No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

No Fear, No Dogma, No Excuses

August 25, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

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

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

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Jesus has a different answer. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…to have the heart of God.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Choices and Hypocrites

“Choices and Hypocrites”

September 02, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

Have you ever loved someone?

This question is particularly addressed to those of you who are married or who might soon be married.

Do you remember what it was like to love your significant other before you became “old married people?”

Do you remember how intense your feelings were?  How powerful your passion for one another was?

It is exactly this passion and intensity that we find in the Song of Solomon.  This poem is all about
Solomon’s love for his bride and her for him.  It’s all about the passion and intensity of love and marriage between a man and a woman, but for thousands of years, in both Jewish and Christian theology, it has also been an allegory about the relationship between God and his people Israel, and between Jesus and his church.

Let’s begin in Song of Solomon 2:8-13, where we hear these words:

Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattice.
10 My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
11 See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
12 Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.”

When used and understood as an allegory, we can see how intensely and passionately God loves his people and his church.  Unlike the repeated theme in The Game of Thrones, winter is not coming.  In Solomon’s story, and in God’s story, winter is over.  Spring has come.  The flowers appear.  Spring is a representation of new life, of reproduction, and a reminder that a healthy love produces fruit.  When we understand our relationship with Jesus Christ in that way, a love that is full of passion and intensity, then we begin to understand that our relationship can, and should, be more that what most of us are experiencing.  Just as the Song of Solomon reminds us that our relationship with our spouse could be stronger if it were renewed and refreshed by remembering the feelings of passion, intensity, and love that we once had, it also reminds us that our relationship with God could likely stand some refreshing as well.

In the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Mark (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus confronts a group of church leaders who had forgotten their love for God and who had allowed that relationship to become all about routine, tradition, and rules.

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law criticized Jesus because his followers didn’t wash their hands before they ate as tradition demanded.  Jesus replies with scripture and quotes the prophet Isaiah while at the same time calling these church leaders a bunch of hypocrites.  Isaiah called out the same kind of people in his generation for talking all about their love for God but having hearts that were nothing like the kind of hearts that God wanted.  Instead, Isaiah says, they are totally focused on human rules and Jesus says that the church leaders of his generation had done the same thing.  They had forgotten the important things that God wanted and focused instead on rules that men wanted.

Nothing has changed.

How often do we see churches that are fixated on rules that you can’t find anywhere in the Bible?  Or rules that are twisted to be more important than they ever were when the Bible was written?  There are churches that say you can’t be a Christian if you are a Republican and others that say you can’t belong if you are a Democrat, some that prohibit their members from wearing certain kinds of clothing, or drinking alcohol, or smoking, or attending other churches, or listening to other pastors, and on and on it goes.  If you listen carefully to many televangelists, you’ll find much the same things and this is exactly what you will find with many of the groups that we refer to as cults.  But this sort of thing also creeps into our local churches, and into our personal lives.  And Jesus cautions us to be careful that we keep our focus on our hearts.  We need to have hearts like God and hearts that love the things that God loves.

We are hypocrites if we talk all about God and have hearts that are full of sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance, and foolish projects.

James spells this out clearly. (James 1:17-27)

17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James reminds us all that God does not change.  God sent Jesus, the word of truth, so that we could be born to eternal life.  As the followers of Jesus, we should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry because anger does not draw us toward the things of God but pushes us away from the things of God instead.  Moreover, James has an important word of caution for us as we follow Jesus and try not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees.

James says that we cannot simply come to church and listen to the scriptures being preached, proclaimed, and taught.  Coming to church isn’t enough.  Listening to, or even reading scripture, isn’t enough.  The pharisees heard scripture every day.  They studied it.  They taught it.  They proclaimed it.  The even enforced it.  But that wasn’t enough because the word of God never made it to their hearts.  They insisted that people follow tradition.  They called out people who didn’t follow the rules.  But they didn’t do the things that God wanted.  James says that while listening to the word of God is important, we must also do the things that God has called us to do.

Calling ourselves Christians, and going to church, and reading and listening to scripture doesn’t do us any good at all if we don’t do the things that scripture teaches and act the way that Christians are called to act.  James says that those who fail to do what God commands are like someone who looks in a mirror and immediately forgets what he looks like.  We would describe such a person as a fool, or worse.  But to be blessed, a person must look into God’s word and not forget and do the things that it says.  James says that hypocrites who don’t do what they have been taught, have a religion that is worthless.

So, what does all this mean?

It’s simple.  And it’s difficult at the same time.  The Song of Solomon is a clue, and it reminds us that all of scripture is a love letter from God to his church, and that God’s great desire is for us to love him with the same passion and desire that he has for us.  The closest and best understanding of what that love looks like is the love that a bride and her bridegroom have for one another.

But too often, the people, the church, and even its leaders forget the love that they once had for God and they begin to love their own desires and their own rules more than they love God.  Both Isaiah and Jesus describe such people as those who honor God with their lips but whose hearts are far from him.  They worship God in vain.  They have made poor choices. Their religion is worthless.  They are… hypocrites.

