You Can’t Fix Stupid

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You Can’t Fix Stupid

September 12, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 1:20-33                   Mark 8:27-38             James 3:1-12

On August 4th, 1991, comic strip writer Jeff MacNelly, coined a phrase in his “Shoe” comic strip that has since passed into common usage across the nation and has been widely used in magazines, newspapers, movies, and at least one book title.  In that comic, newspaper editor “Shoe” calls downstairs to the press his press operator Eugene and says, “Yo, Eugene, how goes it down in the pressroom?”  and Eugene answers, “Horrid!  It’s your editorial page.  I can fix almost anything that runs on those presses… bit I can’t fix stupid.”

Some years later, in the movie “Forrest Gump,” the title character similarly says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Given the frequency with which most of us do stupid things, it isn’t surprising that someone would say these kinds of things.  The surprising thing is that it took this long for someone to say it, particularly since a similar sentiment is expressed by God in Proverbs 1:20-33.  You’re probably surprised, but I’m serious.  In this passage we hear wisdom speak as if it were a real person, and it begins this way:

20 Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?
23 Give heed to my reproof;
I will pour out my thoughts to you;
    I will make my words known to you.
24 Because I have called and you refused,
    have stretched out my hand and no one heeded,
25 and because you have ignored all my counsel
    and would have none of my reproof,
26 I also will laugh at your calamity;
    I will mock when panic strikes you,
27 when panic strikes you like a storm,
    and your calamity comes like a whirlwind,
    when distress and anguish come upon you.
28 Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer;
    they will seek me diligently, but will not find me.
29 Because they hated knowledge
    and did not choose the fear of the Lord,
30 would have none of my counsel,
    and despised all my reproof,
31 therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way
    and be sated with their own devices.
32 For waywardness kills the simple,
    and the complacency of fools destroys them;
33 but those who listen to me will be secure
    and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”

Today we may say, “You can’t fix stupid” or “Stupid is as stupid does” but three thousand years ago God simply said, “How long will you love being stupid?”  God says that the skeptics delight too much in their skepticism and fools just hate knowledge but in doing so, all of them have ignored God’s advice and refused to hear God’s reprimands.  The result, God says, is that when the inevitable, but completely avoidable, disaster comes, and when they are up to their necks in alligators, in a full-fledged panic, and then call upon God to help them, God will not answer, and they will be utterly unable to find him.  God says that because they hated knowledge, and refused to listen to God’s advice, he will allow them to suffer the consequences of their stupidity. 

Apparently, even God can’t fix stupid.  Or, more correctly, God simply won’t fix stupid.

In Proverbs, a personified Wisdom declares that the people who ignore God’s instruction, advice, counsel, and reproof are simple, stubborn, and stupid and God warns that if we ignore him in this way, he will leave us to suffer the consequences of our actions because the calamities and disasters that we experience will have been completely avoidable.  But even though we think we’re doing better than that at listening to God’s instructions, Jesus reprimands Peter for something that is a lot easier for us to fail at doing.  In Mark 8:27-38, we hear this:

27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” 29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” 30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

While Jesus is traveling to the villages around Caesarea Philippi, or the area we now know as the Golan Heights, he has a discussion with his disciples about who the people say that he is, and who the disciples think that he is.  But as Jesus describes his upcoming trial, death, and resurrection, Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for being such a fatalist and for thinking such negative thoughts.  But Jesus not only rebukes Peter in return, but he flat-out calls him “Satan” for losing his focus on the things of God and thinking too much about earthly politics and power.

Twenty-one centuries later, losing our focus on the divine, and thinking too much about politics, power, and other earthly problems remains an astoundingly easy thing to do.   And in that case, Jesus’ advice to us is to commit everything that we have, our time, our money, and even our lives to the cause and the mission of God, his kingdom, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

At the end of this passage, Jesus’ words echo those of Wisdom in Proverbs 1.  In Proverbs, Wisdom declares that God will leave those who ignored his teaching and correction to struggle without him through the disasters they could have avoided, and in Mark, Jesus declares that the people who abandon Jesus in this generation will be abandoned by God on the day of judgement.

