Fear

Special General Conference

Fear

This is it.

As I write this, the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church will begin its session at the end of this week.  Delegates from around the world have already begun their journeys to St. Louis for their deliberations.  This appears to be a great watershed moment and the future of the United Methodist Church will be forever changed.

We worry.

Some of us may even experience fear.

I admit to being concerned.  Many of the proposals specifically designed to hold our church together will instead drive the church apart or accelerate its decline. 

So, what will we do?

My advice, to those who have asked me, is to relax (a little).  There are many proposals that the General Conference will consider but they are not obligated to pass any of them.  They might choose one, but it is more likely that they will craft something new from pieces taken from among the various proposals or, at the very least, modify one of those proposals before passing it.  There is also a reasonable chance that they won’t pass anything at all and decide that the best way to keep us together, however unhappily, is not to change anything.  And finally, there is a chance that some elements of whatever may get “kicked down the road” for debate at the regular General Conference in 2020.

But, assuming that the General Conference passes something, then what?

Still, my advice is that we should still not get excited too quickly.

Some proposed changes may require ratification by the annual conferences and that would take a year before the results were known.  But even if a major change were to be passed by the Special General Conference, many of those changes would require Annual Conference action.  And, since our Annual Conference doesn’t meet until June, nothing could happen until then, and understanding the difficulty of preparing that legislation for the Annual Conference, there is a fair chance that we wouldn’t take any action as a conference until June of 2020.  Other actions that are being proposed would open a window for churches to decide and in most cases, we would have a year or so to choose a path forward.

Are you confused?  Of course, you are.

At this point the road ahead looks like a bowl of spaghetti, or a road map of the Los Angeles freeways.  That is precisely why I have been advising folks not to get too excited.  The path ahead, for now, is confusing and unknown.  But, once the General Conference passes something, whether that is next month or in 2020, then the path ahead, and our options, will become much clearer.

And until it does, we will continue to be in ministry to the people around us as Christ Church has for over a hundred years.  For now, we should continue to pray for all of the General Conference delegates.

Trust that God knows what is going to happen.

Have faith that God is in control.

Try not to worry.

And fear not.

 

“So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

– Isaiah 41:10

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

God Hates Church

“God Hates Church”

August 07, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

 

Do you remember playing pretend and actually using your imagination?

Today we’re going to begin by playing a game with your imagination.

This is going to be a little weird.

Imagine… that every Sunday there are church services in your local bank.  These are not services to worship God, but services to worship money.  Each week people gather to sing songs about deposit slips and ATM’s and occasionally a really old song about real human tellers that smiled.  People stand up occasionally to share stories about how their debit or credit cards changed their lives and the bank president preacher delivers a message about the importance of maintaining a healthy balance.

I warned you that this was going to be weird.

But over time, the stockholders of the bank begin to notice that while the worship services at the bank are just as passionate as they once were, there are a lot of people who aren’t customers of the bank and are known to be deadbeats who don’t have any money.  They love to sing the songs about money, but they don’t actually want to earn any, or save any, of their own.  For them, it’s the passion of the worship experience, and the fellowship of the community that’s important and not the money.

This is weird, first of all because it is difficult for us to imagine that people would worship at the bank (despite the fact that we know a lot of people who already worship their money).  But there is a second layer of weird because the people who are worshipping at the bank reach a point where they don’t even care about the money.  And we wonder why they would even go to the bank if they didn’t have any money and weren’t a regular bank customer.

But move that story back to the church instead of the bank, and substitute God for money, and this is essentially the story that we have in Isaiah (Isaiah 1:1, 10-20)…

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.

Right off the bat, God refers to the leaders of Israel as if they were from Sodom and her people as if they were from Gomorrah, but then God says that he doesn’t care about their sacrifices, or their prayers, or their offerings, incense, holy days, celebrations, feasts, or festivals.  In today’s language, God says, I don’t care about your worship, I hate your church, I despise Christmas and I reject Easter.  You come to worship, but I refuse to listen because you only care about your worship.  Your actions are evil and your hearts are corrupt.

