2018 – By the Numbers

by-the-numbers

So, how are we doing?

Each fall our church staff and volunteers fill out several forms, with line after line of questions, we also submit quite a few other reports, budgets, lists of nominated and elected officers, and all of this is compiled into our Charge Conference report.  By the middle of January, we report even more numbers, on five or six more forms, for our official “End of Year” report.  Many of these numbers are of not that interesting to the casual observer, but there are a few that are, and some of these are useful in “taking the temperature” of the church and help us to see where we are and in what direction we might be going.  I have a few other numbers that I track monthly and the end of the year is a good time to look at that data as well.

Although we report church membership at both Charge Conference and in the End of Year report, it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from it.  It is difficult, because our membership is more than three times our annual attendance.  And that, in turn means that either we have a great many inactive members (which might be good if we can get them to attend more regularly) or, that we have many people on the membership rolls that shouldn’t be, or both.  In any case, in 2016 membership at Christ Church was 362, in 2017 it was 356, and in 2018 we ended with 323.  In the last year, we lost 18 members to death, 2 to transfer, and 14 were removed simply because we had lost all contact with them.  We did, however, add one member to our rolls through transfer (Hi, Hayley!).   So is declining membership bad?  Maybe, but it’s hard to tell.

I guess the good news (if you can call it that) is that we don’t remove people every year, those who were removed haven’t attended for a long time, and our number of deaths was much larger than usual.  So, although membership “declined” by 33 people, the impact on our congregation, although significant, is not as bad as the numbers might imply.

On the other hand, while our average Sunday attendance was 69 in 2017, it was 71 in June, and by the end of the year had risen to 78.  Similarly, we saw an increase in Sunday school attendance, an increase in the number of people who were giving to the church, and a healthy increase in our stewardship pledges.  Not only that, but we also saw an increase in participation in missions and outreach, an increase in the number of people we served in our community, and a small decrease in our total church expenses.  In short, attendance is increasing, and we’re doing more, with less.

Another measure that is not yet reported to our district or Annual Conference, but is of growing usefulness, is our ability to engage with our community on social media.  For the moment, the only number that I can report to you is our number of Facebook followers.   In the last year, the number of people who have “liked” our Facebook page has increased by 27, from 172 to 199.  That isn’t a lot, but it’s a positive increase and it at least hints at a growing engagement between our church and our community.

I understand I’ve only been here for half a year, but even if I were here longer, I know that I am not solely responsible for any of this.  We are a church and a community, and we work together as a team.  But as I have said before, what I see in our reports, and what I see in these, and other numbers, is good news.  Clearly, we have work to do, but  in many ways we are doing well, or at least doing better.  Digging through the numbers and filling out reports is not anyone’s idea of fun, but I want to thank Dolores, Julie, and all our staff and volunteers that help us do it.

Because, in the end, when I read through our reports, I see every reason to be hopeful, even excited, about the direction that we are going, the future of Christ Church, our ministry here, and our outreach to our community and the world.

Don’t stop doing what you’re doing.

Keep up the good work.

Let’s build on what we have and make 2019 even better.

 

(At Least) Ten Reasons to be Joyful

(At Least) Ten Reasons to be Joyful

(Third Sunday of Advent)

December 16, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Zephaniah 3:14-20                Luke 3:7-18                Philippians 4:4-7

 

Joy.

In this third Sunday of Advent, we celebrate Joy.  But what is that?

Sometimes we struggle to understand the difference between happiness and joy and, honestly, sometimes there isn’t any.  Happiness and joy are not mutually exclusive.  They often happen at the same time, but not always.  I remembered hearing a good definition once, so I started searching to see if I could find it this week.  I didn’t find the one I remembered, but I did find a couple of explanations that I thought would be helpful to share with you.

“Psychologies” magazine from the United Kingdom said that “Joy and happiness are wonderful feelings to experience, but are very different. Joy is more consistent and is cultivated internally. It comes when you make peace with who you are, why you are and how you are, whereas happiness tends to be externally triggered and is based on other people, things, places, thoughts and events.”

