Embrace the Suck

Embrace the Suck

August 18, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 5:1-7                Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2                        Luke 12:49-56

What do you do when everything seems to be going badly?

You know what I mean.  When your plans are falling apart, and nothing is going the way that you expected it to go.  Worse than that, what do you do when the tide, and life itself, seems to have turned against you?

There is a famous phrase that has been incorrectly attributed to several well-known people but whose origins remain unclear that says, “If You’re Going Through Hell, Keep Going” – Unknown

Simply put, don’t get stuck in a bad place because you gave up trying.  Keep going.  Keep moving forward until you get to a better place.  But, at the same time, as we move forward, and as we find success and a better place, we must be careful not to think that we are responsible for what God has given us.  In both extremes, in both good times and bad, we are often tempted to go our own way.

In Isaiah 5:1-7, God’s prophet tells a story about a lover (who is God) who has built a vineyard (which is Israel), but after all of his work to build, and to care for, the vineyard, the results were not what most of us would hope for.

5:1 I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.

Isaiah says that God built his vineyard from scratch by carving it out of a fertile hillside, but no matter how much work he put into it, no matter how he protected it, all that it produced was bad fruit.  Whether it was in good times or bad, Israel chose to go her own way and ignored the God that had done so much for her.  And, as a result, God, after many repeated attempts to improve his vineyard, finally threatens to give up, plow the whole thing under, and allow Israel to be trampled underfoot.

God’s threat carries through the ages.  It is as if he is saying that at some point, he is willing to cut his losses.  And the loss that he is prepared to cut, is us.  But it doesn’t need to be that way.

In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, we are reminded of many times that God was faithful to his people, and the many times that his people were faithful to God, even when things were not going well.

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God

At first, this sounds like a list of great heroes of the faith and the great stories that we heard where faith allows them, with God’s help, to conquer despite facing great odds.  But then the tone of the story changes dramatically.  Suddenly, with the phrase, “there were others…” we hear about people, who with great faith, were tortured to death, were flogged, laughed at, stoned, sawed in two, and killed with swords.  Still others ran for their lives and wandered in the deserts, or mountains, and lived in caves.  All of these, both victors and victims, are commended for their faith because whether they were victors or victims, neither received everything that they had been promised because God had something better planned for them than they could ever receive on earth.

In the military, there is a phrase that is often used when things are not going well, or when you find yourself in conditions that are unpleasant and likely to stay that way.  The phrase that is used is, “Embrace the suck.”  Now, I appreciate that this is the kind of thing that my mother would find to be inappropriate for a gentlemen to say, and certainly to use in church, but bear with me for a minute and I’ll explain what it means and why it fits here.  “Embrace the suck” can be defined as an encouragement to consciously “accept or appreciate something that is extremely unpleasant but unavoidable for future progression.”  During World War Two, there was a period when the front was moving forward so quickly that logistics and supply could not move forward fast enough to provide the support that their leadership normally requires, but they did manage to keep the forward troops supplied with food and ammunition with what became known as the “Red Ball Express.” 

From August until December of 1944 the Red Ball Express moved as much as 12,500 tons of supplies each day through France, by truck, to forward supply depots, until the port of Antwerp, Belgium was reopened, the rail lines were repaired, and portable fuel pipelines were constructed.  As many as 5,958 vehicles, mostly trucks, were pulled from anywhere they could be found, and they were driven nearly 24 hours a day.  Drivers were pulled from any unit that could spare personnel of any kind, particularly from administration, clerks, and even wounded who were waiting to be reassigned.  These drivers ran almost nonstop for three months and many suffered accidents, and even death, from lack of sleep.  More than 75 percent of the drivers were African Americans.  In order for the Allied armies to continue moving forward and to prevent the German Army from having a chance to regroup and rebuild, the men of the Red Ball Express “embraced the suck,” they accepted that what they were doing was unpleasant, even deadly, but they knew that what they were doing was unavoidable if the Allies were going to win.

In many ways, this is what we see in the list of faithful saints that we read about in Hebrews.  For some of them, things went well, God was with them, and they were victorious.  But not all of them.  Some of them, despite their faith, and despite God being with them, were not victorious, did not win the day, were not rescued, did not have enough to eat, and they suffered, and they died, in the wilderness and at the hands of their enemies.  But, and this is important, they did not give up.  They did not give up their faith, they did not stop believing in God, they “embraced the suck” and recognized that to get where they wanted to go, they had to pass through unpleasantness, pain, suffering, and death, to reach their goal.