God says that if his people want to be clean again, their hearts must return to God and when they do, their actions will begin to look like the actions of godly people… do right, seek justice, defend the oppressed, and care for the fatherless and the widow.  God makes sure that they know it is not too late to change, but if they do not, they will be destroyed by violence.

The reality that Isaiah tries to communicate to God’s people is that church was supposed to be an expression of their love for God but has become instead simply a travelling show, a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love.  And God says that for him it was never about the show.  It was always about love.  In today’s language, what God says is that if you can’t live like believers, if you can’t love, then God doesn’t care about church, or Christmas, or Easter, or any of it.

We find this same sentiment expressed by the Apostle Paul in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16, where he says,

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.

I like to remind everyone around me that in most contexts, when the word “faith” is used in scripture, it can more easily be understood by replacing it with the word “trust.” What Paul is saying then, is that we trust God, we have confidence and assurance that God will do what God has said that he will do because we have tested him and found him to be worthy of our trust.  And as such, we, like those who have come before us, live by faith and look forward to something better, a world that is better, because we trust that God has prepared such a place for us.  Paul’s description, much like that of Isaiah, reminds us that worshiping God is more about the condition of our heart than about putting on a good show on Sunday morning.

And then in Luke 12:32-40, we hear Jesus emphasize the importance of our heart condition.

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.”

That really is a powerful message.

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

If your treasure is money, your heart will love money.  If your treasure is in pleasure, then that’s where your heart lives.  And if your treasure is in looking good, or even in worship and on making Sunday morning worship services look great, or in overflowing offering plates, then that is where your heart will be also.

But that isn’t what God wants.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do what we do on Sunday morning with as much excellence as we can muster, but what it means is that if our only goal is to put on appearances, then none of it matters and God doesn’t care about any of it.

Jesus says that he will come at an hour when no one will expect him and we must be ready, our hearts must be ready, because on that day there will be no ‘do overs’ or second chances.  Our hearts, on that day, today, and every day, must be focused on God and God alone.

Church is supposed to be an expression of our love for God.  No matter what we do, love has to come first or church will instead become nothing more than a performance for its own sake, a custom or a habit with no love.  God doesn’t want church to be full of people who don’t have an account with him or even care who he is or what he wants.  No matter how passionate, God doesn’t want a church without love.

Without love, God hates church.

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Love… must… come… first.

 

__________
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

_______________

 

* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Choose What is Better

“Choose What is Better”

July 17, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 10:38-42                   Colossians 1:15-23                     Amos 8:1-12

 

Which would you choose, three quarters or a $1 bill?

There’s a joke about a local barber that liked to make fun of one of the neighborhood kids.  “That kid is so stupid,” he would say.  And later, as the boy walked by, the barber would get the attention of everyone in his shop, call to the boy and offer him a choice, a choice between three shiny new quarters or a crisp new $1 bill. Just as the barber had predicted, the boy chose the three quarters and walked away while everyone laughed at him.  The next day one of the customers saw the boy on the street and asked him, “Why did you choose the three quarters instead of the dollar bill?”  At which the boy smiled and said, “Because I can get three quarters from that guy two or three times every week, but as soon as I pick the dollar bill, the game is over.”

Our lives are full of choices.  We make thousands of choices every day whether we realize it or not.

Get up or stay in bed?  Paper or plastic? Democrat or Republican? Television, radio, or internet?  Ford, Chevy, or an import?  Union or non-union?  Soup or Salad?  Exercise or dessert?  Pain or pleasure? Regular or high-test?

But every day we also get to choose between things like spending time with God or spending that time watching television.  Should we spend time reading scripture, or spend it reading the latest pulp fiction novel?

Having choices is nothing new, and in Amos 8:1-12, God outlines his grievances against Israel, many of which were because of the poor choices that God’s people had made.

This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit.“What do you see, Amos?” he asked.

“A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered.

Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “the songs in the temple will turn to wailing. Many, many bodies—flung everywhere! Silence!”

Hear this, you who trample the needy
and do away with the poor of the land,

saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
boosting the price
and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
and the needy for a pair of sandals,
selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.

“Will not the land tremble for this,
and all who live in it mourn?
The whole land will rise like the Nile;
it will be stirred up and then sink
like the river of Egypt.

