Near-Sighted Death

Near-Sighted Death

August 04, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23        Colossians 3:1-11         Luke 12:13-21

 

broken-glassesHow many of you wear glasses or contact lenses?

Of those, are you near-sighted?  Or far-sighted?  If you forget which-is-which, just remember that if you can read without glasses, you are near-sighted and if you can drive a car without glasses, you are far-sighted.

Those of us who wear glasses are constantly aware that driving without our glasses would be dangerous to ourselves and others.  Even the Bureau of Motor Vehicles thinks so and they put a restriction on our driver’s license that declares it to be a legal offense to drive without our glasses.

But although we know that near-sightedness can be dangerous, that isn’t the kind of near-sightedness that we need to talk about.  Although it might be described as near-sightedness, the vision problem that we are warned about in scripture is an entirely different, and far more widespread, problem than the one that can be corrected with eyeglasses.

We begin this morning with a reading from the book of Ecclesiastes, a book that was likely written by the wise King Solomon, but as we read it, we quickly discover that Solomon must have been in a very dark emotional place while he was writing. (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:17-23)

1:2 “Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

1:12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

2:17 So I hated life, because the work that is done under the sun was grievous to me. All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind. 18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Up until the end of our reading, Solomon is focused entirely on what the world can give him.  The word the he often repeats is, “meaningless” and, in Hebrew, this can be understood to mean something that is empty, futile, or transient.  Solomon knows that everything that he, and his father, have worked so hard to accomplish will one day be left to someone else who may, or may not, care about him, his goals, his values, or his legacy.  But this is what you see when your vision sees no further than your own mortality.  This is a deadly kind of near-sightedness.  But in the verses and chapters beyond these, Solomon begins to understand that finding meaning in this life depends entirely on understanding that there is something, and someone, that is greater than ourselves.  Finding meaning depends on understanding that there is more to life than just sixty or eighty years of this mortal life. 

In Luke 12:13-21, Jesus encounters a man who is struggling with the same problem and provides a prescription for the deadly near-sightedness of our fleshly humanity.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Someone in the crowd asks Jesus to arbitrate a dispute between him and his brother.  This wouldn’t necessarily be out of line because it’s conceivable that rabbis might occasionally do such things.  But Jesus isn’t interested because he has far more important issues to address than whether, or not, one brother is dividing his father’s estate “fairly.”  The person in the crowd is basically saying that he isn’t getting enough of the money for which his father had worked and toiled.  Worrying about how large your inheritance is, or how much stuff you have, or how much money you have in the bank, is the kind of greedy, near-sighted thinking that Jesus cautions us to guard against.

In Jesus’ parable, a rich man keeps building bigger barns in which to store stuff so that he can continue to accumulate more rather than sharing what he has with the poor or donating even a portion of it to the church, or to any other cause.  Jesus echoes Solomon by saying, once you are dead, “then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  Does your wealth bring you meaning if you’re dead?  Life is meaningless for whomever stores things up for themselves. 

A life of meaning only comes when we share our riches with God and with others.

But besides sharing our stuff with God, how do we, as followers of Jesus Christ, live lives of meaning every day?  In Colossians 3:1-11, Paul explains it this way:

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is more than just sharing our stuff or sharing our money, it’s a lifestyle that is far-sighted instead of near-sighted.  Instead of focusing on our 60 or 80 years of mortal life, focus instead on a life lived for eternity.  Realize that our entire lives on earth are just an instant compared to the forever that comes next.  Realize that people who are different from us, people from the other side of the tracks, from different social and economic circumstances than ours, people who like different music, people that live on the other side of the planet from us, who speak different languages, and who have a different color skin, may well be our next door neighbors, co-workers, mentors, and friends when we move into our new homes in heaven.

Living a life that is meaningful and rich toward God is beginning your eternity now, by putting to death those things that are near-sighted and focused on your own personal satisfaction, and pleasure such as sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Paul says that greed isn’t just bad, but greed is, in fact, idolatry because greed puts money and self in the place of God.  Get rid of anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, and lies so that you can become more like the person that God created you to be, and the person that you will one day become.

Setting your sights only on your life on earth is a near-sighted recipe for destruction, meaninglessness, and death.  Instead, we must set our sights on God, on eternity, and a life in heaven that will be lived alongside people of every tribe, every nation, and every language.  To live a life of meaning, we must be a people who are far-sighted.  Because, by seeing the distant and eternal future, we can put today’s problems, fears, social tension, injustice, needs, wants, desires, and everyday ordinary decisions of every kind in their proper perspective.

May we all live deeply meaningful lives that are rich toward God in every way.

 

 

 


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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.

