The first question of the morning was this: Who has influenced you? Who has made an impact on how you live today?
For me, one of my answers was a former pastor, Jim Denison. He taught me the value of being a life-long student, to never stop learning and growing. I once asked him for a reading list and he gave me two: ten books about theology, and ten books about church history. They weren’t simple books, either, but from somewhere deep inside his graduate school catalogue. For me it was a big deal that he took my request seriously and expected I would be able to understand deep reading. I diligently hunted them down and read all twenty. I wanted to be like Jim.
Another influence is a man I’ve met briefly but can’t claim to know, Erwin McManus. I listen to his podcasted sermons frequently, and I’ve read all of his books. He has a way of explaining complex issues that is theologically accurate and intellectually honest while remaining non-threatening. He speaks the truth without picking fights. His sermons have inspired me to live my life in the bigger story. He has encouraged me to open my eyes wide to the possibilities of a deep personal life with Jesus, and to open my arms wide to gather in everyone God has brought my way. I want to be like Erwin.
We were talking about our influences as part of a wrap-up of our three-month study of Romans, looking at the long list of names contained in chapter 16. Paul, the author of Romans, spent line after line after line listing the friends who had served with him and influenced him. For someone who had never been to Rome, he loved a lot of people there.
Many were people he had spent a lot of time with, like Phoebe (a woman who was most likely a deacon in the church), and Priscilla and Aquila, soldiers of the faith who left a large wake behind them in at least three cities (Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome). They also seemed destined to marry each other, having rhyming names and all.
Paul also mentioned Andronicus and Junias (probably a husband and wife team), who had spent time in prison with Paul, a hint that Paul was in jail more times than the New Testament describes.
The list goes on and on, listing dozens of people who were important to Paul. This list feels personal. I can picture Paul dictating the first 15 chapters of Romans to Tertius while pacing the floor and waving his arms and pumping his fist as he made those critical points about living life with Jesus. But chapter 16 feels softer, as if Paul sat down and leaned back in his chair and started ruminating over good memories of solid friends who had influenced his life.
And the coolest thing is, they’ve all influenced our lives as well. Their influence on Paul came through his writings which we continue to study. You don’t have to be a capital “A” Apostle to leave a lasting impact.
The last question of the morning, the most valuable question, was this: How do we end up on someone else’s list? How do we ourselves become people of influence?
One way is to make sure we are always growing and changing. People who camp out on past success are seldom long-term influences. To be an influence of significance we have to grow stronger in God every day, and pursue His wisdom and insight with open eyes and open arms.
Another criterion for a person of influence is to let people in close. For Paul, that meant preaching in the synagogue or suffering in prison together. For us it might mean spending miles on the trail or repairing a house together, living close enough to know each other’s stories. It isn’t enough to share information – even if it is very good – people of influence have to be generous with their own lives as well. (1 Thes. 2:8)
PS: Who has influenced you? I’d love to know your story.
“I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
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