“In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord,

“I will make the sun go down at noon
and darken the earth in broad daylight.
10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning
and all your singing into weeping.
I will make all of you wear sackcloth
and shave your heads.
I will make that time like mourning for an only son
and the end of it like a bitter day.

11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
“when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
but they will not find it.

God’s principle accusation against the people of Israel is that they are abusing the poor saying that they “trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land.”  They observe the Sabbath and other holy days, but only grudgingly, and they wait impatiently for them to be over so that they can start selling things and making money again.  And when they do reopen, they cheat on the measurement, overcharge their customers, use rigged scales, and cheat any way they can think of including selling the stuff that they swept up off the floor.  They go out of their way to rip off the poor, even buying their slavery when their debt is no more than the cost of a pair of sandals.

Every day we have choices to make.  In the time of Amos, the people chose poorly.

And God says, “I will never forget anything they have done.”

For their love of money, and their offenses committed against the poor, God says that he will rise up and overwhelm them like the Nile floods the land every spring.  Destruction and agony will come to Israel because they only cared for themselves.  And worse, God will bring about a spiritual famine in which people will seek God, seek God’s words, and search out wisdom, but no one will be able to find it.

But there is another way.

In Colossians 1:15-23, Paul reminds us of how our relationship with God has changed.

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

Paul reminds us that there was a time when each of us was an enemy of God because of the things that we did.  But now our lives have been turned around, we are forgiven for the ways that we disobeyed and offended God, and our relationship with God has been repaired because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  Jesus intends to present us to God as perfect and holy… if we continue in faith and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.

Every day we have choices to make.  And even though we have chosen to come to faith in Jesus Christ, our choices today still make a difference.  We have chosen to follow Jesus, but our daily choices can still be choices to do things that can move us away from God and can destroy our relationship with him.

And so, as we move forward, we must remember the words of Jesus in Luke 10:38-42.

38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Martha gets a bad rap for being bothered by her sister’s behavior.  Jesus comes to her house with twenty of thirty guests.  People are packed into the room and overflowing into the next so that they can hear Jesus teach.  And, being a good host, Martha is in the kitchen with her friends and neighbors and whatever help that she can get, trying to make food, and fetch water from the well, and find bedrolls, and whatever else she can think of to make Jesus and his friends comfortable.  But while she is slaving away, she discovers that he own sister, Mary, her absolute best friend and right hand helper, is nowhere to be found.  Instead of helping, Mary is sitting on her behind, listening to Jesus.  But when Martha complains, Jesus explains that Mary had a choice between working in the kitchen and sitting in the living room.  Both of these things were important and either choice was a good and worthwhile choice.  But by listening to Jesus, Mary has chosen what is better.

That little kid knew that even though the men in the barbershop would laugh at him, taking three quarters was a better choice because he could sucker the barber for three more quarters every few days.

The people of Israel chose money and wealth over compassion, mercy, and obedience to God.

Jesus had a choice, and he chose to die in our place so that we could be rescued from death.

Mary had a choice between two options that were both good and important, but knew that listening to Jesus was the better choice.

Every day our lives are filled with choices.  Choices to spend time with God, read scripture, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to love mercy, to pray for others, to love our neighbors, and many other things.

Let us always remember that Jesus has called us to…

…choose what is better.

 

__________
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

_______________

 

* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

God and Weasels

“God and Weasels”

July 10, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 10:25-37              Colossians 1:1-14                  Amos 5:7-17

 

Do you watch the news at all?

Does this year’s political fiasco stir up any questions for you or for your friends?

I suspect that it has, and I think that it should.

Here are some politically charged questions that are often asked by the followers of Jesus Christ as well as your average person on the street.  And, while they are politically charged questions, they deserve thoughtful, theological, answers.

Why do good things happen to bad people?

Why don’t bad things happen to bad people?

Why are there people, that no matter what they do, nothing bad ever seems to ever happen to them?

Why do these same people manipulate the media so that the people don’t ever hear the truth?

The funny thing about these questions is that, while I have put them into a 21st century context by the way that I worded them, I wasn’t referring specifically to the Bushes, Cheneys, Clintons, or anyone else.  In fact, I drew these questions from a story in the Bible from almost three thousand years ago.  (Amos 7:7-17)

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees.15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel, and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city, and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up, and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile, away from their native land.’”

