Pastors, ministers, church leaders, worship leaders, youth workers, Sunday School teachers -- any follower of Christ who has accepted a position of influencing others -- I was challenged this morning by my reading in Acts. See whether it inspires you the way it inspires me.
Paul was visiting with the elders of the church he planted in Ephesus, and where he lived and ministered for two years. He said:
Acts 20:18 ..."You know how I lived the whole time I was with you...
We, too, can say that the people in our churches, in our jobs, in our families, and in our neighborhoods know how we live. Are you living well? I mean, your conscience may be clear that people don't see great recklessness or irresponsibility in your life, but there's a difference between being good and not being bad. People know how we live! Let's make sure it's more than "just not bad"; let's make sure it's good.
19 "I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my...opponents.
Ministry, and even faithfulness itself, lives in the land of opposition. Even in a good church with good people there is tension born out of everything from fear and misunderstanding to bitterness and hatred. In my two years at Bahia Vista I can't say it's been severe (thank you Lord) but I have been tested by opposition. And I've gotten frustrated and, to those closest to me, have been pretty free with my "UGH!". When someone persists in reckless behavior, or can't tame their biting tongue, it can be so frustrating! And I like to imagine that Paul "ughed" too.
But there's a difference between the "ugh" of compassion and the "ugh" of inconvenience. Even in the midst of attack, let's be those who serve the Lord "with great humility and with tears". I mean, who are we after all? To puff out our chests and posture against the opposition is silly to even think about when following in the footsteps of someone who willingly gave up his back to his enemies.
20 "You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.
It's one thing to preach a sermon or teach a prepared lesson or write a blog. You can pick your thoughts and words ahead of time and wax eloquent in theological abstractions. It's another thing to teach "from house to house" -- to get into the thicket of people's lives.
I don't like to be the bearer of bad news. I don't even like to give hard-to-accept news. But there are times when God allows a disappointment or hardship in someone's life so that it will knock them off their feet and onto their knees in surrender. There's a difference between being gentle and being a buffer. When we step in as the buffer to protect someone from reality, we are standing between them and the Holy Spirit! Why do we want to help the Holy Spirit pull the punch? If it makes contact at all it just gives the person a little shove. And it could even just shove them further away. On their knees is the best place they can be. Let them taste the bitterness of their sins. Let them fear God. Let them give up and surrender. Let them kneel.
My personal ministry verse was also written by Paul, in Colossians 1:28-29, "We proclaim [Christ], admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ. To this end I strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in me."
There is so much in that verse! Is there anything helpful that you're hesitating to preach or teach? Are you shying away from admonishing and teaching with wisdom? Are you working hard at presenting people "fully mature in Christ"? THAT is what should drive us! -- more than just making sure people feel good.
Are you still sold out to the Gospel as the primary change-agent in people's lives? Paul went on to say,
21 "I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus."Some people are familiar with the Gospel, some people are not. Most people reject the Gospel. But it's still the Gospel. Are you still in the Gospel business? Are you still declaring to people that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus? If not rooted in that Gospel, and if not carried with a humility and tears that can be seen in the way we live, all our "ministry" and "influence" is a waste.
If you've accepted a position of influencing others, be encouraged and inspired to accept this challenge. Be a living witness; be humble and caring; be gentle and bold and direct; be convinced about the Gospel, knowing that God has you where you are for no lesser or greater purpose than to present them fully mature in Christ.