Oh No! Girls in the Boy Scouts. Is this the End of the World?

Several of my Facebook friends have been stirred up over the news that the Boy Scouts of America would now be accepting girls into the Cub Scouts and allow girls to earn the Eagle award.  Relax folks.

You need to know the facts.

First, this isn’t new.  Remember that The Boy Scouts of America, is the United States branch of an organization that exists in over 190 countries.  The BSA itself consists of several organizations: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Venturing, Explorers, Sea Scouts and also the STEM Scout pilot program.  All of these, except Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts have admitted girls as young as eleven years old, since around 1971.

Second, as an international organization, the Boy Scouts have allowed girls in both Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts in nearly every country on the planet except for the United States and a few other countries, most of which are predominantly Muslim.  That’s why international events like the Scout Jamboree and the World Jamboree have had female participants for decades and the camps they use are already fully equipped, and staffed, to support them.

That bring us up to date as we consider the recent announcement and change to BSA policy.  Let’s take a look at what the announcement actually says:

  • Hispanic and Asian communities prefer to participate in activities as a family. Recent surveys of parents not involved with scouting showed high interest in getting their daughters signed up for programs like Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

That’s a significant motivation to be racially inclusive and, frankly to be good citizens, as well as a good idea for an organization that has been shrinking as busy families have less time to join any kind of club.  The same struggle is seen in music, sports, and theater programs at schools as well as all sorts of community groups and clubs.

  • Starting in 2018, families can choose to sign up their sons and daughters for Cub Scouts. Existing packs may choose to establish a new girl pack, establish a pack that consists of girl dens and boy dens or remain an all-boy pack. Cub Scout dens will be single-gender — all boys or all girls.

The control of implementing this is completely local.  If your pack doesn’t want females, or if you simply don’t have the female volunteers to properly supervise the addition of girls, then don’t.  But even if you do, the girls and the boys will belong to separate dens and will only be together at Pack meeting when all of the leaders, male and female,  are present.  And remember, Cub Scouts don’t have camp-outs unless their parents are with them, and scouts never share a tent with an adult, unless that adult is a parent.

  • BSA will also deliver a program for older girls, which is projected to be available in 2019, that will enable them to earn the Eagle Scout rank. This unique approach allows the organization to maintain the integrity of the single gender model while also meeting the needs of today’s families.

Read that again.  They did not say that girls will join the Boy Scouts.  What they said was that they are developing a program that will make the Eagle rank, and presumably, merit badges, etc., available to girls.  That does not say that girls will be integrated with the boys, but instead emphases that they want to “maintain the integrity of the single gender model.”  How they intend to accomplish that has yet to be explained, but there’s nothing here that seems worth getting upset about.

So relax.

I’m a pretty conservative parent of boys and a girl.  I was involved in scouting as a boy and I have been active in scouting since my boys were in grade school and joined Cub Scouts.  I attended this year’s Boy Scout Jamboree, and I saw plenty of female Venturers, as well as female international scouts.  As a chaplain, I was pretty plugged-in to the news of what was happening across the camp.  And as far as I know, there were zero problems that arose because both genders were present.

Honestly, I think that this is a good step.  It makes a premier program of leadership development available to girls who will hold important positions of responsibility in our industry, our culture and our society.  And, as described, it will take nothing away from the boys.  Why would we rob half of our children, and ourselves, of this opportunity?

I don’t see a downside here.

 

_________

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.


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

_______________

 

Advertisements

Fear, Respect, and Posers

“Fear, Respect, and Posers”

October 08, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 20:1-20                      Philippians 3:4b-14                           Matthew 21:33-46

 

 

 This morning I want us to begin by using our imagination for a moment.  Imagine if you met someone who referred to themselves as a professional race car driver, but who never drove a car.  Imagine someone who owned a steel company but the factory that they owned never produced a single ton of steel.  Imagine someone who bragged about owning a vineyard but that vineyard never produced a single grape.  In each of these cases, you would quickly begin to doubt their credentials and would suspect that they were posers, faking their way through life trying to make themselves feel important.

 

At the same time, imagine living in a place where the police department was prohibited from making arrests, had no handcuffs, no jail, and had nothing more than balloon animals and water guns to enforce the law.  Instead of stopping criminals, the police spend their time entertaining children at birthday parties.  Obviously, they wouldn’t be much of a police department and no one would take them seriously.

 

With these ideas in mind, we return to the story of the Exodus and the people of Israel.  Today we hear the words of God as he handed down the Ten Commandments to Moses and to the people. (Exodus 20:1-20)


20:1 And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

13 “You shall not murder.