The only defense that we have is to stay in love.  To remember the passion that we once had, and work to return to the lover that loves us back with passion and intensity.  Because if our love is real, then that love will be lived out through our actions.

We are God’s chosen.

We are God’s people.

We are God’s beloved.

We must do the things that that God has taught us to do.

Not because of fear.

Not because of rules.

Not because of traditions.

Not because of obligation.

Not because of duty.

But because of love.

 

_________

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

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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.

The Reason for Rules

“The Reason for Rules”

February 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18                 Matthew 5:38-48                 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23

Have you ever thought that there are just too many rules to remember?

 

We have rules about etiquette, culture, language, law, and religion.  There are rules and laws that govern the maintenance of our automobiles, how we drive, where we drive, what we drive, and who can ride in the car with us.  We have rules about what kind of gas we can buy, where we can buy it, and how they are allowed to sell it.  We have rules about who is allowed to drive, when they can drive, and what skills they have to have to get permission to drive.  We have rules about how the cars that we drive are made, what they look like, what safety features are required, which are allowed but not required, and even which safety features are not allowed.  We have rules about who is allowed to sell cars, how they can be sold, and who can’t sell cars and who is not allowed to sell them.  There are simply tons of rules about even the simplest things in our lives and we are prone to wonder why we have so many rules, if there is any real necessity for so many rules, and if there is a reason that we have so many of them.  But consider for a minute, what would happen if we encountered a stretch of highway where there were no rules.

 

I can assure you that in a very short amount of time, no one would want to go there.

 

What if you could drive as fast as you wanted, in any kind of vehicle you could imagine, and no one had to obey any traffic laws at all?  You could not have any expectation of road safety or regular maintenance.  The people around you might be riding bicycle, driving bulldozers, or drag racing jet powered semi-tractors.  People could be driving fast, or be parked in the middle of the highway.  Without rules, that stretch of road would be frighteningly dangerous and in a state of continuous chaos.

 

When you think about what driving would be like with no rules, we quickly realize that although there are some rules that might be questionable, there are generally good reasons that the rules exist.

 

That just seems to make sense to us, but at the same time, people ask the same sort of questions about our faith, Christianity, Judaism, and the Bible.

 

Why are there so many rules?

 

And as we read through scripture today, we discover that the answer is surprisingly simple.  We begin in Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, where we hear these words, many of which we remember as a part of the Ten Commandments:

19:1 The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.

“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.

11 “‘Do not steal.

“‘Do not lie.

“‘Do not deceive one another.

12 “‘Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.

13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

“‘Do not hold back the wages of a hired worker overnight.

14 “‘Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the Lord.

15 “‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

16 “‘Do not go about spreading slander among your people.

“‘Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord.

17 “‘Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt.

Please note that this expands on the message that we heard last week.  Do not hate a brother or sister in Christ, but if you know that they are doing something wrong, neither should you simply ignore what they are doing nor cover it up.  If you knowingly ignore wrongdoing, or help to cover it up, you share the guilt of the people who are doing wrong.

18 “‘Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

This list offers a slightly different slant than the Ten Commandments, but I think the most important words in this passage are found in the introduction.  God commands Moses to gather all of the people of Israel and it isn’t difficult to imagine that everyone’s first reaction, including Moses, would be to ask why.  And so God says, “Speak to the entire assembly and say to them, be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”

What we almost always forget when we think about the Ten Commandments is this introduction.

Be holy, because God is holy.

God does not say that he is giving his people a list of instructions because he loves rules, or because he enjoys burdening people with lots of restrictions on their behavior.  What God says, is that he wants us to be like him, and then he gives us some examples of how we, imperfect and corrupt as we are, can do better.  God doesn’t give us rules to follow because he loves bureaucracy, but because he wants to point us in a direction that leads to life and holiness instead of suffering and death.

Imagine God’s frustration in this.  Imagine that someone comes to you, tells you that they are very sick, that they need to see a doctor, and asks for directions to the hospital.  And when you tell them how to get there, they complain bitterly that you are putting too many restrictions on their freedom and insist that they can go any direction that they want to.

Of course, that seems ridiculous, but that is exactly what it must seem like to God when we complain about there being too many rules restricting our freedom, when the entire purpose of the rules was to give us directions that would save our lives.

Jesus says something similar in Matthew 5:38-48, where we hear these words:

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus says, I know that you’ve all heard about “conventional wisdom,” but the conventional wisdom is wrong.  The only way to reduce violence is not to participate in it.  Be willing to take a loss, be willing to look foolish, be willing to be disturbingly generous, even when it is costly to you.  God has done good to you and has poured out his love upon you, even before you ever met him.  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.  Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal is to be perfect.

 

Paul emphasizes this difference in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, where he says…

 

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care.11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.


