The Surrender of Self

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“The Surrender of Self”

March 01, 2017

(Ash Wednesday)

By John Partridge*

 

 

Deuteronomy 30:15-20             Matthew 5:21-37                 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

It happens every Sunday morning in practically every church in the United States, Canada, North America, Africa, Asia, and everywhere.  It isn’t peculiar to the United Methodist Church but happens in Baptist Churches, and Presbyterian churches, Catholic churches, independent churches and every other denominational and non-denominational church you can find.  In fact, it happens in Christian churches, Islamic mosques, Jewish synagogues, and Buddhist temples.  This thing that happens is the offering.  At some point before, during, or after their services of worship, there will be an opportunity for the worshipers and visitors to make some contribution toward the religion, for the poor, or at least toward the upkeep of the building.  Despite the fact that there are sometimes enormous differences between us, one of the things that make us all the same is that no matter where you are, or who you worship, it costs money to maintain the property and keep the lights on.  And so, everywhere we go, even sometimes for secular events, we are asked to sacrifice a little of our hard earned cash.  It’s so ordinary that we most often don’t give it a second thought if the American Legion needs to run a raffle, or the band boosters sell candy bars.

 

But suddenly we arrive at the season of Lent, and something changes.

 

Because although we will probably still be collecting offerings on Sunday mornings during Lent, an entirely different sort of giving and surrendering becomes the central focus as we spend time preparing our hearts for the resurrection of Jesus.  That change in focus is found today in Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 where we hear these words:

 

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
    a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God,
for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”

Through Joel, God warns his people that the day of judgement will be a day of darkness and despair.  But on the day of judgement, no one is going to be looking at your tax statements or your church giving receipts, and no one is really going to care very much how much you put in the offering plate.  God said, “Rend your heart and not your garments.”  In reading this, we understand that tearing one’s shirt, or robe, or other garment was a sign of mourning, repentance, and humility, but God declares that even these outward signs are not enough.  Instead, what God really wants, is a broken heart.  God doesn’t want us to show the world how much we’re sorry.  God doesn’t want us to make grand gestures to show him how sorry we are.  What God really wants, is for us to be genuinely sorry. What God wants, is for us to be so sorry that our hearts are broken so badly that we become changed people who live life differently.  So important is this that God wants us to declare a fast, call a sacred assembly, gather the people, and call together all of God’s people in ways that symbolize a meeting of the utmost importance, even bridegrooms and priests serving in the temple will not be excused.  Everyone is needed, because this change of heart is of utmost importance for the continued existence of God’s people and our inheritance from God.

Paul emphasizes this same level of importance in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:

We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


6:1 
As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; 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.

Paul encourages us to be reconciled with God, to be forgiven through the power of Jesus Christ and to become co-workers with God, working toward the same goals and objectives as God himself.  More than that, Paul says that as servants of God we surrender ourselves, through trouble, hardship, distress, beatings, hard work, sleepless nights, hunger, purity, understanding, patience, through dishonor, bad reports, and in many other ways.  Few of the things on Paul’s list are situations that we would ordinarily, on our own, seek out, but he encourages us to set aside our own desires, to surrender ourselves, in order to pursue the goals and objectives of the Kingdom of God.

And finally, in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, we hear Jesus as he challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons.

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Much of what Jesus has to say in this passage is an encouragement to have our hearts in the right place, to do good, not for the sake of doing good, and certainly not to do good because it is of benefit to us, but simply to do good for the sake of the Kingdom of God.  This is sometimes a little weird, but we are not called to be righteous so that we can go to heaven, we are called to be righteous in order to for God to be glorified.  Our motives are everything because the condition of our hearts is everything.  Our motives for everything that we do should be God’s motives.  We are called to work, to volunteer, to donate money, to live lives of purity and righteousness, even suffer and sometimes die, not because we have any expectation that our lives will be wonderful, or even that there will be some earthly benefit to us.  We simply do these things because our goals have come in line with God’s goals, our desires are becoming the same as God’s desires, and so we live our lives in ways that are of benefit to the Kingdom of God and not in ways that are necessarily of any benefit to us.