Rev. Dr. Christopher Benek wrote in The Island Packet that while happiness is an emotion in which we experience a wide range of feelings, “We experience joy when we achieve selflessness to the point of personal sacrifice.”  He goes on to say that “happiness, as a feeling, is not predicated on something necessarily being good for us. Joy, on the other hand, is at least grounded in the idea that something is good for someone else. We have joy when — even in our suffering — we are acting toward someone else’s well-being.”

I think that the both definitions miss the mark but, together they get close.  The first one says that joy is something that we cultivate internally and comes when we are at peace with who, why, and how we are.  But, at the same time, a big part of being at peace with ourselves is in what, how, and why we do things for others.  And I would also add that our ability to feel at peace comes when we grow in confidence that we are living our lives in line with the commands, and the call, of God.  We will never be at peace, or truly joyful, when we live our lives in opposition to the will of God.

But why should this special season bring us joy and happiness?  What is it that really makes Advent and Christmas special?  And, as always, we can find some good answers in scripture.  Long before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Zephaniah spoke to the people of Judah who were in rebellion against God.  Zephaniah writes to proclaim the coming destruction of their nation and the captivity of the people in Babylon.  But at the end of his proclamation of destruction, doom, and death, Zephaniah reminds the people that there are still reasons to be joyful. (Zephaniah 3:14-20)

14 Sing, Daughter Zion;
    shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart,
    Daughter Jerusalem!
15 The Lord has taken away your punishment,
    he has turned back your enemy.
The Lord, the King of Israel, is with you;
    never again will you fear any harm.
16 On that day
    they will say to Jerusalem,
“Do not fear, Zion;
    do not let your hands hang limp.
17 The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

18 “I will remove from you
    all who mourn over the loss of your appointed festivals,
    which is a burden and reproach for you.
19 At that time I will deal
    with all who oppressed you.
I will rescue the lame;
    I will gather the exiles.
I will give them praise and honor
    in every land where they have suffered shame.
20 At that time I will gather you;
    at that time I will bring you home.
I will give you honor and praise
    among all the peoples of the earth
when I restore your fortunes
    before your very eyes,”
says the Lord.

And by my count, there are at least ten reasons that, despite the warnings of punishment and destruction, that the people can still remember joy and not only do these apply to us today, but in many of them we can see the coming of the Messiah, Jesus.

Zephaniah says, God has taken away our punishment, has turned away our enemies, and stands with us.  There is no reason to ever live in fear, God will remove our mourning from us, and God will deal with everyone who has oppressed his people.  God intends to rescue the handicapped, gather in everyone who has been driven from his land, or driven from his people, and give them praise and honor.  Not only that, but God will gather together all of his people, bring them home, and restore what was taken from them. 

It is important to remember that the people to whom Zephaniah was writing were about to experience horror, terror, slavery, destruction, and death, but even in the midst of circumstances that would, undoubtedly make them miserable, there were still good reasons to remember joy.

But so, what?

What difference does it make?

And both John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul offer some explanation of how our joy ought to be revealed in our daily lives.  In Luke 3:7-18, we remember this story:

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

10 “What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

11 John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

12 Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

15 The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. 16 John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” 18 And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

John was preaching to crowds that had come to hear him in the desert wilderness and his message was that the messiah was almost here.  Everyone should get ready and prepare for his arrival.  This was incredible, fantastic, long-awaited news that had been anticipated for centuries. And now it was finally happening.  And as they rejoiced, John explained that they needed to repent of their sins, to share what they had, to obey the commandments, and to be content with what they had. (That last one kind of sticks in the throat of a society that encourages us to “ask Santa” for a new laptop and a big screen TV, and a new BMW doesn’t it?)

But Paul also answers this question in Philippians 4:4-7 where he says:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Paul says that we should always rejoice.  Always rejoice.  And growing out of our joyfulness, should be an inescapable gentleness that everyone around you finds to be unavoidably obvious.  Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything.”  In other words, “Relax!”  Instead of getting stressed, give your problems to God through prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.  

