Lead With Your Life

1 Peter 2:9-12 

I love the attitude expressed by Helen Keller, “I long to accomplish a great and noble task, but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble . . .  For the world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”

Isn’t that really the picture of the church? It’s not the great effort of an individual, but the combined efforts of all of us together. We are the body of Christ and every one of us contributes to the growth and health of the church.

There is an unfortunate thing that has happened to a very good word – “Minister.” We have allowed it to become specialized and professionalized so that when you identify yourself as a minister, you are categorized as a professional religious person who has to be handled with kid gloves. But the word “minister” is a wonderful New Testament word that means “servant” – no more, no less.

We are all ministers – not professional, just surrendered.  You may never have thought of yourself as a minister before – it can be kind of intimidating. 

In its simplest definition, ministry is using whatever gifts and talents God has given us to serve him and tell the good news of Jesus. 

We all have a stake in that – it is built in to every Christian’s job description – no Christian is exempt.

Centuries ago, the monastic movement began – and it sounded like a good idea – separate yourself from the world so you can’t be tempted and can focus solely on God.  But after several months, one hermit came back to society and rejoined the church – in spite of the distractions, in spite of the frustrations.  Why?  He found that while he might be able to focus on God, what he could not do was fulfill Jesus’ commands to love and serve his neighbor – he could not wash a brother’s feet – he could not tell others of Jesus.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus prayed “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:15-19)

God did not take us out of the world when we became Christians, but instead sent us back into the world – and he sent us back with a purpose. 

That purpose is as ancient as the purpose God gave Abraham – “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:2-3)

That purpose is as focused as Christ’s own purpose – “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Lk. 19:10).

We are not isolated, protected away from the world – we are sent back into the world – we are made for ministry.

Landon Saunders tells about his aunt Mildred’s pet parakeet – a remarkable bird named Ricky.  Ricky has a vocabulary of 60-70 words and is quite articulate.  Whenever somebody stops by to visit, Ricky introduces himself – “My name is Ricky Saunders and I live at 503 W. 30th St., Bradenton, FL.”  He is hospitable – “Want to have some breakfast?”  He is very religious – “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”  “My name is Ricky Saunders, I am a parakeet, praise the Lord.”  But for all the religious words that Ricky can speak he can never connect with my life, because there’s nothing behind the words.

We can say all the words we want to say about proclaiming Christ to the unbelieving world around us, but they will have little effect unless there is something behind the words.  We can never win back with our words what we lose with our lives.  Credibility is destroyed when our words are betrayed by our actions.  When our lives are ineffective and powerless, we can’t talk a good enough game to reclaim it.  It is simply unthinkable that Christ lives in our lives and nothing be different or distinctive about them.

But when we live genuine, authentic lives – lives that are themselves a testimony to the power of God to transform – lives that are consumed in imitating the servant life of Christ – then not so many words are needed.  But if there is no life behind those words, then all the words in the world will have little effect, and may do irreparable harm to the cause of Christ.

Peter addressed this relationship between life and words in his first epistle – 1 Peter 2:9-12 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

What he reminds them of over and over again, is that when you are in the world, lead with your life – let your life be the testimony to the truth of your words.

St. Francis of Assisi said this about our role in the world – “Preach the gospel at all times.  If necessary, use words.”

It is that theme that permeates the words of the NT.  We are never called to be mere spectators.  Our baptism is not a retirement, but a call to put our beliefs into practice – to live the life, not just talk about it.

Paul writes:  “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life.” Phil. 2:14-16

 “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.” 2 Cor. 3:2-3

In 1 Thess. 4:11-12 Paul tells Christians to live their life in such a way “…that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.”

You may remember the OT story of Esther, the young Jewish woman who became a queen to the Persian king Xerxes. One of Xerxes high officials had plotted to exterminate the Jewish people and only Esther was in a position to save them. But she faced a momentous decision that could save her people or cost her her life.  Her uncle Mordecai had these powerful words for her: “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Ministry begins with the realization that our lives belong to God to use to accomplish his purposes in the world around us.  He puts us within a circle of people – a group unique to us – only we can impact.

These people are your ministry – your family, your friends, your co-workers, your casual acquaintances.  How is your life touching their lives?  How is your faith impacting their eternity?

If God were to give you a specific assignment:  “John, you have five years to make a significant – an eternal difference in the lives of these ten people” – how would you go about it?  Where would you start?  That folks, is the essence of ministry.  That is exactly what God is calling you to do.  God takes you where you are, who you are, with what you have and calls you to ministry.

We must view differently our place and our purpose in this world.  We are not here for personal satisfaction and self-gratification.  We are called to be ministers to others – to be invested in the priorities which Jesus counted most important.

Do you believe that your life has real power and purpose?  If everything else were stripped away except your life, what would your Christianity look like?  Are you an open letter, known and read by all men?  And what is the message they are reading?

Jesus spoke 13 parables of judgment – interestingly, he never condemned people for sins like adultery or stealing or murder.  He didn’t condone those sins – but the ones he condemned were those who did absolutely nothing – he condemned the sin of uselessness.

God doesn’t need more church members – marking time, warming pews – he needs ministers – he needs men and women who have committed themselves to being available servants of God. 

If you’re guilty of being lukewarm and indifferent – felt satisfied because you never do anything bad – but when you’re honest with yourself – you really never do anything for God.

You’re like a bucket of gasoline – you have the potential for a spectacular explosion, but you’ve never been on fire so instead of doing anything risky, you’re just slowly evaporating away.

There is an incredible story in Exodus 3.  You remember the story of Moses – a Hebrew baby, raised by royalty, son to Pharaoh – and then things go bad and he flees into the wilderness, a fugitive from justice.  And he takes up the life of a shepherd – he resigns himself to finishing his life in anonymity.  40 years pass.  And then we find him on one of those dull, ordinary days in a life filled with routine – and suddenly, Moses’ life is turned upside down by a burning bush and the voice of God.  Moses tries to wiggle out of it with excuses and refusals – but then God speaks: “I have seen my people’s misery… I have heard their cry… I am concerned with their suffering… I have come down to rescue them… I have seen the Egyptians oppressing them… So now go, I am sending YOU to bring my people out of Egypt… but I will be with you, I will tell you what to say, I will empower you. 

Most of us look at this as an inspiring story, one to tell our children in Bible class or before bedtime, but not one we could imagine would have anything to do with us.  But let me tell you that God has a bush lit and a job for you to do – and his promise is the same -- I will be with you, I will tell you what to say, I will empower you.