Are You All In?

“Are You All In?”

June 25, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 21:8-21                      Matthew 10:24-39                   Romans 6:1-11

 

 

Do you have a favorite NASCAR driver, football, baseball, or soccer player, or any other favorite sports figure? How committed are you to watching your favorite team?

 

Teams want you to support them financially, to buy tickets, and jerseys, and memorabilia, and they want you to cheer for them.  The Cleveland Indians have favored the phrase, “Go big, or go home.”  A few seasons back, their players were seen wearing shirts that predicted 100 wins.  But during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ run for the national championship last year, the question that fans were asked was…

 

…“Are you all in?”

 

LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers wanted to know if your support for the team was wholehearted and hot-blooded, and not just lukewarm.  And that’s a good way of thinking about the theme of today’s message and the thread that winds its way through our scripture lessons.  We begin today in Genesis 21:8-21, where we find a jealous Sarah who is so enraged by the presence of her husband’s mistress and their semi-illegitimate child, as well as the fighting and sibling rivalry between their children, that she simply wants them gone from her life.

 

The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son.12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your slave woman. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the slave into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the Desert of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there, she began to sob.

17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

20 God was with the boy as he grew up. He lived in the desert and became an archer. 21 While he was living in the Desert of Paran, his mother got a wife for him from Egypt.

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah, here’s a quick summary: Despite God’s promise that their ancestors would become a great nation as numberless as the stars in the sky, Sarah was childless.  And so, at some point, Abraham decided to help God out, and took Hagar, one of his slaves, as a mistress in order to father a child.  This was an accepted practice at that time in order to preserve wealth and the family line.  But then, as we discussed last week, long after Sarah was past the age of childbearing, God gave her a son of her own, Isaac.  But now, as if looking at her husband’s mistress every day, as well as the child that they had together, wasn’t enough, Hagar’s son was mocking Isaac.  And all of Sarah’s frustration, and rage, fear, and hope for the future exploded.  She wanted them gone.  And so Abraham packs Hagar a lunch and sends her out into the desert.

 

The core of this story is two-fold.  First of all… people stink.

 

As good, and as godly as we are told that Abraham and Sara must be, they both stink.  What they did is understandable, but still pretty horrible.  Even though we look up to Abraham and revere him as the founder of our faith, sending his own son, along with his mother, out into the desert to die is an inexcusably horrible thing to do.  But the second part of this story is that as bad as human beings stink, God doesn’t.  God cares.  Despite the fact that the blessing of God is on Isaac and it is through Isaac that God intends to bless the world, God still cares about Hagar and Ishmael.  God finds them in the desert, saves their lives, gives them water to drink, leads them out of the wilderness, blesses them both, and promises that Ishmael will also be the father of a great nation.

 

And again, if you are unfamiliar with this story, Isaac becomes the patriarch of the nation of Israel and the people known as the Jews; while Ishmael becomes the patriarch of the people we now refer to as the Arab nations.  Curiously, all of these peoples are referred to collectively, as the Semitic people.

 

So to summarize, people stink, God cares.

 

But God’s plan is to change that.  God’s intent is to transform humanity into something better.  And the coming of Jesus Christ is a huge part of that plan.  Jesus came to earth to rescue humanity from its wickedness and sin so that we could become something better.  In Romans 6:1-11, Paul puts it this way…

 

6:1What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.

 

At the very beginning of this passage, Paul wants to eliminate the notion that Jesus’ sacrifice and the infinite grace of God might be used as an excuse to continue in our sin.  In no way, shape, or form should we excuse our error and try to justify it by claiming that we are already forgiven for it.  Instead, we must realize that our sinfulness was the cause of the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, and it is our sinful nature, our “old self,” that was crucified with him.  For that reason, Paul explains, that our “old self” is already dead and, as a result, we should do everything in our power to stop sinning, to break the bonds that sin and death have over us, and act like people who have been set free from sin.

 

Jesus didn’t die to give us an excuse to keep doing the same wrong stuff we’ve been doing all along, Jesus died so that our lives could be transformed into something better.

 

In Matthew 10:24-39, we hear Jesus echo that same sentiment.

