The Ministry of Wow

The Ministry of Wow

June 09, 2019*

(Pentecost)

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:8-17, 25-27               Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:14-17

 

Have you ever watched the fireworks on the fourth of July?

Have you ever opened the newspaper and seen the mayor and a bunch of city officials at an important ribbon cutting or groundbreaking?

Have you ever seen the evening news report on a new freeway, tax cuts, or some other big news story about our local, state, or federal government?

Sure, you have.  Occasionally, our government does something that is very public and splashy.  But most of the time, day in, and day out, most of our government’s employees, whether they are employed by the federal, state, or local governments, toil away at computer monitors, check in on endangered children, teach school, clean streets, repair streets, fix leaks, and make sure that many things that we take for granted are so regular and reliable that we can take them for granted.  You rarely see stories in the newspaper or on television about the people who showed up and did their jobs, every day, for thirty or forty years doing ordinary things.

And although God often works the same way, daily caring for our wounds, watching over us, and being so ordinary and predictable that we allow ourselves to take his presence for granted or forget about him entirely, he isn’t always so invisible.  Occasionally, God does something splashy and noticeable.  Sometimes God heals the incurable, moves mountains, or raises the dead.  Sometimes God does things that make us say, “Wow.” 

Pentecost was one of those moments.

Some time before his crucifixion, Jesus spoke with his disciples and explained that after he returned to his father, he would send the Spirit of God to be with them.  That gift… would change everything. (John 14:8-17, 25-27)

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Jesus told his disciples that the words that he said, and the miracles that he performed, were being done because of the father that lived in him and was doing his work through him.  And then he goes on to say that because he is returning to his father, anyone who believes in him will do the same kinds of works that Jesus was doing, and even greater things.  Because Jesus was returning to his father, and because he was sending God’s Spirit to be with us, and live with us, we would do these things, and God would be glorified.  And, not only would the followers of Jesus Christ do these amazing works, but because of the presence of the Spirit of God living in us, we would also receive the gift of peace.

Fast forward to a few weeks after the crucifixion to the day of Pentecost and we find this story from the book of Acts 2:1-21.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Remember that I said sometimes God does splashy things?

This isn’t only a splashy thing, but a whole pile of splashy things.

A sound like a violent wind comes down from heaven, tongues of fire pour into the room where the followers of Jesus have gathered to pray, the fire separates and come to rest on each and every one of them, and then, speaking all the languages of the known world, these men and women go out into the streets and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The people in the streets either heard the sound of the wind or the sound of so many people speaking different languages, but whatever they heard, people came from all over the see what was going on.

Those that came were shocked because the people who were speaking foreign languages were Galileans and, you may recall that Galileans were thought of as uneducated, country hicks.  Remember that even one of the disciples, when he first heard about Jesus, said, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  Not only that, but remember that just a few days earlier, these same people were meeting in locked rooms with the windows bolted shut, because they were afraid that the Pharisees would have them arrested because of their association with Jesus.  Not long ago, Peter had been so emotionally destroyed that he went back to his fishing boats and was beating himself up over his public denials of Jesus. 

But no longer.

Suddenly, their fear and doubt are gone.  Suddenly they are speaking languages that they had never learned.  Suddenly, instead of hiding behind locked doors, they were speaking in public and Peter raises his voice and lectures everyone on the meaning of the scriptures.

This moment is entirely unexpected, exceptionally public and splashy, and totally transformational for both the disciples and for us.  In that moment, the disciples were changed.  Their fear was gone, they were filled with an urgency to tell the world about what they had seen and heard, and they went out into the streets to do it.  And, as they went, God, through the power of the Holy Spirit that now lived within them, began to do exactly what Jesus had described.  Suddenly they were doing something miraculous.  Suddenly they were doing the work that Jesus had been doings, and even things that were more surprising and unexpected than some of the things that Jesus had done.

But if all of this was not enough, Paul’s letter to the church in Rome describes yet another amazing gift that the church received at Pentecost. (Romans 8:14-17)

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Paul says that the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost was also the symbol of our adoption by God and because we have been adopted, then we are heirs, co-heirs with Jesus so that we will share in both his suffering and in his ministry to all of the world.