So, you see, while there are some people who say that joy and happiness are the same thing, the evidence says that they are not.  While joy and happiness do often run together, there are other times when joy coexists with disaster, mayhem, and death.  In either case, scripture makes it plain that we have much for which to be thankful, and many things (far more than ten) over which we should rejoice.  But as we rejoice in the things that God has given to us, we must allow our joy to guide us toward repentance, obedience, bravery, contentment, inescapable gentleness, compassion, generosity, mercy, and love that overflows into the people, the community, and the world around us.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)

This truly is good news, of great joy.

The question is, what are you going to do with it?

 

 

 

 


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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.

Eulogy and Obituary for Marcene Buchs

Eulogy for Marcene Buchs

October 06, 2018

by Pastor John Partridge

My family and I moved to Alliance during the last week of June.  And so, on Thursday of this week, when Mike and Amy asked me if I had even had a chance to meet Marcene, I honestly wasn’t sure.  Until I stared working on my remarks for today and pulled up her obituary and saw her photograph.  But then I knew.  I knew that I had met Marcene but hadn’t yet had the chance to get to know her.  But many others did.  At church, Marcene was known to be a sweet lady who was always well put together.  She was always dressed fashionably, not to in any way act as if she was better than anyone else, but simply because being impeccably dressed was important to her.  She had flair.  People noticed when Marcene entered a room.  She was known, always, to be a classy lady as well as a person of deep and personal faith.

Marcene Buchs grew up taking care of her dad.  And when she had done that then it was time to take care of her mom, and then it was her Aunt Ellen.  She was a caregiver.  It wasn’t a life that she chose, but she accepted it as her responsibility.  She grew up in Beechwood in a family of farmers.  But she came to Christ United Methodist Church more than 60 years ago when her family moved to Alliance while she was in the fifth grade.  She was both faithful and dedicated to our church and was sure to attend every week for as long as she was able.

Over the years, she worked as a secretary and kept the bills paid.  She didn’t have a fairy tale life by any stretch of the imagination, but she was known for her strength of character, she always took the high road, did things the “right way,” and always did everything well and with excellence.  Although she never felt sorry for herself, sometimes the events and the circumstances of her life led her to feel insecure.  She lived in a small town, and she knew what people said about her, but that, and despite her insecurity, she refused to retreat, and forced herself to participate in the community.

Marcene was always “super-devoted” to her family and to her grandchildren.  She didn’t just care about what they did, she devoted herself to exploring, learning, and doing her very best to understand what they did whether it was sports, or music, or quilting, publishing, or rocket science. Marcene was a reader, and she had always read everything.   But whenever she knew what her family or friends were interested in, she read about that too.  Although she didn’t have a CD player in her home, she did have one in her car.  And so, in order to listen to her grandson Chase’s CD’s, she would get in her car and drive around town so that she could listen to them.  As Mike and Amy went through her things, they discovered that Marcene had kept detailed records of her life and of her family’s life.  Events and projects that they had long forgotten, were carefully recorded and kept in her albums and notebooks.

Marcene Buchs was a minimalist who loved order.  She owned a small number of outfits and when she bought a new one, an old one had to go.  Nothing in her home was out of place.  She appreciated order and she paid great attention to every detail.  But Marcene’s insistence on perfection only applied to herself.  She was forgiving of others and understood that they were different than she was.

Perhaps the most obvious example of who Marcene was, is found in her son Mike.  As the saying goes, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  And Mike didn’t become the caring, considerate, intelligent, driven, and loving person that he is by accident.  He is a living example of Marcene’s influence on his life and a reflection of who she was.

Much of her life was devoted to caring for others and while was greatly loved by others, she loved them all right back.  But, as I noted earlier, Marcene’s faith was important to her.  She made sure that Mike grew up in the church and passed her faith on to him.  And when her grandchildren arrived, she invested herself in them so that they could learn it as well.  As I talked to Mike and Amy, we knew that Marcene would not want this moment to pass without sharing her faith with you as well.  Marcene Buchs put her full faith and trust in Jesus Christ as her savior.  She believed that Jesus died for her sins so that she could, at this very moment, stand before God, forgiven, redeemed, and perfect.  We know where Marcene will spend her eternity, and she wants every one of you to join her there when your day comes.  If you don’t know how to do that, Marcene’s family and I urge you to talk to one of us afterward.

