What Does God Want?

What Does God Want?

October 06, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 26:27-31             Galatians 5:22-24                 

 

If you’ve been in church for very long, you’ve heard the message before, and in fact we’ve heard it here over the last few weeks.  We’ve heard messages like “be content with what you have,” “money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and, “…people who are eager for money have wandered from the faith.”  We heard last week that the values of our culture and the values of God are often at odds with one another. 

So, what is it that God wants?

What is it that we should do with out lives, with our time, and with our money?  What is it that God wants us to do?  How should we manage the things that we have been given?  How should we manage our lives, our time, and our money?

And, as odd as it may seem, there is word for that.  There is a word that encompasses and describes that exact sort of management.  How we manage our lives, our time, and our money, in ways that honor and please God, is called stewardship.  Stewardship recognizes that all that we have been given, our lives, our time, and our money, have been given to us by God.  God owns them all.  God owned them before we were born, and God will own them after we die, but for now, God has given them to us and has entrusted us to care for them and to mange them.  And that, is stewardship.

So, while, in one way, this is a message about stewardship, in another way, it isn’t.

For the next few weeks, during our stewardship campaign, you will hear someone (other than me) offer a few minutes of reflection as a “stewardship moment” during our morning worship service.  Each of those reflections will guide you to think about different aspects of how we might honor God and the gifts that we have been given.  But what I want to talk about is bigger than that, and it builds on the same things that we’ve already been talking about for several weeks.

What is it that God wants from us?

And, as a part of answering that question, I want to remember the story of the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts.  In that story, Paul had been visiting the Temple in Jerusalem when some of the Jews there started a riot over some of the things that he had been preaching in other cities.  During the riot, some of these people attempted to beat Paul to death, but he was rescued by the Roman soldiers in the Fortress Antonia.  Several more times, the people who were plotting to kill Paul planned to murder him while he was being transferred from one place to another, but each time Paul was rescued.  But a part of Paul’s defense was that the accusations against him were religious in nature, and were not, under Roman law, a criminal offense worthy of punishment or imprisonment.  Ultimately, Paul would use his rights as a Roman citizen to carry the message of Jesus Christ all the way to Rome and to Caesar himself, but in Acts 26, Paul tells King Agrippa, who was the king of the whole area around Israel, the story of his life, his pursuit and persecution of Christians, his trip to Damascus to hunt for, and arrest, more of Jesus’ followers, and ultimately his encounter with Jesus on the road, his conversion, and his new mission as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  At the end of that story, Paul, knowing that Agrippa was a follower of God and a man who knew the stories of scripture, asks the king if he believed the stories of the prophets that he knew and had studied.  (Acts 26:27-31)

27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

Just as we learned in recent weeks, Paul used his Roman citizenship, and everything else that he had, to save his life and to bring him, and his message, into audiences with the Governor and with the king.  And in those audiences, Paul not only defends himself, he preaches the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone that he can whether they are Jewish citizens, Roman guards, or the king himself.  And then, even though King Agrippa and others who heard his case were willing to dismiss Paul’s case and release him, Paul appeals his case to Rome and to Caesar himself (as was his right as a Roman citizen).  And in Rome, Paul would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone, and to anyone, that would listen until his death.

I can almost hear you thinking, “But, I’m not Paul.”  Indeed, most of us are not Paul.  We weren’t born into the best of families, or trained under the best teachers, or hung out, and worked for, and with, the powerful movers and shakers.  We don’t speak, or write, like Paul, so how can we learn how to manage our lives from him?  Simply this: Just as we’ve heard in recent weeks, Paul used what he had, whether that was much, or whether it was little, in order to advance the cause of Jesus Christ.  And, with that in mind, let’s remember some of the things that we have been given as the followers of Jesus.  And this list, incidentally, is also from Paul, in his letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:22-24).

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. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

As the followers of Jesus, we have been filled by the Spirit of God, and that spirit develops within us, fruit that God uses to grow his kingdom.  We may not show all these fruits at the same time, but as we mature in Jesus Christ, we should see them grow within us.  And as we do, we should use them, steward them, manage them, however you choose to describe it, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread, so that people come to faith in Jesus, and so that his church, both on earth, and in heaven, grows as well.

What does God want?

