I had intended to talk to you about spiritual influencers in our lives. There have been many in my life, and I know my story would not be the same without them.
Like John Parlow. A pastor radically committed to understanding culture and reaching a community. A man whose sermons made a 16-year-old me want to come to church, even when my mom couldn’t make it.
Or Daniel Deutschlander. A professor who turned freshmen into budding theologians. A Christian whose captivating lectures were the overflow of his personal time with God’s Word. An educator who left our hands aching after his exams and our faces hurting with his classic one-liners (“You have a knowing look on your face, Mr. Novotny . . . there’s a first time for everything!”).
Or Mark Paustian. A teacher whose name could be listed under “love” in God’s dictionary. I have never met someone so absurdly brilliant and so evidently humble at the same time. I’m sure he would confess to you that he sins, but I have yet to find any witnesses to the claim.
Or Richard Gurgel. A mentor who taught me to “listen with two ears” in church, one to analyze for improvements and the other just to hear the voice of God in his Word. A sharp mind and a humble heart. An organized goal setter who wants every day to count for the kingdom.
My life with God has been powerfully shaped by these men, and I intended to tell you more about them. Until I realized that the most influential person in my life wasn’t one of them at all.
It was my mom.
If you have never met Judy Novotny, you should. She might be the most selfless human being to walk the planet since Jesus. I would tell you stories about her selflessness, but you wouldn’t believe me (like the time she thanked me for letting her paint the storage room in my basement!).
Today, however, it wasn’t my mom’s selflessness or humility or compassion that came to mind. It was the fact that the most influential teachers in my ministry all come back to her. Those who shaped me at seminary or molded me in college or preached to me on Sundays were only in my life because of her.
Because my mom brought me to church. Every Sunday. Even the mornings I tried to fake that I was still asleep (and passionately prayed that my mom would forget to take me).
Every Sunday, she brought me into the presence of the gospel. The gospel that saved me. The gospel that forgave me. The gospel that inspired me to pursue pastoral ministry. The gospel that led me to the names I listed above.
Makes me think of Paul’s words to Pastor Timothy: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). We wouldn’t know Eunice if it wasn’t for this line. But Timothy’s story started with her. And the women who came before her.
My mom would be quick to tell you that she has no clue how I became a pastor. She doesn’t like being in front of people. She’s not one to give speeches or be on camera.
But don’t let her fool you. She’s the reason I am here today.
Her story is a reminder that there are no small parts in God’s master story. You might just be raising a son or just mentoring a young man without a father. You might just be the compassionate greeter at church who notices the woman who walks in alone. You might just be the educator who is trying to keep the wheels on the second-grade bus.
But God would prefer if you would drop the “just” from your sentence. Because it’s just not true. You matter. Your words matter. Your vocation matters. Your tomorrow matters. Even if you can’t see it just yet. Just ask my mom.
So thanks, Judy Novotny. Please remember that every person who is blessed through this message has God to thank for giving me you.
In your footsteps of faith,
P.S.—Only my mom and my wife can call me Michael. If you do, we'll need to have a talk. :)
Pastor Mike Novotny has served God’s people in full-time ministry since 2007 as a pastor in Madison and now Appleton, Wisconsin. He also serves as a host and speaker for the Time of Grace television program and contributes to the written resources of Time of Grace Ministry. Pastor Mike is married to Kim and has two daughters.
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