But if the consistent message of God is that he will leave us in our time of trouble and abandon us on the day of judgement, then the message of scripture is hopeless and terrifying. 

But thank God, that’s not even a little bit true.

The message of scripture is quite the opposite.

In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother writes to the church and explains how we can make sure that these things never happen to us.  He says:

3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we guide their whole bodies. Or look at ships: though they are so large that it takes strong winds to drive them, yet they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits.

How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and brackish water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers and sisters, yield olives, or a grapevine, figs? No more can saltwater yield fresh.

If I were to summarize James’ words as they apply to our message today, I would simply say that they mean…

Start small.

You don’t need to have a seminary degree.  You don’t need to read deep and difficult to understand treatises on theology, sociology, and morality.  You just need to start small.

Horses are huge, but they can be guided with a bridle and a bit that’s about the size of a pencil.  Ships are gigantic but they are guided by a rudder that is a tiny fraction of their size.  Fires can be incredibly destructive, but they get started by a tiny spark.  And if we want to get started doing the right thing, we need to start small and get control of our tongue.  And to do that, we need to take control of the choices that we make.

And that’s what all of this is about.  We all make choices.  We make hundreds, even thousands of choices every day.  We choose whether to brush our teeth, whether we will brush up and down, or from side to side.  We choose what clothes to wear, what shoes will be comfortable, what to eat for breakfast, how we want to make our coffee or tea, or other breakfast beverage, we make choices every waking moment of every day we walk the earth.  And among those choices are the words that come out of our mouths, and the things with which we will fill our hearts, our minds, and the very substance of our lives.  We get to choose whether we want to read the words of God.  We get to choose whether we listen to God’s instruction and advice.  And by making those choices, we will choose whether our spring is filled with salt water or fresh water, and whether the words that come out of our mouths are life giving.

In Proverbs, God says that he will pour out his thoughts, make his words known, call out to us, and stretch his hand out to catch us and to hold us.  But we still get to choose whether we will listen, hear, and obey.  We get to choose whether we will ignore God’s instruction and advice, but scripture is clear that making that choice… well…, is just stupid.

The message of scripture is clear about God’s incredible love and care for all his people, but we are free to ignore God.  We are free to ignore God’s instruction and advice, and we are free to live our lives without him.

But God’s reply is that if we stubbornly make those choices, God will allow us to be consumed by the consequences of those choices.

All that is required, is that we begin to make good choices.

Feel free to start small.

But be smart… and choose wisely.

Because there is a point after which…

…you can’t fix stupid.


*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.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Religion: Doers or Deception?

Religion: Doers or Deception?

August 29, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Song of Solomon 2:8-13              Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23             James 1:17-27

Have you ever been called a fake?

One of the worst accusations that our friends and acquaintances can level at us, is the accusation of being fake.  We don’t like fakes.  We don’t like fake friends, we don’t want to buy a fake Rolex watch, or a television that’s supposed to be a good name brand that turns out to be a fake.  The government has teams of people that regulate commerce by at least attempting to prevent the sale of fake products and it’s important.  Fake purses or fake watches fraudulently cost consumers money, but fake computer chips, or fake bolts, or fake gas valves, in critical applications can be deadly.  The government even has an entire department, the department of the Treasury, and the Secret Service, whose job it is to prevent people from printing fake money because enough fake currency could potentially destabilize our entire economy. 

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

Fake money can hurt the economy.  Fake products can hurt people.  And fake friends can do serious damage to our psychological and emotional well-being.

But there’s at least one more fake that we need to be concerned about, and that’s fake religion.

But before we get too far in that direction, let’s begin, not by looking at what is fake, but at what is real.  Let’s look at what real religion, real faith, looks like.  And to do that, let’s begin by reading from God’s love story contained in the Song of Solomon 2:8-13.