God wants disciples who are committed.  God wants us to be intentional about using the things that he has given to us, to focus on something bigger than the ordinary everyday things that occupy our time.  God wants each one of us to use the gifts that he has given to us, life, liberty, freedom, time, money, talent, rights of citizenship, the fruits of the spirit, and anything else that we have at our disposal, so that we can be a blessing to God, to his Son Jesus, and to his kingdom.

Are you ready to be committed disciples?

Let us not just thank God for what he has given to us.

Let us use those gifts as a gift to God.

That, my friends, is stewardship.

 

 

 

 


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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.

Finding Hope in a Doomed Culture

Finding Hope in a Doomed Culture

September 29, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15                     1 Timothy 6:6-19                   Luke 16:19-31

 

It’s often obvious.

All we have to do is turn on the television or radio, open a newspaper, or go to the movies.

It seems as if Hollywood and the people who entertain us, are always finding ways to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.  Language that used to get a movie banned from theaters is now heard during primetime in our living rooms.  Where television programs once required that married couples be shown sleeping in single beds, we now see the stars of today’s shows hopping from bed to bed as if marriage vows and morality meant nothing.  But while we watch the boundaries of moral acceptability being pushed back in our own culture, we should also remember that none of this is new.

With few exceptions, nearly every culture on earth has, on one way or another, taken a stand against the instructions, commands, and desires of God.  When scripture points generically at cities like Rome, Sodom, and Babylon, it focuses on cultures that are fundamentally at odds with how God has called his people to live.  Whenever God’s people, then or now, become so entangled with that culture, they are drawn away from God’s will for their lives, and inexorably pulled away from God himself.  And, while God isn’t calling us to withdraw from the world to the degree that we see the Amish community doing, we are called to stand up to our culture and plant a flag to designate a different way of life.  Likewise, there is no need for us to despair that our culture is leading us all into condemnation, destruction, and hell.

There is hope.

That is exactly the message that God sends to the people of Judah through the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15Here, although Jeremiah has prophesied about the destruction of the city and everyone is beginning to realize that the Babylonian army will soon break down the gates of the city, and although people are beginning to despair for their future, God also sends a message of hope for the future.

32:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.

Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?

Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’

“Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’

“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. 11 I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— 12 and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

13 “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 14 ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. 15 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’

When the enemy is at the gates, and the people could feel destruction and the judgement of God breathing down their necks, everyone knew that this was the time that people should be getting their affairs in order.  This was a time when people were locked inside the city walls for protection and they were more worried about being able to afford food to eat than how much land they owned.  And so, as an example to everyone, God calls Jeremiah to meet his cousin Hanamel in the city gate and buy the family farm that his Uncle Shallum is trying to sell.  And God’s word to Jeremiah, and to the people of Judah, is that there is a future.  Despite the enemy at the gate, God declares that the nations of Israel and Judah will have a future, that peace will return, that their government will one day be reestablished, and that houses, land, vineyards, and farms will one day be bought and sold again.  And, quite possibly, within the lifetime of Jeremiah and some of the people who were there to stand as witnesses.

In the middle of despair, God delivers hope.

Perhaps one of the greatest disconnects between our culture and the morality of God, is the way in which we view money.  In just about every television show, movie, commercial, magazine, or advertisement we are repeatedly told that being rich is the goal of life.  Nearly every waking moment of our lives we are told that we should aspire to acquire more money, more things, more stuff, more power, and that more is always better no matter what the cost to ourselves, to our families, or to the people around us.  But that isn’t at all what scripture teaches or what God wants.  Last week, we were reminded that we cannot serve both God and money, and Paul expands on that teaching in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, where we hear these words:

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

In complete contrast to the messages that we get from all over our culture every day, Paul says that those who want to get rich fall into a trap and into many foolish desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  While money itself is neither good nor evil, it is the love of money that lies at the root of all kinds of evil.  People who are eager for money, and who pursue it recklessly, have wandered away from their faith in God and have been responsible for causing their own grief and pain.

Rather than pursuing money, we are called to pursue what is right and godly, to seek faith, love, endurance and gentleness.  If you have money, don’t allow yourself to be proud of having it, or to put your confidence and hope for the future in the fact that you have it.  Instead, put your hope in the God who gives us everything that we have.  Rather than trusting in your money, use it to do good for others and be willing to share what you have.  It is in using what we have for God and for others that builds the foundation for our life in eternity.

In Jesus’ parable about the rich man and the beggar Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, we see an example that could easily be teleported to our own culture, and even to our own neighborhood, and still make complete sense.  Most of us could easily change the names in Jesus’ story to the familiar names of modern-day news stories, and everything in it would still make complete sense.