Amos was just a guy herding sheep in the middle of nowhere until God called him to take a message to the people of Israel.  But when he did, the priest at the nation’s most important place of worship, the place where the king would have sacrificed and worshipped, Bethel, sends a message to King Jeroboam that Amos is trying to undermine his authority and destroy Israel.  In our terminology, he is conspiring to control the news cycle and stifle free speech, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear the truth, so that the people won’t have a chance to hear message from God that Amos is preaching.

Amaziah the priest goes on to tell Amos to go home and not to bother coming to bring God’s words to the king, to the capital city, and to the nation’s most prominent place of worship.  But Amos’s answer is this: If God has called me to bring a message to Israel then I will bring a message to Israel.  And if you want to stop me, then God has a message of disaster for you as well.

King Jeroboam didn’t like bad news and he didn’t like his people to hear bad news either.  In fact, he had been manipulating the news for so long that he didn’t want the people to hear the truth at all.  On top of that, the church, along with the nation’s most important priest, was one of his leading coconspirators. Together, they had been building something that God says doesn’t measure up, a nation, and policies, morals and ethics, that don’t match God’s standards.  And the message that Amos brought was that God himself was coming with his plumb line, his measuring stick, to see what is built to standard, to see what is straight, to find what is crooked, to test them, to measure them, and everything, and everyone, that didn’t measure up would be destroyed.

Perhaps one of the most important messages that we learn from Amos is that while God’s justice may not always be immediate, or as fast as we would hope it would be, God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.  Ignoring God does not make God, or God’s justice, go away and ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them no matter how wealthy or important (or unimportant) you may be.

Nearly eight hundred years later, in the time of Jesus, people haven’t changed.  Leaders of the nation and of the church are still trying to manipulate and misinterpret the words of God for their own benefit but Jesus isn’t having any of it.  (Luke 10:25-37)

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 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.”

This man, who is described as an expert in Jewish law, comes to Jesus and seems confused by the meaning of one of the two fundamental laws of God, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  He accepts that this is a fundamental law of God, and he accepts that he is commanded to love his neighbor, but when it comes time to decide who his neighbor might be, he wants to play fast and loose with the definition.

He knew that he wasn’t loving and so, because “he wanted to justify himself” he tries to get Jesus to give him a definition of “neighbor” that will allow him to weasel out of loving people that he doesn’t like.

But Jesus isn’t having any of that noise.

Jesus tells him a story, in which the hero of the story, the most loving, and most godly character, is a man that every Jew has been raised and trained to hate with every fiber of his being, an enemy that they disliked more than they hated the Romans, a Samaritan.  In the end, the teacher of the law admits that it was his enemy that showed mercy, but even then he can’t bring himself to even say the word “Samaritan” out loud.

Jesus wants us to know that just like it was in the time of Amos, we can’t change God’s rules just because we don’t like them.  Redefining words, or misinterpreting scripture, to make ourselves look good is not acceptable.

We cannot follow the way of the weasel.

There is another way.

As the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Colossae, he begins by complimenting them because the things that they have been doing have people all over talking about them. (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.

The faith of the church in Colossae, their love, and their ministry, is bearing fruit and people are talking about them so much that Paul keeps hearing about them as he travels on his missionary journeys.  And so, Paul, and his travelling companions, are continually in prayer for the Colossian church so that God would continue the good work there, strengthen them, and give them great endurance and patience so that the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ might continue to grow throughout the world.

Jesus calls us to follow him and to obey his teaching.  But the followers of Jesus Christ are called to do things his way and not to redefine words, reinterpret, and misinterpret scripture so that we make the gospel message into something it isn’t just so that we can look good.

Instead, we are reminded of God’s promise in Deuteronomy 30:9-10 where it says, “The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your ancestors, if you obey the Lord your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

God’s justice may not always come as fast as we would hope it would but God has not forgotten.  The weasels will get what they deserve, in God’s time.

Ignoring God does not make God go away.

Ignoring God does not make God’s justice go away.

Ignoring God’s laws does not protect you from the consequences of breaking them.

