I know of a man who, if he wants to take a conversation beyond the superficial will ask three diagnostic questions –
what makes you laugh,
what makes you cry and
what makes you dance
If you were to ask me those three question I would give the same answer to all three
What makes me laugh? The church does.
Let me tell you about a lady who is no longer with us
>>> Christmas pudding incident
Some of you will remember us supporting a BMS world mission project among tea plantation workers in India.
I asked you to go home, dry out your tea bags and bring them into the church
I was inundated with tea bags! They came in to my office in their hundreds!
In fact one lady rang me to say she worked in a nursing home and they drink a lot of tea. She had asked the chef to dry out ALL their tea bags, in fact she’d been in touch with the area manager who would tell all the chefs to do it.
I said to her “Hold your fire! Last Sunday’s date was April 1st!
I won’t repeat what she said over the phone!
I put down the phone and cracked up in laughter.
What makes me laugh? The church does
What makes me cry? The church does
When two women came into the welcome centre to worship for the first time.
A man (no longer with us) disapproved of their behaviour, tore them off a strip, told them they were “an abomination” and sent them packing.
I only heard about this because someone overheard it, and was disturbed by it.
although, later that week. Those two women came to see me because “we think you need to know”.
I call them ‘Friendly fire incidents’ where one Christian snipes at another and causes pain to the body of Christ.
What makes me cry? The church does.
What makes me dance? The church does.
There have been many moments in this room when my heart has leaped for joy!
Moments when I’ve had to pinch myself as I’ve asked “Can this really be happening?!”
Let me share just one with you – which I doubt anyone but me noticed.
I came to the lectern to preach one Sunday morning and four people (two couples) were sitting in these front seats.
What struck me about those four people was they had all been on the same journey
Rosi had befriended them, they had each gone through an Alpha course, they had each come to faith, they had each been baptised and they’d each been received into the church as members.
And here they were, worshipping together
Four people, transformed by Christ>>>
Moments like that make my heart dance with unbridled joy!
What makes me dance? The church does.
In Acts 20 we have Paul’s final words to a church he loved – a church over which he laughed, wept and danced
His team had gone to great lengths to make this meeting happen.
In this single paragraph, Paul opens his heart about the people he led and loved knowing this would be the last time they heard his voice.
Can you see the parallel?
Acts 20:18 “You know how I lived the whole time I was among you, from the very first day”
Now that Rosi and I have been pastoring you for nearly 18 years, we have almost nothing left to hide! You know how we lived among you.
So what did Paul say about this task of ministry?
I have served
V19 “I have served the Lord with great humility”
He conducted himself with a sober assessment of who he was before God and before others.
If any man had cause to boast of his contacts by name-dropping, Paul had!
If any man had cause to boast of his academic attainments, Paul had!
But all these things he regarded as ‘rubbish’ – mere fluff – that he might gain Christ!
Humility is a strange quality – because as soon as we think we’ve licked it, we’ve lost it!
St Augustine: “Do you wish to rise? Then begin by descending. Do you plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Then lay first the foundation of humility”
That was Paul
I know I’ve told you several times about a friend who, whenever he preaches on a platform like this subsequently finds an act of hidden humility to perform
He does it to prevent himself from having an over-inflated sense of his own importance.
I guess this is an appropriate moment to let you know something. That ‘friend’ is actually me (I assume you’ll allow me to be a friend to myself!)
It may be washing up the teams coffee mugs, cleaning a mucky loo or picking up litter around the front of the church. (This week it was cleaning a stain from the platform carpet)
Yes, you might say, they should all be done by someone else (and usually they are).
But I am all too aware that pride and self-importance are temptations for Ian White and I hope this small discipline has helped to keep my heart where it should be.
Not only did Paul serve with humility he also served with
We have lost touch with what Catholic writers call ‘the gift of tears’
for us it is all too infrequent for the Holy Spirit to so lay a burden on our hearts that tears are the only way to express it.
For Paul it was a frequent occurrence. Later in this chapter
31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
There have been times when the ministry among you has reduced me to tears
No! – Elevated me to tears.
Our tears are the water that makes the seeds of the Spirit grow.
V19 I have served the Lord … in the midst of severe testing from the Jews
It’s easy for us to think that ‘the Jews’ were a separated, external group
no! They were Paul’s core audience in the first decades of the church. When he arrived in a new town his first port of call was the synagogue!
These Jews were the people whom Paul wanted to come on board and they stood up against him
this was opposition from within
Any pastor will tell you that it’s the testing from within that causes the most heartache.
‘Friendly fire’ incidents, opposition to Godly progress or change. It’s the people on the inside you thought you could count on who occasionally stand against what God is doing
But Paul never stopped declaring the message and giving himself to God’s people.