This is the call of the season of Lent, to “Rend your heart and not your garments,” to remember that the gift, the offering, that God truly desires, is not money, or time, or sacrifice, although it might look like any of those.  The gift that God truly desires is for us to surrender ourselves, to surrender our desires, and to replace them with the goals and desires of God.

These are the things that we must think upon as we prepare our hearts for Easter.

This is what it means to surrender self.

 

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* 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 at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Called Over the Top

crazy

Be Outrageous. Be stupid.

Jesus said so.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Seriously.

If you were here, I mentioned this on Sunday, but it’s worth saying again.  In Matthew (5:38-48) Jesus makes a series of statements that often begin with “You have heard it said, but…” in which he tells his listeners that the conventional wisdom, the ordinary assumptions of daily life, were just plain wrong.  Everyone assumed that the best defense against violence was to fight back, taking an eye for an eye, but Jesus says that the only way to reduce violence is to refuse to participate in it, to “turn the other cheek.”

Most of us have heard that before, but that was just the beginning.  He also says that” if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”  This is extraordinary.  In our litigious, twenty-first century society most of us make two errors in reading this.  First, we incorrectly assume that Jesus means for us to give a shirt to someone who won a lawsuit, but that isn’t it at all.  Jesus said, “If anyone wants to sue you…” so his instruction is to do an end run around the legal system, call it a loss, and just give it to them.  Our second mistake comes from our relative wealth and our expectation of the same on the Biblical story.   But Jesus was talking to people who lived in an entirely different world, most of them probably only owned one coat.  And so, Jesus’ instruction to “hand over your coat” is not only one of generosity, but one that is over-the-top, crazy, and disturbingly generous.  This is generosity that expensive and costly, and not just giving that is comfortable and comes from our excess.

Jesus continues, saying “If anyone forces you to walk one mile, go with them two.”  And, while this seems relatively straightforward, most of us still don’t understand the root of his comment.  As I understand the history of it, under Roman occupation, one of the standing rules that the occupied nation lived under, was that if any Roman soldier asked, any citizen had to accompany them for one mile and carry their pack, or whatever else they demanded you to carry.  So remembering that most people really resented the presence of the Roman soldiers in the first place, Jesus is saying that you need treat your enemies and the people you despise, and here it is again, with… disturbing generosity.

Why should we do all this?

Jesus answered that by saying, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”  We are called to behave in these strange, unfamiliar, and unpopular ways because these are the things that God does.  This is how God behaves.  And if we have any desire to be associated with him, to be called “children of God” then we probably ought to act like God does.

But going this far still wasn’t enough.  Jesus pounds the point several more times to make sure that we really begin to understand just how crazy we’re supposed to be.  Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”  That’s pretty plain, but if you need a modern translation, here it is.

It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

So get out there.  Go out into your neighborhoods, and your places of business.  Be willing to take a loss.  Go out into the world and be extravagantly, disturbingly, generous even when it is costly to you.  Be so generous that people think you’re crazy.  Be nice.  But be so nice that everyone thinks that you must be crazy… or stupid… or both.  Be friendly and outgoing.  Be loving.  But your friendliness and your love should be so over the top that it gets people talking about you.

Be outrageous.

Be stupid.

Your friends are supposed to think that you’re crazy.

Remember our goal isn’t to blend in; our goal is to stand out.

Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal… is to be perfect.

 

 

 

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A Royal Visit

A Royal Visit*

Trinity UMC      10-23-2016

I Kings 10:1-102          II Chronicles  9:1-12

Guest Post by David Hartong

Certified United Methodist Lay Servant

 

35 years ago in a Discipleship Bible Study someone asked, “Where is Sheba?”  One day I came across the Sheba story and remembered, I don’t think I ever answered that question. I found at one time two Sheba’s claimed the ‘Queen of Sheba’ found in Kings and Chronicles.  One is in Ethiopia in East Central Africa and the other is at the south of the Arabian Peninsula, bordered by the Arabian and Red Seas, in present day Yemen. The Arabian Sheba was known for its spices such as mentioned in 1st Kings and on a caravan route through Israel to Egypt.  Most scholars agree that Solomon’s Queen of Sheba was from modern day Yemen. Let’s turn to 1st Kings Chapter 10, and read of her visit.