 

24 “The student is not above the teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for students to be like their teachers, and servants like their masters. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebul, how much more the members of his household!

26 “So do not be afraid of them, for there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. 28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 30And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

32 “Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. 33 But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven.

34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn

“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36     a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.]

37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

 

Do not be afraid.

 

God cares.

 

You are worth more than many sparrows; you are of incredible value to God.

 

The followers of Jesus Christ will turn against their families and against their parents, not because they are violent or because Jesus encourages them to be violent, but because Jesus intends to completely transform their lives into something new, different, and far better than we have ever been before.  When we choose to follow Jesus, we want what he wants, we follow where he leads, we go where he goes, and we do what he calls us to do.  And in doing these things, we will leave behind the people that won’t go with us.  Families, friends, and others will turn against us because we have chosen to follow Jesus and because we are becoming something new and different than the people we once were.  As we lose our old lives, we are transformed and we discover a new life that is lived through Jesus Christ.

 

Jesus calls for us to devote ourselves to him wholeheartedly and to walk away from a lukewarm faith.  In the end, Jesus asks us a familiar question…

 

…Are you all in?

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

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Rescued… from What?

“Rescued from What?”

September 11, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 15:1-10                     1 Timothy 1:12-17                             Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

 

On October 14th, 1987 the attention of the entire nation, and much of the civilized world, became focused on one small backyard in Midland, Texas.  An 18 month old girl, Jessica McClure Morales, was playing in the backyard when she fell into a well casing and became trapped in a pipe only 8 inches in diameter, but 22 feet below the ground’s surface.  News organizations from around the world made “Baby Jessica” a household word as rescuers worked non-stop for the next 58 hours to return baby Jessica to her parents.

And most of us are old enough to remember the confusion surrounding the events of September 11th fifteen years ago today.  As the day progressed, we weren’t sure at all who might need to be rescued, or what it might be that we all might need rescuing from.  Both then and now, it evokes powerful emotions when we encounter those moments when the rescuers are in need of rescuing.  But in times of terror, natural disasters, and even as we live a life of faith, we know that sometimes happens.

As we attend church, and as believers in Jesus Christ we often talk about rescue and salvation but we aren’t always clear about the things from which people should be rescued nor about what rescue really means.

During the rescue of Baby Jessica, no one doubted what it was that she was being rescued from.  A baby 22 feet below ground that is stuck in a pipe is in big trouble and, without immediate help, will soon die from starvation, exposure, dehydration, or any number of other things.  But the people with whom we work every day, or the children that go to school with our children, or the curious folks who occasionally wander in to churches, do not seem to be in any immediate danger.  For many of them, and perhaps for some of you, our continued emphasis on “being saved” or “being rescued” seems more than a little curious and requires some explanation.

Hopefully, today’s message will provide some help.

We begin in Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 where we hear God pronounce judgement against the people of Jerusalem for abandoning him and doing evil.

11 At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; 12 a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”


22 
“My people are fools;
they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
they know not how to do good.”

23 I looked at the earth,
and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
and they were quaking;
all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
all its towns lay in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
I have decided and will not turn back.”

God says that the future of Jerusalem is a future filled with drought, destruction, desolation, doom, and death.

This is not a glowing, fun-filled chapter of the Bible and, while it is specific to a particular people from a particular chapter in the distant past, it paints us a stark picture of what can be expected when we abandon God.  Granted, there are a great many people who live out their entire lives without coming to faith in Jesus Christ and, from all outward appearances, seem to do just fine, even thrive, in doing so.  But scripture reminds us that there is more to our existence than the life that we are currently experiencing.  And while we aren’t exactly crystal clear about what it will be like, life, according to scripture, continues on past our earthly death.  And so although the darkness, doom, and despair that Jeremiah describes may have been initially intended for the people of Jerusalem, we would be well served to take note of what eventually lies in store for people who abandon God.

And so the next question we ask is this: What does “rescue” look like?

