TRA Wordtalks

"Sunday, 23rd November, 1997 - Prepare to Suffer."

40/97 23.11.97 Scripture: Acts 21:1-16

DO you feel that many Australians live boring, meaningless lives? Many ordinary people do not find the purpose of life. Some seek it in television. The events on television on an ordinary week, include several murders, rapes, collapsed businesses, bankruptcies, mixed up marriages and so on. Those bored with life in the real world live on action in the screen world which is as meaningless as their own.

Others find life in sporting achievement. I went to Melbourne Friday on business, and had difficulty catching a taxi back to the airport because the city was choked with 100,000 cheering fans and a ticker-tape parade of the Grand Final teams. I noted the reaction of people when the Sydney Swans defeated Essendon, to get into the Grand Final. People were crazy with delight. Why? Because we did it!

Yet most of us did nothing at all. Yet what was done on the field gave us a glimpse of ourselves as we would be. There was a challenge and suddenly it looked as though we could do it. Then we did. Strange things followed. Car drivers who usually swore at each other were tooting their horns happily and waving to one another. Why? Because we did it! What was it that we did? Plugger Lockett overcame his groin injury, marked on the siren and kicked the winning behind. For a little while that gave many a sense of togetherness, purpose, and meaning. The team made us all feel like winners! Most people spend their lives in meaninglessness. Nothing grabs them. Then, suddenly, there is a leader of courage and resoluteness and people follow. They follow because here is someone who knows where he is going and they share his purpose.

Once it was a little Indian in a white loin cloth, on a salt march to freedom from the British Empire. Millions followed Mahatma Gandhi. At another time it was Winston Churchill who, in England's darkest hour, jutted out his chin with resolution and people said, "We've got a leader." Again, in Montgomery, Alabama, thousands followed Martin Luther King. Or in Poland, where Lech Walesa, gave the hope of freedom to the workers of Poland. Such people give to others a sense of purpose, a new direction in life, the inspiration of winning.

That is part of the problem in The Uniting Church. There is a lack of leadership. The people are dispirited. No-one senses victory. The work done by the church in overseas missions and in community service is magnificent but leadership in Australia is invisible and in some areas, questionable. In Victoria, the new Moderator was about to be elected when someone requested that a statement be made about her sexuality, seeing the week before a minister announced his homosexuality. She declared that she was a lesbian and had lived in a lesbian relationship for many years. The Synod rejected her as their leader. They also raised concerns about the Interim Report on Sexually which encourages the ordination of homosexual clergy. The people of the Uniting Church decided against such a leader.

But is the leadership of the church giving a moral lead and speaking for Biblical standards of morality for the church? There is a chilling silence! There is little future for a church that does not develop leaders with courage to speak their convictions from God, commitment to the Word of God and an ability to inspire others!

Without such leadership, people live with little purpose. Psychiatrists say this leads to unfulfilled lives. Dr Rollo May said "the main problem with most patients who come to see me is that they have a vague sense of un-directedness." Prof Carl Jung said "the central neurosis of our time is emptiness in a person's life." Prof Alfred Adler said, "Man's greatest need is to discover meaning in life."

There are many Australians busy making a living who do not know what it means to live. As T.S. Eliot wrote, "Where is the life that we have lost in the living?" Australians want to be amused, to be active all of the time. Jonathan King, the historian wrote, "Australia is a place where people have everything in life and nothing to live for." No wonder Sydney gave birth to Life Line telephone counselling, today the largest such service in the world. This week in Wesley Theatre we host five hundred counsellors for the INTERNATIONAL LIFE LINE CONFERENCE where world experts will discuss how to help people find the meaning of life. Check your own life and ask: Do you spend your time and effort working, making money, purchasing, dithering around, seeking status, accumulating objects, in order to make life easier - and yet not find what life is all about? Do you need leadership and the inspiration to live?

Jesus was such a leader. He had courage, resolution and defiance. He knew that He would be under attack in Jerusalem, and twice the Jews there tried to stone Him. Yet we read in Luke 9:51, "Jesus steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem." (KJV). No wonder people followed Him. That same courage, resolution and defiance was shown by Paul.

On a long missionary journey, the Apostle Paul planted churches in Ephesus, Macedonia, Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth. He disputed with philosophers in Athens. He was warned by the Holy Spirit that prison and trouble awaited him, but he resolutely set his face to go to Jerusalem. At the beginning of Acts 21:1-3 there is a seemingly innocuous passage about a small coastal vessel going to little ports. It doesn't seem important, but this was the Apostle Paul. People respond to a leader. Note the qualities of his leadership.

