Surviving In Ministry

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Recently at Providence we had the privilege of studying Acts chapter 7.  It is in this chapter that Stephen answers the false claim of the unbelieving religious authorities that he has blasphemed Moses and God (Acts 6:11; 7:1).  If found guilty, this would of course mean the death penalty for him.  In a time such as ours, when opinions are forbidden and deemed Fascist even if they are true, I thought it might be helpful to write a piece entitled, 'Surviving In Ministry.'  After all, our beloved brother Stephen was murdered by what was an apostate ecclesiastical court.  Here are several things to do, to ensure a life of ease as a layman, and especially as a pastor.  

 

1.  Don't try to reason with people about truth.  What was true about Lt. Kaffee years ago, according to Col. Jessup, is true about people today:  'They can't handle the truth!'  This definitely got Stephen into trouble.  He was obviously a man of 'wisdom' and full of the Spirit (6:10).  The Synagogue of the Freedmen was unable to resist his line of reasoning  (6:9-10).   

2.  Don't use or appeal to the Bible.  Surely this was Stephen's second mistake (7:2-50).  After all, those religious leaders were more concerned with their status among the community than this 'Jesus.'  Perhaps for them, the Old Testament was an outdated book, only to be used when it was convenient for their own cause and agenda.  

3.  Don't preach against human traditions not ordained by God.  After all, the leaders to whom Stephen preached had latched on to the Temple and the City of Jerusalem, as if God only adored the people in those places.  Stephen's main argument was that God had appeared to the patriarchs long before God's people settled into Jerusalem, even in pagan lands such as Mesopotamia, Haran, Egypt, and the wilderness, and so Jerusalem was not the only place where God had met with His people.  In fact, Abraham was from the land of the Chaldeans.  This must have hurt their pride, and that would not make things easy on Stephen.  

4.  Don't preach about one's need for Jesus (7:52).  Preaching about the biblical Jesus reminds men that they are sinners and that Christ came to save men from their sins.  Men don't like to be told they are sinners, and doing so will no doubt lead to anger on the part of the hearers.  

5.  Don't include application in your sermons or gospel presentations (7:51-53).  Stephen's sermon was bound to make life hard on him.  After all, calling someone 'stiff-necked' and 'uncircumcised in heart and ears' is the equivalent to telling someone that they are not born again and that they are rebellious.  Oh, wait, Stephen said that too (7:51).  

I think you get my drift.  Stephen was a man of God, and his concern was for biblical truth and the souls of those who heard him.  He held nothing back because he knew that he had one shot with these people, and that they needed to repent of their sins and trust in Christ. As M. Lloyd Jones used to say about preachers, Stephen was 'a dying man preaching to dying men.' Surviving in ministry wasn't really on his radar.  Faithfulness to Christ was his concern.  May the Lord give us boldness along with our humility, so that we might speak truth into the lives of those the Lord has put into our path!  

Anger: Attacking The Problem Not The Person

Anger

Your spouse leaves articles of clothing on the floor...again.  You child tells you 'No!' or worse, you discover that someone has 'lied' about you.  Then it happens.  You feel your blood pressure rise.  You..are...angry! 

So what should you do with that anger?  In Ephesians 4:26 the Bible says, “Be angry and do not sin.”  Anger is sometimes the emotional response to wrongdoing because it indicates that one has perceived a wrong doing.  But the Bible reminds us to 'be angry and sin not.’ In other words, in our anger, we are not to sin. God is not impressed with our anger (James 1:20; Matthew 5:22).    

Jack Kinneer, author of How To Grow In Christ, (Copyright 1981, P&R), offers us words of wisdom.  When it comes to anger in our marriages, he writes, “Solve problems by attacking problems, not your spouse." This principle applies to all of our interpersonal relationships.  Granted, there are some circumstances that will involve civil authorities, but even then we are to do everything we can to be at peace with all men (Romans 12:18).      

If you've been wronged you are to be ready to forgive the wrongdoer (Eph. 4:32; Colossians 3:13-15).  We are to be ready to 'cover a multitude of sins' (I Peter 4:8).  However, if you can't 'cover' the sin, meaning that it must be addressed for the relationship to continue, then go to the one who has done the wrong.  Graciously spell it out for the person (Matthew 18:15).  When you handle the situation biblically, you will have already identified the specific wrongdoing or 'sin,' and be able to communicate to the person that their action has harmed the relationship.  If he or she admits wrong doing and asks forgiveness, then you are bound to forgive the person. 'So watch yourselves. If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them' (Luke 17:3). In order to do this graciously, you will need to realize that you are not free from sin yourself (Matthew 7:1-5).  To grant forgiveness is not only biblical, it takes great humility given by the Spirit of God (Galatians 5:20-22).   

What if you are the one who has done wrong?  There are no loopholes with God. You are to take action.  You are to go to that person, confess the offense and seek his or her forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24).  In addition to saying 'I'm sorry', you are to ask the one you've offended for 'forgiveness.' 

Remember this. The pattern for our forgiveness is God's forgiveness!  When God forgives, He doesn't hold it against the person in the future! (Isaiah 43:25) He forgives completely and graciously-we do not deserve His forgiveness! (Eph. 2:8-9) This is why Jesus is called the 'Prince of Peace,' (Isaiah 9:6), because it is only through Him that we have peace with God (Romans 5:1)

So when your wife makes you late, when your husband leaves his dirty pants on the floor, when your child ignores your simple command, and your parents loose their cool, what are you going to do?  Will you scream?  Will you recite the recurring list of wrongdoings?  Will you attack the person, or will you attack the problem and seek reconciliation? If you are unwilling to forgive, then the words of Jesus should cause you to pause.  He says that if we are not willing to forgive the one seeking forgiveness from us, then neither will we be forgiven by His Father in Heaven (Matthew 18:34-35).