And for that let’s continue by reading from Paul’s first letter to his friend Timothy (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Paul says that even though he blasphemed God, persecuted Christians, and was a violent man, God showed him mercy because he had done all those things out of ignorance and unbelief.  And so, being a man who had literally become an enemy of God, and yet found mercy, forgiveness, and grace, Paul summarizes our rescue (and his) this way: Jesus came into the world with the sole purpose of saving and rescuing the very people who had turned their backs on God even those people who had declared war on God and upon God’s people.  Because of Jesus Christ, God showed mercy to Paul so that the world could see a display of God’s patience and know that everyone who chooses to believe in Jesus can still be saved from destruction, desolation, doom, and death and receive the gift of life eternal in God’s house.

And then in Luke 15:1-10, we have another example, but this time from the life of Jesus himself.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Jesus is rebuked by the authorities and leaders of the church because he dared to show hospitality to the outcasts of their society.  Tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, and others, despite the fact that virtually all of them came from Jewish families and would have, in modern language, “identified” as Jewish, the church leaders labelled all of them as sinners.  For the Pharisees, it was acceptable to meet with “those” people when you went about your daily business in the marketplace because society, government, or culture demanded it, but at home… that was different.  Sharing a meal with people, actually showing them hospitality and compassion, that was something that good people only did with other good people.  Jesus was disrupting the status quo and defying the desires of the church leaders, by showing love to people that the church had decided were no longer lovable.

And so, in answer to the complaints of the Pharisees, Jesus tells everyone three parables, two of which we heard today and the third is the parable of the prodigal son.  In telling these parables, Jesus paints a picture of what it really means to be rescued and makes it excruciatingly clear that every one of the people in the room, sinners or not, have great value, and that God will stop at nothing to get them back.  For Jesus, being lost can be thought of as a sheep that has wandered away from the flock, or a coin that fell out of a wallet, or a child that disowned their family.  In that sense, “rescue” or “salvation” means being brought back in to the flock, returning to where you belong and to where you are valued, and being brought back into the family where you were, are, and always will be valued and loved regardless of what you have done in the past.

Baby Jessica had to be rescued from certain death so that she could be returned to her family where she was loved and valued.

As followers of Jesus Christ, when we talk about people who are in need of rescue or who “need to be saved” what we really mean is that these people, regardless of how healthy, happy and prosperous they might look, are separated from God and ultimately face a future of destruction, desolation, doom, and death.

But the followers of Jesus Christ cannot condemn people who are in need of rescue because Jesus’ single mission on earth was to save and rescue the people who had turned their backs on God even those people who had declared war on God and upon God’s people.

Real rescue means that the followers of Jesus must treat these “lost” people the way that Jesus did, with forgiveness, mercy, and respect.  Real rescue means inviting the lost to rejoin God’s family. Real rescue means that the people who are rescued have the opportunity to experience God’s transformational compassion and love.

If we are to be the agents of real rescue, then we must be prepared to treat everyone as people who are truly loved and valued.

God will stop at nothing to get them back.

And we shouldn’t either.

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Why Does God do Miracles?

“Are You Raised, Transformed, or Redirected?”

(Why Does God do Miracles?)

June 05, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Luke 7:11-17            Galatians 1:11-24         1 Kings 17:8-24

 George Herbert Leigh Mallory was born on June 18th, 1886 and was an extraordinary mountain climber who was attempting to be the first to reach the peak of Mount Everest.  He made climbs of nearly every well known mountain and in the 1920’s made three attempts, in 1921, 1922, and again in 1924, to reach the summit of Everest.  On March 18, 1923 a reporter from The New York Times asked Mallory, “Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” This question was asked particularly in light of his plans to go again in 1924, and Mallory responded with what has been described as the most famous quote in mountaineering, “Because it’s there.”

During Mallory’s third attempt, on either 8 or 9 June 1924, Mallory and his climbing partner, Andrew “Sandy” Irvine both disappeared on the North-East ridge when they were only about 800 vertical feet from the summit.  Mallory’s body was lost for 75 years and only discovered in 1999.  Irvine’s body, and the camera that he carried (which might provide evidence of whether or not they reached the summit before Sir Edmund Hillary), remain missing even today.

