I was a young associate pastor at a great university church in Ohio. The first Sunday that I was there, a long, lean, lanky guy, about my age, came up to me and said, “Hey, I’d like to get breakfast with you this week.” His name was Sam Riggleman and he was the baseball coach at the Mt. Vernon Nazarene University. Sam and I met for breakfast that week and nearly every week after that for more than 5 years. The influence that he had on me in those early days affected and impacted my ministry, and my relationship to other men for the next 40 years. If you know me, you know that I meet with a group of men weekly, 15-25 guys usually, that love each other, encourage one another, learn from each other, and, hopefully, make each other better dads, husbands, and Christ-followers. The current group has been going on for more than a decade. Those men impact other men. And those impacted men, other men. And so the influence of one long, lean, lanky baseball coach has spanned generations, crossed state lines, changed the hearts of hundreds, maybe thousands, and will go on until Christ returns, I imagine.
In the Daily Audio Bible today, part of the reading was the story of Noah. You remember the story. Big boat. Torrential downpour. Lots of animal poop. And a rainbow at the end. As I read/listened today I was struck by one verse. Early in the story, the world has become a pretty bad place. Wickedness prevails. People are all doing their own thing and ignoring God. The SEC refs are sticking it to Ohio State. (Oh, I’m just kidding. Don’t send me emails.) And all in all, the earth has become a sorry mess. So much so that God regrets having made the thing and thinks about wiping it all out. Then Genesis 6, verse 8 pops up. “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord.” I know I have read that before but it hit me today. Noah did not save the world by building a boat. Noah saved the world by being a good man and living for God. We are here today, not because Noah was a builder, but because he was an influencer. He influenced his family. He influenced history. He influenced God. I imagine if I had gone to church with Noah in that day, he would have come up to me after the service and said, “Hey, I’d like to get breakfast with you this week.”
At the beginning of this new year, I have three questions for you. Who are you influencing? Who is influencing you? And what are you trying to say?
I believe every one of us who calls ourselves Christ-followers has a responsibility to disciple, mentor, influence others. Maybe you speak regularly to hundreds. Maybe you teach a class of dozens. Maybe you work on an assembly line or bag groceries at Publix. But I think, we should all have a handful of guys (or gals) that we are just living life with and in front of and influencing for God. A favorite quote of mine is by Clarence Kelland, a popular writer in the 60’s. He said, “My father never told me how to live. He just lived well in front of me and let me watch.” It doesn’t have to be especially formal or organized but, have some people in your life that can watch you live for Jesus. Paul said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.”
Next question, who is influencing you? We should have some people that we are leading. But we also need to be intentional about who we are following. Let’s be honest, for most of us, it Is Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi, or Tom Brady, or Warren Buffet, or Beyonce’ and JayZee. Most of us are being influenced far more by the modern culture and the nightly news than by a couple of righteous men or women that love God and serve Him well. Sam continues to influence me, to teach me how to live better. Another baseball coach, Keith Veale, speaks into my life on a regular basis and makes me want to be more faithful. My friend and influencer, Robert Collier, does two-man men’s retreats with me (translate that, guys goofing off at the farm) and shows me how to love God and love my wife well. Pastor Eddie is a powerful influence in my life. Make sure you are influencing somebody for Christ, but also be clear about who is influencing you.
Last question as we enter the new year, what are you trying to say? Let me be clear about question 1 and question 2. You ARE influencing others, maybe for good, maybe not, but you ARE. And others ARE influencing you, maybe for good or maybe not. The question is not, will you? The question is WHO? And what will you say? I don’t know exactly how Noah lived or what he taught. I do know that God was pleased with him. And I know that repeatedly in chapters 6 and 7 of Genesis it says, “And Noah did what God told him to do.”
My message to those that I am trying to influence is simple, “Mind God.” I can’t tell them WHAT God is telling them to do. I can’t tell them HOW it is supposed to look. I can say to them, “Just be obedient to God and He will take care of the details.” Now that’s not terribly profound. I probably won’t make a name for myself. I’ll never be in any hall of fame. But if I can have breakfast with some guys, and influence a few to be obedient followers of God, I might just save the world, or at least my little part of it.
PS As I write this, Sam is in town. He (a hall of fame baseball coach) and I are going to watch Keith be inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame. Now that’s some influence. I am interviewing Sam today on mentoring for a new podcast that Chonda and I will begin in early March called dysFUNctional. Be watching for it.