But of all of us, Mike knew her best of all.  And so, although he knew that he wouldn’t be able to stand up here today and share his thoughts, these are his words:

A Son’s Reflections

by Michael Robert Johanson

We are gathered here together to honor and celebrate the life of my mother, Marcene Buchs. My mother was a throwback and maintained the sensibilities of another time always attempting to do the right thing optimistically even when it was not popular or easy. She was not deceived by the complexities in this world and was firmly rooted in the simplicities that are the foundation of our being.  That is her message to us.  She would have loved the flowers in the room today and would remind us all to enjoy the sight and scent.  She would not want any of us to mourn today rather to channel the spirit she has put in all of us to live up to our potential, do the right things, listen, encourage, pick each other up when we fall have hope, faith and leave a positive mark on this world.

I have spent much time this week thinking of what should be said, attempting to properly honor my mom’s memory or even partially convey the wonderful life my family and I were lucky enough to share with her.  Should I list all of her accomplishments which were many?  She was capable far beyond what we all saw – she had a mighty inner strength.  Should I tell stories from the farm in Beachwood?  Those would be funny particularly the “hammer story” (though probably still not funny to her brother my uncle Bob).  Her happiness, optimism and vision of the future during her youth – she always did her very best?  The energy and pride she always exemplified in the workforce?        But all of this can be read in the newspaper this week.  What isn’t there is her devotion and love for her family.  Her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, brother and his family, taking care of her mother, father, and her son who were always steadfastly by her side and her by them.  I came along not under ideal circumstances, but you would have never known it. Her devotion and love made my life ideal.

If she were planning today’s service she would be playing videos in the hall of rockets launching things I’ve built into space.  A spread of magazines that Amy had created that highlighted her handiwork that she was so overjoyed to see on a newsstand.  She would play highlight reels of her grandson Noah throwing a football.  She often went on long drives to listen to songs on the CD player of her grandson Chase that always lift her up and “made the sunshine come out”. Those songs were played today prior to this service per her request and they meant the world to her.  She was very proud of all of Chase’s accomplishments. She would showcase her “superhero” grandson Ellis’s many activities, performances, beautiful voice and intellect and also remark how she was able to get a little piece of her own son back through him.  She would spent endless hours studying and learning about all our interests and made them her own.  And while none of this would be about her.  In her mind it was all about her, and it is.

I found a folder this week in her important papers titled Emotional Serenade.  In this folder of poems and writings I got a chance to get inside my mom’s spirit in ways I had not seen before.  In her writings I think she described who she was far better than I ever could in the following poem:

THE CATALPA TREES ARE BLOOMING ON HAINES AVENUE

The Catalpas are blooming on Haines Avenue;

their snow-like blossoms are fresh and white and new.

They crown the branches of the stately trees

and cover the ground with a summer freeze.

In time, long green beans will appear,

hanging amidst the elephantine leaves part of the year.

This makes Haines different from Wright, Union or Summit,

indeed it is the very best part of it!

The red bricked street of a yesterday,

scene of a childhood summer of play.

I was fresh from the farm and an isolated life

thrust on a sidewalk of kids amidst workman and buses,

backyard cherry trees – neat houses and gardens,

flower bedecked porches, new shoes bought on an

afternoon trip downtown, birthday parties on the lawn,

bank tellers, clothiers, teachers, mailmen, executives

and retirees – a grocery store that smelled so right

with licorice cigars and other delights…

everything so lazy and forever.  Now all gone mainly

BUT THE TREES

I had always known the infinite variety of trees;

all the magical appendages moving in the breeze;

their sudden brilliant hues burning even after the fade;

their wealth worth more than could ever be paid.

Yet I was amazed at the leaves on a hunt for my son

and ran around saying, in effect, “Here’s one, here’s one!”

Then it was the Ginkgo that mesmerized me,

but the Catalpas are a gift by the powers that be

and are for the moment what’s happening on Haines.

They come to me, and the thrill never wanes.