And that brings us to the question for today because last week we talked a lot about the great power of God and the amazing miracles recorded in scripture that displayed God’s power.  But in the end, we often ask the same question that the New York Times asked George Mallory… “Why?”  Why does God perform miracles?  Why does God choose to display his unlimited and unmeasurable power?  And in order to arrive at an answer we will, once again, take a look at some of the miracles that God has performed.  We begin again with the stories of Israel’s greatest prophet, Elijah, during a drought and famine that caused hardship all over the region. (1 Kings 17:8-24)

Then the word of the Lord came to him: “Go at once to Zarephath in the region of Sidon and stay there [Zarephath was to the north of Israel, beyond Galilee, in what was then a part of the Assyrian empire and what is now the nation of Lebanon]. I have directed a widow there to supply you with food.” 10 So he went to Zarephath. When he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. He called to her and asked, “Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?” 11 As she was going to get it, he called, “And bring me, please, a piece of bread.”

12 “As surely as the Lord your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.”

13 Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. 14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”

15 She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.

17 Some time later the son of the woman who owned the house became ill. He grew worse and worse, and finally stopped breathing. 18 She said to Elijah, “What do you have against me, man of God? Did you come to remind me of my sin and kill my son?”

19 “Give me your son,” Elijah replied. He took him from her arms, carried him to the upper room where he was staying, and laid him on his bed.20 Then he cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, have you brought tragedy even on this widow I am staying with, by causing her son to die?” 21 Then he stretched himself out on the boy three times and cried out to the Lord, “Lord my God, let this boy’s life return to him!”

22 The Lord heard Elijah’s cry, and the boy’s life returned to him, and he lived. 23 Elijah picked up the child and carried him down from the room into the house. He gave him to his mother and said, “Look, your son is alive!”

24 Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

God does some amazing things in this story, but this is what I want you to remember: At the end of the story we hear the widow say, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

And then Luke 7:11-17, we hear about a miracle of Jesus that echoes the story of Elijah…

11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

16 “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”

In this story, Jesus is in the town of Nain which, while it isn’t as far north as Elijah was, is still in the region of Galilee and far enough north to remind everyone of Elijah’s story.  Here, Jesus meets a funeral procession on its way to the cemetery.  The funeral is already over, the time of mourning in the home is over, and the mourners are now carrying the body to be buried.  Jesus stops and touches the bier, or platform, on which the body rests and the pall bearers stop with him.  Jesus simply commands the dead man to get up, and he does.

And once again I want you to remember the last two verses from that story: “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”

And finally we come to the story of Paul’s conversion that we discussed last week. This time found in Galatians 1:11-24.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.

Paul is even farther north than Elijah and Jesus as he travels in Syria and Cilicia (which is in modern Turkey).  Paul’s entire life is changed.  He doesn’t physically come back from the dead, but he is restored to life eternal by his recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.  Paul’s entire life is transformed and given a new direction.  And what is the result?  Paul says: “They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.  And they praised God because of me.”

And so today we have heard three stories about the power of God and each time we heard words that sound very similar.

  • Then the woman said to Elijah, “Now I know that you are a man of God and that the word of the Lord from your mouth is the truth.”

 

  • “They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.”

 

  • They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”  And they praised God because of me.

Each time, the “why,” the reason that God performed a miracle, was so that God could be made known to humanity.

I have had people ask me why we don’t see miracles as often as we used to, or why we don’t see miracles in North America when others in places like Africa, parts of Asia and Cuba, do occasionally see them.  And at least a part of the answer is in these three scriptures.  If God performs miracles so that he can be made known, what need is there to perform them in places where there are already an abundance of believers who have already been called to do that very thing?