Not only was Pentecost a splashy, headline news moment, the effects were not something that wore off and were forgotten.  Instead, the gifts that God gave to the church at Pentecost, were gifts that were passed on from generation to generation.  God’s spirit entered into the followers of Jesus as tongues of fire at Pentecost, but today still enter into each one of us as we are baptized into the service of Jesus Christ.  Two thousand years later we still receive the gift of adoption, and fearlessness, and still we are empowered by God, through the Spirit that lives within us, to do the work of Jesus Christ in the world around us.  Sometimes that work is ordinary and almost invisible, but all of us, working together, and empowered by the Holy Spirit, are doing amazing things as we answer his call on our lives.

Let us continue, with God’s help, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, speak for the voiceless, stand up for the oppressed, comfort the afflicted, heal the sick, and all of the other things that Jesus did, and calls us to do.

This was the call of the church two thousand years ago and it remains the call of the church today.

And we press on…

…with God’s help…

…through the power of the Spirit that lives within us.

Sometimes we are called to the ordinary, but sometimes, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are witness to the ministry… of Wow.

 

 

 


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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.

Who Are You in the Dark?

Who Are You in the Dark?

April 21, 2019*

Easter Sunday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18                          Acts 10:34-43

 

What do you do when you are alone?

When Patti (my wife) is working, or out of the house, and I am home alone, I admit that I sometime don’t really do anything at all.  But other times, I use her absence as an opportunity to do chores in the garage while her car is out of the way or, despite the fact that Patti doesn’t mind that I have hobbies, I sometimes take time, in her absence, to engage in hobbies, or work on my projects, without worrying about what other chores might need done around the house.

But what we do when no one is watching can be revealing.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Integrity is doing the right thing when no one is watching”

And 19th century evangelist D. L. Moody said that “Character is what you are in the dark.”

It is by that measure that we discover a revealing piece of the Easter story.  In John 20:1-18, we meet Mary Magdalene…

…in the dark…

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

On Sunday morning, the first day of the Jewish week, the earliest that it was permitted to do work after the sabbath ended, Mary Magdalene is up before the sun and already on her way to the tomb where Jesus had been buried on Friday.  In an era thousands of years before the invention of the alarm clock, Mary is up and dressed and out of the house while the roosters are still asleep.  It is almost certain that she has been awake for most of the night.  And, while it is still dark, she discovers that the stone has been removed, the tomb is empty, and Jesus’ body is missing.  In her despair, she runs to find Peter and John, and they return with her to investigate, only to find that everything is just as she had described. 

After confirming what Mary had said in the first place, Peter and John go back to the places where they had been staying during Passover, but Mary did not.  Mary could be in no other place than the place where she had last seen Jesus.  She had followed him alongside the disciples for years, she had followed him and watched his trial, she had followed him and watched his crucifixion when almost everyone else had fled, and she had followed him that evening as he was buried in a rush before sundown.

But now, Jesus was gone.

And Mary could think of no place that she’d rather be than the last place that she had seen him.  And so, she sat beside his grave… and she wept.  But pausing to look inside the tomb again, perhaps for the twentieth or thirtieth time, each time hoping to see something different, but each time seeing the same empty tomb, and suddenly… there is something different.  Angels.  And the angels ask, “Why are you crying?”  And as she turns away from the tomb she sees, but does not recognize, Jesus.  Possibly because she was looking through her tears, and possibly because she simply didn’t expect to see a dead man to be standing upright and asking her questions.  But everything changes with a single word.

“Mary.”

Only Jesus spoke to her that way.  Only Jesus had that voice.  Only Jesus used that tone.  It was a voice that she knew so well, and had heard so often, that it was utterly unmistakable.  And she knew.

She knew.

Mary may not have yet understood how, or why, but she knew that Jesus was alive.

And in the last moment that we see Mary Magdalene in all of scripture, she goes to tell the disciples what she had seen and what she had heard.