Reading 1st Kings 10:1-12 from The Message by Eugene Peterson- The Queen of Sheba heard about Solomon and his connection with the Name of GOD. She came to put his reputation to the test by asking tough questions. She made a grand and showy entrance into Jerusalem – camels loaded with spices, a huge amount of gold, and precious gems. She came to Solomon and talked about all the things that she cared about, emptying her heart to him. Solomon answered everything she put to him – nothing stumped him. When the queen of Sheba experienced for herself Solomon’s wisdom and saw with her own eyes the palace he had built, the meals that were served, the impressive array of court officials and sharply dressed waiters, the lavish crystal, and the elaborate worship with Whole-Burnt-Offerings at the steps leading up to the Temple of GOD, it took her breath away.

            She said to the king, “It’s all true! Your reputation for accomplishment and wisdom that reached all the way to my country is confirmed. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it for myself, they didn’t exaggerate! Such wisdom and elegance – far more than I could ever have imagined. Lucky the men and women who work for you, getting to be around you every day and hear your wise words firsthand! And blessed be GOD, your God, who took such a liking to you and made you king. Clearly, GOD’s love for Israel is behind this, making you king to keep a just order and nurture a God-pleased people.”

            She then gave the king four and a half tons of gold, and also sack after sack of spices and expensive gems. There hasn’t been a cargo of spices like that since that shipload the queen of Sheba brought to King Solomon. King Solomon for his part gave the queen of Sheba all her heart’s desire – everything she asked for, on top of what he had already so generously given her. Satisfied, she returned home with her train of servants.    

Why did she come to visit Solomon? The wisdom and riches God gave Solomon were known throughout the civilized world. She was curious. Visitors would come to her court with news of Jerusalem. An envoy would report “We have been to Jerusalem.” She’d say, I’ve been hearing about Jerusalem, did you go to the Temple?” They’d say, “We sure did. It was a thrilling experience to go into that temple. We were there on one of their feast days. Wish YOU could have heard them singing their songs. And there was the altar, and there’s gold, and silver. It was beautiful and the worship was wonderful.” The queen might reply, “Yes, I’ve been hearing about that, I’d like to see it myself. Maybe one of these days I can make the trip.” Besides, Solomon controlled some of the trade route she would have used to Egypt. Perhaps she could secure a treaty or trade agreement.

Eventually, with great planning and preparation, she did go to experience Jerusalem herself. She came with questions. It was the custom to ask wise rulers questions, or riddles – what we call conundrums – tricky, clever questions to trap a person. The queen also had questions to do with the heart, questions that related to her eternal destiny because she came out of spiritual darkness. She was inspired by the temple Solomon built and the way he worshipped.

Sadly, the temple God wanted for the world was divided by the Jews. Like so many churches today, we think they belong to us, not God. We want to determine who can come in and where they may ‘sit’ in the body of Christ. The Jews set up a court of the Gentiles, a court for women, an inner court for men, and the courts for priests and the Holy of Holies. Jesus broke down the walls dividing Jew and Gentile, male and female, rich and poor. All stand equally, before God.

When Solomon dedicated the temple he told the world it was a place where every person on earth could approach the living and true God. Hear part of Solomon’s prayer from 1 Kings 8:41-43 […forgive and go to work on us. Give what each deserves, for you know each life from the inside (you’re the only one with such inside knowledge) so that they’ll live before you in lifelong reverent and believing obedience on this land you gave our ancestors.

            And don’t forget the foreigner who is not a member of your people Israel, but has come from a far country because of your reputation. People are going to be attracted here by your great reputation, your wonder working power, who come to pray at this Temple. ]

That word went out to the ends of the earth of that day, and reached the Queen of Sheba. Our scripture started, “the Queen of Sheba heard of Solomon’s fame…” First, she had to hear. The apostle Paul tells us, “So then, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.”  Faith comes by hearing the Word of God. Our story today opens at the far end of the earth with a queen who heard; then she acted on what she heard. The place God meets you is where you hear. Our responsibility is to see that all people hear of God. When we have gotten God’s Word to the ears of people, we have done what God has called us to do. Let God do His work in them, once we have made them aware of their need to seek God.    [Pause] [Repeat]