14 “You shall not commit adultery.

15 “You shall not steal.

16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”

 

I could present a sermon on each one of those, but for today I wanted to stress the last sentence.  First, Moses tells the people that they should not be afraid, but then immediately says that these commandments were given so that the people would have a “fear of God” that would keep them from sinning.  Doesn’t that sound like two conflicting ideas?  How can we be unafraid, and yet fear God?

 

The simple answer is that although these words translate the same, these two uses of the word fear, and afraid, are used to express two curiously different ideas.  When Moses says “Do not be afraid” that is exactly what he means.  He is telling the people that they needn’t run from God, that they do not need to keep their distance from God, and that simply being in the presence of God is not a life threatening situation in which they must worry, from moment to moment, that God will strike them dead with a thought, a look, or a bolt of lightning.

 

On the other hand, God has given these commandments, and has revealed his presence on earth, so that we might be prevented from continuing in our sin.  As I noted in my earlier example, imagine what would happen if everyone knew that the people charged with law enforcement were prevented from, and totally incapable of, enforcing the law.  In that case, law breakers would have free reign to do whatever they wanted, and even decent people would be sorely tempted to do things they shouldn’t do.  How many people would follow the speed limit if it were announced that the State Highway Patrol and local law enforcement officers would no longer patrol the interstate highways or give out tickets?  In this case, what Moses is saying is that God is real, God is powerful beyond imagination, but that God is a good god who loves you beyond measure.  At the same time, there is a list of things that humans do that offend God and we would be wise to avoid doing them.  When they are functioning correctly and when our relationship with the police department is the way it’s supposed to be, we are not afraid to meet a police officer on the street.  We know that they are there to protect us and to keep us safe.  But we also have a healthy respect for them and for what they do, and their presence reminds us that it is wise for us to obey the law.  This deep, abiding, and healthy respect for the presence of God is what Moses describes as “the fear of God.”  We need not be afraid of him, or fear to be in his presence, but we should be stopped in our tracks by the thought of offending him and breaking his laws.

 

God’s intent is not to destroy us, but to prevent us from violating his law and thus bring harm to ourselves.

 

By the time of Paul, the commandments and the laws of God had been elevated in status by people, like the Pharisees, to become an object of worship.  The laws became so important that they became idols that distracted people away from the will of God instead of pointing toward the will of God.  And, before his encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was one of those people.  But afterward, Paul understood the law in an entirely different way.  In Philippians 3:4b-14 he described his new understanding this way:
If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

 

Paul had spent his life learning the rules, following the rules, respecting the rules, teaching the rules and then enforcing the rules.  The rules were his life’s mission.  And then, after his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul says that he considers everything that he ever did to be garbage, filth, because he now understood that following the rules can never make us good enough, but that we can only become pure because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  He now understood that we can never, on our own, be good enough, but we must continually work to get better, to become worthy of the gift that we have been given by Jesus.

 

But how do we know when we are doing the right thing?  If following a bunch of rules isn’t good enough, then how do we know when we are following Jesus the way that Jesus desires for us to follow him?  And for that, at least in part, we can turn to Matthew 21:33-46, where Jesus tells his disciples what we now call the parable of the landowner.

 

33 “Listen to another parable: There was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34 When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit.

35 “The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. 36 Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them the same way. 37 Last of all, he sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said.

38 “But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir.  Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ 39 So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.

40 “Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?”

41 “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,” they replied, “and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. 44 Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. 46 They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

 

Once again, this entire parable was told as a criticism of the leadership of Israel and of Israel’s religious leaders.  They were, in opinion of Jesus, leadership posers.  They were standing in front of the people telling them what to do and how to do it, but they weren’t doing any of the right things themselves.  They were the race car drivers who never drove a single race, steel makers who never produced a single pound of steel, and vineyard owners who never produced a single grape.  Jesus said that the measuring stick to measure a race car driver was to watch him, or her race.  We judge steel makers by how they produce steel, and we measure vineyards by how many grapes are grown.  Likewise, Jesus says, the leaders of the church, and the church itself, are measured by the fruit that they produce.  You can talk about rules all you want, you can talk about churchy stuff all you want, but in the end, the important thing is to measure how many lives have been changed because of what you are doing.

 

Although the Ten Commandments are of obvious importance, the question has never been about how well we follow them, but about why we follow them, and about the results that we get from doing so. Our calling is to follow the law, not because that’s the most important thing, but because we want to be obedient in order to express our gratitude for what Jesus has done for us.  We cannot be posers who pretend to do the work of God in order to make ourselves feel better.  We must measure our success by the people who have come to faith in Jesus Christ, the lives that have been changed, and the souls that have been drawn closer to God.