Think about that for a moment.  After spending three years preaching, eating, sleeping, walking, and living with the disciples, Jesus appears first to Mary and not to any of the disciples.  In a culture that was all about men, Jesus appears first to a woman.  Surrounded by healthy people, Jesus announces his return to a woman who had been afflicted with, and whom he had cured from, demonic possession.  This is one of the pieces of the story that help us to believe that it must be true, because it is completely counter-cultural.  If you intended to write a fictional story in order to establish a new religion, this is clearly not how you would have written it.  Unless it was true.

Jesus was alive, Mary becomes the first missionary of the Resurrection, and I think that it’s quite likely that it had everything to do with Mary’s faith.  I suspect that these events may have been on Peter’s mind when he gave his great speech in Acts 10:34-43.

34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

God does not show favoritism but accepts everyone who fears him and does what is right.  We must go out into the world and tell everyone that we can find about the Gospel message, the Good News, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ because we are witnesses.  We may not have been standing beside Mary or been in the room when she told the disciples, but we have surely seen the evidence of how Jesus has changed our lives and we know the miracles that he has done in our families and in the lives of the people around us.

We are witnesses.

Jesus has commanded us to preach, and to testify, that he is the one who God has appointed as judge, it is about him whom the prophets have written, and those that put their faith in him will be forgiven of their sins.

We know that Mary Magdalene probably came from a family that had money, but her life was anything but easy.  When she came to Jesus she was described as having the worst case of demon possession of anyone that the disciples had met.  She was said to have had seven demons, or allegorically speaking, a perfection of demon affliction.  But unlike nine out of ten lepers that Jesus healed, unlike the thousands of others whom Jesus healed of various afflictions, and unlike even the disciples themselves, Mary Magdalene did the thing that Peter promised and couldn’t deliver.  She stayed.

Mary.  Never.  Left.

Throughout his ministry, throughout his trial, throughout his crucifixion, Mary was there.

And in the dark of that Saturday evening, and the dawn of Sunday morning, Mary was there.

And so, if D. L. Moody was right, if “Character is what you are in the dark,” then on this Easter Sunday morning we know what kind of character that Mary Magdalene had but all of us are confronted with this question:

Who are you in the dark?

 

 

 


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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.

Belief… Matters

Belief… Matters

April 19, 2019*

Good Friday

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Why am I here?

Where did all of this, all of creation, come from?

What is the meaning of life?

What is my purpose on earth?

These are just a few of life’s great questions.  They are questions that human beings have struggled with ever since we stopped looking over our shoulders for saber-toothed tigers and had enough time on our hands to think about anything other than survival.

But one of the questions that rises to the top of that pile is one that we confront at every funeral, and at the death of every friend, relative, and distant acquaintance.  Because we are mortal, we know that one day death will come us.  And as we consider our own mortality we are faced with the question, “What happens after I die?”

And that’s exactly the question that the thief on the cross next to Jesus had as well.  He was already suffering the agony of dying, and he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would be dead before the sun reached the western horizon.  Few of us get the chance to be so aware of the timing of our death, and none of us will get the opportunity to ask Jesus face to face about what we can expect.  But this one man, in all of history, did.  And his story is given to us in the story of Jesus’ crucifixion as we read Luke 23:35-41.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews.

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

My undergraduate degree is in engineering, and one of most basic things that I learned is that whenever you have a problem, you should always start by making a list of what you know.  So, let’s do that.  We have several groups of people who are watching the crucifixion for a variety of reasons and their reactions and their comments grow out of where their hearts are.  First, there are the people who just stood and watched.  They thought that they were powerless and all they did was watch what others did.  Second, there were the rulers, the very people who had conspired to trump up false charges against Jesus because he threatened the status quo of the power structures of Israel.  These leaders mocked Jesus and dared him to save himself by using the power that was to be given to God’s messiah.  If he were the messiah, they reasoned, then he had the godly power to come down off the cross.  Third, the soldiers mocked him, and challenged him to save himself using the political power that kings had.  Their thinking was that if Jesus was really a king, then he should use his power to order his followers to rise up and rescue him.  Fourth, one of the men who hung next to Jesus hurled insults at Jesus out of the frustration that he felt in facing his own death.  Not only does he mock Jesus for being just as powerless as he is, but he calls upon Jesus, not only to save himself, but to save all of them.