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Imagine the rich man living in what we would now think of as a gated community, or a walled compound, such as those that many of our rich, famous, and powerful entertainers, businesspeople, and politicians live in today.  For months, perhaps for years, the poor man lived outside the gates, but where the rich man could see him and knew about him.  The poor man sat and begged every day, but never once did the rich man share anything that he had, not even the scraps leftover from his dinner table.  But after their deaths, the condemnation that the rich man receives from Abraham is that he had received good things during his life but shared none of them with Lazarus.  So convinced are the rich and the powerful of the rightness, and the moral superiority of their wealth, that Jesus says they cannot be convinced of their error even if the dead came back to life to warn them.

Listening to the call and the teaching of our culture will lead us to pain, suffering, ruin, destruction, and doom.  We are deceived by the siren calls of pleasure, wealth, and power.  But, if we are to find hope in a culture that increasingly filled with desperation, despair, and hopelessness, then we must remember the commands of God. 

We are not to use God and serve money, but rather to use money and serve God.

If we are to find hope, and to share that hope with the world, then we must remember our calling as the people of God and as the followers of Jesus Christ.  We are called to use what we have, to share what we have been given, so that we may draw closer to one another, closer to those around us, and closer to God.  Otherwise, if listen too closely to our culture, if we allow our desires and our selfishness to control us, the money, and the things, that we have, will draw us, bit by bit, away from God and toward a destruction, and doom, of our own creation.

 

 

 

 


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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.

One Truth, One People, One Mission

One Truth, One People, One Mission

September 22, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               1 Timothy 2:1-7                     Luke 16:1-13

 

Do you watch the news or read a newspaper, or even just try to keep up with what’s going on by reading an internet news feed of some kind?

No matter how you do it, if you understand the world around you with a Christian worldview, we often cycle between several questions about the insanity that seems to be going on around us.  And, not surprisingly, some of the questions that we ask ourselves are the same questions that the followers of God have been asking themselves for millennia.  Six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Jeremiah watched as his nation was carried off in to captivity and he weeps, laments, and cries out to God with what I see as two common questions (questions that we still often ask today), and one wish that offers direction to us today.  (Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1)

18 You who are my Comforter in sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

And there is the first question.  Jeremiah says, ‘My people have been carried away into captivity in a faraway land.’ And he asks the question, ‘Has God abandoned us?’  ‘Is God no longer the God in Jerusalem?’

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

And there we find the second question: ‘Or, have we abandoned God?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah finds uncertainty amid the chaos of war. The northern kingdom of Israel had been captured more than a hundred years earlier and now he watches as Jerusalem and all of Judea is captured and her people carried off into captivity in Babylon.  But in the middle of his uncertainty, Jeremiah cries out that if all he can do is weep, then his wish is that he might be able to weep even more.  This is powerful.  In the middle of Jeremiah’s powerlessness, his wish is that he might at least be able to do more of the little that he is able to do.  Think about that, because we’re going to come back to that idea before we’re finished.

In one sense, this wish, or this prayer, of Jeremiah has some of the same heart as the shrewd manager in the story told by Jesus on Luke 16:1-13 where we hear this:

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.  “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’  “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’  “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied.  “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus is quick to point out that wealth, and wealthy people, isn’t evil just because one person has it and another doesn’t.  Instead, Jesus makes the point that wealth isn’t evil at all if that wealth is used to bring people into the kingdom of God.  And to those of us who fall short of being called wealthy, Jesus emphasizes that the goal isn’t to be rich, but to be trustworthy in handling whatever we have been given.  We cannot serve money, but we can use it as a tool to serve God.

At the end of the day, the manager in Jesus’ story didn’t have much once he knew that he was going to lose his job.  He didn’t have much time, he didn’t have much money of his own, he wasn’t strong enough to work in the fields or as a laborer, he didn’t have any notable skills, but he is commended by his master because he was shrewd enough to use what he had to make place for himself in the homes of several of his master’s customers after he lost his job.  And there is that lesson that we heard in Jeremiah, no matter how much or how little you have, you can use what you have.

But to what end?

What is our purpose?  As the people of God and as the followers of Jesus Christ, what should we be doing?

And that is exactly the question that Paul answers in his letter to his protégé and friend, Timothy, in 1 Timothy 2:1-7.