When the Queen of Sheba arrived in Jerusalem with her caravan, she attracted a great deal of attention. Just how many camels would it take to carry all the spices, jewels, and four- ½ tons of gold? At about 400 pounds per camel, the gold alone would have taken two dozen camels. With other gifts, soldiers, and provisions, it would have been a massive caravan. In this time in history, here is a woman no less, from the mysterious East. She displays great wealth in abundance. She is not a wise man, but is looking for wisdom. She had servants and soldiers of every color of skin under the sun. People lined the streets; no circus has ever attracted the attention the Queen of Sheba did, the day she arrived in Jerusalem.

The record tells us she was absolutely overwhelmed by her visit with King Solomon. The first thing that impressed her was that he was able to answer all of her questions. The second was the tremendous organization and display he had there. Thirdly, she was amazed by the way he worshipped, and the burnt altar. In the temple the King had a private entrance to the altar, but when he got there he was at the same level as everybody else. That impressed her, because down in her country, she was far above the level of the crowds. But Solomon, even with his private entrance, stood by that burnt altar; just like any other sinner stands before God. The burnt altar speaks eloquently of the cross of Christ. It’s the best picture of Christ’s cross we have in the Old Testament. The burnt offerings that impressed the queen speak of the person Christ, of who He is; and the sin offering speaks of the work of Christ- a sacrifice to take away the sins of the world.

She found, when she came to Jerusalem, that the living and true God was approached only through a sacrifice. Even a King had to come as a sinner, and stand with the lowest subjects, to receive salvation from God. God revealed to the queen that there is a righteousness, which He provides. The truth of the burnt offering was shown to her in a way she could understand. This points to Christ, and a righteousness God provides for a King, or any other sinner; that He might accept them into His presence. We all stand on the same level and all must come, and ALL CAN receive this righteousness. It is likely the Queen of Sheba came to know the living and true God, when she came to Jerusalem to visit King Solomon.

In the narratives of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom, why is this story told in more detail than most? Sheba was nearly 2000 miles from Jerusalem. This was great example of God bringing people from the uttermost parts of the world to His temple in Jerusalem. Think of the sacrifices she made to get to Jerusalem. Today you can drive to California in 3 or 4 days, you can fly there in 3 or 4 hours. On our first trip under the English Channel we went 40 miles in 20 minutes (120 mph). When we got going in France the engineer reported we were traveling at 300 kph (186 mph). There were no tracks in the desert, no Eurostar. A caravan large enough to carry 4-1/2 tons of gold, large amounts of spices and jewels, the personnel, and provisions for a trip of that magnitude – would have taken about three months each way. Camels did not come with air conditioning or adjustable seats. Would you like to ride to California in the bed of a pick-up truck? Before route 66?  Perhaps you’d prefer the comfort of a Conestoga wagon on the Oregon Trail. The Queen of Sheba sacrificed a tremendous amount of time and resources to seek Solomon, and to find God in Jerusalem.

Today God does not ask you to take a trip anywhere. You don’t have to make the long trip up to Jerusalem. You don’t even have to go across the street to find Him. It is our job to see that everyone hears the gospel. We don’t need to go around the world. Just telling everyone in the neighborhood of this church would be a good place to start. (repeat)

As I reviewed this last sentence I realized, God is telling us to support things like Perry Helping Perry. Telling the people of this neighborhood about God’s love and grace, is exactly what programs like this are all about. Supporting the Fellowship of Christian Athletes demonstrates Christian concern. God wants us all to meet Him; one at a time is a great way to introduce them. According to Matthew 12:42; Christ said, “The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and look – something greater than Solomon is HERE.

There are lessons to be learned in the account of the visit of the Queen of Sheba. We need to hear of God. Faith comes from hearing and we need to act on that faith. She taught us acting on that faith may require self-sacrifice, even a long, arduous journey; not necessarily in miles, but perhaps in terms of hardships and risks. The queen not only took gifts to Solomon, but received many gifts from him in return. But the most important gift she received was a new life after worship at the altar of God. A new life for each of us is available at this altar. Seek and you shall find.