But more important than that is the understanding that God never performed miracles just so that he could be famous.  God doesn’t just want to be made known so that everyone knows him.  God wants to be known so that he can use us.  For reasons that we don’t understand, God wants us to join his family and to live with him.  But before we can do that, he needs to make us perfect.  Few, if any, of us will come anywhere close to perfect in this life, but God intends to move us in that direction whenever possible.  God is at work every day moving us toward perfection… if we will let him.  And in the process, God will do three things: First, he will rescue us from death and raise us to a new life.  Not just a new life after this one ends, but a new life that begins now, a new and radical life that is dedicated to serving him.  Second, God will be at work transforming our lives so that we, more and more, resemble him.  Every day, little by little, we should increasingly reflect God’s values, love, compassion, justice, mercy, forgiveness, and every other aspect of his personality.  At some point in that process, others will likely begin to notice that we are different than we used to be and, if we are doing it right, they will want to know what happened to us so that they can have whatever we have found.  And third, God is at work redirecting us so that instead of dedicating our lives in the pursuit of pleasure, money, power, or something else, the direction of our lives becomes a reflection of his will and his mission so that we truly become the hand and feet of Jesus.

In reality, answering the question of “Why” God does miracles is the easy part.

God does it for us.

God performs miracles to make himself known to humanity. But what follows is harder.  What follows is a journey of faith that begins with our resurrection to life eternal, continues with transformation into a new creation as we become the people that God intends for us to be, and finally begins a pursuit to become a reflection of his will and mission so that we do the work of the Kingdom of God and truly become the hands and feet of Jesus.

The hard questions are these: Are you raised, transformed, and redirected?

How far have we come?

Are we moving forward, or are we stuck?

What must I do to become the person that God created me to be?

How is God calling me to become the hands and feet of Jesus?

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Changed: Fearless to Tearless

“Changed: Fearless to Tearless”

April 17, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture:

John 10:22-30                               

Acts 9:36-43                          

Revelation 7:9-17      

 

From time to time I find myself visiting sites on the internet that are storehouses of famous (and not so famous) quotes.  Usually I go there looking for something in particular but often end up reading longer than I intended simply because they are fun and inspiring to read.  This week, as I prepared today’s message, I was propelled into exactly this sort of adventure.  I began by looking for several quotes that I vaguely recalled and found several more that were quite good as well.  I can’t use them all today, but we begin with a quote that many of us have heard before.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

But even though we begin that journey, it is important to know where we are going.  In his recent book, publisher, author, and blogger, Michael Hyatt said, “People at any stage will profit by taking the wheel and getting pointed in the right direction.”

If we want to reach a particular destination, we must not only begin taking steps to get there, we must take those steps with our destination in mind.  C. S. Lewis put it this way:

“We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” –

In our journey to follow Jesus, nearly all of us, at one time or another, have found ourselves headed in the wrong direction.  Whenever that happens, the wisest course of action is to cut our losses, make a course correction, and get going once again on the right road.

The reason that this is important to our Christian journey is as important as repentance itself.  John the Baptist’s entire ministry was focused on repentance, and Jesus often mentions it as well, but what does it mean?  The Greek word, metanoia, which we normally translate as repentance, literally translated, means a change of mind, but there is more to it than that.  Because throughout ancient Greek literature, whenever the word metanoia appears, it describes a change of mind that is so compelling that it changes the actions of those who experience it.  It isn’t just an acknowledgement of new information; it is a change of heart that changes what people do and how they act.

But, humorist Will Rogers reminds us of something else.

“Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” – Will Rogers

Following Jesus begins with an act of repentance, a moment when we realize that we have been going the wrong direction and choose to follow Jesus instead.  It is at that moment when we change directions and adjust our course to follow the path that Jesus reveals to us in scripture.  But following the path of Jesus involves more than just sitting still, it is a journey of a thousand miles, a constant struggle against desires that pull us in the wrong direction, but it is never a life of sitting still.  “Following” is an action verb and by definition it implies action and motion.  A life following Jesus is rarely a life that stands still; it is filled with movements that lead us closer to the life that God intended for us.

That life of motion began with Jesus, and it is Jesus that gives us the confidence that we need to take risks as we follow him.  In John 10:22-30, we hear this:

22 Then came the Festival of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was in the temple courts walking in Solomon’s Colonnade. 24The Jews who were there gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”

25 Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

This is one of the many passages that give us the courage and confidence to follow Jesus even when we know that we are so prone to making mistakes and wandering off in the wrong direction.  Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus also tells us that “I and the Father are one.”  Together we understand that Jesus wields the full power and authority of God, the creator of all that is, and he intends to use his power so that no matter how much, how badly, or how often we mess up, we cannot accidentally, unintentionally, or against our will, be taken away from God.  Because of this we have the courage to struggle and to launch out in new directions when God calls.  Because of this, we have the confidence to follow Jesus even when he leads us in unfamiliar and frightening directions.