We are called to follow the way of Jesus Christ… and not the way of the weasel.

__________
Did you benefit from reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

_______________

 

* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Future Shapes Our Present

“The Future Shapes Our Present”
November 29, 2015
(First Sunday of Advent)
By John Partridge

Scripture:   Jeremiah 33:14-16 1      Thessalonians 3:9-13      Luke 21:25-36

I want to share with you two statements that, at first, just seem wrong.

The course of our lives is straightened when we remember the future.

What will happen in the future, changes the present.

These statements seem a little odd to us. We are accustomed to sayings like “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (George Santayana) And it makes sense to us to remember the past. It is likewise sensible for us to learn from our own past mistakes as well as our successes. But how can we learn from the future, or have our present shaped by the future, if the future itself is unknown to us?

That just seems obvious doesn’t it?

We cannot know the future. Right?

Fortune tellers and psychics are just scam artists. Aren’t they?

And the answers are, of course we can’t and of course they are…

…Unless, of course, God is the one who tells you the future.

This idea of God telling the future (I do not use the word “predicting” because God doesn’t predict or guess, God knows) is both a critical and a key factor in the story of Christmas. When God foretells the future, we have a name for that, and we call it prophecy. As an example of what I am talking about, let us begin this morning with Jeremiah 33:14-16, where we find God’s prophet, Jeremiah, warning Israel that their corruption would bring God’s judgment upon the entire nation. But amid all of the destruction and death that was to come, there was also good news of hope.

14 “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will fulfill the good promise I made to the people of Israel and Judah.

15 “‘In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David’s line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The Lord Our Righteous Savior.’

Through Jeremiah, God proclaims that he will keep his promises, that despite Israel’s judgment, and despite the coming destruction, that God still intends to place a descendant of David on the throne as king. In these words, it is not difficult to see a foreshadowing, a foretelling of the future, of the birth of Jesus. But we must remember that Jeremiah lived at the same time as Ezekiel, Habakkuk, and Obediah more than six hundred years before Jesus was born. Psychics and fortune tellers do not come even close.

When God speaks of the future, God doesn’t guess. God knows.

And so, because of Jeremiah, and hosts of other Old Testament prophets, we know, and have great confidence, that God knows exactly how the future will unfold, and will, occasionally, share that knowledge through his prophets. In fact, in the story of Jesus alone, we can find more than 400 prophecies of the Old Testament prophets that were fulfilled. And so, with this understanding and confidence, we look forward and find Luke 21:25-36, where Jesus proclaims a prophecy that is fulfilled in two parts. First, Jesus presents a prophecy that was fulfilled in our past and second, an unfulfilled prophecy that remains in our future. Jesus said,

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.

32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

In this, we see these two parts, those parts of Jesus’ prophecy that have been fulfilled, as well as those that remain in our future. These two parts are common elements of prophecy, and are often referred to as the “already and not yet.” In this particular passage, some of these things were seen and understood to have happened in 70 AD with the destruction of the Israel’s temple by the Roman army. But, at the same time, many of these elements have clearly not yet happened and so, even today, remain in the future.

And now we put these pieces together. First, God has proven to us that he knows the future and that he sometimes shares that knowledge with his people. Just as the people of Israel were comforted by knowing that “the years the locusts had eaten” (last week from the prophet Joel) would be returned to them, and that the promised Messiah would one day be their king forever, we trust that the words of Jesus are true. Jesus not only foretold the sacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, but was also warning us to watch for the signs that signaled the end of time. Jesus warns us that there will be a time when the good times are rolling, when the wine will flow and the parties will rock, this will also be a time when the stress of day to day life will weigh us down as a terrible burden. It may be that the drinking and partying will be a way of destressing or forgetting our stress for a few hours, but however it happens, Jesus says, if we are not careful, that day will close on us like a trap. We are warned not to allow the alcohol, or the partying, or the worry and stress to distract us from what is really happening. No matter what else is going on around us, we must keep our focus on Jesus, live justly, and be ready to stand in judgment.

And so, if that is the future that we expect, how can, how should, our present be shaped by it?

In his letter to the church in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13), Paul answers exactly that question.

