A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., May 8, 2011.
1 Timothy 4:11-16
We thank you today, O God, for the arms that have held us when we were small and arms that hold us when we are in need of strength and consolation yet today. We thank you for lips and hearts that have prayed for us even when we knew it not. We thank you for the gentleness that communicated your love and for discipline that has done the same. We thank you for wisdom imparted from the heart sometimes in words to direct us and sometimes in silence to allow us to find things for ourselves. We thank you for patience beyond measure and love expressed through sacrifice. O God, if we will not learn it early in life, then teach us late how much we have gained from the love of our mothers, our grandmothers, and those who have served as mothers for us. Remind us in this day how much we have gained from each of them. Help us to live up to the words of scripture they taught us and may our lives be an answer to their most sincere prayers for us. We give thanks for them all, those who hold and guide us still, for those who now love our children along with us, for those who are absent from us but live forever with you in that Holy City where there is no longer need for sun by day or moon by night for you, indeed, are its light. For those who are there with you, we ask that you would grant them eternal rest and eternal joy. In the name of Christ who did care for Mary, his mother, even while on the cross, we pray. Amen.
Example is not the main thing in influencing others; it is the only thing.
I really want to speak, thinking as family, to graduates in particular but everybody can overhear this message and I think most people can identify with it.
What do you really want to do with your life? This is not a question about what you want to be when you grow up that people have been asking you since you can remember. Maybe it has to do with vocation, but what do you really what to do with your life? What do you want to see happen? What is the purpose of it all? When you think about your future, what are the kinds of things that you see yourself doing?
If we ask parents and grandparents, typically they will say, “We want our children to be happy” or “We want them to have more than we had” or “We want them to have all the opportunities.” All of those things are good, but in the human heart, I am confident there is something deeper than that. There is something deeper than any of those things. I believe that most people have a dream, a vision, or an image of something that is big in their hearts.
This is not the kind of dream you have when you are asleep, but these are the kinds of things that come to us in those moments when our thoughts are idle and they come so often that sometimes we even take them for granted and fail to notice that the dream has come around again. It is the kind of thing that is deep that you cannot tell someone else for fear they will laugh at you or that someone will not understand. It is the dream of leading an important change. It is the dream of overcoming in some great struggle. It is the dream of getting people to follow you. It is the dream of discovery and discovering what I don’t know. If I knew, you would not be able to discover it.
It is the dream of heroism. It is the dream that when other people are fleeing from the crisis, you will be the person who will go toward it. You cannot tell this because you know someone will tell you that you are vain or conceited or will say to you, “You are just young and idealistic. Get a little real life and it will squeeze that dream out of you. You will realize what everybody really has to contend with. It is just about the mundane things of life.”
I am going to tell you today to go toward it. Go toward this dream and this image that comes back to you in moments when you are not doing anything and it comes again, again, and again. I want to tell you not just to do it, but I want to tell you how to do it based on the words of Paul to his young associate, Timothy.
First, prepare. Nobody stumbles into greatness. The people who are truly great in this world have prepared. Timothy’s call is to the ministry and Paul says to Timothy, “Study scripture.” But the emphasis is on preparation.
When you go to college, be involved in the leadership program. When everybody else says they are too busy, get involved in the things that matter. If you read the biographies of great people, you will see how many people were invested in smaller things, then larger things, until the moment when their opportunity for greatness presented itself.
Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb said, “I know thousands of things that won’t work,” because he had tried experiment after experiment after experiment and, finally, one of his inventions was the light bulb.
We can all think of things that we do to waste time. Perhaps in your parents or grandparents’ generation it was TV. Today it is texting or something else. Don’t do that. It is not wasting time; it is wasting your life. Sure, there is time for fun and relaxation but prepare yourself, be invested, do the things that will prepare you for greatness.
The second thing Paul also mentions is look to your giftedness. One of the great words that I see used a lot in the world today is passion. Follow your passion. There is a lot to that. Do the things that give you joy and fulfillment. They are a sign from God that you have been wired a particular way to be good at certain things. Paul says to Timothy, “Don’t neglect your gift.” Use the things that are a part of you that give you the most joy. God has prepared you internally for something. As you prepare yourself through study, learning, opportunity, and growth, God has already implanted in you a seed or something that can be used to follow this dream, this vision, that keeps coming back.
The thing that I think is most important is develop your character. The passage that is so often quoted is “Don’t let anybody look down on you for your youth.” When we are young, we all want to refer back to this verse, but it also says, “but be an example in your character and in your purity.” The thing that I would say to you in terms of character is be trustworthy. I know some of you are Scouts, and that is one of the parts of the Scout code. But this is more than honesty.