Amen

 

 

 

 

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* 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.

Keys to Hope or Despair?

“Keys: Hope or Despair?”

September 25, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: 1 Timothy 6:6-19                           Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

 

We’ve all read about the roaring twenties, the stock market crash, and the Great Depression that followed.  But what we often forget is that, while a great many Americans suffered, there were several people who made enormous sums of money because of the stock market crash.  I have heard stories that while the Rockefellers were rich before the crash, they became very rich afterward because they had already begun to withdraw money from the stock markets before the crash, and then used that money to buy up real estate at 20 cents on the dollar during the depression.

Likewise, Joe Kennedy, Sr., patriarch of the Kennedy family that we often read about, made a lot of money speculating on stocks in the 1920’s, along with a healthy portion of insider trading and market manipulation. Joe Kennedy knew when to get out of the stock market, and got out before the crash.  He then took his money and invested it in real estate, liquor, and movie studios, all of which made huge profits and built his family fortune to lofty heights and landed it among the highest echelons of the American rich.

But when I mention these things, I’m sure that some of you are wondering, “So, what can the Great Depression have to do with the Bible?”  But as odd as it may seem, there is a scene in scripture that is eerily similar to the days before the stock markets crashed.  In Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15, the prophet Jeremiah has warned the king of the impending invasion by the Babylonian army and the imminent defeat of Israel.  But no one wants to hear bad news.  Instead of doing something about it, let alone listening to God’s instructions, the king imprisons Jeremiah in the palace courtyard.  But even from there, Jeremiah hears from God and, by his obedience and attitude, gives hope for the future.

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

Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it.

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

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

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

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

Jeremiah is imprisoned in the guardhouse of the palace, but there he hears from God and is told that his cousin will soon arrive with an offer to sell him his uncle’s farm.  Of course, Jeremiah has been telling everyone, and it is becoming increasingly feared, that the Babylonian army is about to capture the city.  So if that is true, then what follows is likely to be profoundly unpleasant.  Everyone knows how brutal the Babylonians are and they know that slavery or death is probably in their future.  So why would anyone, particularly someone like Jeremiah who believes, and has been preaching, that this is going to happen, why would someone like that go to the trouble of buying property that they will likely never be able to use?  And the simple answer is… hope.  God has not only announced that Israel would be defeated, but that, sometime, in the future, likely in the lifetime of Jeremiah or his children, the land of Israel will once again be bought and sold.  Buying one that field is both an act of faith in God and a demonstration of hope for the future.  By witnessing, or even hearing about, Jeremiah’s purchase, the people of God know that even though horrible things are about to happen, Israel will once again exist as a nation, the economy will be rebuilt, and normal life will return.

It seems like a small thing, the purchase of one small field.  But the attitude behind it, an attitude of obedience and hope, is enough to stand above the panic and bring hope to an entire city.  Jeremiah demonstrates that our attitude makes a huge difference in our lives, but also that it makes a difference whether or not we pursue the things of God, or, like the king of Israel, pursue instead our own gratification and self-importance. And then in 1 Timothy 6:6-19, Paul takes that same message and makes it personal.

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

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

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

Paul says that it is often our own desires that harm us and bring us to ruin.  God told the king of Israel that he was going to lose, but if he surrendered, that most everyone would be unharmed.  His ego caused him to ignore God and imprison his messenger.  Paul says that each of us do the same thing when we love money more than God.  It is our love of money, and our pursuit of it, that causes us grief and suffering.  Instead of dedicating our lives to pursuing wealth, or fame, or power, or the accumulation of belongings, or comfort, or any number of other things we are called to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  Paul condemns the rich not because they are rich, but because they are arrogant and put their hope in money instead of God.  Instead, the standard by which we are measured, rich and poor alike, is whether or not we do good with the things that we have been given, to be rich in doing good deeds for others, and for being generous with what we have.

For Jeremiah and for Paul, the key to contentment and true wealth can be found simply by having the right attitude.  Chasing after money, or power, or fame and putting those things, or anything, ahead of our pursuit of God, takes us down a path of grief, pain, suffering, and despair.  But pursuing the things of God, righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness take us down an entirely different path toward faith, contentment, and hope.