16 
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

18 Do not deceive yourselves. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. 19 For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; 20 and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” 21 So then, no more boasting about human leaders! All things are yours, 22 whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.

Paul says that the foundation of everything that we do is Jesus Christ.  Because the Spirit of God has taken up residence inside of us, we are the temple of God.  This weekly gathering of fellow believers is sacred because this is God’s temple.  It isn’t the building, it’s the people.  Paul also echoes Jesus in fighting against the conventional wisdom or “the standards of the age,” and reminds the church that worldly wisdom is not the same as godly wisdom, and what God teaches is often ridiculed by conventional wisdom.

So what does this all mean?

In the end, what this means is that the foundation of everything that we do is Jesus Christ.  We are called to be different because we belong to Jesus and through Jesus, we belong to God.  We are called to be holy, not because God loves rules, or because God wants to take away your freedom, but because we want to be like God, and God is holy.  We want to live, and God has given us a prescription that can lead us to health and wellness.  We are moral free agents who are absolutely free to do whatever we choose, but God is abundantly clear that our choices can either lead us to God’s blessing and life, or to suffering and death.

You wouldn’t want to even try to drive on a highway that didn’t have any rules.  It is the rules that maintain order and keep us safe.  And so whenever we hear people complaining that God has too many rules, or that the church just wants to control your life, the question that you should ask is probably similar to the one you might ask someone who criticizes you for giving them directions to the hospital.

You can do whatever you want.

Do you want to get better?

Or not?

 

 

 

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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.

 

John Wesley’s Crazy Rules?

    On Monday May 1st of 1738, John Wesley wrote in his journal the rules of the new group that eventually called themselves Methodists.  Somehow over the intervening centuries we seem to have lost our commitment to these simple principles, so much so that many of our church members today would be greatly offended by suggesting these rules and would quit outright if we made any attempt to enforce them.
In obedience to the command of God by St. James, and by the advice of Peter Böhler, it was agreed by us—
1. That we will meet together once a week to ‘confess our faults one to another, and pray for one another that we may be healed’.
2. That the persons so meeting be divided into several ‘bands’, or little companies, none of them consisting of fewer than five or more than ten persons.
3. That everyone in order speak as freely, plainly, and concisely as he can, the real state of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances, since the last time of meeting.
4. That all the bands have a conference at eight every Wednesday evening, begun and ended with singing and prayer.
5. That any who desire to be admitted into this society be asked, What are your reasons for desiring this? Will you be entirely open, using no kind of reserve? Have you any objection to any of our orders? (which may then be read).
6. That when any new member is proposed everyone present speak clearly and freely whatever objection he has to him.
7. That those against whom no reasonable objection appears be, in order for their trial, formed into one or more distinct bands, and some person agreed on to assist them.
8. That after two months’ trial, if no objection then appear, they be admitted into the society.
9. That every fourth Saturday be observed as a day of general intercession.
10. That on the Sunday sennight [Note: seven days later – i.e. the following Sunday] following be a general love-feast, from seven till ten in the evening.
11. That no particular member be allowed to act in anything contrary to any order of the society; and that if any persons, after being thrice admonished, do not conform thereto, they be not any longer esteemed as members.
    In the churches where I have attended as a lay person and those where I have been a pastor I have encountered people who felt that “small groups” were an intrusion into their privacy, a burden on their time, or were simply unnecessary or un-Methodist.  Clearly, at least according to the founder of Methodism, they are none of those things.  Many books and articles that we read today about ‘church growth’ preach small groups as a means to growth as if this is a new idea but if you substitute ‘small groups’ as you read the general rules whenever you encounter the word ‘bands’ (defined as 5 to 10 persons) you discover that the idea is not new at all.  It is, however, a sound principle that allowed the early Methodist movement to grow so returning to this principle is certainly a good idea.
    It is also interesting to note that this group was not a church and assumed that in addition to membership in the group that one would also belong to a church.  Attendance therefore would be expected at church on Sunday morning, small group every Wednesday, prayer meeting one evening each month and a love-feast (which likely involved a time of public confession, sharing of communion, and a covered dish dinner) which lasted for three hours once each month.  Two centuries later, it seems that in many of our churches, showing up on Sunday morning more than twice a month is almost too much to be expected.
    Finally, our modern members would be shocked and appalled to find that membership meant something.  Members in this society were tested and carefully evaluated before being admitted, they were allowed in only after a two month trial (or a probationary period), could be publicly admonished for behaving in ways that were contrary to the group’s sensibilities and could be removed for continuing to do so.  Some of our members today often seem to expect that anyone should be admitted for any reason and should remain so for life unless they choose to leave regardless of the problems that they cause for everyone else.
    I know that times have changed and the society we live in today is markedly different than the one Mr. Wesley lived in in 1738, but I wonder that if Mr. Wesley were alive today and enforced these rules, if half our members wouldn’t quit (or be thrown out) within a week.  On the other hand, it worked quite well the first time.  It just might be worth trying.  
    What do you think?