And that brings us to an uncomfortable teaching of Jesus from Luke 12:49-56 where Jesus says this:

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

Jesus is clear that not everyone is going to want to follow him, and not everyone is going to want to live their lives for God.  Some people will stand against God and go their own way.  But Jesus also says although sometimes things go well, sometimes the world is going to stink.  Watch for the signs.  Know that the world we live in is in a constant battle between good and evil.  Know that good doesn’t win all the time.  Things don’t always go your way.  Sometimes rescue doesn’t come in time.  Sometimes the good die young and evil thrives.  But knowing that God is in control, and knowing that ultimately, God is going to redeem the world and make everything right again, helps us to understand what is going on around us and keep things in the right perspective.  Like those heroes of the faith, both the victors and the victims, know that we look forward to something that we will never receive on earth.  Know that there is more to life than… life.

When things are going well, enjoy it, and give thanks to God.  But don’t forget to give God the credit so that you don’t begin to think that you are solely responsible for your good fortune and begin to think that you no longer have need of God.  At the same time, when things are not going well, look to God for your strength to stand up for what’s good and what’s right and against injustice and evil.  Sometimes the world stinks.  Or, to put it more crudely, sometimes the world sucks. 

Embrace the suck.

Appreciate that although what you are going through is unpleasant, it is also unavoidable on the way to the future that God has prepared for you.  Don’t give up.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Stay strong in your faith no matter what.

Let us run with perseverance when times are good.

And let us run with perseverance when everything seems to be against you.

You know how the story ends.

You know that victory lies ahead.

Don’t be afraid to “embrace the suck” so that you can get from where you are, to the home, and to the reward, that God has prepared for you.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Live Forward

Live Forward

August 11, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20                    Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16                        Luke 12:32-40

 

When you were growing up, did you ever do things that you thought your parents would never find out about?

Of those times, how often have you discovered that your parents knew about it all along?

More than once, I have reminded our children, particularly now that they are adults, that they really don’t need to tell us everything, but neither should they insult us by assuming that we are stupid.  We may be old now, but we were their age once.  Yes, the world may have changed since we were young, but the things that young people are tempted to do when they are away from their parents have been the same sorts of things for thousands of years.

Likewise, when we read passages of scripture, we often discover that the temptations that face the church, and its people, are often frighteningly similar to the temptations that were faced by the church three thousand years ago.  The more things change, the more they stay the same.  We begin this morning in Isaiah chapter one, where we hear the prophet of God condemning the people of Israel for faking their way through church.  Instead of building a genuine relationship with God, they are only going through the motions and putting on a churchy looking show. (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)

1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

The oddest part of understanding this passage, is found in realizing that all of the things that God, through Isaiah, is criticizing, all of the things that God is condemning, are all things that God’s people were commanded to do in the days of Moses.  These things were the worship of the church.  But God says that he has had more than enough of them because they have become meaningless.

So, since we live in a time when the church often argues over what music we should play, and what liturgies we should use, and what style of worship might be best, understanding this passage and what it means to us might well be a vital piece of information.  As we read further, God declares that the reason that he no longer desires their worship, and no longer listens to their prayers, is that their “hands are full of blood.”  Although they are showing up at church, and they are repeating their prayers, and they are bringing the required sacrifices, they are not acting like God’s people.  Their worship is brought to God out of a sense of duty or tradition but their relationship with God hasn’t made a single change in their actions or in their hearts. 

God wants our worship to be an outward expression of the love that we have for him and not something that we do in blind repetition out of a sense of duty or tradition.

Unless we are changed, unless our hearts are changed, then our worship is meaningless, we become a burden to God, and God stops listening to our prayers.  Worship must be, first and foremost, an expression of our love for God and our lives must be lived as an act of worship.

Nearly two thousand years later, we hear Jesus explain this same concept in a different way in the gospel of Luke. (Luke 12:32-40)

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus says that the things that we value most, the things upon which we spend the most time, obsess over, and the things which become the focus of our lives, are our treasure.  And our hearts will live where our treasure lives.  As an example, Jesus explains that waiting for God is sometimes like waiting for a boss who has gone out for the evening.  Those servants who are genuinely concerned about serving their master do so even when he is absent, and even when it seems as if the master has gone missing.  Our calling is to act like Jesus, to act in the best interests of Jesus’ kingdom, to do good and to serve him always, even when he seems absent, even when the world has gone crazy and it seems as if Jesus has forgotten us.

And that’s a critical point.