Life is all about choices, but each choice opens another door down a path.

Which path will you choose?

Will you put God first?

Or something else?

 

 

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* 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.

(Not) The Politics of Power

“(Not) The Politics of Power”
August 16, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14                Ephesians 5:15-20                   John 6:51-58

Why would any reasonable person want to be the president of the United States?

President Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.” So what is it that drives so many people to run for president, especially knowing the meat grinder that you and your family will pass through at the hands of the media and the other candidates? Why would anyone subject themselves to that?

Certainly, the reasons every candidate has will be different. But while patriotism and service to country certainly should be among the driving factors, we have to at least suspect that fame, money, and power are almost certainly included as well. The salary for the President of the United States is $400,000 per year, but there are some pretty expensive perks that come with that. Some past presidents have made out quite well financially after being in our nation’s highest office, but others have nearly gone bankrupt from bad financial dealings. The candidates for the next election are all over the map financially. Donald Trump, of course is a billionaire with a net worth of $4.5 billion, Carly Fiorina is a former executive of a Fortune 500 company and is worth around $80 million, Hillary Clinton has $15 million (and Bill has another $38 million), and all the way down at the bottom are Marco Rubio and Bernie Sanders who each have less than a half a million.

So is it money that attracts people to run for president or is it power, prestige, or something else?
These, after all, are the politics of power.
Whatever it is, it is interesting to compare those who lead us, whether it is those in government or those at the top of the corporate world, with the kind of leaders that God calls to lead his people. We begin, once again, by rejoining the story of the nation of Israel recorded in 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14, this marks the end of David’s life and the beginning of the rule of his son, Solomon.

10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

4 The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. 5 At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

6 Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

7 “Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. 8 Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 9 So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

    This short passage highlights the character and leadership of King Solomon more than just about any other passage of scripture. As Solomon becomes king, God gives Solomon the opportunity to write his own ticket and asks the “genie in a bottle” question. In no other place in scripture does God allow anyone to “Ask for whatever you want” and perhaps it is because that God knows that Solomon, alone, is the one man who is capable of accepting such a blessing. Because when Solomon is allowed to choose anything in the world, he does not choose wine, women, song, or pleasure. He does not choose money, or power, or prestige, or conquering armies, or fame, or anything else. Instead, Solomon reveals something about himself that we do not often see in people with great power. Solomon, instead of demonstrating greed, or lust, demonstrates humility.

Instead of asking for anything at all for himself, Solomon asks for wisdom so that he can lead well.

And scripture tells us that because Solomon had the humility to ask for something that would benefit his nation and his people instead of something for himself, God gives him all of those other things. Again, perhaps because Solomon alone is the one man who is capable of handling such a blessing.

So as we witness all of the grandstanding and listen to the daily soundbites on the news, it is fair for us to wonder, what is it that makes a good leader?

In Ephesians 5:15-20, Paul echoes the lessons of Solomon but he adds something to our discussion.

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    So, for Paul, wisdom is a major component of good leadership but in Paul’s mind, wisdom is inseparable from faithfulness to God. Paul calls all of us to be filled with the Spirit of God, to be hearers of God’s word, worshippers of God, and to give thanks to God for everything.

Finally, let us look at the example of Jesus. What characteristics of leadership does Jesus bring to the table? What does the leadership of Jesus tell us about what we ought to be looking for in our earthly leaders, and finally, what characteristics should we be growing in ourselves?
Jesus said (John 6:51-58),

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

    Jesus was the King of the Universe but his approach to leadership is not power, or authority, or wealth, or fame, but instead, as the king of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus steps down from his throne, descends to earth, gives up everything he has, is born into a poor family from the middle of nowhere, and gives his life as a sacrifice so that human beings can be rescued from sin and death.

The life of Jesus tells us that real leaders serve.

And one of the highest marks of leadership, God’s way, is sacrifice.

