Following John Cena’s example: The surprising way to minister with significance

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Following John Cena’s example: The surprising way to minister with significance

September 27, 2022 - Jim Denison, PhD

In this Monday, June 18, 2012 photo, seven-year old, Jonny Littman, poses with WWE superstar, John Cena, at the 300th Make-A-Wish for Cena in Uniondale, N.Y. It was the 300th wish granted by Cena, making him the most popular celebrity granter in Make-A-Wish history. (AP Photo/John Carucci)

In this Monday, June 18, 2012 photo, seven-year old, Jonny Littman, poses with WWE superstar, John Cena, at the 300th Make-A-Wish for Cena in Uniondale, N.Y. It was the 300th wish granted by Cena, making him the most popular celebrity granter in Make-A-Wish history. (AP Photo/John Carucci)

In this Monday, June 18, 2012 photo, seven-year old, Jonny Littman, poses with WWE superstar, John Cena, at the 300th Make-A-Wish for Cena in Uniondale, N.Y. It was the 300th wish granted by Cena, making him the most popular celebrity granter in Make-A-Wish history. (AP Photo/John Carucci)

I knew John Cena is a wrestling champion and actor, though I have never seen one of his matches or one of his movies. As a result, I didn’t have a personal opinion of him, either good or bad.

That changed with this headline: “John Cena breaks Make-A-Wish record after granting hundreds of wishes.” He granted his first wish in 2002 and has now set a new record for the most wishes granted with 650.

The Foundation helps fulfill the wishes of children who have been diagnosed with a critical illness. It targets children between the ages of two and eighteen, who can choose to meet a celebrity, go to an event, or even give a gift to someone else.

Cena is their most requested celebrity. No one else has ever granted more than two hundred wishes in the forty-two-year existence of the Foundation. He told a reporter, “If you ever need me for this ever, I don’t care what I’m doing. I will drop what I’m doing and be involved because I think that’s the coolest thing.” When he was honored for granting five hundred wishes, he said, “I just drop everything. If I can offer a fantastic experience, I’ll be the first in line to do my part.”

John Cena is not the only person making news for such an exemplary reason.

Four people recently played putt-putt for more than twenty-four hours, setting a new Guinness World Record, to raise funds for Kentucky flood victims. And a family was rushing their six-year-old daughter to Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, when a state trooper pulled them over for speeding, realized what was happening, and escorted them to the hospital.

We all want our lives to matter. We want to leave a legacy that outlives us. So, let’s consider the surprising way to live and minister with significance: do surprising things of significance.

Becoming the “abba” of Jesus

Here’s what our stories today have in common: they each did something surprising that benefited others.

It’s one thing to do what we’re supposed to do. John Cena is supposed to make movies and win wrestling matches. Putt-putt competitors are supposed to putt-putt. State troopers are supposed to issue speeding tickets. But when they use their resources in ways we don’t expect, they make a lasting impression on us.

The first chapter of the New Testament is filled with such surprises. We’re familiar with the familiar names, but consider some of the surprises in the story and their surprising stories.

Women were never included in Jewish genealogies. They were considered the property of their fathers until they married, when they became the property of their husbands. And yet we find:

  • Rahab (Matthew 1:5), a prostitute who sided with Israel over her neighbors in Jericho and became part of the family of the Messiah.
  • Ruth (v. 5), a woman of Moab who sided with her mother-in-law and her faith and joined the family of God.
  • Mary (v. 16), a teenage daughter of a Galilean family in a town so small it is not mentioned once in the entire Old Testament. And yet she became the mother of the Messiah.

Each of them did something surprising to benefit others and the larger kingdom of God.

Then there’s Joseph, the fiancé of Mary who takes her to be his wife even though she is pregnant with a child who is not his. And he becomes the “abba,” the “daddy” of the Son of God.

Refilling our tea

According to Gallup, more than 60 percent of Americans considered clergy to have “very high/high honesty and ethical standards” in 1977. Today the number stands at 36 percent. Ongoing clergy abuse scandals and the rising secularism of our culture are calling us to find practical ways to demonstrate the morality and relevance of our lives and calling.

Think about the pastors who have meant the most to you over the years. Which do you remember most: what they said, or what they did?

When I became pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland, Texas, I was soon asked to serve on several committees within the Texas Baptist Convention. Dr. William Pinson was the executive director at the time and someone I had long admired. His brilliance as a seminary ethics professor, coupled with his leadership acumen as a seminary president and denominational executive, forged a reputation for excellence in all he did.

Dr. Pinson happened to attend my first committee meeting in the Baptist Building in Dallas, a gathering that took place over lunch. Shortly after our group began eating, he got up from his chair, picked up a pitcher of iced tea, and proceeded to go around the room refilling everyone’s cup.

I will always remember that simple act of surprising servanthood.

What stories like his come to mind for you today?

Three life principles

To emulate such service, let’s adopt three life principles.

One: Be ready always to serve.

Remember what John Cena said: “If you ever need me for this ever, I don’t care what I’m doing. I will drop what I’m doing and be involved because I think that’s the coolest thing.” Some of our greatest opportunities to serve God and others are unexpected.

Henry Blackaby was right: When you made Jesus your Lord, you gave him permission to change your plans.

Two: Listen to the Spirit.

God promises to those who are listening, “Your ears shall hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left” (Isaiah 30:21). Start every day by saying what Samuel said to God: “Speak, Lᴏʀᴅ. I am your servant and I am listening” (1 Samuel 3:10 NCV).

Three: Serve whether or not people notice and people will notice.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace” (1 Peter 4:10). Follow the example of Jesus: “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

Conclusion

The key is to be so changed by Jesus that his Spirit flows through us to change those we influence. In fact, a practical way to measure the degree to which we are close to Jesus is the degree to which we render surprising acts of significance as he did.

His Spirit will work through us as he did through him. He will do in and through us what he did through him.

If the water is pure, the source must be pure.

Oswald Chambers observed: “A river reaches places which its source never knows. And Jesus said that, if we have received his fullness, ‘rivers of living water’ will flow out of us, reaching in blessing even ‘to the end of the earth’ regardless of how small the visible effects of our lives may appear to be. . . . God rarely allows a person to see how great a blessing he is to others.”

You may not know it on earth, but your next act of surprising service will echo in eternity.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV®️ Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®️), copyright ©️ 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The ESV text may not be quoted in any publication made available to the public by a Creative Commons license. The ESV may not be translated in whole or in part into any other language.

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