Yes, we know that the Spirit of God is active in the world in which we live.  Yes, we know that God loves us and cares for us.  Yes, we know that we have occasionally seen God at work in our lives and in the lives of the people around us.  But, at the same time, when we watch the news and we see the pain and suffering, chaos and mayhem, that surrounds us and which seems to engulf our world, we struggle to understand how God can be so conspicuously absent.  Jesus knew that.  That’s why he told the story about the servants who were waiting for their master’s return.  And that’s why Paul relates a similar story in which he reminds all of us about the faith, and the patience, of the heroes of scripture. (Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16)

11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left; they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Jesus said that we need to wait for God, and continue doing the work of Jesus Christ, even when he seems absent.  Paul reminds us that many of the great heroes of the Bible waited their entire lives and never saw God’s promises fulfilled.  Those promises were kept, but often not within their lifetimes.  This is what faith is all about.

Faith is about remembering the times that God has done what he has promised.  Remembering the times when God has been faithful to us.  Remembering the times that God has been generous to us.  And then trusting that God will be faithful in the things that we can’t see.  Faith reminds us to act like Jesus even when Jesus seems absent.  Faith is living in such a way that life itself becomes an act of worship. Faith is having our hearts changed so that everyone around us can plainly see Jesus in us.  Faith looks forward to the day when God fulfills all of his promises.

Faith is looking forward.

Faith is living forward.

May we strive, every day, to have that kind of faith.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Near-Sighted Death

Near-Sighted Death

August 04, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23        Colossians 3:1-11         Luke 12:13-21

 

broken-glassesHow many of you wear glasses or contact lenses?

Of those, are you near-sighted?  Or far-sighted?  If you forget which-is-which, just remember that if you can read without glasses, you are near-sighted and if you can drive a car without glasses, you are far-sighted.

Those of us who wear glasses are constantly aware that driving without our glasses would be dangerous to ourselves and others.  Even the Bureau of Motor Vehicles thinks so and they put a restriction on our driver’s license that declares it to be a legal offense to drive without our glasses.

But although we know that near-sightedness can be dangerous, that isn’t the kind of near-sightedness that we need to talk about.  Although it might be described as near-sightedness, the vision problem that we are warned about in scripture is an entirely different, and far more widespread, problem than the one that can be corrected with eyeglasses.

We begin this morning with a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that was likely written by the wise King Solomon, but as we read it, we quickly discover that Solomon must have been in a very dark emotional place while he was writing. (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23)

1:2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

1:12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

2:17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Up until the end of our reading, Solomon is focused entirely on what the world can give him.  The word the he often repeats is, “meaningless” and, in Hebrew, this can be understood to mean something that is empty, futile, or transient.  Solomon knows that everything that he, and his father, have worked so hard to accomplish will one day be left to someone else who may, or may not, care about him, his goals, his values, or his legacy.  But this is what you see when your vision sees no further than your own mortality.  This is a deadly kind of near-sightedness.  But in the verses and chapters beyond these, Solomon begins to understand that finding meaning in this life depends entirely on understanding that there is something, and someone, that is greater than ourselves.  Finding meaning depends on understanding that there is more to life than just sixty or eighty years of this mortal life. 

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus encounters a man who is struggling with the same problem and provides a prescription for the deadly near-sightedness of our fleshly humanity.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Someone in the crowd asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute between him and his brother.  This wouldn’t necessarily be out of line because it’s conceivable that rabbis might occasionally do such things.  But Jesus isn’t interested because he has far more important issues to address than whether, or not, one brother is dividing his father’s estate “fairly.”  The person in the crowd is basically saying that he isn’t getting enough of the money for which his father had worked and toiled.  Worrying about how large your inheritance is, or how much stuff you have, or how much money you have in the bank, is the kind of greedy, near-sighted thinking that Jesus cautions us to guard against.

In Jesus’ parable, a rich man keeps building bigger barns in which to store stuff so that he can continue to accumulate more rather than sharing what he has with the poor or donating even a portion of it to the church, or to any other cause.  Jesus echoes Solomon by saying, once you are dead, “then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Does your wealth bring you meaning if you’re dead?  Life is meaningless for whomever stores things up for themselves. 

A life of meaning only comes when we share our riches with God and with others.

But besides sharing our stuff with God, how do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, live lives of meaning every day?  In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul explains it this way:

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is more than just sharing our stuff or sharing our money, it’s a lifestyle that is far-sighted instead of near-sighted.  Instead of focusing on our 60 or 80 years of mortal life, focus instead on a life lived for eternity.  Realize that our entire lives on earth are just an instant compared to the forever that comes next.  Realize that people who are different from us, people from the other side of the tracks, from different social and economic circumstances than ours, people who like different music, people that live on the other side of the planet from us, who speak different languages, and who have a different color skin, may well be our next door neighbors, co-workers, mentors, and friends when we move into our new homes in heaven.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is beginning your eternity now, by putting to death those things that are near-sighted and focused on your own personal satisfaction, and pleasure such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Paul says that greed isn’t just bad, but greed is, in fact, idolatry because greed puts money and self in the place of God.  Get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies so that you can become more like the person that God created you to be, and the person that you will one day become.