  • BUCHS

My mother was always my unexpected messenger encouraging me (and all of us) to accomplish the impossible and she led by example in ways that I didn’t always understand or comprehend.  But eventually, I would always understand completely.  While her life didn’t always meet the expectations she perhaps had for herself, she made the best of every moment and worked tirelessly to make sure those around her had the best opportunities, were the best prepared, and when we needed a boost, she was there to lift us up.  Though 620 Wright Ave was just a small dot on big planet she always encouraged me to be OPEN and ready to take on the world.  She taught me that if I opened up my mind I could be and do anything.  If I opened up my dreams the impossible became possible. If I opened up my heart I would always be surrounded by the very best people.  If I opened up my eyes the path forward would always be clear.  And if I opened my arms she would and will always be there.

In her notes this week she left me a final piece of advice in her Emotional Serenade folder.  I’m not sure she wrote it but she typed it and put in a place so I would see it first.  I think is a continuing message for all of us:

“People tend to look in each other’s wallets instead of each other’s eyes.  You can’t buy a look into someone’s heart.  Or a loving look.  Or a smile.  The retention of important memories is a gift beyond price.  Memory is where the proof of life is stored.  Unobstructed access to memories is both a sign of good health and a measure of true wealth.  Money can’t buy health and money can’t buy hope.”

I am thankful for the time that we have had on this Earth together, and her passing reminds me to value the time we all have with our loved ones. To allow our ‘time’ on this planet to walk with us rather than be our adversary and to cherish every moment, because they will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we lived, and I know how much my mother loved this life and those of you who shared it with her. So those of us who knew her will understand when I say that her passing to me is truly only that state in which she exists within all of us whose lives she has touched, which is why today is not about an end. I know she lives on within me and my children and that too shall pass to my children’s children. No good-byes mom, just wonderful memories.  You will walk with me always. I will see you again.

-Michael Robert Johanson

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Past, Present, Future

BellsLast night I attended our youth group meeting and had the incredible opportunity to climb the bell tower and see some of the “behind the scenes” things that most people never see.  I posted pictures on Facebook of our bells, the view of the street through the wire mesh, and the incredible size of some of the beams that support the roof.  Those beams are huge, and every few inches is a rivet the size of a half dollar or a half of a golf ball.  Mike Greiner and I were marveling as we remembered what it must have took to put that all in place in 1896.  Fifty years before welding was invented, each of those rivets would have been hammered in by hand while still red-hot, and each of those mammoth beams had to be carefully raised into place three for four stories above the ground. img_20180923_222439_111

While we were in the tower, we also had the chance to jump over one of those beams, climb down a rickety looking ladder, climb the catwalk, maneuver around some other beams, and ultimately stand in the space above our sanctuary ceiling.  It is only in that space that you can see the original sanctuary ceiling which was covered up during a renovation in the 1930’s.  At that time, the ceiling was lowered, perhaps in an effort to add insulation and increase energy efficiency, but that effort also allowed the removal of the great sanctuary chandelier gas lights and install overhead electric lighting in the ceiling instead.

img_20180923_190423428I love being able to do things like that.  I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that all our youth did too (Thanks Mike!).  But this experience got me thinking.  As our trustees and finance committees meet, I often thank God for the gifts that have been given to us by those giants of the faith who were here before us.  Since 1839, generations of men and women have labored together in this place and contributed their sweat, their time, their passion, their hearts, and their money to the ministry that goes on here still today.

But we also remember, that as impressive as it is, they didn’t do all of this so that we could take up space in an impressive building.  Buildings may be impressive, and they may be beautiful, but they don’t inspire, and they don’t accomplish the mission.  Those men and women who were here from 1839 until now left us a legacy of more than bricks and mortar.  Each of them worked to preach the message of the Gospel, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to care for the widows and the orphans, to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ, to offer light to a dark world, and rescue to people who were condemned by God.