The funny thing is, although we often lump this man in with all the others who were wrong about Jesus, of these four groups, he is the one who is almost right, and he has no idea just how close to the truth he really is.  In just a few days, the events of the cross would allow Jesus to not only save the men on the cross, but also the soldiers, the church leaders, and all people, everywhere. 

But almost right still isn’t right.

It is only the fifth and last of these that truly understands.  The second thief looks next to him and understands that Jesus is utterly innocent.  Although his comment is short, it is revealing.  From his comment and from his question, we understand that he believed.  He believed in God.  He believed in justice.  He believed that he, and the other thief were being justly punished for the things that they had done.  He believed that Jesus was innocent.  And most importantly, he believed that Jesus really was a king, and not just an ordinary earthly king, but a king whose kingship and authority belonged to God and extended beyond the boundaries of life and death.

“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

He believed. 

He had faith.

And we know that his faith was rewarded within hours because Jesus answered by saying: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus not only promised him that there was an afterlife, Jesus promised him that he was forgiven of all his crimes, forgiven of all his sins, and that he would, that very day, walk alongside Jesus in paradise.

But what made the difference?

Faith.

The people didn’t believe that their faith made a difference.  The leaders didn’t believe that Jesus was the messiah.  The soldiers didn’t believe that Jesus was a king.  And the first thief didn’t believe that Jesus was any different than he was.  But the second thief believed.

He believed that believing made a difference.

He believed that Jesus was the messiah.

He believed that Jesus was the king.

And he believed that Jesus was not only different than he was, he believed that Jesus had the power and the authority to rescue him even after they were both dead.

And so, after we consider this list of things that we know, we have some answers to the questions with which we started.  Something does happen when we die.  There is an afterlife.  There is a judgement and not all humans will be judged equally. 

And most importantly, what you believe matters.

Whether or not you believe that Jesus is the messiah… matters.

Whether or not you believe that Jesus has the power to rescue you… matters.

Whether or not you trust Jesus enough to trust him with your rescue… matters.

The question that only you can answer is this…

What do you believe?

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Vine Street United Methodist Church as a part of the Community Good Friday service 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.

Reward, Rejection, and Role Models

Reward, Rejection, and Role Models


March 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18                      Luke 13:31-35                        Philippians 3:17 – 4:1

 

Have you ever made a plan for your life?

You know what I mean.  At some point many of us have sat down with a parent, school guidance counselor, or career counselor, faculty advisor, or mentor and mapped out how to get from where we were, to where we wanted to be.  If you want to be a nurse or a doctor, the classes that you take and the experiences that you need, are very different from those needed to become and engineer or a tool and die machinist.  Some of us sat down with a military recruiter and discussed our skills and education, and what training options were open to us.  In some cases, in both our civilian and military careers, there were rewards that were promised for reaching our goals or at various points along the way. 

But in real life, the path from here to there is never as easy as it looks when you sit down to plan.  We fail required classes, lose time because of circumstances that are beyond our control, school takes longer, and costs more than we planned, and recruiters are known to be less than truthful or to omit important information.  Through it all, reaching the promised goals and rewards that we had in mind at the beginning, can be a lot harder, cost more, and take a lot longer than we probably imagined when we started.  And on top that, along the way we sometimes face detours brought on by marriage, divorce, children, tragedy, unemployment, disaster, and other things.  We might even decide to change our career destinations and goals along the way, causing us to take several steps backward and start a part of the plan over again.

Life is like that.

It’s complicated.  And our spiritual life is no different. 

So how do we get from here to there?  From where we are, to where we want to be?

And for that, let’s begin with the story of Abram, who would later become Abraham, a man who, for three for four thousand years, the followers of God have lifted up as a hero of the faith and a role model for our spiritual lives.  And, as we look, we discover that even for Abraham, the path from here to there was anything but a straight line.  We begin this morning as we read a story from Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 as God repeats a great promise to Abram.