 

This is our vineyard.

 

This is the fruit that we are called to produce.

 

And Jesus warns us that if we fail, he will move us out and bring in someone else who will.

 

 

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

 

 

* 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.

 

Pay What You Owe!

 

Pay What You Owe!

September 17, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 14:19-31                    Romans 14:1-12                                 Matthew 18:21-35

 

 

How many of you have ever seen the 1976 movie, “Rocky” starring Sylvester Stallone?

 

We might be missing some of our younger friends, but I would think that by now, most of us have seen it, if not in movie theaters, then on television or on Netflix, or video, or something.

 

In any case, at the beginning of the movie, we learn that Rocky is a down on his luck, amateur boxer and to emphasize just how far down he is, we see that he makes extra money as a collection agent for a local loan shark.  The trouble is, he is too nice and gets in trouble for not breaking someone’s thumbs as he was told to do.  That is typical of how loan sharks have appeared in movies and television for years.  When you fall behind in your payments to a loan shark, some big thug pays you a visit and reminds you, often violently and painfully, that you are expected to pay what you owe.

 

And if you think about it, that’s something of a common theme in our lives.  We get letters from the bank, and the utility company, and the department store, and the credit card company, the Internal Revenue Service, and all sorts of other places every month that urgently remind us, just as forcefully and only slightly less threateningly, that we are expected to pay what we owe.

 

When people do things for us, whether they loan us money, or mow our grass, shovel our snow, they expect to be paid in return.  We expect the same when we work for others.  Not many of us would show up at work if our boss told us that there was no money to pay us.  But that brings us back to the story of the people of Israel in the land of Egypt.  Today we rejoin their story after they have fled their captivity, but now, having been pursued by the chariots of the army of Egypt, find themselves trapped between the swords and spears of the Egyptians, and the Red Sea. (Exodus 14:19-31)

 

19 Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, 20 coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.

23 The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. 24 During the last watch of the night the Lord looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. 25 He jammed the wheels of their chariots so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.”27 Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the Lord swept them into the sea. 28 The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.

29 But the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. 30 That day the Lord saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. 31 And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.

 

All along, the god of Abraham has been a god of miracles.  He introduced himself to Moses by appearing in a burning bush, gave Moses a staff that turned into a snake so that he could re-introduce himself to the Pharaoh as a person of power, then brought about ten plagues to afflict Egypt until Pharaoh finally consented to allow the Israelites to leave, and finally leads and protects the Israelites with a pillar of cloud and fire.  And now, when it seems that hope is lost and the Egyptian army will either kill them or return them to their captivity, God creates a dry pathway through the sea through which the Israelites cross safely and in which every single Egyptian soldier dies.

 

God has done all these things, and yet he still promises more.  God still intends to keep his promises and lead Israel into the Promised Land where Israel can become a great nation and rule over themselves.  And in exchange for all of these miracles and the display of all of this power, what is it that God wants in return?  What will be required when God asks Israel to pay what they owe?

 

Nothing.

 

God’s generosity toward Israel is a gift and comes not from a desire to be repaid, but from the love that he has toward his people and the honor that God has in keeping the promises that he made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  The only thing that God gets in return for his generosity… is trust.

 

“And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.”

 

But God does want something in return for his goodness.  In Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus explains.

 

21 Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.

23 “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. 24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold [ten thousand talents – about 20 years’ wages for a laborers wages] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

26 “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ 27 The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

28 “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

29 “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

30 “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. 31 When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

32 “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. 33 Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ 34 In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

35 “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

 

The story of the Exodus told us that the people of Israel put their trust in God, and Jesus is clear that a part of trusting God is forgiving others in the same measure that we have been forgiven by God.  The debt that God has paid on our behalf is astronomically more than we could ever repay and while God does not send thugs to threaten us to pay what we owe, he does insist that our forgiveness flow down to the people we live with and work with every day.  So important is this principle, that Jesus warns us that failing to forgive others and treating them harshly, will cause God to judge us with the same measure and lack of forgiveness with which we treat others.

 

Finally we come to Romans 14:1-12, where we find Paul’s explanation of how we are to honor God.