The Heart of God’s Lover

“The Heart of God’s Lover”
August 30, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture: Song of Solomon 2:8-13          1 John 3:2-4          Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Have you ever been to a wedding? Certainly, almost all of us have and of all the things that we always remember at every wedding is how beautiful the bride was. It doesn’t really matter what kind of a wedding it is either. It could be a traditional wedding, a country and western wedding, a formal wedding, an informal wedding, they are all the same in that the bride does her very best to look beautiful. I once performed a wedding in which our church secretary got a phone call from the court house, in the morning, from a couple who was there getting their wedding license. They wondered if the pastor could marry them that afternoon so that they could be done and home before the kids got home from school. It seems that they had been living together for eight or ten years and the groom was finally in a mood to get married, and so the poor woman knew she didn’t want to waste her chance. They dashed off to the courthouse, got a wedding license, came down to the church with another couple as witnesses, and got married in my office. And even then, the bride took the time to stop at home and make sure that her hair and make-up got a little extra attention.

At any wedding, it is the love that the bride and groom have for one another that makes them want to look their best for the one that they love.

It is that principle that I want you to keep in mind.

Throughout scripture, God’s redeemer and rescuer, the Messiah, is described as the bridegroom. The prophet Isaiah said that (Isaiah 62:5) “As a young man marries a young woman, so will your Builder marry you; as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

In Matthew 9:15, Jesus describes himself as the bridegroom saying, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? The time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them; then they will fast.”

And in John’s Revelation the bride is revealed to be all of those whose names have been written in the Lamb’s book of life, that is, the followers of Jesus Christ, his church.

It is these sorts of lessons that bring the Old Testament into sharper focus. We always knew that the Old Testament was full of interesting stories but aside from revealing things about the basic morality of the Israelites, a bit of history, and a lot of weird stuff about the old system of worship and sacrifice, we often had a hard time understanding it. But, with the arrival of Jesus and the fulfillment of prophecy, we can go back and revisit some of those books that we thought were old and dusty, and see them in an entirely new light. We can see them differently, because we can now see them through the lens of Jesus.

For example, let’s look at the Song of Solomon. We always knew that this was a great book about love and sex, but if we think about Jesus as the bridegroom, our understanding of the story changes completely. (Song of Solomon 2:8-13)

8 Listen! My beloved!
Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 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.”

It’s easy to picture a bridegroom peeking through the lattice at his beloved, singing with joy, but when we re-imagine that scene where it is God that is peeking at us, where God is filled with anticipation of being with us, because of his passionate love for us, then the whole thing takes on a completely different, and amazingly wonderful, flavor.

If God loves us in this deep and passionate way, then we are more than simply loved by God, we are the beloved of God or, in other words, we are God’s lover.

But if God is in love with us in this amazing way, then how are we, as the Bride of Christ, to prepare ourselves for our wedding? What does it look like for us to, spiritually, do our hair and make-up and beautify ourselves for our bridegroom?

If we look, we can find the answer directly from the lips of Jesus. In Mark chapter 7 the Pharisees take issue with the behavior of Jesus’ followers because they are not following “the rules” of the law and so are living lives that are unclean. Because of this, these church leaders attach Jesus. (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

7:1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus 2 and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 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.)

5 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?”

6 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.
7 They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

8 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 issue for Jesus, you see, is, and always has been, an issue of purity.
In 1 John 3:2-4, John puts it this way:

2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

The way that we beautify ourselves for our bridegroom is to purify ourselves and Jesus wanted to be sure that we understood that purity isn’t about washing our hands before we eat, or rinsing cups or kettles, or blindly following old traditions.

Purity is all about the heart.

Purity is all about what’s on the inside.

As we prepare ourselves for our beloved, and for our wedding day, our goal isn’t to get rich, or to elect the right political party, or be famous, or to do so many other things that our culture thinks are important. Instead, as James (James 1:27) taught us,

“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.”

God loves us deeply and passionately and our goal is to prepare ourselves for the day that he will call us to live with him in his pure and perfect home. To do that, we must deal with a serious heart condition. We must purify our hearts, filling them with the word of God and other things of purity, and we must do the things that God has called us to do.

Because the heart of God’s lover…

…is our own.

Nowhere to Run

“Nowhere to Run”
August 23, 2015
By John Partridge

Scripture:     1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30               Ephesians 6:10-20               John 6:56-69

Have you been reading about all that has been happening in the Middle East since the Arab Spring? There has been a rise in radicalism throughout the region that is not limited to ISIS. There are dozens of radical groups fighting against the government, and against one another, in Syria, Iran is becoming even more anti-western and anti-Christian than ever before, and although many good people are trying to help, radical groups in Egypt have dramatically escalated their attacks on Christians (who are known as Copts, or Coptic Christians in Egypt) and on Coptic Churches. Throughout the Middle East, and in many parts of North Africa, Christians are being persecuted and killed far more than they have been in generations. Ships full of refugees are arriving daily in Europe seeking asylum.

And yet, interesting stories are emerging from that part of the world that tell us that God is alive and well and still involved in the world in which we live.

Before I elaborate, I want to remember the story of Jonah. We aren’t going to read it today, but remember that God called Jonah and sent him on a mission. But Jonah didn’t want to go and, for whatever reason, Jonah thought that if he could just get far enough away, God wouldn’t be able to find him. And so, Jonah looked at the map, picked the port that was farthest away on the map. Jonah bought a ticket to Tarshish, a city in North Africa on the Atlantic coast that appeared to be at the end of the world, and ran away.