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

The story contained in the Song of Solomon isn’t just about the love that King Solomon had for his bride (or at least one of them) and she for him, but its inclusion in scripture at least hints that this love story might also be an allegory for God’s love for his people and, by extension, the church.  It describes a love that is tender, passionate, and filled with longing.  And, if we understand it this way, at the end of this passage we hear God calling his people to “come away” with him.  But even if, as some interpreters assert, that this is only about love, and not about our relationship with God, it still describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.  And although he never references the Song of Songs, that kind of pure relationship seems to be exactly what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not liveaccording to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the scribes rigorously and religiously adhered to traditions that were not required by scripture, and they criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following them as well.  Their implication was that the disciples, and Jesus, were not sufficiently faithful to God because they failed to adhere to these man-made traditions.  And Jesus’ response was to criticize them for treating the traditions of human beings as if they were the doctrines and teachings of God, and at the same time, ignoring and disobeying the real commandments of God.  Jesus says that the intentions of our hearts matter, what we think about matters, that sex, theft, murder, greed, wickedness, loose living, envy, slander, pride, deception, and sometimes even just foolishness are evil things that come from the inside, and it is those things, the things that that come out of us, that defile us. 

Jesus says that it is the faith of the Pharisees that is lacking and not the faith of his disciples.  Because, while his disciples may have eaten lunch without washing their hands and dishes in exactly the right way, it is the Pharisees who are harboring these sorts of evil desires inside themselves.  For Jesus, real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

Jesus’ brother James echoes this same language, and this same understanding, as he describes what real faith looks like in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ in James 1:17-27 when he says…

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselvesin a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In this passage, and in a whole lot of other ones, James makes the argument that faith is not an abstract concept, thought experiment, or something that is only internal and private.  Faith is not something that we do for show, it is not an act, but instead is life changing and transformative.  Faith isn’t something that we can practice in the privacy of our own homes without anyone noticing, but changes who we are, how we think, how we care for ourselves and one another, and is reflected outward in everything that we do.  Faith, James says, is revealed not when we become believers, but when we become doers of God’s word.

The Song of Solomon describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.

And since we know that faith is an expression of the loving relationship that we have with God, we understand when Jesus says that real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

And just like a real, tender, and passionate loving relationship, real faith changes us.  We’ve seen it all in the movies as well as in real life.  When two people are really in love with one another, it’s almost impossible to hide it.  Real love isn’t fake or deceptive.  Real love, and real faith, aren’t just words, but are pure, life changing, and transformative.  They change the way that we think, the way that we live, and the way that we act, and they are lived out in everything that we do.

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

We don’t like fake purses, fake watches, fake televisions, fake money, fake friends, or fake relationships.

And the same is true about faith.

Real faith isn’t just and act. 

Real faith isn’t evil.

Real faith can’t have anything to do with fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply grows out of a pure and loving relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

Real faith produces generosity, truth, patience, righteousness, purity, openness, humility, mercy, compassion, and love that is unstained by the world.

If it’s real, faith isn’t something that we only have in our heads, or even in our hearts.  When its real, faith is transformative and is revealed, and demonstrated to the world in everything that we do.

Let us not only be hearers of God’s word.

Let us instead commit ourselves to being doers of the word so that the world can know that what we have…

…is real.


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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.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Dimensional Rifts, and You

Dimensional Rifts and You*

February 14, 2021

by Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 2:1-12                        Mark 9:2-9                             2 Corinthians 4:3-6

If you are a fan of Star Trek, science fiction, comic books, the Marvel moviemaking universe, or physics, you have almost certainly heard of dimensional rifts.  For those of you who have not, the basic idea is that other universes exist, within the same space as our own, but slightly out of phase with ours in some way, or more to the point, in a slightly different dimension than our own.  In comic books this is used to explain how Captain Marvel and Superman can both exist on a planet known as Earth but have never met one another or how Doctor Strange can magically travel from one place to another.  In Star Trek, it provides an opportunity for the heroes to encounter strange new aliens, or the basis of cloaking technology, or for the famous episode in which a good Captain Kirk fights with an evil Captain Kirk as well as how we remember Mr. Spock with a goatee.  In all these cases, a dimensional rift is place where, by accident or design, two different worlds that are ordinarily separated can meet, and even interact, with one another.