14:1 
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

 

We are called to accept those people whose faith is not as strong as ours or whose understanding of scripture, at least in non-essential theology, leads them to a somewhat different interpretation than ours.  In Paul’s time, particularly because most meat was sold by butchers who cut, and resold, meat that had been sacrificed to idols, some Christians felt that it was a sin to eat meat.  Others felt that since idols weren’t real, that the meat was not “tainted” in any way and was acceptable to eat.  Paul’s advice was that these two groups should respect one another and not treat one another with contempt.  This idea of contempt and respect is important and it comes up again later in this same passage.

 

Paul also addresses the issue of which day should be a holy day because believers had come to worship on different days.  Just as Jews, Seventh Day Adventists, and a few others worship on Saturday, while most Protestant churches worship on Sunday, and Catholic churches often have worship on both days.  Paul points out that what is important is that both groups are, in their own way, attempting to honor God.  In fact, the same thing applies to the people that were arguing over meat, each group was, in their own way, doing their best to honor God in the way that they understood scripture.

 

And this is where Paul returns to that idea of contempt and respect, but here he asks why people judge one another.  This is a little puzzling because only last week we heard Paul say that we should take someone aside if we see them falling in to sin, but here he tells us that we should not judge a brother or sister in Christ.  How can we understand how these two ideas are not in conflict?  If we look closely, Paul associates judgement with contempt and he is also careful to note that these arguments were over what he calls “disputable matters.”  In that regard, it is important for us to distinguish between judgement and discernment, and also between sin, and disputable matters.  Paul wants to be sure that the followers of Jesus do not fall into sin and that we do the things that God has called us to do and avoid those things that God has called sin.  At the same time, Paul understands that not every dispute is critically important theologically.  We are called to be discerning over which disagreements are simply disagreements, and which are clear matters of God’s instruction.  In Paul’s time, some believers thought that eating meat was a sin and others didn’t, while some believed that worshiping on one particular day of the week was critical, while others didn’t.  Today we have similar disagreements between fellow believers.  Methodists believe that everyone should be invited to share at the communion table, while Catholics do not.  We believe that it is possible to turn you back on God and lose your salvation while our Baptist friends do not.  We believe that each individual has the free will to choose whether they will follow Jesus or not, and our Calvinist friends would describe that choice as predestined by God.  The followers of Jesus Christ have many theological disagreements over things that Paul might describe as “disputable matters” or that John Wesley might have described as “non-essentials,” but although we disagree, we are not to judge one another in such a way that we treat one another with contempt.

 

In the end, Paul reminds us that each of us will eventually stand before God and give an account of our lives.  And although we may disagree on how it is to be done, we must all do the best that we can to bring honor to God and to follow his commands.  We must all do the best that we can to treat one another with respect even when we disagree about what things are, and are not, important.  And all of these things are important because God has done so much for us that we can never hope to repay our debt.

 

God is not a loan shark that will send Rocky Balboa or some other thug to insist that you should “Pay what you owe.”

 

But what God wants in return is for us to forgive others and show mercy in the same measure that God has forgiven us and has been merciful toward us.

 

What God wants is for us to trust him enough to live as if scripture matters.

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

* 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.

 

 

 

 

 

Whose “Side” Are You On?

Two SidesI read an article that included a statement that struck me as wrong, but which, the more I thought about it,  bothered me even more.  The article was yet another story about the current clash of political ideas and in the story, one group (the name of the group is unimportant) claimed that they would win because, “God is on our side.”  It would be easy to point out how some of the group’s actions have been hurtful in ways that clearly do not reflect anything like godliness, but the more I thought about it, this is true of every single political and religious group on the planet.

We can never claim that God is on our side.

Why?

Because God doesn’t take sides.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

God is the creator, ruler, and final judge of all that is.  There is nothing we can do to persuade God to join our cause regardless of its goodness.  God does not stand with or against Republicans or Democrats. God does not join forces with churches, or synagogues, or mosques.  God does not play favorites with social movements.

God is so much bigger than humanity, or anything that humanity perceives, that God’s very existence defines good and evil.  When we stand with God we join the forces of good and when our positions oppose God’s will we have, by definition, become agents of evil.

There are only two sides.

As followers of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to abandon the idea that God will take our “side” or join our cause, and realize instead that we must join God’s side.  The positions of the Republican party sometimes align with God’s will and sometimes their positions stand against God’s will.  The same is true of the Democrat party, and the Libertarian party, and the Socialist party. The same is true of the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church, and the Catholic Church, a well as the Mormons, those of the Jewish faith, Muslims, and even ISIS.  The same is true of those advocating for, and against, LBGT rights, environmentalists, and every other group that encourage us to join their cause by claiming that God is on their side.

He isn’t.

God isn’t a “joiner.”  God doesn’t join our “sides.”