15:1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:

“Do not be afraid, Abram.
    I am your shield,
    your very great reward.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so, a servant in my household will be my heir.”

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

He also said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

So the Lord said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.”

10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God reminds Abram of his promise to give him a great reward, and Abram’s response is very much along the lines of, “What can you possibly give me that I care about?”  Even if God blesses Abram with land, and animals, and riches, what good is it if he has no children to inherit it when he dies?  And God specifies that he intends for Abram’s descendants to be as countless as the stars in the night sky. 

And Abram believed.

But even in his belief, Abram had doubts, and he asked God how he might know… for certain… that God would do as he had promised.  And in reply, God follows a formula that was well-known in the ancient world.  It was the formula for the execution of a covenant (a binding contract on steroids).  This sort of covenant was often made between parties of differing strength such as a dominant military power and a much weaker nation.  And God was making this same sort of binding agreement with Abram to reassure him that God intended to keep his promise.

Abraham would receive the reward that God had promised and the covenant that was established between them would continue to bless his descendants for thousands of years.  But not everyone was interested in keeping the covenant, maintaining their part of the contract, or being faithful in the way that Abraham was faithful.  Despite their power, position, and authority, some of Israel’s leaders were renegades that refused and rejected their covenant with God and Jesus points to those types of renegades as we remember the story contained in Luke 13:31-35.

31 At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”

32 He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ 33 In any case, I must press on today and tomorrow and the next day—for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!

34 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 35 Look, your house is left to you desolate. I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The differences that we see in this passage are sharp and the are intended to be so.  Jesus is warned that Herod wanted him dead and Jesus responds by saying that he would continue to do what God had called him to do until he reached his goal of entering Jerusalem.  But Jesus continues by reminding the Pharisees that it was the leaders and the people of Jerusalem that had already established a reputation for killing God’s prophets and stoning the people that God had sent.  This is exactly what is happening again.  God had repeatedly wanted to gather the children of Israel together to comfort them and protect them, but they weren’t interested. 

The people did not want what God had to offer.

They had rejected the covenant.

And Jesus says that the house that they had inherited, God’s house, was an empty house.  The people of Israel would not see the blessings of God until they recognized the messiah that God sent to them.

But what does that mean for us?  If Abram or Abraham was a role model of faith, and if the leaders of Israel were examples of what not to do and how not to live, then what teaching, or what advice, can we follow to prevent us from rejecting God’s blessing?

And in answer to that question, we read Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi (Philippians 3:17 – 4:1) where we hear these words:

17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

4:1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!

Paul’s answer is simplified and boiled down about as far as you can get.  Just as you have looked up to us, find other role models that live like we do and watch how they live.  That’s simple.  Find good quality role models that look like Paul and his friends and watch how they live.  But Paul also warns that there are a lot of people out there, and we can probably assume that he also meant that there are a lot of leaders out there, that live as the enemies of the cross of Jesus Christ.  Notice that he did not say that they represented themselves as the enemies of Jesus, but that the proof was to be found in how they lived.  Just as the leaders of the people of Israel, including the leaders of the church, had rejected Jesus and turned their backs on the covenant that they had with God, in the same way we know that sometimes the leaders of the church in the present day wear the label of Jesus Christ and claim the name of Jesus Christ, but live as enemies of Jesus.  The people that we are to follow, and after whose lives we are to pattern ours, are the people who look like, and who live like Paul, the disciples, and Jesus.  The enemies of the cross of Christ have their minds set on earthly things like food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, pleasure, and the things of earth.  But the followers of Jesus know that their true citizenship is in heaven and as a result, they live lives that reflect the values of that nation and not the values of the nations of earth.

We live in a time and a culture that is far removed from that of Abraham and from that of Jesus and Paul, but the lessons that we learn from them remain the same.  God wants to bless his people and, as he always has, God continues to keep his promises.  But God will not bless those who reject him and turn their backs on him.  And so, if we want to receive the blessings of God, then we must search for, and choose, role models who live their lives like Paul, the disciples, apostles, and Jesus.  Stand firm in your faith.  Do not sell-out to the desires and lusts of the human body.  Do not set your mind on earthly things but remember that heaven is our home.  And the citizenship of our hearts must be revealed to the world through our lives and our actions every day.