But you cannot run from God.

Although many of the gods of other nations were known to be regional gods who cared only for a certain, limited, part of the world, the God of Israel is the god who created the heavens and the earth and all that is.

There is nowhere to run.

You cannot run from a God who is everywhere.

And so, in the Middle East where many violent people are doing their best to say that the God of Israel isn’t real, that the Jesus of the Christians was nothing more than a prophet, and are trying to destroy, by any means possible, the witness of the church, people are discovering the same thing that Jonah found something like four thousand years ago.

You cannot run from God.

Despite the violence, Christians are taking a stand. The witness of persecuted Christians is being noticed. And I have heard several stories of Muslims who have encountered the risen Christ in their dreams or who have heard a voice who told them to learn more about Issa (the Muslim name for Jesus). With and without the efforts of missionaries and other believers, the name of Jesus is being made known. In fact, according to a witness quoted in a recent issue of Charisma magazine, in some churches as many as 80 percent of those in attendance will say that they came to Christ because of a dream. Veteran missionaries say that more people are converting from Islam to Christianity than in any other time in history.

You cannot run from God.

And so, with that in mind we begin our scripture reading from the book of First Kings chapter 8 as Solomon dedicates the Temple of God in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30)…

1 Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.

6 The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

When the Ark of the Covenant is placed in the temple, the presence of God follows. Just as it was in the days of Moses when God went before the people and appeared as a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day, God’s presence appears as a cloud, fills the entire Temple, and the priests are forced to leave the building because they cannot see. Solomon understands the nature of God and declares that the heavens cannot contain God. He goes on to say that the people of God, and even those who are foreigners, do not necessarily have to pray in the temple to be heard by God but only to pray toward the temple. Solomon understands that God hears the prayers of all people no matter where they are.

Often, however, this message is difficult to accept. Sometimes we don’t want to do what God asks us to do. In John 6:56-69, we discover that even Jesus’ own disciples had difficulty accepting his message.

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.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Even the disciples of Jesus, many of those beyond the twelve who were closest to him, had trouble accepting that Jesus was the only path to God. They couldn’t accept that what they had been taught for years might not be complete, that the message of Moses and the prophets and the system of sacrifice in the Temple might not be pointing to something better. But Peter, the twelve, and a few others knew that Jesus spoke the words of God. They knew that if Jesus was truth then there was nowhere else that they could go, even if his words were difficult to hear.

They knew that we cannot hide from God just because he says things that make us uncomfortable.

And, in the end, regardless of how difficult the teachings of God might be, and how we are occasionally convicted by them because of the things we like to do (all of us seem to have a favorite sin do we not?), there is only one place where we can find truth. And with that in mind, we must prepare ourselves to go out into the world. To do so, to prepare our hearts and minds so that we can we a witness to the world without becoming corrupted by it, Paul says this (Ephesians 6:10-20):

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

We have often heard this passage about putting on the armor of God read and explained in such a way as to understand that we are preparing ourselves for battle as the knights of old prepared, by buckling on armor and sharpening our swords, but while there is, obviously, an element of that, I also think that Paul is pointing to something quite different. I think that Paul is using military imagery to point to something that is quite the opposite. Paul emphasizes that our fight is not with a flesh and blood enemy. There will be no clash of swords, no throwing of spears, or the twang of a bow. What we prepare for is not a fight that any of us would ever recognize as a fight at all and our preparations would be utterly strange to soldiers and knights in battle. Our preparations are not directed toward the defeat of an enemy outside of ourselves at all, except for the enemy of our souls because every preparation that Paul describes is not aimed at others, but only within ourselves. The way that we are called to fight is to draw close to God, to open our hearts to truth, to struggle toward righteousness, to stand at the ready in the cause of peace. We are to be armed, not with weapons of destruction but to defend ourselves with peace. Instead of retaliating and returning blow for blow and wound for wound, we are called to defend with the words and the truth of God.

I think that Paul deliberately uses the imagery of conflict to highlight a message of peace.
Instead of raising an army to go out to fight those who attack the cause of Christ, our call is, instead, to lift up our voices in prayer and to proclaim the mysterious and miraculous story of the gospel. Our call is not to prepare for battle, but to prepare our hearts, to prepare ourselves, so that we can become the tools that God needs. Because, in the end, the fight against evil is not ours, the fight belongs to God.

We are thousands of miles from the Middle East. We cannot, nor should we, raise an army to fight against ISIS and others who are persecuting the church, but what can do, what we have been called to do, is to draw closer to God, to purify our hearts, and to pray. God is already at work changing hearts and calling disciples even in places where his people are driven out, silenced, and murdered. We are called to testify, to teach the gospel message, and to pray.

Because no matter where you are and no matter how much evil tries to hide it…

…there is nowhere to hide.

You cannot run from God.

 

(Not) The Politics of Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The life of Jesus tells us that real leaders serve.

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

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

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

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

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

And that is not the normal politics of power.

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