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

Our affiliation with a political party, or a social movement, or even a particular denomination or religion does not define us as godly.  We are only godly, we are only good, when we do the will of God.  Political parties, and social movements, and even churches and religions are only on God’s side when they do the will of God.  If we truly want to be on God’s side, we can stand with those groups when they are godly.

But we must stand against them when they are not.

Long ago, as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, they had to make a choice.  They had to choose whether they were going to follow God or the gods of Egypt that they had left behind.  Joshua pressed them for an answer saying, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

In our modern world far removed from the children of Israel, and in a time when our political, social, and religious worlds are so polarized, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider what Joshua might ask us today.  Would his words to us sound like this?

Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of the political parties, or the gods of the social movements, or the gods disguised as religion.  But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

There are only two sides.

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

Whose side are you on?

_________

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.


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

_______________

 

 

Unexpected Acts of Love

“Unexpected Acts of Love”

September 10, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 12:1-14                      Romans 13:8-14                                 Matthew 18:15-20

 

How many of you own jewelry of one kind or another?

 

Most of us do.

 

Some of it is elaborate, ornate, and expensive, while some of the things that we use to adorn ourselves are simple, plastic, and cheap.  I have a cross that’s made of wood and bit of yarn.  I’ve seen others that came out of a vending machine at the grocery store for a quarter.  But regardless of their cost, many of the things that we wear include symbols that have meaning. And one of the odd things about the stories of the Bible are the times in which things that are ordinarily gruesome, terrible, and frightening are redeemed and transformed into symbols of something else entirely.  The cross is the most well-known example. With few, if any, exceptions the cross is among the most painful, gruesome, and horrific ways of dying. Merely the threat of crucifixion was enough to bring about the stubborn obedience of entire nations to Roman rule and law.  The cross was, absolutely, a clear and profoundly terrifying symbol of pain, suffering, and terror.  Few of us would wear a necklace with an electric chair, or a guillotine, or a gallows around our necks.  But the death of Jesus Christ transforms the meaning of the cross into a symbol of faith, hope, and love.

 

Somehow, in the wisdom of God, this symbol of horror becomes instead a symbol of something else entirely, and this one act of suffering and death is revealed to be a completely unexpected act of love.

 

As we continue reading the story of Moses and the people of Israel in Exodus 12:1-14, we see another well-known example of this.

 

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight.Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance. 

 

Darkness, frogs, lice, locusts, blood, and even death are sent to plague Egypt and while all of these things are terrible, they become for the nation of Israel, symbols of hope and signs that remind us, even today, of God’s faithfulness. And in this passage we see the slaughter of year-old lambs and goats and their blood being painted on the doorframes of houses.  In any other context, painting houses with blood would be offensive, threatening, disgusting, and terrible.  Today, the perpetrators would likely be charged with a hate crime, but in this particular case, the blood of these slain animals becomes a mark of the faith of God’s people and a symbol of God’s love that endures for thousands of years.

 

More than that, the plagues of Egypt themselves, including the death of every firstborn, while haunting and terrible, are not signs of God’s hatred of Egypt or a suggestion that God is somehow evil, but instead are symbols of God’s love even for Pharaoh and the people of Egypt.  Over and over again, God demonstrates his power and authority, granting second chance after second chance, in an attempt to bring about their repentance.  God could have just as easily started with the destruction of Egypt but, in his mercy, provides advance warnings through Moses, and repeated non-lethal demonstrations of his sovereignty so that even the Egyptians might accept him and be saved.

 

And even though we might struggle with elements that seem to be negative and difficult, we see something similar as we read Matthew 18:15-20.

 

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.

19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

 

None of us like conflict and confrontation, and what Jesus tells us to do is exactly that.  When we see a follower of Jesus Christ that is falling into sin, we are called to go to them and point out their error.  The intent of this confrontation is not to be angry, or vindictive, or to gloat over their sin, but to call them to repentance in a way that is loving so that they can be restored to the body of Christ.  The first effort is totally private and done in such a way that, should they see their error, no one else would need to know.  You saw it, pointed it out to them, and if they recognize it, repent, and change, then it’s all over and done.  The second attempt is nearly as private, but lets the fallen person know that others in the community are aware of what they have done, and they are given a second chance to repent and stop doing whatever it is that they have done.  And still there is a third chance given where the sin is made known to the entire community of faith and still there is time to repent and to be restored.  But should that fail, then the fallen can be expelled from the church.  All along, the goal is never about confrontation, or humiliation, or ruining reputations, but the goal is always to be caring and loving, and to bring about repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration.