Setting your sights only on your life on earth is a near-sighted recipe for destruction, meaninglessness, and death.  Instead, we must set our sights on God, on eternity, and a life in heaven that will be lived alongside people of every tribe, every nation, and every language.  To live a life of meaning, we must be a people who are far-sighted.  Because, by seeing the distant and eternal future, we can put today’s problems, fears, social tension, injustice, needs, wants, desires, and everyday ordinary decisions of every kind in their proper perspective.

May we all live deeply meaningful lives that are rich toward God in every way.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Love is an Action

Love is an Action

July 14, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 10:25-37                        Colossians 1:1-14

 

How many of you can say that there is, or that has been, at least one person in your life that has loved you?

I’m hoping that everyone here can say yes.  Almost all of us have at least a close circle of family and friends whom we could say, with some certainty, probably love us. 

But… how do you know?

When we think about the people who have loved us, and when we think about the people that we love in return, how do we really know that they love us, and how do they really know that we love them?

It certainly isn’t the words that come out of our mouths.  Almost all of us can give examples of people in our lives who told us that they loved us, or that they were our friends, and who later demonstrated that their words were less than truthful.  But rewind just a few words and I think we have our first clue.  Those people “demonstrated” their love, or their lack of love, for us.  Their love for us wasn’t revealed in what they said about us, or to us, but it was demonstrated in the things that they did.

One of the books that I use in premarital counseling and often recommend to others, is Gary Chapman’s “The Five Love Languages.” In it, Chapman describes the five ways that human beings express and feel love.  Most people, Chapman says, only “hear” or feel one or two of these love languages, so it’s important to know which love language your significant other, or your children, can hear, feel, and experience so that they can receive the love that you want to show them.  In any case, the five love languages that appear in that book are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch.  But let me read that list again and see if you notice something, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. 

Of the five, only one, Words of Affirmation, are spoken words at all, and even then, Words of Affirmation are not careless words that someone would throw about easily.  Words of Affirmation are thoughtful, well-chosen words that require some understanding and knowledge of the person to whom they are offered.  “You did a great job on that project.”  “I have been consistently impressed with your enthusiasm.”  “I appreciate how you go out of your way to make new people feel welcome.”  “We are all so very proud of the work that you do and the difference that you make in our community.”  And those are just a few examples of just one of the five Love Languages.

When we think about love in that way, it becomes increasingly obvious that love isn’t something that we say at all.  Instead, love is something that we… do.

One of the best biblical examples of this is found in Luke 10:25-37, and Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan.

25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii [two days wages[1]] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

The entire Law can be boiled down into two simple statements, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But while the legal expert that came to Jesus was fine with the first one, he was having trouble understanding the second.  Just who is my neighbor, and how do I love them?  And, although the legal expert might not have liked the answer that he got, Jesus’ parable answers both questions.

Even better, Jesus’ parable leads the legal expert to answer his own question.  After hearing the story, Jesus asks him to choose, from all of the characters in the story, between the two men who were traditionally supposed to be the good guys, the priest and the Levite, and the one man who represented the enemy of the Jews, which one was a neighbor to the man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead?  Obviously, the hero of the story is the man that the entire audience really wanted to hate but the legal expert is left with no other choice.  Who was the man’s neighbor?  The one who had mercy.

And Jesus leaves the man, and us, with a singular instruction: “Go and do likewise.”

Jesus’ instruction on how to love our neighbor isn’t an instruction of something to say, preach, write, film, or to advertise, but simply one that we are to… do.

We can’t just say that we love our neighbors, or the poor, or the outcasts, or the hungry, or addicts, or anyone else, we must show them that we love them.  We are commanded to love our neighbors, but in order to truly love them, we must “Go and do likewise.”

As the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, he compliments them because of the things that he has heard about them.  From the news that travelers have shared with him, Paul knows that the gospel of Jesus Christ isn’t just something that the Colossians are talking about, it’s something that they are doing. (Colossians 1:1-14)

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To God’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father.

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace. You learned it from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on our behalf, and who also told us of your love in the Spirit.