And so as we listen to the sound bites of another political election season we will hear a great many promises. Some will seek leadership because they feel the need to be in front and be the center of attention. Others will be lured by power and authority, some by acclaim, fame, and name recognition, and still others by money. In the political world, these men and women will attempt to convince us that they are qualified because they have already had great power, great wealth, or great experience. That is, after all, normal in the politics of power.

But in the end, scripture teaches us to look for something deeper than motivations of the flesh, these desires, lusts, and greed of our humanity. Instead we are called to look for an altogether different set of qualifications. Instead of business as usual, or politics as usual, instead of looking for the things that the newspapers and the television and Internet soundbites focus on everyday, let us look instead to those far more unusual qualifications. Let us look for men and women, real leaders, who have the heart of God, who lead with humility, wisdom, discernment, service to others, faithfulness, and sacrifice.

Too many people seek to run for president and other offices, political and otherwise, because of what they can gain but that doesn’t make them leaders.

Real leaders lead, because of what they can gain, but because of what they can give.

And that is not the normal politics of power.

May we, as God’s people, be people who seek to serve others, and care for the needs of others, before we seek to satisfy our own desires.

Pain: Now or Later?


    A number of years ago there was a television commercial that encouraged regular oil changes.  In it, a mechanic pointed to a car behind him that was having the engine overhauled and noted that failing to get regular oil changes can cause serious engine damage.  At the end of the commercial the mechanic said, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.”

    With the Administration and Congress once again at odds over raising our nation’s debt ceiling I keep wondering why no one in Washington seems to understand why doing so only makes the problem worse.  I understand that we can’t just suddenly stop doing everything that we’re doing.  Calling an abrupt halt to projects that are already in progress would do great damage to the economy.  I understand that.  But Congress isn’t just continuing projects they’ve already started; they are creating new ones and expanding others so that our debt problem gets worse instead of better.
    Whenever anyone suggests making cuts to existing spending, particularly to welfare, Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security, there is an outcry because it is easy to see how people will be hurt when cuts are made to these programs.  A similar claim is made whenever cuts are suggested to our spending on national defense.  No matter what cuts are suggested, we are told that those cuts will cause someone pain. 
    The problem with pain, as it relates to our spending, is that it is very much like that oil change commercial.  A little pain now will almost certainly save us from much greater pain later.  Why?  Because right now our nation spends about $3.5 trillion per year but takes in only $2.5 trillion in taxes.  Obviously, you can’t, in the long-term, spend more than you earn, everyone who has ever balanced a checkbook knows that, but Washington has been doing it (more or less continuously) for more than sixty years.   So far we’ve accumulated a national debt of $17 trillion dollars… and, as bad as that sounds, that’s the good news.
    We hear that our national debt is $17 trillion dollars but we are not told that this does not include the money that we “borrowed” from Social Security and Medicaid.  Every one of us has paid into Social Security for our retirement.  While all of the Baby Boomers were working, the surpluses from these deposits were immense… but they were never saved in any kind of “savings account” or “lockbox.”  Instead, to cover the growing deficits our elected representatives… spent them.  Because we borrowed the money from ourselves, this spending isn’t really considered part of the national debt, but when the Baby Boomers retire they will, naturally, expect to collect from the system they paid into.  How much do we owe them?  At present, our borrowing from Social Security and Medicare amounts to an additional $85 to 95 trillion and our expected payments for the national prescription drug benefit add another $20 trillion.  All together that comes to an astounding $125 trillion in debt.  (That works out to over a million dollars in debt for every U.S. household!)
    Here is where things get ugly.  If we assume that over the next forty years, everyone who is currently working will retire, then we will have to repay most, if not all, of that debt over that same forty year period.  I know the math is more complicated than that, but this oversimplification will get us close enough to see the problem.  If we think of this as paying down a mortgage, we have forty years to pay back $125 trillion in debt with an annual “income” of $3 trillion. 
Do you see the problem?
In order to repay $125 trillion in 40 years, our annual payments will exceed our current income.
    If we start right now, and we could somehow stretch those payments out for a hundred years, we would still have to repay $1.25 trillion per year.  That would seem reasonable, but if we first balance the budget (so as to stop borrowing even more money while we were paying off our debt), we would still have to cut our current spending by fifty percent!
    Worse, none of this is theoretical.  This is money that we have already spent and which must be repaid.  Because we borrowed most of it from retirement plan, failing to pay it back will mean that Social Security checks don’t go out and retirees’ medical bills don’t get paid.  We complain that making small cuts causes pain, but how much pain will there be if we default and those checks don’t go out at all?
As the man said in the commercial, “You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.” 
Either way, there will be pain.  The longer we put it off, the worse it will be.
Our only choice is whether we want to experience pain now or worse pain later.