In Acts 9:36-43, we hear a story that reminds us how our journey begins as we follow Jesus.

36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”

39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.

40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

There are two changes here and the first is obvious.  Tabitha was dead and prepared for burial, but when Peter commanded her to get up, she did.  Although our first step was less obvious, our journey to follow Jesus also began with resurrection.  At the moment we put our faith in Jesus, we became alive and gained eternal life.  But this story also shows us something else that is just as important, but easily overlooked.  Peter was a devout Jew.  Peter had to be told by God three times that it was acceptable for him to eat food that the Old Testament taught was unclean.  Even as a devoted follower of Jesus, Peter regularly did everything that he could to live a life of purity and follow the Law of Moses.  But at the end of this story, we find Peter staying in the house of Simon the tanner.

And that is a big deal.

Much like shepherds, only more so, tanners were people who lived on the outside edges of Jewish life because their daily living involved handling dead animals.  Because of what they did, they lived their lives in an almost constant state of unclean-ness and as such, if they were Jewish at all, they often couldn’t go to the temple or even associate with other Jews.  A good, observant Jew like Peter wouldn’t even set foot in a tanner’s home because to do so would make him unclean.  But what Peter’s experienced, while following Jesus, changed him.  Peter’s life has been transformed and by the time we encounter him in this story, he is not the man that he once was.  The Peter that we meet in this story not only enters the house, but shares food, and lives in the house of Simon the tanner.  This Peter is unafraid to strike out in new directions and to do new, previously impossible things, as he follows Jesus in unfamiliar and frightening directions.

Meeting Jesus and believing his promise of eternal life caused Peter’s life to be entirely transformed.

Where before Peter was often afraid of trying new things, afraid of what others thought about him and, quite naturally, afraid for his own safety, now, Peter was fearless.

This is the path of transformation on which God desires to lead us… all of us.  God intends to completely transform our lives… if we will let him.

But the transformation from fearful to fearless is only one of the first transformations that God has in mind.  There is another, greater, transformation that awaits us.

In Revelation 7:9-17, we hear these words from the Apostle John:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:

“Salvation belongs to our God,
who sits on the throne,
and to the Lamb.”

11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying:

“Amen!
Praise and glory
and wisdom and thanks and honor
and power and strength
be to our God for ever and ever.
Amen!”

13 Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes—who are they, and where did they come from?”

14 I answered, “Sir, you know.”

And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore,

“they are before the throne of God
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne
will shelter them with his presence.
16 ‘Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat down on them,’
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne
will be their shepherd;
‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’
‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’”

In his vision, John is shown the very throne room of God and in it he sees a multitude of people from every tribe and nation, from every language and every corner of the world worshipping God and praising his name.  But while he is watching, one of the elders asks John if he knows who these people are.  John does not, but he knows that the elder who asked the question must know the answer. John is told that these are people who have endured great trials and great suffering but are also people who have been purified by the blood of Jesus Christ so that they may now come into God’s presence, worship him, praise him and serve in this throne room.  They serve, not because of who they are, and not because of what they have done, but because they have been purified by the sacrifice of Jesus.

But more than that, these are people who have been transformed.  They have been transformed by purification, but also because they live under the protection of God.  Never again will they experience hunger, or thirst, or suffering. And, I think most important of all, as people who have experienced great trials, and who have suffered greatly, God himself has tenderly calmed their fears and wiped away their tears.

Following Jesus is a process of transformation.

When we choose to follow Jesus, we are transformed and purified in the eyes of God.

As we continue to follow him, we are transformed so that we become fearless in our faith and obedience so that we are willing to answer his call no matter where it may lead us.

And we look forward to the day when, regardless of the difficulties, trials, pain, and suffering that we endure during this life, God will comfort us, in person, and wipe away our tears.

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.