9 How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy we have in the presence of our God because of you? 10 Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you again and supply what is lacking in your faith.

11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

How can we thank God for the people who have come into our lives and given us joy? We can pray that we would see them again, that God would bless them, and supply what they need to grow stronger in their faith. But more than that, we should love more, love each other more, and love everyone else more. And finally, we should pray that God would strengthen us so that we can live lives that are just, blameless, and holy.

As we begin this season of Advent, God call upon us to both remember the past and look to the future.

We must learn from the past, so that we may become more than we used to be.

But we must also learn from the future…

…so that we can become the people that God intends for us to be.

Learning to See (Part 2 – The World)

Learning to See (Part 2 – The World)
June 21, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: 1 Samuel 17: 1-11, 20-24, 32-49 Mark Mark 4:35-41 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

You may not have heard of Franz Harary, but you have probably seen his work. Franz Harary designed all of the illusions that were used on Michael Jackson’s 1984 Victory tour, the 1989 Super Bowl, and he has levitated the Taj Mahal, and made both the Sphinx and the Space Shuttle disappear. In addition to Mr. Harary, most of us have seen Siegfried and Roy make lions and tigers disappear and practically everyone remembers watching David Copperfield make the Statue of Liberty disappear.

Although these folks, and people like them, are often called magicians, many of them insist that they be referred to as illusionists, which is a more accurate description. What these men and women do is not magic, but an illusion designed to make you see what isn’t there, not see what is there, and in general make their audience believe that they saw something that they really didn’t see.

Last week we discussed how we live in two worlds at the same time, a physical world and a spiritual world. Although we live in these two worlds, we cannot always see everything that exists in the spiritual world regardless of the reality of those things. It isn’t that they are an illusion, but that we are unable to see everything that exists in our reality. In 1 Samuel 17 we discover that David, even though he was too young to fight in the army, was able to see what others could not. (1 Samuel 17:1-11, 20-24, 32-49)

Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled at Sokoh in Judah.

They pitched camp at Ephes Dammim, between Sokoh and Azekah. 2 Saul and the Israelites assembled and camped in the Valley of Elah and drew up their battle line to meet the Philistines. 3 The Philistines occupied one hill and the Israelites another, with the valley between them.

4 A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine camp. His height was six cubits and a span. [about 9’9’] 5 He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekels[125 lb.]; 6 on his legs he wore bronze greaves, and a bronze javelin was slung on his back. 7 His spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels. [15 lb.] His shield bearer went ahead of him.

8 Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel, “Why do you come out and line up for battle? Am I not a Philistine, and are you not the servants of Saul? Choose a man and have him come down to me. 9 If he is able to fight and kill me, we will become your subjects; but if I overcome him and kill him, you will become our subjects and serve us.” 10 Then the Philistine said, “This day I defy the armies of Israel! Give me a man and let us fight each other.” 11 On hearing the Philistine’s words, Saul and all the Israelites were dismayed and terrified.

While this is happening, David, being too young to go to battle, is at home watching the sheep but his father sends him to the front with food for his brothers and a gift for their commander.

20 Early in the morning David left the flock in the care of a shepherd, loaded up and set out, as Jesse had directed. He reached the camp as the army was going out to its battle positions, shouting the war cry. 21 Israel and the Philistines were drawing up their lines facing each other. 22 David left his things with the keeper of supplies, ran to the battle lines and asked his brothers how they were. 23 As he was talking with them, Goliath, the Philistine champion from Gath, stepped out from his lines and shouted his usual defiance, and David heard it. 24 Whenever the Israelites saw the man, they all fled from him in great fear.

Everyone, that is, except David. David is furious that Goliath is making all sorts of threats and insults against God and his people and so despite being too young to be in the army, he goes to King Saul and volunteers to fight the giant.

32 David said to Saul, “Let no one lose heart on account of this Philistine; your servant will go and fight him.”

33 Saul replied, “You are not able to go out against this Philistine and fight him; you are only a young man, and he has been a warrior from his youth.”

34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. 36 Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. 37 The LORD who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”

Saul said to David, “Go, and the LORD be with you.”

38 Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. 39 David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

“I cannot go in these,” he said to Saul, “because I am not used to them.” So he took them off. 40 Then he took his staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine.