For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you. We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives,  10 so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11 being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, 12 and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. 13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

Paul says “…we have heard of your faith in Jesus Christ and the love that you have for all God’s people…”  And then goes on to say that “the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world – just as it has been doing among you…”  The Colossian church is bearing fruit and growing because they are showing the love of Jesus Christ to the people around them and the love that they have is so obvious to the people around them that when Epaphras travels from Colossae to see Paul, he shares news of the things that the church has been doing.  If the gospel was only something that the church talked about, Epaphras wouldn’t have taken the time to walk hundreds of miles and share that news with Paul.  And because the church is bearing fruit and growing, we know that the neighbors and the community that surround the church must also see the work that the church is doing.  Epaphras told Paul that the people in the church at Colossae are a people who have demonstrated, through their actions, the love of God to the world. 

Love is all about actions.

Words and talk are invisible, but actions can be seen by the world.

The Priest was supposed to be a man of God, but he crossed over to the other side.

The Levite was supposed to be an expert with great knowledge of the scriptures, but he didn’t help either.

The Samaritan was supposed to be a hated enemy of the Jews, but he stopped, bandaged the wounds of a beaten, broken and bloody stranger, took him to a place of rest, and paid for his care.

It was obvious to everyone which of these three men loved his neighbor because after all the talking and preaching was over, only one showed up and acted like it.

Paul was proud of the people of the Colossian church because they were living out the gospel of Jesus Christ by acting in love toward the people around them and the people could see it.  And because the people in the community of Colossae saw, and felt, the love of the church, the church began to bear fruit and grow.

We don’t feel loved until the people who love us show us how much they love us.

We can’t just say that we love our neighbors, or the poor, or the outcasts, or the hungry, or addicts, or the homeless, or migrants, or anyone else, we must show them that we love them. 

The people who live in Alliance, Ohio and in the other communities around our church, in our workplaces, our schools, in our neighborhoods, in mission stations all over the country, around the world, and wherever we are, won’t feel loved until we show them how much we love them.

Jesus demonstrated his love for us.  Over and over again, he showed us how much he loved us.

And Jesus’ words to that legal expert still resonate with us today:

“Go and do likewise.”

 

 


Footnotes:
[1] The median income in the United States in 2018 was $61,891.  That’s $29.76 per hour, so two days wage for the average American would be about $476.
 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Turning Power Upside-Down

Turning Power Upside-Down

July 07, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 5:1-14                       Luke 10:1-11, 16-20              Galatians 6:1-16

 

Have you ever seen a pyramid?  Most of us haven’t seen one in real life, but almost everyone has probably seen pictures of one.

What I’m thinking about is just the general shape of a pyramid.  Do you have that image in your mind?  That shape, the shape of a pyramid, is often used to describe the way that human beings generally run things whether it’s clubs, or unions, corporations, or governments.  There’s a big base that is filled with ordinary people, laborers and worker bees, and above them are the foremen, then managers, then supervisors, then directors, then vice-presidents, presidents, and at the top is the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO.  In governments there are similar structures and at the top is the mayor, or governor, president, or prime minister.  We see this same style of organization in many of our churches, with lay people, pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and in some denominations, archbishops and popes.

But as common as this structure is, we are making a mistake when we assume that this is the way that God runs things.  While I have seen several business gurus preach that it’s important to “flatten” the pyramid and operate with a simpler, less management intensive, hierarchy, God’s system of administration and government has a way of turning the entire pyramid upside-down.  In 2 Kings 5:1-14, we hear the story of the great military commander Naaman, a powerful man who was second only to the king of Aram, but one who contracted a repulsive and incurable disease.

5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So, Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So, he turned and went off in a rage.13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

It didn’t matter how powerful Naaman was, if word got out that he had leprosy, he was ruined.  People were afraid of lepers.  Leprosy was ultimately fatal, no one knew how it was contracted, and there was no cure.  Lepers lived their lives by begging and were prohibited from being around healthy people.  Certainly, no one would want to be under his command so his ability to lead would be destroyed.  His power was of no use to him against this enemy.  But hope come to him in the strangest way.  Hope comes not from power, or authority, not from the king, but from a slave girl who knows that the prophet of Israel’s God could cure him.  And so, based on the advice of a slave, this powerful man travels to Israel for a cure and then to the door of Elisha’s house.  But here, Naaman’s ego is offended because Elisha doesn’t even come outside to see him and Naaman is told that he should go to the Jordan River, wash seven times, and be cleansed.  And again, his ego is offended because his home country has plenty of rivers, so why should he wash in Israel’s river? 

But he is rescued a second time, by one of his servants who reminds him that he would have gladly undertaken a great quest, or an impossible task, if Elisha had demanded it, so why not swallow his pride and ego and do something simple? 

He does. 

And he is healed.