But since none of us are characters in comic books, television, or movies, what does any of that have to do with us?  And the answer is that these examples from our imagination might aid our understanding of a few unusual moments that we encounter in scripture.  Our first example of this for today if found in 2 Kings 2:1-12 where we read about the last day of the prophet Elijah’s life on earth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While the spiritual world is normally invisible to those of us in the physical world, there are moments, like this one, when a dimensional rift seems to open between them, and the spiritual world breaks out into ours.  As Elisha cries out in amazement, a chariot, and horses of fire emerge into our physical world and separate Elijah and Elisha just as Elijah is carried into heaven by a tornado of swirling winds.  And, just as suddenly as they appeared, the horses, the chariot, and the whirlwind, disappear back through the rift taking Elijah with them.

At least a part of the message for us is something that both Elijah and Elisha were well aware, that although it is most often unseen by us in the physical world, the spiritual world is just as real as ours and what happens in the spiritual world has an impact on the physical world as well as those of us who inhabit it.  The message of scripture is that the spiritual world is connected to our world, and influences the events of our world, even if it only occasionally breaks through in such a way that it can be seen by us.

Perhaps the most well-known dimensional rift between the spiritual and physical worlds is recorded for us in Mark 9:2-9 where we read the story of Jesus’ transfiguration:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Because much like the angels, Jesus is himself a spiritual creature, during the time of his ministry on earth, he existed in both the spiritual and the physical worlds.  Despite that dual existence, his spiritual presence was not visible to the physical world, until a rift between the two opened on the top of that mountain.  At that moment, and in that place, both the physical and spiritual worlds existed, and were visible in the physical world, at the same time.  Although Mark describes Jesus as being “transfigured” in the presence of Peter, James, and John, we might also think of this as a moment in which the Disciples were simply able to see Jesus as he really was, or how he would ordinarily appear to be in the spiritual world.  And, because our two worlds collided in that moment, the disciples were also able to see Elijah and Moses, men who were long dead in the physical world, but whose lives had continued, uninterrupted, in the spiritual world.

But why does any of that matter to us?

It matters because it has implications for the people, and for the church, in the first, and in the twenty-first centuries.  In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Paul writes to the church to explain our role in sharing the gospel and explains how we, as the followers of Jesus Christ, can be the agents of the spiritual world in the creation of “dimensional rifts.”  Paul says:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

While it may be helpful to think of the spiritual world as being in another dimension or on the “other side” of a dimensional rift the truth, Paul says, is that the “god of this age” that blinds unbelievers to the truth.  And, while some have taught that the “god of this age” is Satan, Paul never describes the enemy of God in this way and likely would never have elevated one of God’s enemies to the status of a “god.”  But what Paul has described as a god, are things like wealth, money, sex, power, selfishness, culture, princes, governments, and other things that can be worshiped in place of the one true God.  Our own sin is what blinds us to the truth of the gospel and to the nearness of the spiritual world.  But, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we have the power to be “dimensional rifts” between the spiritual and the physical worlds.  We have the ability and the power to let light shine out of darkness, to let the light and truth of the spiritual world break out into the darkness of the physical world in which we live.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we can let his spiritual light shine in our hearts so that we can see the truth and so that God’s glory can be revealed to the people around us.

We are the “dimensional rifts.” We are called to be the sources of light and the sources of truth.  We are the ones who can fight against the gods of this age, who can fight against the worship of self, money, power, pleasure, and everything else.  We are the ones who can help our neighbors to see the light of the gospel by letting the light of Jesus shine in our hearts and break through into our spiritual dimension.