And thinking about all of that brought me to this thought: What will we be remembered for?  Many of us, and many of those in our community, have a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ because generations of people in this place made sure that they passed on what they knew to the next generation.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those men and women built a church, they carved out a community and a city in the middle of a wilderness, they constructed, and remodeled, a marvelous architectural work of art in which we worship, and they remained faithful to the mission and the vision of Jesus Christ. img_20180923_183536_854

But today, the responsibility for that mission and vision has fallen to us.  If we are to be remembered, then resting on the shoulders of those giants isn’t enough.  We must carry on, and move forward, with the same vision, passion and commitment as those who went before us.  It’s our turn to preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and orphans, offer light to a dark world, and rescue the lost.

Make no mistake.  Our church building is incredible.  But as we admire its beauty we should ask ourselves:

How will we be remembered?

What legacy will we leave behind?

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.

Who’s Your Favorite?

“Who’s Your Favorite?”

September 09, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23              Mark 7:24-37             James 2:1-17

A quick quiz.

Which of you were the teacher’s pet?

Which of you were Mom’s favorite? Or, Dad’s favorite?

How many of you can identify, at work, the one person that sucks up to the boss and who, as a result, may or may not be the favorite?

We have names for people who are the favorite.  We may get jealous of others when they are the favorite, but when it occasionally happens to us, it can be kind of nice.

But we have favorites of our own.  That’s why, among all our friends, we have “best friends.”  We have favorite churches, and favorite pastors, favorite restaurants, favorite ice cream flavors, favorite foods, favorite places, favorite soft drinks, favorite candy bars, and all kinds of other things.

But there is danger here.

Simply because we are so accustomed to playing favorites, we are also prone to do so when we really shouldn’t.  We know that as parents, we shouldn’t have a “favorite” child, but many of us probably do anyway.  And the same thing is true spiritually.  Scripture provides clear warning that we need to be careful.

We begin in the book of Proverbs where we find all sorts of reliable “rules of thumb” that can often be used to guide our lives. (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)

22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken.

The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

22 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court,
23 for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.

Obviously, the specific warning that we find here is to remember that all of us are loved by God regardless of our economic circumstances.  Our natural reactions are to be a little in awe of people who have more than we do, perhaps to even be a little star struck by them, to want to be like them, and therefore tend to take their side in disputes, or at least, to stay out of a dispute that involves them.  At the same time, we tend to look down on people who have less than we do, to accuse them of being lazy or not working hard enough.  We don’t like people who don’t dress as well as we do, or who smell bad, or drive fifteen-year-old rust buckets.  We judge people who are missing teeth and can’t afford dentures or a trip to the dentist.

This isn’t something that came to us as adults.  We learned this from adults and from our peers when we saw how people treated the kids who couldn’t afford band camp, or who couldn’t pay for the class trip, or even go to Cedar Point or Kings Island, Kennywood Park, or even to the movies with the rest of our friends.  Our prejudice, and bias against the poor began early.  But that isn’t the example that we have from Jesus.  In Mark 7:24-37, we hear two stories of Jesus’ healing.  And the people that he healed, were not the people that one would necessarily expect.

24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened, and he began to speak plainly.

36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

The woman in the story was Greek.  A foreigner, an outsider, and a Gentile.  The Jewish people lived alongside of the Greeks and did business with them when the occasion demanded it, but at the same time, considered them to be unclean.  Jesus even compares helping her with giving the meal intended for your children to the dogs.  But her answer shows great faith.  The woman essentially tells Jesus that she knows that his power, and the power of his God, is so great that what she was asking was of no more consequence than the crumbs left under the table after dinner.

And Jesus heals her daughter.

In the second story, someone brings a man to Jesus who is deaf and who can barely speak.  In that society, it is most likely that this man was destitute.  It would have been difficult for a deaf man who could not communicate to find work, or to keep it.  The odds are good that he relied upon the generosity of his family, friends, and community for his very survival.  But Jesus doesn’t count that against him.  Jesus was the man who spent his time with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners, and outsiders.  He was the one who spoke with, touched, cared about, healed, and loved lepers from whom everyone else would run away.  And Jesus was also the person that criticized the rich and the powerful and was so brutal in his estimation of them that he made enemies that would seek to end his life.