In God’s calculation, Naaman’s power and authority are useless, it doesn’t matter that he sits near the pinnacle of the pyramid of power.  Instead, his humility and willingness to listen to his servants, and to hear the command of God, however simple, are the things that bring about his healing.

Similarly, even when God gives power to his followers, we are cautioned in how we use it.  In Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples plus seventy-two others, and sends them out to teach and to minister to the people.  And, when they return, they marvel at the power that God has given them, but Jesus refocuses their understanding in an entirely different way.

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus sends out seventy-two of his followers as missionaries to the communities along the route that he would soon visit.  And when they return, they are thrilled to report that the sick were healed, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and even the demons obey their commands.  But Jesus cautions them all to remember humility.  They aren’t great because they have power.  Jesus tells them that he watched as Satan, the most powerful of God’s angels, was cast out of heaven.  The cause for rejoicing, Jesus says, is not that they have power, but that God has rescued them from sin and death.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of living a Christian life throughout scripture.  We saw in in the story of Elisha and Naaman, we saw it in the story of Jesus and the seventy-two, and we see it as a central message of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16) where we hear these words:

6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Paul’s tone in this passage speaks to us in the twenty-first century as piercingly and compellingly as it did in the first century.  If someone is caught in sin, don’t gloat, and don’t parade them through the streets or through the media to bathe them in shame, but instead restore them… gently.  Instead of watching the people around you so that you can pounce on them the moment that they screw up, keep an eye on yourself so that you won’t be tempted and become the person that screwed up.  Instead of piling guilt and shame on people who make mistakes, or instead of watching the people around you struggle with doubt, struggle with divorce, struggle with poverty, struggle with single parenthood, struggle with being a widow, struggle with losing a parent or for caring for an elderly parent, instead of watching each other struggle, carry each other’s burdens.  Help the people around you who are struggling, share their burden, so that all of us can walk this journey a little easier.  Don’t you dare think that you are all that important, especially when you are not.  Test yourself.  Take a hard look at your actions and see if you are acting the way that Jesus acted, or if you are just acting like a selfish jerk.

Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of yourself, but don’t compare yourself to others.  It’s okay to be proud of what you have accomplished or what you have overcome, but it’s not okay to say that you are better or worse than someone else because of it.  And if you are lucky enough to have been able to study scripture, and to have good teachers to teach you about the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ, then don’t be afraid to show your appreciation to the people who taught you, and, in my understanding, don’t be afraid to share what you have learned with others.  Those who have been taught today become the teachers of tomorrow.

I’m not sure what all was going on in that church in Galatia, but Paul is really fired up.  He continues by reminding everyone that we harvest the same things that we plant.  If we plant the things of the flesh, then we will harvest destruction, but if we plant the things of the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life.  Don’t get tired of doing good.  Don’t give up.  Whenever you can, do good to all the people around you, especially to those who surround you in your community of faith because, hopefully, those are the same people that are walking with you and sharing your burdens.

Both in the first century and in the twenty-first centuries, the church was, and is, dealing with people who are using the things of the flesh, things like money, power, sex, drugs, pleasure, and influence to impress one another.  Knowing that, Paul points out that there are people who are trying to use those same tools to impress people and persuade them to come around to their way of thinking, and the only reason that they are doing so, is so that they can avoid being persecuted or discriminated against for being Christian.  While these influential people were far from perfect themselves, they wanted to persuade others to follow them so that they could brag about how many they persuaded.  To them, the followers of Jesus Christ were only being used as poker chips to keep score. 

Instead, Paul insists that the only thing that we, as Christians, ought to brag about is the cross of Jesus.  None of the things that the world uses to brag about, and impress people are worth anything today, nor will they be worth anything on the day of judgement.  The only thing that is worth anything, is the work that Jesus is doing in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the day, the spiritual world doesn’t look anything at all like a pyramid.  Power and influence aren’t important.  Money, and pleasure aren’t worth bragging about.  They pyramid isn’t just turned upside down by Jesus Christ, it’s completely flattened.  There’s Jesus… and then there’s us.  And we aren’t under him, because at the moment we put our faith in him, we were adopted by God as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

The only thing we have to impress people… is Jesus.

The only thing we have to brag about… is Jesus.

The goal isn’t to become rich, and powerful, to climb to the top of the pyramid, and live a life that is full of pleasure and influence.

