Finally I looked for what I call the “Call of God” upon their life.  

I have lived long enough to know that too many people get into positions of leadership without a thorough investigation of their past. Wolves are very convincing when they want to get into a flock. They may look good, act appropriately, speak the language and even have attractive academic qualifications, but have they a proven track record, have they a calling that can be demonstrated by what they have accomplished in their past?

These same principles would apply in secular life. Decisions must be made concerning business and life ethics and prayful consideration must be given to friends and associates in workplace and family.

In conclusion, it’s time to pause & have a cup of coffee because herein is the dilemma that we all face when trying to judge a book by its cover. Significantly we all know that without the grace of God none of us would be a ‘book’ worth reading. So I suggest you listen to the video again at the beginning of this post, because He looked beyond our faults and gave us an opportunity to live again for Him! 

 1 Corinthians 1:25-27 

Please God, is my prayer – help us! Help us to see and love and accept the truly repentent. Help us to acknowledge the power of being “born again”. Help us to acknowledge our need of the Holy Spirit and His enabling gift – discernment . Rise up O Intercessor and “set a watch on the wall”. Nehemiah 4:9

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