 

Paul sums up the commands of God in a wonderful way in Romans 13:8-14 where he says…

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

 

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

 

Paul’s summary of the law of God is one of the simplest to remember in all of scripture. “Whoever loves, has fulfilled the law.” Boom.  That’s it.  Every commandment of God can be summarized with this one simple statement because “Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law.”  Although they are important, there’s no need for us to get all wrapped up in trying to remember rules and laws because, in the end, all of them are accomplished if we love one another and seek the best interests of others.

 

What is unexpected, when we look at the examples that we read earlier, is how often the loving thing, done in the best interests of others, can sometimes appear to be quite the opposite.  Our children thought that we were terrible parents when we said ‘No” to their requests for candy before dinner or caffeinated soda before bed.  Our teens were furious with us when we grounded them for breaking the rules or refused to allow them to go out with their friends the night before a big test.  Darkness, lice, locusts, boils, and death certainly don’t seem to be the acts of a loving God, and yet, all of these were an attempt to draw people, both Israelite and Egyptian, into the kingdom of God.  Confrontation, accusation, humiliation, and even excommunication do not seem like loving acts, but the goal, in every case, is to bring about restoration and reconciliation.

 

To a toddler, a swat across the hands does not seem to be a loving act, but to the adult who stopped curious fingers from touching a hot stove, that mild act of violence was understood to be a loving rescue.

 

Sometimes love is unexpectedly painful.

 

Jesus sought to do what was best for all of us at the expense of his own comfort and even at the expense of his life.

 

And our calling is to pursue what is in the best interests of others even when it might seem, on the surface, to be something less than loving.

 

“Whoever loves, has fulfilled the law.”

 

We may find that love is expressed in some unexpected ways.

 

But love must always come first.

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

 

* 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.

 

Who Am I?

“Who Am I?”

September 03, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 3:1-15                        Romans 12:9-21                                 Matthew 16:21-28

 

 

It’s sometime hard to figure out what’s “real” and what’s not.

 

When we meet someone we want to know who they really are, and this becomes even more important when we want to do business with them, or… if they want to marry your daughter.

 

Many of us have been the victim of an unscrupulous mechanic, or had to fire a contractor that didn’t live up to our expectations, or worried about who our children were dating because we weren’t sure that they were the people they seemed to be.

 

In the age of social media, it’s all to easy to pretend that your life is more perfect than it is, or to claim that you go to church, or that you went to a certain school, or to fabricate all sorts of impressive things.  But our curiosity about the people that we meet isn’t anything new.  People have wanted to know the truth about the people that they meet as long as there have been people.  We want to know if we can trust them, and if so, we want to know how much we can trust them.

 

And that brings us to our scripture for today.  Four hundred years after the life of Joseph, the people of Israel still lived in Egypt, but after the passage of so much time, the Pharaoh on the throne no longer remembered the story of Joseph and what he had done for the nation of Egypt.  And once those lessons were forgotten, Pharaoh began to wonder who the Israelites really were, and if he could really trust them.  (Exodus 3:1-15)


3:1 
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I amThis is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lordthe God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.

 

The Pharaoh of Egypt doesn’t know who Israel is, and he doesn’t know Israel’s god, and he doesn’t know anything at all about the character of Joseph and so he decides that it’s too risky to trust that they won’t rise up and try to overthrow him and take control of his nation.  This decision leads him to oppress the descendants of Jacob and try to limit their ability to reproduce.  In turn, because of his oppression, God calls Moses to be his agent as he rescues his people.  But that causes Moses to doubt himself and wonder what it is that God sees in him.  Moses wonders why God would want him because he has already been thrown out of Egypt, and because he is disgraced in Egypt, because he is a wanted murderer in Egypt, a humble shepherd in Midian, and so Moses asks, “Who am I that I should go” and do this thing.

 

We all do that.  Many of us have struggled to understand who we are.  We often hear about young people you go off to “find themselves” and that’s exactly what they are doing.  They are struggling to decide who they are.  But a big part of the answer for us is the same as it was for Moses.

 

God’s simple answer is that it doesn’t matter who you are.  What matters is that the God who created the universe is going with you.

 

But Moses follows up with another pretty solid question.  Since the people have been living in Egypt for 400 years, and many of his own people have forgotten Jacob, and Joseph, as well as their god, and they are going to want to know who it is that wants to save them.

 

And God answers, tell them that “I am” has sent you.