The goal is to discover humility.  The goal is to live, and to love,…

            …like Jesus.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

I Love You, But…

I Love You, But…

June 30, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14                Luke 9:51-62              Galatians 5:1, 13-25

 

Have you ever watched those Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel?  Or even old westerns, or some of the romanticized war movies?  In a great many of those movies, there is a scene where the two romantic leads go their separate ways, and there is always a conversation that runs along the lines of, “I love you honey, but this thing is bigger than two of us.”  It’s a phrase that’s been around for so long, and used in so many books and movies, that no one can even guess where it was used first.  It’s a cliché in movies, but it has obvious, and tragic, uses in “real life” too. 

Whether it has been said out loud or not, how many times have relationships ended because one person was more in love with their independence than they were with the other person?  Or their commitment to another person, or an addiction, or any number of things was greater than their commitment to the other romantic lead.  In these cases, the phrase “I love you, but…” can just as easily be replaced with, I don’t love you enough to be what you need, or what you want.  Or maybe it’s too harsh to boil that down to just, “I don’t love you enough.”

Those kinds of break-up stories aren’t limited to romantic relationships.  We leave jobs for many of the same reasons and tell our employers that our families, or our checkbooks, or our feeling of self-fulfillment is more important to us than they are.  And unfortunately, our relationships with God are often much the same.  Too often, we tell God, through our actions, if not our words, that other things are more important to us than God is.

But before we talk about abandonment, let’s begin this morning with a story that illustrates true commitment and dedication.  We begin this morning with one of the greatest stories of transition and succession in all of history.  As the great prophet Elijah, advanced in age and near death, comes to the end of his career, he is followed and assisted in everything that he does by his protégé, Elisha.  And, as God calls Elijah home, we hear this story in 2 Kings 2:1-14.

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Elisha declares that he will never leave his mentor Elijah even though they both knew that this was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth.  And, as they travel, they discover that all the other prophets of Israel know that as well.  Each time they pass by one of the places where God’s prophets gather, the prophets in that place already know what’s going on.  And when the time finally comes, and God sends a chariot of fire to carry Elijah away, it was necessary for the horses of the chariot to separate them because Elisha stayed true to his word and refused to leave his mentor’s side.  And even then, he tears his garment in a sign of mourning that they have been separated. 

Elisha was true to his word no matter what.

But the reverse is true for everyone who makes those same kinds of promises to Jesus in Luke 9:51-62.

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The Samaritans don’t want Jesus because they knew he was traveling to the temple in Jerusalem and not to their temple.  Their position was, “We love you, but only if you worship like us.”  The disciples wanted to destroy the Samaritans and it was as if they were saying, “We love you, but we were hoping you would destroy anyone who isn’t like us.”  The next man offers to follow Jesus, but Jesus knows that he won’t.  Jesus knows that what he’s really saying is, “I love you, but not if you’re homeless.”  The next two are willing, but essentially answer Jesus by saying, “I love you, but only when it’s convenient.”  But none of these answers rise to the level of Jesus’ expectation.  Jesus says that when you set out to plow a field, you focus on what is ahead and not on what is behind.  The focus of the farmer must be on farming and if it isn’t then he should probably be doing something else.

What God wants is the kind of dedication that Elisha had for Elijah, a single-minded determination that was focused exclusively on his love for his mentor.  For Elisha, “I will not leave you” meant exactly that and nothing else.  Only God himself could separate them.  And that’s what Jesus wants for us as his followers as well.  When we are called to be the followers of Jesus, we are called to love him with our whole heart, but that’s often harder than we expect it to be when put into practice.  In real life, we are easily distracted by the things that make us feel good.  In Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Paul explains it this way:

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

In Paul’s mind, because we have been set free from sin, then we ought to do everything we can to live lives separate from sin so that we do not become burdened and tied to the same sin from which we were once set free.  As Americans, we often talk about enjoying freedom, and many times that discussion involves talking about how we are free to do the things that scripture teaches us not to do.  But Paul’s idea is quite different.  Real freedom, he says, is not found in indulging ourselves and doing things that feel good, instead, real freedom is found in service to others, humility, love, and obedience to God.  The Spirit of God and the desires of our fleshly bodies often run contrary to one another.  Our freedom means that we should not do whatever we want to do because Jesus died so that we could be set free from sin, not set free for sin. 

But, just to be sure that we are getting his point, Paul lists some of the common things of the flesh that cause human beings to go astray, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”  When we pursue these things, we wander from the path of salvation and risk losing our inheritance altogether.  Instead, we are to seek to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.  When we are truly following the example of Jesus Christ, our neighbors and friends will see things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” in our lives.

When we say “I love you” to God, it shouldn’t include exceptions that make it sound like “I love you, but…”  God wants us to love him without reservation, with all our heart, all our mind, and with all our soul.

If we want to follow Jesus, and become like Jesus, then we have to give one hundred percent.