Paul said “I have served”
He went on to say
I have not hesitated
V20 “I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you,
Jesuit principle of business – “It is better to do and to beg forgiveness that it is to ask permission”
that was Paul through and through “I have not hesitated! To preach”
The Greek word behind our English “Preach” had very little to do with the pulpit. The preacher was a herald, an announcer, someone who got the news out there.
This was Paul’s major role – and it has been mine too
I’m sure you know about the vicar who dreamed he was preaching a sermon, woke up and found that he was.
Someone once described the sermon as ’30 minutes in which to wake the dead’
But Paul qualifies it – he preached messages that would be helpful to the church and it’s people.
That doesn’t mean that our teaching should be cosy – sometimes I have had to be clear about ethics or challenge ungodly behaviour
BUT Paul always did it (and I hope I have) in such a way as to help his people grow
to be more progressively more like Jesus Christ
So Paul could say ‘follow me as I follow Christ’
i.e. ‘If you follow me – you’ll find yourself following Him‘
That is the awesome responsibility carried by every minister of the gospel.
It is to live and work in such a way that when people follow you, they discover they’re actually following Christ.
There is a tradition The when a minister dies his coffin is brought into church head first. Everyone else comes in feet first.
The reason is that when a lay-person stands from their coffin at the judgement, they will appear before their maker.
But when a minister or priest stand, he appears before his congregation to be judged by them
My friends, I have not hesitated to unpack the word of God to help you find Christ and to grow in Him.
I am just a disciple for whom that is my calling.
When you buy a stick of Eastbourne rock on the pier, it doesn’t matter where you break it open, it’s got ‘Eastbourne’ running right through it.
My prayer is that when they break me open, they won’t see the word ‘pastor’ running through, they’ll simply see the word ‘disciple’. Because that is all I am. Nothing more.
Paul said “I have not hesitated” …
HE also said
I have declared
Here Paul reveals the content of his preaching / heralding
v21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord – Jesus.
The Gospel (whole gospel – for mature Christians as well as the unconverted) has power of its own
Paul: “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ – it is the power of God for salvation”
In 1966 the evangelist Billy Graham came to Earls Court in London
In that crowd was a 13 year-old Ian White who went to hear Billy Graham with Susan, the love of my life at the time. (puppy love, but very real to the puppy)
AS I saw people come to faith in droves, something awoke within me – As sense of “I want to do that!”
Even as a 13 year old I was smart enough to know I would never appear in a vast stadium like Graham,
But an image formed in my mind that has returned to me at key moments ever since.
It’s a picture of him entering heaven with being followed by a vast crowd of people whose lives had been changed because they heard Billy Graham.
And, in the other half of the image there was Ian entering glory, not with a vast crowd, but will a small rag-tag group of people, each of whose lives had been impacted by mine.
By God’s grace that may yet turn out to be a reality
I am compelled
V20 “… and now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going, not knowing what will happen to me”
We think that by this time, Paul was becoming an old man
Age is no bar to Christian service.
Moses was 80, Abraham pushing 100
the prophetess, Anna, was so old she couldn’t remember
MELANIE (age 5) asked her Granny how old she was.
Granny replied she was so old she didn’t remember any more. Melanie said, “If you don’t remember you must look in the back of your panties. Mine say five to six.”
April 19th is a special day for me.
When I was 17 (in 1970) I was asked to speak at ‘The Mission of Hope’ – a Christian centre for women who fell pregnant outside of marriage.
It was a compassionate place where they could have their babies without the stigma which was still attached to being an ‘unmarried mother’
At that meeting a pregnant girl became a Christian. It was the first time anyone had come to faith because of what they’d heard from my rather faltering lips.
I went home on cloud 9
I picked up my ‘daily light’ (as was my custom) and read this:
There is something burning within me – I am compelled to preach, in fact woe to me if I do not preach the gospel’
and on that evening the seeds of what I have done in these 33 years of ministry were sown.
Now you know why I’ve always wanted to create an atmosphere in the church where the marginalised, the strugglers and the disregarded, for whatever reason, can find a place of grace, compassion, spiritual growth and God-discovery.
And finally …
v23 “I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only that I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace”
It has been an honour and a privilege to be your pastor.
We have faced tragedy – the greatest of which was the loss of our daughter, Esther,
But you stood with us and helped us to recover, bruised and broken, but not without hope.
And to carry on communicating the gospel that she loved,
… like we do.
I want to finish with the words of a classic hymn.
They are words which echoed through my soul as I studied mathematics.
I used to recite them to myself as I walked the corridors of the Maths department – in fact I can still recall the smell of the polish on the floors.
Jesus confirm my heart’s desire to work and think and speak for thee still let me guard that holy fire and still stir up your gift in me
Ready for all your perfect will my acts of faith and love repeat till death your endless mercies seal and make the sacrifice complete