1. CONSIDERATION

As the Christian faith spread those who lived near the seaports kept an eye open for passing Christians. It was a great day when Paul came! The believers brought meals to the ship. They would pray and Paul would preach to them. At Tyre, Paul stayed on. "Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." This kind of warning is going to keep coming. The believers warn, "Paul, don't go! Don't go! Stay with us!" They pray, have fellowship, but Paul goes back on board and heads down the coast, always moving towards Jerusalem. He would stay overnight, or even a week, but he did not sponge on them. Being considerate is one of the marks of a great leader.

2. DESTINATION

Paul knew where he was going - to Jerusalem. 19:21 "After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem." He must go. In his "musts" there was a real sense of destination. Do you know where you are heading? Do you know your destination? Not only eternally, but this week, this month, this year? Many Australians have no destination in life. A leader knows destination.

That is the problem in the Uniting Church. There are no clear goals. No leader is pointing the way. The church is in survival mode. The discussion in South Australia is about an alternative provisional Synod. The church's destination is unclear. The immediate concern is whether the Uniting Church can survive disunity before the year 2000. Leadership must consider the members and indicate destiny.

3. OBLIGATION

Those who inspire others, who know where they are going, have a sense of obligation. 5-7 They operate from a moral imperative. Jesus had the obligation to go to Jerusalem to face whatever was there. Mark 10:45 "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus had the obligation to die as the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world, to take away the sin of the world. Paul had the obligation to tell people that Jesus died to save them from their sin. This was his obligation. Rom 1:14 "I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome." When writing to the Corinthian church he made it clear that he had an obligation that could not be evaded. Paul was a leader: considerate, resolute to reach his destination, and with a powerful obligation to take the Good News to others.

What motivates your life? Do you have an obligation to write, to speak, to meet with others, to share your faith, to help someone, to invite others in friendship to your home, to build up children in their faith, to share with men at work, to talk about your beliefs with a neighbour. A mark of leadership lies in the sense of obligation.

4. CONSECRATION

Do you see the consecration of Paul to the spread of the Good News! There was deep commitment which made him willing to share with others. Warnings could not deter him. In the home of Philip when they arrived at Caesarea, "a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea." Agabus used vivid, dramatic ways to get his message across. He followed the style of Jeremiah who put a great yoke upon his shoulders and walked the streets to demonstrate the oppression that was coming to his people. Agabus uses this vivid style. "Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, `the Holy Spirit says, `In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'" There was no lack of warning; the Elders of Ephesus begged him not to go. The believers at Tyre said the same. The warning was given again in the house of Philip, and then his closest mates, Silas, Timothy, Luke, added their pleas. "When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem." A life is not to be thrown away, but consecration outranks physical safety. Paul was prepared to suffer as their leader.

When we are called to do something tough, something difficult and dangerous, we think about it and pray about it, and we are tempted to say that God does not want us to do it, after all. There is a consecration that is tough, not timid. Paul's response to his friends was beautiful and moving. "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." That is the very highest consecration from a leader: a leader is consecrated to suffer for the Lord Jesus.

5. DETERMINATION

Here we see the final leadership quality. Jesus was determined when he set His face steadfastly to go to Jerusalem. That same determination was in His servant, Paul. There was absolute determination to go the way of the cross, if needed, a willingness to suffer and sacrifice. Too many leaders today reveal not determination but resignation. "When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, `the Lord's will be done.'" Isn't that the wettest thing you ever heard? It is not an article of faith. It is a statement by people who, having tried to stop something from happening, find that it is going ahead anyway, and say, "Ah, well, let the Lord's will be done." They overlook the fact that they have been trying to stop the Lord's will from being fulfilled! Paul was not a man of resignation. He was a man of determination. Is determination the quality our Uniting Church leaders need most of all? If you wish to find the keys to understanding your own purpose in life, to have a life with meaning, then you will need to face the world with a determination to do the will of the Lord. Today we need men and women who will stand for Christ with courage and determination. Stand in His strength as did Paul.

In Australia and around the world we are required to live for Christ. That requires leadership of the highest level, leaders who are prepared to suffer for Christ. Those who stand for him, have the deepest sense of personal meaning and significance. They have discovered the secret of purpose and satisfaction. They know inner happiness. They enjoy life in all its fullness regardless of what happens because they live within the presence and will of God, and are prepared to suffer for Him.

Gordon Moyes

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