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth, I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

First, Paul says that we should pray, not just for our friends, and not just for the people that agree with us, and not even just for our allies, but that we should pray for everyone.   Paul says that, even in a world where authority was abused and kings were often terrible, cruel, and violent despots, we should even pray for kings and people in positions of authority, so that we might be left alone and live quiet lives, and spread the good news of Jesus Christ without interference.  Next, Paul reminds Timothy that God wants all people to be saved and come to know one, single, truth: There is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ.  Jesus came, not to save the rich, or the poor, or the people of Israel, or church people, or even good people.  Jesus’ mission was to give himself as a ransom for all people.

The Old Testament and New Testament are not different stories, they are the stores from different times about the same truth, the first is about the promise of God and the second is about the fulfillment of that promise.

And so, we remember that there is one truth, that there is one God, and one mediator between God and mankind, Jesus Christ who gave himself as a ransom for all people.  There is only one people, the people of God, who know that the rescue of all humanity flows through Jesus Christ and him only.  And there is only one mission, to do everything in our power, whether we have much or whether we have little, to use everything that we do have, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with as many people as possible.

That means, that like Jeremiah, we should pray that we could do more with what little we have.  That means that like the shrewd manager, we should use whatever we have, whatever we have been given and whatever lies at our disposal, to serve God, and gain friends that can be with us in eternity.

There’s nothing wrong with being rich, if you use your money for God.

Most of us will never be rich.

But you don’t have to be rich.

You just need to be smart and use what you have.

 

 

 


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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.

What is the Cost of Jesus?

What is The Cost of Jesus?

September 08, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 2:4-13                     Philemon 1-21                        Luke 14:25-33

How many of you remember Rex Humbard?

Rex Humbard was probably one of the first of what we now refer to as televangelists, or mega-church preachers and he made his home, for many years, in Akron, Ohio (technically, Cuyahoga Falls)  But one of the things for which Rex is remembered, is something that he didn’t do, or, more correctly, started, but never finished.

Even though Rex Humbard left for the sunny skies of Florida in 1983 and passed away in 2007, it is his financial troubles that are remembered in Akron, where, at the site of the Cathedral of Tomorrow, he began construction of a 750 foot broadcast tower that would be taller than Terminal Tower, include a revolving restaurant overlooking the city and from which you could dine and see the lights of both Akron and Cleveland.  But, that’s as far as it ever got.  Construction began.  And then stopped, at 494 feet, as money troubles, internal squabbling, and trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission erupted.

That tower, all 494 feet of it, still sits in Cuyahoga Falls and you can see it from a large portion of Akron, and from the turnpike in Cleveland.  In 1989, someone bought that tower at auction for $30,000 and then rented space to various cell phone companies to place antennas at a height they could never attain otherwise.

The moral of the story is an old one, and it’s a biblical one, and it’s one that residents of Akron tell at parties.  It is always foolish to build something unless you know you have the money to finish it.

Likewise, we should know the costs of our actions, good or bad.  When we travel the interstate highway at speeds in excess of the legal speed limit, we should be aware of the fines for doing so and be prepared to pay them if we are caught.  And that’s exactly the message that Jeremiah brings to the people of Israel.    (Jeremiah 18:1-11)

18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

God is clear that he will reconsider the good things that he had intended for those people who do evil.  If we wander from the truth, and wander away from God, God will continue to love us, but like any good investor, God will not throw good money after bad, and will not continue to bless people who have chosen a path that leads away from him.  This is the reverse of the Rex Humbard story.  Rather than considering how much something will cost, this story reminds us to consider the cost of not doing it.  What is the cost to us for not doing the things that God calls us to do, and not living in the way that God has taught us to live?

And then in Luke 14:25-33, Jesus makes an important point to anyone who chooses to follow him.

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus and turning to them he said: 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

Jesus begins and ends with the same message; there is a price to be paid for following Jesus and it won’t be cheap.  But in the middle, Jesus points to the kind of story that was familiar to people both then and now.  If you are going to build something, you need to know what it’s going to cost to build it or, like Rex Humbard, you will look ridiculous, people will be staring at your half-finished tower, and they’ll be talking about your mistake for decades after you’re dead.  Likewise, a king who doesn’t consider his options may end up worse off than if he had negotiated some sort of treaty.