 

Egypt’s gods always had a name and a description.  There was Ra, the sun-god, Amun, the wind god, Anubis, the god of death, Horus, the god of war, Isis, the goddess of magic and healing, Osiris, the god of the underworld, Set, the god of the desert, Sobek, the god of crocodiles and alligators, and on, and on.  But when Moses asks the God of Jacob what his name is, the only name big enough to define it are words that we can only use to describe ourselves.  What all this says, in one name, is that the only thing big enough to name God, is God himself.  God’s name is “I am.”

 

God is, all that is.

 

God’s message to the people of Israel is that it doesn’t matter who they are, and it doesn’t matter what has happened to them in the last 400 years, and it doesn’t matter how powerful Pharaoh and his armies are, and it doesn’t matter that many of them have forgotten God and don’t know how to worship him.

 

The only thing that matters is that the God who created all that is, is going with them.

 

And then, thousands of years later, as Jesus approached the time when he knew that he would die, we hear this story in Matthew 16:21-28.

 

21 From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.

22 Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!”

23 Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.”

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

28 “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”

 

After several years of teaching his disciples and telling crowds of people who they should be as followers of God, suddenly Jesus tries to explain to his friends who he is, by describing what he needed to do.  Jesus had to do these things because that is who he was, because that is why he came.  And when Peter tries to talk him out of it, Jesus declares that doing so is taking the side of the enemy because Jesus’ identity, who he is, is tied only to answering God’s call and doing what God wants him to do.  Jesus’ identity was built on God.

 

The only thing that mattered is going where God wanted him to go and doing what God wanted him to do.

 

And finally we come to Paul’s words for the church in Rome as they too wondered who they were. (Romans 12:9-21)

 

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 

Paul reminds the church that if we are to call ourselves Christians, and allow our identity to be shaped by God, then we must be sincere.  In a time when everyone is talking about “fake news” it is far more important that we not be “fake Christians.”  We must hate evil and love good, we must serve God as much as humanly possible.  Paul lists these things, not as suggestions, but as a checklist or as a measuring stick against which to check ourselves.

 

Our world is a strange, wonderful, terrible, and sometimes terrifying place. And in these difficult times we ask ourselves, “Who am I?” and we worry about the future.

God’s simple answer is that the God who created the universe is going with us.

 

We met here today in a church and we call ourselves Christians.  We claim that our identity is built as followers of Jesus Christ.  But are we fake Christians or real ones?

 

There’s really no need for us to wonder who we are.

 

If we are real Christians, then we must go where God wants us to go, and to do what God wants us to do.

 

That is who we are.

 

Otherwise it’s all just for show, and we’re all fake Christians.

 

Who are you?

 

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

 

* 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.

 

Dedication Determines Destination

“Dedication Determines Destination”

July 02, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 22:1-14                      Romans 6:12-23

 

 

On July 4th, 1776, fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the American Declaration of Independence.  Of these, nine were immigrants, two were brothers, two were cousins, and one was an orphan. The average age of a signer was 45. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 70. The youngest was Thomas Lynch Jr. of South Carolina at 27.

 

They were merchants, businessmen, farmers, doctors, lawyers, judges, legislators, one a clergyman, and while most all were Protestant, only one was Catholic.

 

What they signed was a list of grievances against the King of England that had not been resolved and, having complained, had been made worse.  At the end of this declaration was an oath in which they swore their “support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

 

And they did.  And the cost, for many of them, was steep.

 

Seventeen signers fought in the American Revolution and the British captured five of them during the war. Richard Stockton never recovered from his incarceration at the hands of British Loyalists. He died in 1781.  Thomas McKean wrote to John Adams and said that he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy – compelled to remove my family five times in a few months.” Abraham Clark had two of his sons captured by the British during the war.  Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s home was razed and his wife taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey, and he died while fleeing capture. Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson lent large sums of their personal fortunes to support the war effort but were never repaid.1 Thomas Lynch contracted swamp fever while fighting with the South Carolina militia and his illness left him sickly for the rest of his life. Seeking relief from his illness he and his wife sailed for the south of France and were lost at sea.  Joseph Hewes worked night and day and spent himself creating the new United States Navy.  His health failed and he died from overexertion.2

 

These men knew that signing the Declaration of Independence would mark them as an enemy of the king and all of England.  They didn’t make their choice of allegiance lightly.  They knew that the American colonies had chosen a destination that would carry them away from England, her king, and their empire.  But they also knew that reaching that destination would take incredible courage and dedication.  Without their dedication and sacrifice, our freedom would have been impossible.