You may not be the captain of a starship and it may not be quite like what you might find in an episode of Star Trek, a movie from the Marvel Universe, or a Doctor Strange comic book.  But you are called to be a dimensional rift, and let the light, love, and truth of the spiritual world fill your heart and break out into your neighborhood and your community so that the people around you can see and hear the truth of the gospel of Jesus.

Make it so.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QhG52V8fQE0

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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.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Leader or Servant? – Why Character Matters

“Leader or Servant?”

(Why Character Matters)

September 23, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 31:10-31                 Mark 9:30-37             James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a

Have you ever seen someone use authority well?

Sometime around 1995 I was working in research and development on a new type of control system for residential forced-air heating systems.  We had developed the technology in the laboratory and were ready to install several systems, in various parts of the country, run them in the homes of real people, and collect data on their operation.  One of the homes in which our system would be installed belonged to an executive in major furnace manufacturer which was one of our industry partners.  Everything was proceeding on schedule and under budget until we were within a week or two of the installation.  We had our plane tickets in hand.  The equipment was already on site.  But everything got jammed up when our company lawyers couldn’t agree with their company lawyers over who was liable for what.  As engineers, it was completely out of our hands.  All we could do was watch as faxes and emails went back and forth between us and our partner.

Until our Vice President, who oversaw the entire research department, stepped in.  One day, in the middle of this impasse, he stopped in to ask why nothing was happening.  So, we told him.  By the next day, the contracts were completed, signed, and the project was back on track.  When I asked my manager what happened, he said that our VP had simply called their VP, they both called their respective lawyers, told them that they wanted it done, and POOF!  It got done.

I’ve always remembered that story because it reminds me that a key responsibility of leaders is to work for, to serve, their subordinates.  Our VP rarely involved himself in the daily affairs of engineers, but he reminded us that when we really needed his authority, he worked for us.  By virtue of his position, title, and power, he could get things done that we couldn’t hope to do.  We had no ability to argue with our legal team or to overcome their objections and concerns, but all he needed to do was to tell them to get it done… and it was done.

In each of our scriptures today we see different types of godly leadership that we can apply to our lives in church, at home, and in our schools and workplaces.  We begin at home, in Proverbs 31:10-31, which is the one chapter of the Bible that is known to be written by a woman.  Proverbs 31:1 says that these words are:

31:1 The sayings of King Lemuel—an inspired utterance his mother taught him.

And so, even though King Lemuel put the words on paper, he made sure that everyone knew that these were his mother’s words.  We continue reading in verse ten where it says:

10 A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value.
12 She brings him good, not harm all the days of her life.
13 She selects wool and flax and works with eager hands.
14 She is like the merchant ships, bringing her food from afar.
15 She gets up while it is still night; she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servants.
16 She considers a field and buys it; out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.
17 She sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable, and her lamp does not go out at night.
19 In her hand she holds the distaff  and grasps the spindle with her fingers.
20 She opens her arms to the poor and extends her hands to the needy.
21 When it snows, she has no fear for her household; for all of them are clothed in scarlet.
22 She makes coverings for her bed; she is clothed in fine linen and purple.
23 Her husband is respected at the city gate, where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.
24 She makes linen garments and sells them, and supplies the merchants with sashes.
25 She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

This passage is sometimes criticized as a description of the expectations placed upon women, but I don’t see it that way.  Instead, I find that this describes a woman of strong character who is, as much as possible in the culture in which she lives, a full and dedicated partner, with her spouse, in the life of their family and in building a life together.  She is, without question, a leader in her community who dedicates her time and effort to lifting up her family, her household, the poor, and her entire community.  She and her husband act as a team.  Their efforts, together, build the respect in the community for both of them and although he must have some sort of employment, she seems to earn just as much for her family and provides for them in ways that he cannot.  Neither of the members of this partnership would do as well without the other.  She is able to do what she does because of him, and he is able to do what he does because of her and each would be severely handicapped without the other.  Because of her hard work, her leadership, and her compassion for others, she is honored and praised by her family, and by the leaders of her community.