Jesus says that the only way to follow him is to put all your chips on the table.  Understand that by following him, you might lose your relationships with family members that you love, you might be uncomfortable, you might suffer, you might lose your fortune, and you might even lose your life.  And, if you aren’t prepared to give 100%, if you aren’t sold out to Jesus, if you aren’t “all in,” then don’t even start down the road to building a tower that you can’t afford to finish.

But what might that look like in real life?  It’s one thing to talk about Rex Humbard, or a contractor building a tower, or a king going off to war but, most of us are none of those things.  What does it look like for an ordinary person to be “all in”?  And, in Paul’s letter to Philemon, a book of only one chapter, we meet two people who are called upon to do the right thing.  And although they are nearly opposites, they both run the risk of losing a great deal.  (Philemon 1-21)

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

From this letter we understand that Philemon was, at one time, the owner of a slave by the name of Onesimus.  But Onesimus, had at some point, left in a way that was not approved by Philemon but has become a valued partner in Paul’s ministry.  Although “escaped” might apply here, so might several other words.  Slaves of that time could be professionals such as doctors or accountants, and might travel across the Roman Empire, on their own, while doing the business that the owners had sent them to do.  It is possible that Onesimus went on a trip and failed to return.  But whatever the circumstances surrounding his departure, Onesimus was supposed to return and he did not.  At some point, he likely became afraid of what might happen to him if he did.  But Paul wants both men to do the right thing.  But both have a lot to lose if they do.

If Onesimus does the right thing, and returns what he stole from Philemon, he risks mistreatment, pain, torture, death, and at least a life of servitude.  And if Philemon does what Paul has instructed him to do, which is also the right thing, he loses the value of his slave, he loses the respect of other slave owners, and he could easily lose a lot of money and business as he loses face in an honor based society.  He runs the risk of being financially ruined if he does the right thing.  But Paul calls upon both of them to do the right thing, because as followers of Jesus Christ, our call is to do what’s right even if what’s right ruins us financially, causes us to suffer, lose our friends and relationships with our family members, and even if we might lose our lives.

We laugh about people who don’t plan and leave half-finished towers, but as we consider our relationship with Jesus, we must be careful not to do the same thing.  We must never say that we are the followers of Jesus if we are not prepared to be all-in, sold out, and 100 percent committed.

What is the cost of Jesus?

Are you prepared to do whatever it takes?

Are you prepared to pay the price?

No matter what?

 

 

 

 


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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.

The Right ‘Kind’ of Good

The Right ‘Kind’ of Good

September 01, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 2:4-13                     Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16                      Luke 14:1, 7-14

 

Have you ever spoken with someone, and although you were both speaking English, somehow it seemed as if you were not speaking the same language?

Sometimes when we speak to others, there is a failure to communicate because the meaning that we have assigned to certain words varies, either within the scope of the English language or within our personal experience and the way that we have learned those words and choose to use them.  For example, although you can order it on the menu in many restaurants, and although it is a staple in the southern part of our United States, as far as I am concerned, “grits” is not food.  So, if you were to say to me, “I am having grits for breakfast.” I will likely have trouble understanding what you mean by that just as if you said, “I am going to eat aquarium gravel for breakfast.”  It might not be harmful… but why?

Likewise, many of us have had times, often with our mothers, when we were clearly not speaking the same language.  Our mothers would encourage us at bedtime by promising that they would be preparing something especially “good” for breakfast and we went to bed dreaming and drooling with the prospect of eating freshly baked cinnamon buns hot our of the oven, only to discover upon awakening that Mom had made oatmeal or some other hot cereal because it was… “good” for you.  Although our conversations were all in English, how we defined the word “good” as it related to breakfast was very, very different than how our mothers were defining the same word.

These sorts of misunderstandings can be funny, or slightly traumatic, but the real trouble lies when we have these same sorts of misunderstandings with God.  In the time of Jeremiah, the people did what God’s people have often done, and still do today.  They accepted the blessings and gifts of God, and eventually began to believe that the things that they had came about because of their own hard work, or because they were entitled to them, or because they were the gifts of other gods. (Jeremiah 2:4-13)

Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob,
    all you clans of Israel.

This is what the Lord says:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me,
    that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
    and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord,
    who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness,
    through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness,
    a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land
    to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land
    and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask,
    ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;
    the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal,
    following worthless idols.