It all boils down to this:

You are a child of God.

Act like 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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Performance Review

Performance Review


February 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Jeremiah 17:5-10                      Luke 6:17-26                  1 Corinthians 15:12-20

 

When was the last time you had a performance review?

Both in secular jobs and in pastoral ministry, my job performance has been periodically evaluated.  Theoretically, this is supposed to happen annually, but in reality, my supervisors and, to a lesser extent, my Staff Parish Relations Committees, have occasionally missed those deadlines.  But regardless of how often they happen, most all of us have experienced them with some regularity.  We sit in a room together with our boss, or with a committee, and we discuss how things have been going, what things are going well, what things need to be improved, and what things we might focus on in the months ahead.  Although it is almost always stressful, sometimes the process is generally painless, and at other times, “painless” is clearly not a word that we would use to describe them.

But can you imagine what it would be like to be reviewed by God for your job performance as one of his followers or as a follower of Jesus Christ?

With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading Jeremiah 17:5-10, where we discover something that sounds very much like a performance review from God.

This is what the Lord says:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

The heart is deceitful above all things
    and beyond cure.
    Who can understand it?

10 “I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

There is some hard-hitting, close to home, preaching here that hits many of us right where we live. 

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

Jeremiah wastes no time and does not fool with political correctness when he says that we should not ever put our trust in kings, or presidents, or human governments, or even in pastors, priests, popes, or churches led by humans.  When we put too much trust in human beings, whether in governments or in the men and women who oversee our churches, that misplaced trust can cause our hearts to turn away from God and we become like a bush that grows in a wasteland, always wanting more, never having enough, and never being satisfied.  But, if we put our whole trust and confidence in God, then we will be like a tree that is planted by a lake or a river, never in fear of drought or summer, or sunshine, and always being fruitful and giving to the world around it.

But the last line of this passage strikes us most of all.

“I the Lord search the heart
    and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
    according to what their deeds deserve.”

That clearly sounds like a performance review.

And not just a performance review, but a merit-based performance review.  God will examine our hearts and minds and reward each person based on our conduct, our behavior, and our actions. 

This serious business.  There is not a lot of “wiggle room” here.  You either perform, or you don’t, and your reward will be based on your performance.

But there are some caveats, or qualifications, that need to be made to that sort of teaching.  It needs to be explained because many of the people of Israel, or the Old Testament followers of God, read passages like that and began to believe that since rich people seemed to be blessed by God, then they must be good people, and since poor people seem to not be blessed by God, then the poor must be sinners and have somehow made God angry at them.  That line of thinking is still heard today among those who preach what is referred to as the “prosperity gospel.”  The prosperity gospel says, “If you truly believe, or if you only believe hard enough, if only your faith is strong enough, then God will make you healthy and rich.”  But that isn’t at all what Jeremiah was saying.  And, in truth, this understanding became so common that Jesus and the disciples spent a considerable time preaching against it.  One of the most famous of these lessons in contained in Luke 6:17-26 where we hear this:

17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Jesus us in the middle of healing a crowd of people from all over the region.  Some had physical illnesses, others had spiritual problems, and some might have had mental illnesses (as we understand them) as well.  Jesus was so filled with the spirit and the power of God that people were being healed simply by touching him.  But in the midst of this, Jesus looks directly at his disciples and gives a speech.  Clearly, this is something of vital importance that they needed to know, and which was illustrated in some way by the healing that was going on in front of them.

And Jesus’ message is that the kingdom of God belongs to poor people, that hungry people are blessed, that people who are experiencing great sadness, sorrow, and depression are not cursed, but will eventually rediscover laughter.  Jesus wants this followers to remember that when life stinks, you are still blessed by God, and more than that, if your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus, or because you are doing the work of Jesus Christ, then you are blessed precisely because you are hated, insulted, excluded, and rejected.