But what is it about this woman that makes her good and honorable?

Is it just because she works hard?  And what can we learn from this and apply to our own lives?

In James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a, we hear this explanation:

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

4:1 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

James simply says that character matters.  If you are wise and understanding… prove it.  If you are smart, then your life will show the world that you are smart.  The way that you live, the deeds that you do, the friends that you keep, the actions that you take, the humility that you show in your interactions with others, is the proof that the world will witness.  At the same time, bitter envy and selfish ambition is proof that you are earthly, unspiritual, and even demonic because envy and selfish ambition are not the proof of wisdom, but the hallmarks of disorder and evil.

In contrast, the wisdom that comes from God is pure, peace-loving, considerate, submissive, merciful, impartial, sincere, and full of good fruit.  It is the peacemakers, James says, who produce great harvests of righteousness in the lives of others.  Fights and quarrels are the result of conflicting human desires.  Our desires, greed, and covetousness drive us toward evil, violence, and death.  We claim that God doesn’t hear our prayers, but the James says that the real reason our prayers go unanswered is that we ask with the wrong motives.  We ask God to give us stuff so that we can spend what he gives us for our own pleasure and not for the things of God and for God’s kingdom.

James’ recipe for success, is to submit to God.  Men and women must both submit to God.  We must resist the devil, resist evil, come to God, and only then will God come close to us.  We must purify ourselves, our motive must be pure, so that we are not double-minded.  We cannot want what God wants and want what we want.  We cannot pray that God would bless his ministry and grow his church and use his blessings for our own pleasures.

I admit that this is difficult stuff.  James is ruthless and his teaching pierces the hearts of the best among us.  But his message is clear.  A pure heart is a heart that is dedicated to God… alone.

And so, what does any of that have to do with leadership?  How does a heart dedicated to God look to the outside world, or to our church, or to our family?

And for that, we turn to Mark 9:30-37 where we hear the answer from Jesus.

30 They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, 31 because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” 32 But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

33 They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus says that the hallmark of true, humble, peace-loving, pure, godly leadership is servanthood.  Leaders are called to be servants first and tyrants last.  These are the things that reveal our character.  David fell when he considered his desires ahead of Uriah’s, but also ahead of the needs of Bathsheba, the needs of his nation, or the will of God.  The illustration and visual aid that Jesus uses is the welcoming of little children.  With few words, this speaks volumes about leadership.  Jesus says that leaders do good, even for those who can do nothing for you in return.  This is as far from “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” as you can possibly get.  This says, “I’ll scratch your back, even if you don’t have any arms.”  This says that leaders help others, not because they expect something in return, but simply because they can.  The Vice President of Research had little (something but not much) to gain by helping us break the logjam on our project, but with one phone call, he did what several engineers and two or three managers couldn’t get done in weeks.  He wasn’t a particularly godly man, as far as I know, but I have always remembered this example of leadership.

This is why character matters.  Real leaders are not just leaders.  Real leaders, godly leaders, must be servants at heart.

As leaders, our personal desires must take a back seat to the needs of those whom we lead and serve.

Our priority must always be the mission, but also the care of those under our authority, whether or not they like us, whether or not we like them, and whether or not they can do something for us in return.

And don’t think that you are off the hook because you aren’t a leader.  All of us, in one way or another, are leaders or, at the very least, are training for leadership.  All of us, at one time or another, find ourselves responsible for others.  We teach Sunday school, we parent children, we babysit, and so on.  Many of us are what the military refers to as unofficial leaders, or back-channel leaders.  We are people who others look up to, and respect, simply because we are older, or have done our jobs longer, or because we are known to be honest, or diligent, in our work.  Leadership doesn’t have to come with an official title.

All of us are leaders.

All of us must lead with a servant’s heart.

Because…

…character matters.

_________

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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.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.