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,”
declares the Lord.
    “And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look,
    send to Kedar and observe closely;
    see if there has ever been anything like this:
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods?
    (Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God
    for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens,
    and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God asks his people how he had wronged them and wonders why they had left him.  God created a home for them that had abundant food and many resources, he blessed them in many ways, he performed miracles so that they would never forget him, and still they forgot.  They wanted to believe that God didn’t exist, or that they were responsible for all the good that had happened to them, or perhaps it was other gods who asked less of them.  And as a result, they turned their backs on God, they walked away from an eternal spring and exchanged the life that was in it for a dry hole in the ground and a death of their own creation.

But despite the warnings of the prophets and the punishments and corrections of God, hundreds of years later, Jesus sees the same kind of arrogance in the leaders of Israel.  (Luke 14:1, 7-14)

14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus pointed out something that we all know and understand.  It’s good to be invited to dinner.  We like being remembered, we like being invited, and most of us usually like dinner.  I know that social activities like that for an introvert can be taxing, but the act of being invited is affirming and feels good even if you really don’t want to spend an evening socializing. 

But Jesus says that although having a dinner party and inviting your friends is good…

                    …it’s the wrong kind of good. 

As an example, Jesus tells a story about how a little humility can save a lot of embarrassment.  If you sit at the humble end of the table and the host moves you to a more important place, that feels a whole lot better than if the host needs to publicly move you to a less important place because there was a bigger big-shot than you in the room.  Likewise, if you want to do good, if you want to do the right kind of good, the kind of good that God appreciates and blesses, then instead of having a dinner party and inviting your friends, business associates, and people who can do something for you in return (which was the way that the system worked even then), try holding the same party, and going to the same expense and preparation, and inviting the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, the widows and the orphans, and other people who never get invited anywhere.  These are the people that, on the rare occasion that anyone gives them anything, they are given leftovers, cast-offs, or some other kind of second best.  Imagine if, instead of using paper plates and preparing chicken, if at our next community meal, we served food from Longhorn Steakhouse on real china.  Doing something good, for people who have no hope of doing anything for you in return, is the right kind of good.  It’s the kind of good that God notices, appreciates, and blesses.

But what else can we do?  How else can we do the right kind of good? 

If we look, we find that the author of the book of Hebrews touches on this same idea (Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16).

13:1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?”

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

The author says that the people of the church should start by remembering to love one another as brothers and sisters but also, in line with what Jesus had said about doing things for people who can’t repay you, we are encouraged to show hospitality to strangers as well as those in prison, and people who have been mistreated.  In other words, not just do good, but do the right kind of good.  But in addition to that, there are things that you can do with your own life that God appreciates.  Stay pure.  Love people more than money.  Be content with what you have so that you don’t start loving money, envying others, coveting what they have, and treating people poorly to get ahead.  Be confident after whom you are patterning your life.  Follow God and not humans and look to Jesus and those who have lived good and godly lives for your role models.

There is real danger when we begin to think too much of ourselves.  It might begin as education and self-improvement, and those things are good, but not when we allow our new educated and self-improved persons to think that we did it all ourselves and we don’t need God anymore.  There are good things, but those things might be different than the right kind of good.  If we want to do good, the kind of good that God appreciates and blesses, then we need to do the right kind of good.  We need to love the people who might not love us back, do things for people who can’t do anything in return, love one another, live lives of purity, follow God and not human beings, and model our lives after Jesus and other people who have proven themselves to be godly men and women.

We all want to do good, and there all kinds of good things that we could do.  Churches, and their people, regularly do all kinds of good things.

But let’s be sure that among the good things that we do, we also do…

            …the right kind of good.

 

 

 

 


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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.

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

August 25, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Hebrews 12:18-29                 Luke 12:49-56

Have you ever asked someone to do something, and you just knew that they were making excuses to avoid saying “no” to your face?  You know what I mean.  How many times can someone need to wash their hair when you ask them out on a date?  Or be out of town every single time you ask them to help with something?  Look, if you don’t want to go on that next mission trip, just tell me that you don’t want to go, and I’ll quit bothering you about it.  But, can you imagine how many excuses God has heard when he asks his people to do stuff?  And, don’t you think that God knows that we’re just making excuses?  Of course, he does.