 

This is the theme that we also see in today’s scripture readings.  We begin in Genesis 22:1-14, as we continue with the story of Abraham and Sarah.

 

22:1Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 

God, knowing full well that Abraham and Sarah had sent Ishmael and his mother out into the desert to die, or at the very least, knowing that they would never return, God asks Abraham, to take Isaac, his only son, his most prized, most loved, the son through whom God had promised to produce nations and people more numerous than the stars, and the one thing Abraham held to be more valuable than any other, even more than his own life, and to sacrifice him as a burnt offering on the top of a mountain.  This was God’s test.  God knew that Abraham loved him.  God knew that Abraham trusted him, but God still wondered if Abraham was “All in.”  To be fair, Abraham also knew what God had promised.  He knew that God had promised that Isaac would be blessed and that God would make his family into a great nation.  Abraham knew that Isaac was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abraham’s children as numberless as the stars in the sky.  But now God wanted Abraham to take that promise to the top of a mountain and put a knife to Isaac’s neck.  We don’t know what Abraham was thinking.  Maybe he was thinking that God would relent and change his mind.  Maybe he was thinking that God would raise Isaac from the dead.  We don’t know.

 

What we know is, that in the end, Abraham did everything that God asked.  Abraham was fully prepared to end Isaac’s life if that was truly what God wanted.  Now God knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Abraham was “All in.”  There was nothing, not even this most prized, most loved, most cherished son, as well as the love of his wife (because I just don’t see Sarah being the same if Abraham had come home without Isaac), not even that would Abraham keep from God if that was what God desired.  This is the most extreme example, but this is what it looks like to give everything to God.  Especially after last week’s lesson, we know that Abraham was far from perfect.  But he was willing to give God everything that had any value to him.  God blessed Abraham, and Isaac, and their family and still does so today.

 

Abraham’s dedication determined his destination.

 

In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:

 

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Paul’s first argument is that we are each like an instrument offered to God.  Every part of us needs to be equally dedicated to God.  To withhold a part of our lives, and to offer God less than all of ourselves, produced a gift like a guitar with missing strings, or a trumpet with one valve stuck, or a piano with some of the keys missing.

 

Next, Paul again confronts what must have been a common argument to excuse sin.  The argument was that since the sacrifice of Jesus and the grace offered by God now supersedes the Law of the Old Testament, then sin is therefore permissible.  But Paul destroys that argument by saying that human beings, by nature, will enslave themselves to something.  We are enslaved by our desires, our lusts, our passions; we are enslaved by greed, sex, power, and a host of other things.  But the gift of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allows us a choice.  We can continue to be enslaved by our sin, or we can choose to give ourselves instead to a good, just, and merciful master who will set us free from sin and make us slaves to doing right.  What’s more, when we are enslaved by our desires, the direction of our lives will lead to death but if we are enslaved to righteousness, our lives lead to eternal life.

 

Our dedication determines our destination.

 

The signers of the American Declaration of Independence knew with absolute certainty that what they were doing was an act of treason and would make them enemies of the King, of England, and the empire.  They understood that liberty and freedom for the new American colonies would come at a price and they were prepared to dedicate their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in pursuit of that goal.

 

And it was their dedication that determined the destination of our nation.

 

Abraham and Sarah spent their entire lives praying and waiting for God to fulfill his promise to give them a son, and when God gave them Isaac, he became the most treasured thing in their lives.  But when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to demonstrate his devotion and dedication Abraham was prepared to hold nothing back and give everything, even his most precious son, back to God.

 

And his dedication determined his destination.

 

That same choice falls to each one of us in our spiritual life.  Just as you cannot make beautiful music on a guitar that is missing strings, or a piano with broken keys, neither can we withhold parts of ourselves from God.  We will, by nature, drift into slavery to something but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allow us to choose whether we want to be slaves to our own desires, or slaves to God and slaves to doing what’s right.  When God asks us if we are “All in” he isn’t just asking if we are his fans, he is asking if we, like Abraham, are willing to give God absolutely everything that has value to us.  Your willingness to be “sold out” to God is literally a choice between life and death.

 

Your dedication, determines your destination.

 

Are you… “All in?”

 

 

 

 

 

_________
Did you enjoy reading this?
Click here if you would like to subscribe to these messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog, Crossfusion.

_______________

 

1Note: Information from Larry James • CelebrateLove.com These are his sources: Robert Lincoln, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, with Biographical Notices of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence(Brattleboro Typographical Company, 1839); John and Katherine Bakeless, Signers of the Declaration (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).
2 http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/declaration-of-independence-signatures.html
__________
* 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.