If your life stinks because you are a follower of Jesus Christ and because you are acting like a follower of Jesus Christ, then remember that God’s own prophets were similarly mistreated.  God’s prophets were still loved, honored, and blessed by God even when the world treated them like crap. 

And so are you. 

If… you are mistreated because of Jesus.

If you live a life that honors God and does the work of Jesus Christ, even if that life stinks, you need to know that you are piling up blessings that may not ever be received until after you meet Jesus face-to-face.

At the same time, contrary to popular opinion, being rich might just mean that you are cursed by God, and not blessed.  If you are rich, or comfortable, or well fed, or spend your days in joy and laughter, or if everyone speaks well of you and thinks that you’re great, if you live well because you say the things that people want to hear… and you have forgotten to live a life that honors God, and have forgotten to live a life that does the deeds and actions of a follower of Jesus, then the only blessing that you will ever get is the one that you have now. 

And you will have all of eternity to regret the choices that you have made.

Once again, that clearly describes a merit based, performance review.

But don’t let the thought of a performance review fill you with anxiety or uncertainty.  Instead, be reassured and remember the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Corinth where he reminds them of what is true and real (1 Corinthians 15:12-20).

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Paul says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, then nothing that we have done is worth anything.  If Christ has not risen from the dead, then everyone is lost, and no one has anything in which to find hope.  But Christ is real.  And Christ really did rise from the dead.  And if Jesus rose from the dead, then he is the first born from the dead, or as Paul said, the first fruits of the dead.  And that means that everyone who has aligned themselves with Jesus, everyone who has become a follower of Jesus, carries with them the promise of resurrection from the dead. 

Paul’s message is that resurrection is real.  The Bible is real.  The Gospel message is real.  And in that reality, we have a future if we believe in Jesus Christ.  But when we believe in Jesus, we must also live for Jesus by doing the things that he has called us, and commanded us, to do.

Rest in the knowledge that, if you have put your trust in Jesus Christ, then you will be see resurrection.

Be confident that we will live, with Jesus, in God’s eternal house.

But be – daily – spurred to action, be motivated, by remembering that there will be a performance review on the day of judgement.

 

 

 

 


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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 Path to Eternity: Submit, Trust, Follow

The Path to Eternity:

Submit, Trust, Follow

October 28, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

Job 42:1-6, 10-17                   Mark 10:46-52                       Hebrews 7:23-28

Have you ever used a map?

Today it seems like everyone uses GPS, or Google Maps, or some other electronic format, but still, it’s a map.  We’ve told our kids that it’s still useful to keep a road atlas in their cars because technology can, and does, fail from time to time.  Batteries die, cell service is lost, cell towers get overwhelmed, and as we’ve seen in Florida recently, disaster does happen.

But, even when the worst happens, perhaps especially when the worst happens, we still need to know how to get from here to there, from where we are, to where we want to go.

And while finding the map that’s been buried under candy wrappers and a pile of gas receipts in the back pocket of the car might be a challenge, that kind of a map isn’t going to help us find our way to our seat at the dinner table of God’s house.  So today, let’s consider that journey for a few minutes.

We could, quite literally, spend days, even weeks, talking about the path to eternity, or how we get from where we are, to where we want to, eventually, be.  But for this morning, we’re just going to hit a few highlights from our scriptures from this week’s lectionary selection and from those, we begin at the end of the story of Job.  In this passage we hear Job reply to God following God’s answer.  All through the story, Job has been demanding justice and demanding that God answer him.  But when God finally answers, he thunders at Job and asks questions like, “Where were you when I laid the cornerstone of the earth?” or, ““Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment and wrapped it in thick darkness, 10 when I fixed limits for it and set its doors and bars in place, 11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where your proud waves halt’?” (Job 42:1-6, 10-17)

Then Job replied to the Lord:

“I know that you can do all things; no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.

“You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’
My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”

10 After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord restored his fortunes and gave him twice as much as he had before. 11 All his brothers and sisters and everyone who had known him before came and ate with him in his house. They comforted and consoled him over all the trouble the Lord had brought on him, and each one gave him a piece of silver and a gold ring.