I remember when I was in seminary and I was serving on a church staff. We got a new pastor and this man in the church just went off on one of the ministers on the church staff. He was over the top, out of control, and inappropriate. The pastor gathered us together and said, “I know enough about people to know that someday he is going to do this to me. While it is not about me, I am going to go ahead and deal with it so just be prepared for whatever may come.”
The pastor challenged this man about how inappropriate he had been. This was new pastor vs. somebody entrenched in the church. Immediately, everybody began to come to this man’s defense. You just don’t understand him. That is just the way he is. You just have to realize that he does that sometimes.
The pastor who was a very wise man said, “So what you really mean is that I can’t trust him.”
“Oh no, we didn’t say that.”
The pastor said, “Yes, you did. You told me that when he says something to me, he may not really mean it. You are telling me that sometimes he is going to say things to me that he does mean and sometimes he is going to say things that he doesn’t mean, and I have to figure out which is which. That means I can’t trust him.”
The man’s friends realized they had boxed themselves in a corner and that was the way it was. He was not trustworthy, not just in telling the truth, but you could not count on him to know he was going to act the right way or the wrong way. If you want to have character, if you want to be great, you have to be trustworthy.
You also have to be responsible. You realize that the opposite of responsible is irresponsible. None of us like friends who are irresponsible. If we say we are going to do something, we have to do it. A word of advice I would give to you is that there are often reasons why we don’t get things done but avoid the tendency to make excuses. Every time you get ready to make an excuse, challenge yourself on making an excuse because excuses tend to move us to a place where we can be irresponsible and people might call us on it.
The last thing is the word that Paul uses. Purity. That sounds kind of hokey. Purity has a lot of moral connotations that I am not sure we really want to be involved in, but yes we do. If you don’t understand how important righteousness and purity is, simply allow yourself to be tarnished and see how hard it is to polish it again. Allow yourself to lose your self-respect and see how hard it is to get your self-respect back. If you have trouble getting your own self-respect back, think how hard it is for the people around you to respect you.
If you will think about the people who have made the greatest impressions on your life, they are people who are competent. They are people who are good at what they do. They are prepared. If you think about the people who have made an impression on your lives, they are people who love what they do. They are gifted and they have followed their giftedness. If you will think about the people who have made an impression upon your life, they are people of compelling character. They make an impression because they have a quality of life that is outstanding.
I know that within you there is this dream that, in the moment of crisis, you will be the person who stands up. In this moment of pressure, you will be the one who does the right things. In the scheme of life, you will do something great, and I believe that you can do it.
There are so many examples. Judy Williams was roughly 40 when she decided that there was a tragedy in the world and that was all the land mines left over after all the conflicts on all the continents. If you are not aware of this, in almost every conflict you can read about, one of the things left over are land mines. People are killed daily by land mines from conflicts of years ago. I believe Judy Williams was a stay-at-home mom and she became convicted about it. In 1997, she won the Nobel Peace Prize. They asked her how she did it, and she said, “E-mail.” She got on e-mail and did it.
If you want a more current example, let’s look at the uprising in Egypt. How did they do it? They say it is the first Facebook revolution. Technology has changed just a little bit. How did they do it? Facebook. Facebook changed a country and changed the world. Wow!
There is a young seminary student at McAfee School of Theology who went on a mission trip. She was convicted about malaria. Do you realize that one million people die each year from malaria and most of them are under the age of five? That means that if every child in the Atlanta metropolitan area under the age of five died, that is still not enough to be the number of children that die around the world every year from malaria. This student became convicted and decided she was going to start raising money for mosquito nets. She has raised money and has shipped thousands of mosquito nets just because she became convicted about it.
In 1953, a 24-year-old pastor discovered that someone in his church had done something out of the ordinary. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood behind Rosa Parks at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Do you know how that story ends? Do you realize that Martin Luther King, Jr. was 39 when he died? He started at the age of 24, organized the community in Montgomery, Alabama, and changed the world. He is another Nobel Peace Prize winner.
If you have a dream, you may not be that far from it. I will tell you to go for it.
There is an old story of an English prep school. The Latin Master would come in every day and would begin the class by bowing to his students. One of his fellow teachers said, “Why do you do that? You are the teacher; they are the students.”
The Latin Master said, “Because you never know who one of them might grow up to be.”
So, today I bow to you because I never know who you might grow up to be.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.