And with that in mind, Jesus’ brother James also draws special attention to this same subject and spells out what Jesus’ example should mean to us.  In James 2:1-17 we hear these words:

2:1 My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

12 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, 13 because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Much like our own, the culture in which James lived valued rich people and looked down on the poor.  In fact, Roman culture ran on a system of patronage in which, to get ahead, people put themselves under the influence of wealthier people, helped those wealthy people to make more business contacts, look good in front of others, and get even wealthier.  In return, the wealthy people, or patrons, introduced you to more important and influential contacts, helped you grow your business and get wealthier yourself.  Wealthy patrons were the ones who donated the money to build monuments, or even paid to have major buildings constructed.  King Herod built major improvements to the entire city of Paneas and renamed it Caesarea Philippi to honor his patron Caesar Augustus.  As if that wasn’t enough, Herod also built almost the entirety of the new city of Caesarea Maritima (in which many of the buildings were so opulent\ that they were entirely covered by imported white marble) on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea for the same reason.

This system of patronage was a well-established and rigid system of “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.”  Failing to do what your patron wanted could result in the ruin of everything that you had built.  But James fights against the system.  He insists that giving preference, or showing favoritism, to the rich, or discriminating against the poor was the same as sitting in judgement of them and therefore taking the place of God.  James wants to be sure that we understand that the poor are just as chosen, and just as loved, by God as we are, and just as chosen, and just as loved as the rich are.  What James wants to know, and this applies to us just as clearly as it did to those living under the system of Roman patronage, “Why do you show favoritism to the rich, when it’s the rich people that are taking advantage of you?”  Aren’t they the ones that are suing you and taking your property?  And aren’t they the ones that are blaspheming God and saying horrible things about Jesus?

Instead, James says, we need to listen to the words of scripture.  To love our neighbors, rich and poor alike, just as much as we love ourselves.  Showing favoritism is sin and condemns us just as if we were murderers.  Instead of showing favoritism, James says, we ought to be people who are known for showing mercy.  We should speak, and act, like people who will be judged by God.

Having faith without deeds is dead faith and it cannot save you.

The only faith that can save you is a faith that causes you to act like Jesus and to do what Jesus did.

You can’t play favorites.

Don’t tell a hungry person that you’ll pray for them.  Feed them.

Don’t send “warm wishes” to a cold person. Give them your coat.

Don’t send “good thoughts” or “positive energy” to the grieving.  Comfort them.

Because…

…Faith, without action, is dead.

 

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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.

He Got ONE Wish

“He Got ONE Wish”

August 19, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

How many wishes do you get if you release a genie from a lamp?

If you’ve ever read “A 1,001 Arabian Nights”, or even if you’ve watched a lot of Bugs Bunny, most of us would say that you “normally” get three wishes.  But if you read more about genies you will find that they are often tricksters who are angry and unfriendly toward humans.  But obviously, both Bugs Bunny and “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights” are works of fiction.  In the real world, there’s no reason to argue over the number of wishes because no one gets wishes granted.  As Christians, we are accustomed to praying for the things that we need, but we are, or we should be, regularly reminded that God is not a genie that grants wishes.

So, what’s with the sermon title?  “He Got One Wish.”

Who did?

And for that let’s begin with our first scripture for today.  As we have been reading bits and pieces of the story of King David, we knew that there would, eventually, be an end to his story.  And so, in our first scripture for today we hear of the end of David’s life and rule over Israel, but also about the transition to his son, Solomon, whom God chose as David’s successor. (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)

2:10 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.

3:1 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.

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. 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.”

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.

“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. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. 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.”

David’s son Solomon becomes the king of Israel and offers sacrifices to God.  One thousand sacrifices to God were offered on the altar at Gibeon alone.  And that night, after that sacrifice, God came to Solomon in a dream and instructed Solomon to ask for whatever he wanted.  It is as if God was offering Solomon one single wish.  And Solomon knew what it was that he wanted.  He had watched his David, his father, lead the nation of Israel.  He knew how hard life had sometimes been.  He had seen the trials that his father had faced, he had heard the stories of David’s victories, but also the stories of David’s time in the desert running from King Saul.  Solomon had seen David’s faith in God lived out in real life.  Solomon saw, firsthand, the conflict between David and Absalom and he knew of David’s great desire to build God’s temple.  Solomon knew that David’s faith, and David’s God, were very real.

