As we begin a new year, we stand at the threshold of uncertainty. Like in business, we can go into a new venture with hope and anticipation but we also know it is an adventure not without risks. Starting the new year in a positive way is important, but it is also important to remember that once the race begins, to keep going…
Before Saul became Paul, he was a much different man. Saul means “asked or prayed for.” His new name Paul had an entirely different meaning. His new name meant, “small”. Looking at his background, he came from a privileged and important family. He was from the tribe of Benjamin, taught by one of the great teachers of his day, Gamaliel, and was a Pharisee, one of the most prestigious vocations of his day. But all that changed when he met Jesus. Instead of being part of the current religious establishment, he became a servant of Christ.
In that transition from a persecutor to a servant, we can learn four principles I believe are important for a good start for us moving into a new year.
The first one is we need to face up to the past. We all understand that actions have consequences. Saul persecuted the church, he was there when Stephen was martyred… he was feared by many people for his ruthless persecution of the followers of Christ.
We learn from the Bible that sins have consequences. Romans 6:23 tells us that the wage of sin is death. Many of us go through life with bridges we have burned and skeletons in our closets. Even churches can have reputations. But when we encounter Jesus Christ, we discover forgiveness. What I have learned is forgiveness leads to freedom with God and the ability to let go. In the end, we gain a better understanding of who we are and why we do what we do.
The second thing that happens is we learn to develop trust. In Saul’s case, he was alienated and feared by others. We’ve all heard the saying about one’s reputation preceding them. In Saul’s case, this was very true. Everyone knew who he was. But one person saw beyond that reputation. His name was Ananais. God spoke to him and although he questioned God’s command, he was obedient and took the risk to see Saul.
The truth is, all relationships are built on trust. But the question comes up, “What does it take?” The first thing is time. In churches, this usually happens during Sunday coffee time, group meals, and other fellowship events. Much of this is through our shared faith and interests. But there is a potential negative component as well. Relationships are risky. You may get hurt. That is why so many pastors don’t have friends in churches. Another issue is gossip. Most people naturally like to talk about “stuff” that should be kept private. We see this throughout the Bible: Paul/Barnabas, Paul and Timothy, Jesus and disciples.
I believe relationships are the key. I heard in a seminar that youth spell LOVE, T-I-M-E. We were all created for relationships – firstly with God and then with one another.
Another principle we need to learn and practice is we need to be willing to sacrifice and serve. We all enjoy being comfortable. We like to live our lives hoping nothing goes wrong. We like to live at a certain level of comfort. When Paul Came to faith, he was told he would suffer and ultimately, he did. He experienced being whipped, shipwrecked, stoned, and he was beaten with rods. Now if we heard that would be our experience how many of us would continue on?
But if we stop and look at what Jesus went through on our behalf, maybe our opinions would change? Following Jesus has costs. We are told that we too would suffer. In following Christ, we will all experience things like making financial sacrifices, using our gifts, talents, and abilities, and the giving of our time and maybe ultimately our lives for the Kingdom. It comes down to a willingness to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed for us.
Lastly, we need to stay focused on the goal. I have shared many times on the importance of purpose in a person’s life. There are many good things we can focus our lives upon. Many get involved in things like social justice issues; human trafficking, helping the homeless, and moral issues.
But when we think about the purpose God set before us, what comes to mind? There is the great commandment in Matthew 22:37-40, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” And then there is the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
In our willingness to do things for God, it is easy to focus on the tangible things like programs, a building and miss what really matters. William Blake said, “He who desires but does not act breeds pestilence.”
Regardless of what church you are a part of, I think we all desire to see the church (God’s Kingdom) grow. But without direction and action, it won’t happen. We need to get beyond the past, take steps to build solid relationships with each other, be willing to give and serve and keep focused. As we do, God will do the work in and through us that we might bring glory to His name.
One of the churches Paul spent a lot of time ministering to was located in Corinth. It is important to note that the church in Corinth wasn’t perfect. They had divisions, were full of sin and worldly ways, but what Paul emphasized and what is true for us today is Christ needs to be the foundation. It is He that brought us together and continues to work in and through us to sanctify us.
So what does that mean for us today? I think the question we need to ask ourselves is this: “Are we doing what we do for the sake of the gospel and the glory of God?” The reality is, the answer is no, but the promise of God is He is at work in and through us and as we yield our lives to Him, He will bring forth fruit that will honor Him and make us into the beautiful church He desires.