“What shall we say in response to this? If God be for us, who can be against us?” Romans 8:31
We have been teaching on Wednesday nights about overcoming the fears that we face as we strive to live the Christian life in a messed up world. Of all the fears we addressed, I was surprised by the response and the universal agreement that all of us at one time or another struggle with the fear of rejection. This all- encompassing fear; that we will be rejected by those we love, by those we trust, even by those we barely even know, can be a trap that can keep us from living a life of obedience. Even worse, it can keep us from enjoying all that life has to offer. I have seen it cause people to become cold , callused and bitter as they never opened their hearts to others for fear of being rejected. I have seen it lead Christ followers to compromise their standards and integrity for fear that they might not be accepted by the crowd. I have even seen ministers and Pastors compromise their mission and message for fear that someone might not “like it”. Yes, even Pastor’s struggle with this fear.
I am embarrassed to admit it; but there have been numerous Saturday nights, as I reviewed my message for the next morning, that I have been overcome with a fear that I might offend someone or someone might not like or even reject what God had put on my heart to share. My preaching style is to be completely open and honest, and sometimes even blunt about the message burning in my heart. I don’t like to mince words, or use flowery language to try and disguise what is on my heart to make it more palatable for the listeners. I guess this comes from my days of working with students and realizing that I needed to make every word count and to make the most of every opportunity I had to preach or share. I realize this can rub some people the wrong way and it usually leads to a backhanded compliment like “you seemed to be really “passionate” about that” or “I guess we know how you feel” and like most of you, this rejection can hurt. If I am not careful, I can allow this “constructive criticism” to influence my actions and words. (side note; I try not confusing actual “constructive help” which I, more than most, need all I can get, and plain old negative criticism or complaints couched in a “helpful manner"). I write all that to convey that I have “been there, done that”. I understand and still struggle with a fear of rejection. So how do we overcome it? How do we keep it from influencing our “passion for life”?
I have been blessed to serve in 5 great churches in these last 25 years of ministry and each step along the way I have learned some incredible life lessons that still influence my ministry and life. I have learned from those I served, those I served with, and especially those I served under. The first church I was blessed enough to serve with (Sunset Acres Baptist in Shreveport, later to become Springs of Grace Baptist Church) taught me more than all of the other churches combined. It might have been because I was a “know it all, young, recent Christian school graduate, that had all the answers” and they were so patient with me and loved and supported me, in spite of my ignorance. It was a congregation full of spiritually wise and understanding men and women that were more than willing to pour truth into my life, whether I wanted it or not. One of these men was a retired older Pastor named Moses Mercer. Moses has long since gone on to be with the Lord, but I will never forget the nuggets of truth he would drop on me out of the blue. One Sunday morning, as I was greeting people, he grabbed my arm, pulled me aside and in the most nonchalant way shared a truth that still rings in my ears and heart to this day.
He said, “Rusty, do you know what the most important practical lesson I ever learned in life that helped me in ministry is?” Of course I was not paying attention; I was doing the quick ministerial "smile and glance around" at who else I needed to greet before the service started. Sensing this, he squeezed my hand a little tighter to gain my attention, and looked me in the eye saying; “first; there are some people in your life and in your churches who will never like you, regardless of what you do." "Don’t let it get you down or be discouraged by it – it is their loss not yours" "Second; you will not be able to please everybody, so strive to please God first and in turn those that really count will be pleased.” That quick, bam, two of the most freeing truths I have ever heard, especially for those that serve in ministry. Wow, but would I let those truths make a difference?
I hope you don't hear an excuse to not love people or to write people off; but rather the freeing truth that if I understand that I have been accepted by God, the rejections I face in this world do not really matter in the whole scheme of things. The Bible teaches; that through my acceptance of Christ death on the cross in my place, as a payment for the punishment of my sin, I am now accepted by God. Theoligians call this “justification”, I prefer the term “Accepted”. When you and I really embrace this acceptance, why should we let the rejection by others faze us? If we are rejected by the whole world, we are still accepted by the one who counts – our creator. Knowing that I am accepted by God, my goal should be to please Him first, and if that means that others are not pleased with my actions and words, so be it. Stand strong, you are in good company. The Bible tell us that Jesus faced rejection from everyone he came in contact with; even his own family and his closest friends. He reminds us that if they rejected him, how much more we will face rejection. Bascially; if God be for us, who or what can be against us?
I wish I could tell you that I grasped those truths immediately and they saved me a lot of heartache and worry, but that was not the case. I have had to learn them the hard way, over many years, but I admit that once they become a part of my heart, I have experienced a freedom I never knew was possible. We will all face rejection; from that cute girl you asked out and shot you down to the next door neighbor you invited to church; it is a part of life. But if we remember that we are accepted by the only one who really counts, it puts things in perspective!