If we want to bear spiritual fruit, “I love you, but…”

…is not going to get us where we want to go.

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Popular? Or Faithful?

Popular? Or Faithful?

June 23, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 18:20-39                   Luke 7:1-10                Galatians 1:1-12

 

Martin Luther had seen rampant abuse in the way that the church raised money and preached that both the church and the pope had claimed powers that were not to be found anywhere in scripture.  Threatened with excommunication and imprisonment, Luther was tried for heresy against the church for the things that he had written and preached regarding the corruption of the church and the powers wielded by the pope.  He stood trial and defended himself on April 16 – 17, 1521 and on the 17th famously concluded his arguments by saying, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest evidence…I cannot and will not retract, for we must never act contrary to our conscience… Here I stand. God help me! Amen!”

In 1932, in a rigged election, key positions in the German Lutheran Church were won by Nazi supporters and, shortly afterwards, official church rules were changed in order to remove all pastors and church officials of Jewish descent.  As a result, many pastors left the church and joined together in opposition of the Nazified church in what would be known as the “Confessing Church” which was increasingly persecuted by the growing Nazi regime.  One of those Lutheran pastors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stood with those in the confessing church because, having lived and taught alongside the poor in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Bonhoeffer believed that the church, and its people, had to stand against social injustice.  Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s participation in the Confessing Church and his opposition to the Nazis and the Hitler cult brought about his arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Today, the pressures that we face are not likely to be nearly so life threatening, but we struggle all the same.  Every day, the church and its people are tempted to agree with government policies, elected officials, and partisan party platforms that stand in opposition to the teaching of scripture.  And, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to choose whether we want to risk disagreeing with our friends, family members, fellow union members, or with political parties that we have identified with for decades or if we will stand up for what we know to be right.

This is deep stuff so, before we dive into that dark water, let’s go back and look at some of our history.  Let’s begin in 1 Kings 18:20-39, where we find Elijah standing alone against the King of Israel, all the people, and four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal whose worship was officially encouraged (if not required), and which had become the predominant religion of Israel.

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs [about 24 pounds] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, were worshippers of the god Baal and they both encouraged, and enforced, Baal worship among the people of Israel.  Under their rule, the priests and prophets of the God of Israel were hunted down and killed.  Even Elijah had lived in hiding for many years in fear of the king and his armies.  But now was a time for a showdown.  And in that showdown, God demonstrates, in an inescapably obvious way, that there is only one God in Israel.  In answer to Elijah’s simple prayer, fire falls from the sky and consumes the sacrifice, the wood, twelve large jars full of water, the rocks, and even the dirt under the altar.

Clearly God wins.

But what about Elijah?  We remember this story not only because of the great power that God displayed on that day, but because of the courage that we witness in Elijah.  Not only was it unpopular to stand against Ahab and Jezebel, it was dangerous and positively life-threatening.  By this time, Elijah believes that he is the only prophet left in all of Israel (although we learn that God has hidden others as well), and he is afraid for his life, but he still stands up for his God, for his faith, and for what is right regardless of the risks.

And we see something similar, on both sides, in the story of a Roman centurion who had a sick servant in Luke 7:1-10.

7:1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

The elders of the Jews recommended that Jesus meet with the centurion because he had come to love Israel and had provided the funds to build a synagogue.  It seems that he had become sympathetic to the Jewish faith though I suspect that he did not become a convert to Judaism.  It was probably not popular for a Roman to be so friendly with the Jews.  It seems likely that his Roman countrymen would look down on this kind of fraternizing, and just being a Roman would make you unpopular among most Jews.  Jesus would have faced this same criticism among the Jews for meeting with a Roman, but he consents to go anyway.  Likewise, I’m sure that there was criticism for healing a Roman servant, but Jesus not only did so, he praises the centurion by saying that he had never seen anyone, in all of Israel, Jewish or not, that had such great faith.

Doing such things, and saying such things, did not make Jesus popular.

In Galatians 1:1-12, Paul explains it this way:

1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

I completely understand why we do what we do.  We really aren’t that different than the Israelites in the time of Elijah and King Ahab.

We all want people to like us.  We want to be safe.

But being popular has never been the goal of a follower of God or a believer in Jesus Christ.

As Paul said, we aren’t trying to win the approval of human beings, we should be seeking the approval of God.

We must stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong even when it’s “our” political party, our friends, or our family that’s wrong. 

We must choose Jesus.  Even when it’s unpopular.  Even when it’s dangerous.  Even when it’s life-threatening.

Do what’s right.

Keep the faith.

Do the things that God has called us to do.

Always.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.