41 Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. 42 He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. 43 He said to David, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 “Come here,” he said, “and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!”

45 David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will deliver you into my hands, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head. This very day I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds and the wild animals, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give all of you into our hands.”

48 As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him. 49 Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground.

In last week’s scripture lesson we learned that God saw people differently than we do, but here we see that God sees the world differently than we do, and that God’s people can learn to see the world, to see reality, like it really is. To the world, and to most of Israel’s army, Goliath looked unbeatable. He was over nine feet tall in a day when we know average men were rarely much over five feet tall. What the soldiers saw was a giant who was almost twice their size, wearing armor that weighed nearly as much as they did, and carrying a spear whose head weighed as much as two gallons of water. At first that might not sound like much, but if you want to try this out, remember that a spear is usually at least as tall as the man that carries it. So take a stick that’s as tall as you are, tie two gallons of water at the end of it (feel free to use a big rock or a bowling ball), grab the stick in the middle and try to throw it. I doubt that you will throw it very far. Goliath must have been huge.

Everyone could easily see that defeating him looked impossible.

But David wasn’t looking with eyes that saw only one world. David saw this world through the lens of another, spiritual world. When everyone else looked at Goliath they saw a giant. What David saw was a man who, although far larger (probably every bit of twice as large) than David, but who was much, much smaller than David’s God. With God’s help, David, despite his youth, had already defeated a lion and bear, both of which were much larger than he was, and so David knew that, with God’s help, Goliath would be no different.

Because David knew and trusted God, he saw the entire world in a different way.

Jesus teaches the disciples this same lesson in Mark 4:35-41.

35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”

To the disciples, the storm, a completely natural phenomenon, was totally outside of their control. Everyone knows that the weather does whatever it will do and human beings don’t have much of anything to say about it. But that is only a part of the complete reality. Jesus sees the unseen. Jesus sees the spiritual part of a natural world, and by seeing the spiritual world, Jesus understood reality in a different way. In seeing the complete reality, the reality of the natural world and the reality of the spiritual world, Jesus knew that the natural world answered to God. The lesson that Jesus teaches the disciples is that through faith, with God’s help, we are able to do things that would otherwise seem to be naturally impossible.

In 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Paul explains that they did whatever they could to be good servants of God and some of the things that they did seem to be, at first, odd and not at all what most people would do to be a good servant.

Paul says that they through “great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; 5 in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; 6 in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; 7 in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8 through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 9 known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

The list that Paul presents doesn’t make much sense unless we realize that there is more to the world than just the natural, physical world that we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch with our senses. But when we are able to see and understand the world that is unseen, we are able to do far more, with God’s help, than might be expected by people who can only see and understand the natural world.

We have seen this kind of vision in the horrible shooting in Charlotte this week. Although the entire nation is horrified at this kind of hatred and violence, and rightly so, the families of those who were murdered have been gracious and forgiving with one of them, publicly forgiving their sister’s murderer all because they know that this reality is not all that there is. They know that death is not the end that it appears to be and they know that although their loved ones have been taken from them, they will once again, be reunited.

The world we live in is not an illusion and neither is the spiritual world.

We live in two worlds and, apart from God, we can only see one of them. But with faith, devotion, study, and with God’s help, we can learn to see, feel, and experience the whole world, the real reality, in a new and powerful way.

Learning to See (Part 1 – Others)

Scripture:

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13           Mark 4:26-34           2 Corinthians 5:6-17

Anyone who has ever broken their arm, leg, or had surgery on their shoulder or hip can tell you that after surgery when you are finally done with casts and slings, crutches, and walkers, then the real work starts. After the your body has healed, then you begin the longer and harder task of rehabilitation, rebuilding muscle strength, and relearning how to use something you thought you had, but realized that things don’t work the way that they used to. I have shared with you before that after receiving my cochlear implant, I am still relearning how to hear and every time they update the program, everything changes again.

But for the most part, our ability to see is different.

When we get glasses, they make what we see more focused. When we have cataracts removed, it makes our vision clearer. If we wear something like night vision goggles, it is quite possible that we might need to relearn to recognize some objects that look differently than they do with normal vision. But in most cases what we see is, in fact, what is there. There is never a time when we have to relearn to see…

…Except when we become followers of Jesus Christ.