Seven Car Shopping Tips to Save You Money


    Recently, it became obvious that it was time to replace our 2001 Chevy minivan.  We had already replaced or repaired the windshield wipers four or five times and they were broken… again.  It was also time for the brakes to get some major work, the rust was so bad we were worried about structural things instead of just cosmetics, and to top it all off, the odometer was nearing 250,000 miles.  As much as we both hate it, Patti and I agreed that it was time to go car shopping.  Our experience made me remember a few simple rules that saved us a lot of money.

1)      Decide what you need – Before you start looking at cars, decide what you need first, and then decide what other options you might want, but can live without if necessary.  We decided that, we needed seating for at least seven (eight is better) and since we drive our van about 20,000 miles each year, we wanted the best fuel economy possible.  Our Chevy Venture got 27 miles per gallon on the highway when it was newer and still was getting a little over 20.  We hoped to get a new car with 27 mpg but could live with a little less if necessary.
2)      Decide how much you can afford – The time to figure this out is at home and not on the dealer’s lot while you are having an emotional reaction to plush, leather, heated seats or an awesome big block V-8.  Pick a number you (and your spouse) can live with and stick to it.  Dealers will always try to push you higher than you want to go.  Stick to your guns and be prepared to walk away.
3)      Do your homework – Before we left the house we went online.  If you don’t have an Internet connection at home, go to the library but research what’s out there.  You should know what you want, how much that car should cost, and which dealerships have the cars that you are looking for at a price that you can afford (or can haggle down to).  In our search we found that only two or three manufacturers make a van that met our requirements and only a few dealers who had them.
4)      New cars are for suckers and rich people – Okay, not everyone is going to agree, but for those of us who are trying to make every penny count, new cars just don’t make good sense.  A new car loses about $5000 in value the day you drive it off of the lot.  Is it worth five grand just so you can say it’s new?  Buy a car that’s a year or two old and the price can drop as much as 50 percent.  Because our Venture had almost 250,000 miles, buying a car with 50,000 on the odometer was no big deal and well worth the savings.
5)     Pay cash – What?   Many of you will think that this is impossible, but it isn’t.  Dave Ramsey explains this in more detail (I strongly recommend his class – Financial Peace University) but simply put, if you take out a 5 year car loan, you will pay for your car TWICE.  Once for the car, and once for the interest on the loan.  This is not a good deal.  If your loan is almost paid off, don’tbuy another car.  Instead, keep on making payments… to yourself.  Write the same check every month and put it into a savings account.  You should be able to make your car last a few years longer.  Then, when your car is on its last legs, use the money in savings to pay for the car.    You might not reach this goal on your first try, but if you can get halfway there, you’ve saved a bunch of money and can make it all the way the next time.  If you haven’t done this, you can’t imagine how good it feels to own a car and owe… nothing.
6)      Don’t get emotionally attached – Decide what you want and then go look for it.  Don’t hang all your hopes on one deal.  If this deal doesn’t work out, another one will.  Someone has the car you want andcan afford.  Keep looking until you find it.
7)      Be willing to walk away – I said this before but I cannot overstate this.  Car salesmen want you to fall in love with the car you are buying.  They will do anything in their power to make you think that this is THE ONE.  In the end, we finally found a 2010 Honda Odyssey that was close to our price.  The dealer tried to get us to a higher price several times.  They encouraged us to drive the car home for a while hoping that we would fall in love with it.  Once you fall in love, they gotcha.  Once you’re in love you will pay $500 or $1000 more than you planned.  We knew how much we could afford to spend and were willing to walk away no matter how much we liked the car.  We walked away… twice… and they finally came down to ourprice.
These are a few of the things that helped us, I hope they help you too.