And in Jeremiah 1:4-10 we hear exactly that kind of a discussion as God calls Jeremiah to be his prophet in Israel and in Judea and to speak God’s words to humanity.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Some theologians have estimated that Jeremiah could have been as young as twelve when God called him to be his prophet.  Of course, it would seem strange to hear the words of God from the mouth of a twelve-year-old, of course the King would be unwilling, or at least unlikely, to listen to a twelve-year-old tell him what to do.  Jeremiah wasn’t stupid.  He knew that he would have a hard time because of his age, especially as someone who had not trained as a public speaker and who didn’t have any experience speaking in front of anyone, let alone princes and kings.

But God basically just commands Jeremiah to stop making excuses.  God tells him not to say that he is too young, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, to even too afraid.  Instead, just do what God has called you to do, just go to the places that God has called you to go to, and just stop making excuses.  God knows what he is doing and if God has called you, then God still knows what he is doing and has a plan to do it that involves you… even if you’re too  young, or too old, or too inexperienced, or too unskilled, or too untrained, or too afraid. 

Even if you are afraid, even if you are all those things, just do it anyway and trust that God knows what he is doing.

Jeremiah was afraid that people wouldn’t listen to him or respect him, and he was right.  He was often disrespected and, for the most part, no one listened to him.  But that wasn’t just because he was young.  The people who have carried God’s messages have often, if not always, had that problem.  Prophets, teachers, preachers, and evangelists of all kinds have had similar experiences. 

Even Jesus.

In Luke 13:10-17 we hear yet another story of when the leaders of the church criticized Jesus for doing the things that God had called him to do simply because they had made “the rules” more important that God.

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So, come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

Jesus is criticized for doing work on the Sabbath because he healed someone who had been crippled and suffering for eighteen years.  Holy cow!  Can you imagine the relief that she felt?  Can you imagine the joy?  And can you imagine what was going through her mind as her own church leaders criticized Jesus for doing the thing that brought her that joy?  Can you imagine what she felt as she realized that if Jesus had only followed the rules, he probably would have left town before he could heal her?  And even if not, she would have suffered for at least another day. 

But Jesus has a different answer. 

Jesus’ answer is that it was the teachers and the leaders who were wrong about God.  Yes, God has rules.  Yes, we are expected to obey them.  But those rules should never become so important that they become unchangeable dogma that overwhelms the heart of God.  Yes, we are called to keep a Sabbath and take a day of rest and spend time with God.  Yes, we should avoid work if we’re going to try to get some rest.  But (and this is vitally important) healing is not work.  Freedom is not work.  Mercy, decency, kindness, compassion, and love are not work.  These are the things that reflect the heart of God, and all these things are far more important than some religious doctrine, dogma, or some arbitrary set of rules that were written by human beings.  Just this week I heard stories about churches who criticized people because they were divorced, or remarried, or had tattoos, or showed too much skin, or had a big bosom, or because they accidently took a new medication incorrectly.  As a church, before we ever get too involved in enforcing “the rules,” we would do well to look deeper to see exactly who wrote them and how they compare to the heart of God.

So, with the coming of Jesus, with his death and resurrection, how do we see the world, and the church differently?  How do we respond to the call of God and how is it different than it was when God called Jeremiah?  The Apostle Paul provides at least a partial answer to that question in Hebrews 12:18-29.

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

Through the stories that we heard about the ministry of Moses and Joshua, and in the centuries since Moses, and especially with the coming of Jesus, we have learned more about the heart of God.  Paul reminds us that we no longer fear God in the way that you would fear a tyrant as people often did in the time of Moses.  Instead, the city of God is known to be a place of peace and joy.  It is the church and the home of Jesus Christ and all the people who have put their trust in him.  When we come to God, we come to the place where the righteous will be made perfect and where Jesus is the mediator and for all of us through the new covenant in which Jesus has paid for our forgiveness and repaired our relationship with God.

And in that place of peace and forgiveness, we should take care not to say “No” to God.  How can we turn away from a God who has already done so much for us?  We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and so we should be filled with reverence and awe and be thankful for all that we have been given.  We should stop focusing on the minutia, the details, the doctrine, the dogma, and the rules that God never wrote in the first place and instead focus on his heart.  Like Jeremiah, we must stop making excuses and get on with the work of answering God’s call and telling the world about the healing, freedom, mercy, decency, compassion, and love of God.  We are called to do the work of the kingdom of God. We are called to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Each of us is called to do something for the kingdom of God.  We may not all be called to be prophets, pastors, or evangelist, but all of us are called…

…to have the heart of God.

 

 

 


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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.

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.