And so, Solomon asks God for a discerning heart so that he might govern well and know the difference between right and wrong.  But the surprising part of the story isn’t what Solomon asked for, but the things for which Solomon didn’t ask.  Solomon didn’t ask for sex, or money, or power, or victory over his enemies, or health, or for a long life.  Solomon’s only request was a gift that would benefit the people of Israel more than it would Solomon.

And God is pleased.

Let’s stop here for just a moment because this is a lesson worth remembering.  God allows Solomon to ask for whatever he wants.  Solomon asks for a gift that benefits others.  And God is pleased.  We are often reminded that God invites us to ask for whatever we want or need.  But far less often are we reminded that God is pleased when we ask for gifts that benefit others.

And with that in mind, let’s remember where Jesus fits into what we are talking about as we read from John 6:51-58.  Jesus said,

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.”

The confusion in this passage arises because the people thought that Jesus was talking about eating literal flesh but, in our understanding, Jesus was talking something else.  Some have taught that this was the origin of the idea of using bread to represent the body of Christ in communion, but a better understanding is to remember that John began his gospel by saying that Jesus was the Word, and the Word became flesh.  And so, the two ideas that we need to remember from this passage is first, that we must consume the word of God regularly so that we can live.  It is the word of God that sustains our lives and it is the word of God that will lead us to eternal life.  Second, remember that Jesus knew that the sacrifice of his life would make it possible for us to live forever.  Like Solomon, Jesus, as the son of the king of the universe, could have chosen anything that he wanted, but he chose to suffer so that he could give us the greatest gift of all.

It pleased God that Jesus chose a gift (the gift of suffering and death) that benefitted others.

So, what does that mean for us?

For that, let’s read Paul’s instructions to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 5:15-20).

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.

Paul says that as followers of Jesus Christ, we need to be careful of how we live.  We must be wise, like Solomon, and make the most of every opportunity.  We must not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is for our lives and for the world.  As we look at this and consider the scriptures that we read this morning, we remember that Solomon was wise because he chose the gift that benefitted others.  And we remember that the will of God, demonstrated through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, was to rescue all of God’s people from sin and death.  Paul says that it is foolishness to get drunk on wine and live a life of debauchery, which is a caution against living a life of excess and selfishness.  God’s will is not to make you rich, or for you to ask him for sex, or money, or power, for victory over your enemies, or health, or for a long life.  God’s will is to save the world.

We are called to be pure and holy, to follow God’s direction, to regularly consume the word of God, to lift one another up, to be joyful, to be thankful, and to be wise enough to make the most of every opportunity.  We are called to be wise, and our examples today showed wisdom when God’s people chose to do what was best for others.

1 John 5:14-15 says, “14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.”

Did you hear that?  “If we ask anything… according to his will, he will hear us.”

God is not a genie.  But God does answer prayers.  He is pleased when we ask for things that will help others.  John said, “if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.”   God will give us anything that we ask that aligns with his will.  And his will, his mission, is nothing less than to save the world.

The hardest part in all of this is, to align our desires with God’s desires.  To stop being selfish and asking for the things that we want, things like money, sex, power, victory over your enemies, health, or for a long life.  And instead start wanting the things that God wants, to be pure and holy, to encourage one another, to lift one another up, to be joyful and thankful, and to rescue as many of God’s people as we possibly can.

God is pleased when we ask for gifts that benefit others and which aid us in rescuing his children.

So, let’s not pray that our church would be bigger, or have more money, or be more popular.  Instead, let’s start praying that our church would become a lifeboat, or a light house, a place of rescue, a hospital of hope for the hopeless, and a light in the darkness so that the people around us who are hurting and lost can find a place of healing, hope, and rescue where they can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ and feed on the bread that brings eternal life.

If we could ask God for one wish, for just one answered prayer…

that ought to be it.

 

 

 

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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.