12 The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the former part. He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen and a thousand donkeys. 13 And he also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 The first daughter he named Jemimah, the second Keziah and the third Keren-Happuch. 15 Nowhere in all the land were there found women as beautiful as Job’s daughters, and their father granted them an inheritance along with their brothers.

16 After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation. 17 And so Job died, an old man and full of years.

Job understands God’s message and God’s answer.  Job understands that God is God and we are not.  Job understands that we are in no position to dictate terms to God, that God will do what God will do.  God is not a genie that does our bidding and answers to our beck and call.  The creation of the universe is so far above our pay grade that rather than demand that God behave the way that we want or expect God to behave, God will, instead, behave as God wishes and our place is not to demand, but to submit.

But please note, that in submitting to the will of God, God blesses Job and returns to him twice as much as he had before Satan was allowed to torment him.

From there we jump to Mark 10:46-52 where we hear this story:

46 Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

48 Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Bartimaeus knew who Jesus was and he knew what Jesus could do.  He calls out to Jesus by addressing him as “Son of David.”  Jesus was, literally a descendant of David by lineage, both from Mary and from Joseph, but this seems to be far more than an identification.  Since Bartimaeus is calling out to Jesus for mercy and, ultimately, for healing, it isn’t difficult to understand that his calling Jesus is an appeal to authority, that he recognizes that Jesus is an heir to the throne of David, but also, perhaps that Jesus is the promised Messiah, or at least a prophet of God who has the power to heal his blindness.  In crying out to Jesus, Bartimaeus has already submitted to God, but when Jesus calls him, he throws aside his cloak in his excitement.  Why is that important?  Let’s consider that for a moment.  Remember that Bartimaeus is blind.  He cannot keep an eye on his coat once it leaves his possession and neither will it be easy for him to find it once he leaves it behind.  But Bartimaeus doesn’t set his cloak aside neatly, or hand it to a friend, or take it with him, he throws it aside and jumps to his feet.  Either Bartimaeus is so excited that he has completely forgotten habits that he had formed over a lifetime, or he already trusted that Jesus was capable of, and likely intended to, heal him of his blindness.  At the very least, Bartimaeus trusted that Jesus would care about his well-being and the return of his cloak.

And Bartimaeus is healed.

But rather than responding to Jesus’ command to “Go” by going home and getting back to his family and the business of living his life, Bartimaeus chooses instead to “Go” and to follow Jesus along the road.  Bartimaeus had no idea where Jesus was going, and it didn’t matter.  He knew who Jesus was, he submitted to Jesus, he trusted Jesus, and he was willing to follow Jesus wherever he went.

And if that is the path, from surrender, to trust, to following, then where does the path lead?

And in Hebrews 7:23-28, Paul answers by describing who Jesus is:

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests, men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Jesus is the high priest, the leader of the church, but because his sacrifice was truly and totally perfect, his sacrifice need not ever be repeated.  Jesus’ sacrifice was done once, for all of humanity, for all time.  And for that reason, Jesus has become our high priest, the perfect man, the king of the universe, the leader of the church, the shepherd of his people, and all we need to do, is to trust him, and follow him forever.

Job had no guarantees that God was going to bless him, but he submitted anyway and was willing to follow God no matter where that path took him.

Bartimaeus had no idea where Jesus was going to lead him.  But he trusted Jesus enough to follow him anyway.

Our call, as servants of our great high priest Jesus, isn’t to demand justice, to demand answers, or to demand that God do things our way, our call is to submit to the realization that God is God and we are not.  God will do what God will do.  God will behave as God wishes and our place is not to demand, but to submit.

Our call isn’t to obsess over what heaven looks like, or what we will do, or where we will go, or who else will be there, or what heaven will be like.  Our call is to trust Jesus, our high priest, to stop demanding to get our way, to give up trying to control everything, and to follow him wherever he chooses to lead us both now… and forever.


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

Leader or Servant? – Why Character Matters

“Leader or Servant?”

(Why Character Matters)

September 23, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

Have you ever seen someone use authority well?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All of us are leaders.

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

Because…

…character matters.

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