As followers of Jesus we are called to see things, not as they appear to be, but to see them the way that God sees them.

We begin this morning in the book of 1 Samuel where God calls his prophet to anoint a new king in place of Saul. (1 Samuel 15:34-16:13)

34 Then Samuel left for Ramah, but Saul went up to his home in Gibeah of Saul. 35 Until the day Samuel died, he did not go to see Saul again, though Samuel mourned for him. And the LORD regretted that he had made Saul king over Israel.

16:1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The LORD said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the LORD.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

4 Samuel did what the LORD said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the LORD. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”

7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The LORD has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the LORD chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

Jesse had good looking sons. They were tall and handsome and well constructed. And as they passed in front of Samuel, several times, if not every time, Samuel thought, “Surely this one looks like a king,” but God doesn’t see the world the same way that human beings see it. Each time that Samuel thought he saw a king, God told him that he was seeing it wrong. This happened so many times that Jesse ran out of sons and Samuel had to ask if he had any more. And the only son that was left was the kid brother they had left out in the fields to watch the sheep.

No one knew that Samuel had come to anoint a new king, but no one, not even his own father, thought that David was important enough to invite to dinner with God’s prophet. But the son that had been overlooked by his family was the very one that God had in mind. God’s vision is different than ours. God sees things differently than we do. And that means that things are not always what they appear to be. What we think we see is not always what is. What our eyes tell us about reality, is not always real.

Paul elaborates on this idea in 2 Corinthians 5:6-17

6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 For we live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 9 So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others. What we are is plain to God, and I hope it is also plain to your conscience. 12 We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but are giving you an opportunity to take pride in us, so that you can answer those who take pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart. 13 If we are “out of our mind,” as some say, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. 14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

Paul says, that we live by faith, and not my sight, which is a good way of saying that the things that we see, aren’t always reality. What is seen with our eyes is not always all that there is to see. For that reason, Paul encourages us to focus on a world that we cannot see, so that we will be rewarded by Jesus on the Day of Judgment.

The followers of Christ, according to Paul, will be questioned by people who take pride in what they can see and we will sometimes be accused (just as Jesus was) of being “out of our mind,” because we choose to ‘see’ with our hearts rather than with our eyes. For that reason, we are called to take pride in what we are doing, take pride in the good that the followers of Jesus are doing, so that we can answer those who are only proud of the things that they can see. We must stop seeing those around us as the world sees them, but instead see others the way that God sees them. Whenever we are in Christ, we are changed and become something new, and Paul encourages us to see the people around us the same way.

God’s way.

And as we learn to see the way that God sees, we realize that the world we are learning to see is the future kingdom of God. In Mark 4:26-34, Jesus described that world this way…

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”

30 Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? 31 It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. 32 Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.”

33 With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. 34 He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything.

Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like a man who is planting seed. While he is the one who put his hand in the sack and scattered the seed, once it left his hand, he is no longer responsible for anything that happens. Instead, “all by itself the soil produces grain.” Once the seed is planted, everything that happens depends on God. Even tiny seeds can grow to produce great sources of shelter and food, but our only responsibility is to plant and to harvest. When we see the world the way that God sees it, we remember that people are not always what they seem. Sometimes the most productive plants grow in unexpected places. Dwight Moody, the great evangelist of the 19th century was brought to Christ when he was a shoe salesman. Billy Graham was a country farmer who came to faith in Jesus at a revival meeting he attended at the request of a friend, and only accepted because his friend offered to let Billy drive his pickup truck.

When we see the world the way that God sees, we remember that just because people look like they are poor, or ugly, or dirty, or drunk, or foreign, or different than us, doesn’t mean that God sees them that way. We remember that God loved all of us long before we were anything close to loveable. God desires for every human being to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and have the opportunity to follow him. It isn’t up to us to choose who hears. Our only calling is to scatter the seed and let God be responsible for growing it.

It isn’t easy to see the way that God sees.

It is hard to doubt our own senses.

But when we choose to follow Jesus…

…we must learn to see all over again.