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?”

 

 

 

 

 

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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
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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.

 

Resurrection? So What?

“Resurrection? So What?”

(Easter.  So What? – Part 1)

April 16, 2017

(Easter Sunday)

By John Partridge*

 

Colossians 3:1-4                     Matthew 28:1-10                               Acts 10:34-43

Did you watch the news at all this week?

Every week, almost every day, we are confronted with stories and images that demand our attention.  This week we were horrified to see United Air Lines being drag a passenger off of a flight against his will simply because the airline overbooked the flight and randomly selected him to be removed. In the past we’ve seen the images of Tamir Rice being shot by police, police officers being attacked or shot in the line of duty, American Indian tribes protesting a pipeline, or heard about the FDA allowing the use of a dangerous pesticide, or the dramatic loss of honey bee colonies, and a host of others.  Our initial reaction might be surprise, or shock, or sadness, or anger, but the most important question that we are left with when the news is over is, “So what?”

What are we expected to do about it?

Are we simply better informed than we were a moment ago, or is there something that we can, or should be doing as a result of the information that we have received?  Should we sell our stock in United? Call our congressman? Vote for the police levy?  Read the labels at Home Depot and refuse to buy products that contain dangerous pesticides?  Plant bee gardens?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

In our seminary class on preaching, our professor reminded us that our Sunday sermons ought to pay attention to the “So what?” question.  If what we have to say on Sunday morning is important, then so what?  What do we want the congregation to do with the information that we have studied, prepared, practiced, and provided?

The “So what?” question is important because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

And that’s really the heart of the Easter story as well.  But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember the story. (Matthew 28:1-10)

28:1 After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow.The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

 

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

 

So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

 

The women are shocked and afraid as they meet Jesus, whom they (obviously) thought was dead.  But Jesus calms their fears and then answers the “So what?” question as he sends them to carry the message of Good News to the disciples in Galilee.

 

It took a while for the disciples to fully understand what it meant that Jesus had risen from the dead.  Over the course of Jesus’ ministry, the disciples had seen the impossible.  The blind could see, the lame could walk, incurable diseases had been cured, and they had even seen the dead restored to life.  But now Jesus, the teacher, and their connection to the power of God, was the one who had died.  Who was left that could defeat death now?  Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  What did it all mean?  What were they expected to do about it?  They knew that if they didn’t do something, if they didn’t change, then nothing would change.  And this was far too important to allow that to happen.

 

A few months later, after Jesus had ascended into heaven, and after the events of Pentecost, Peter answers the “So what?” question for the disciples and other followers of Jesus in Acts 10:34-43.

 

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

 

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

 

Peter is a changed man.  Only a month or two ago he denied even knowing Jesus, and hid from the authorities. Then, after the crucifixion, he left Jerusalem, walked back to Galilee, and went back to his old job.  He was utterly defeated and a ruined man.  And suddenly we see him as forceful, decisive, thoughtful and confrontational as he stands before a crowd of people in the streets of Jerusalem.  He is clearly not the same man that we saw during the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.  What he had seen was so important that the answer to the “So what” question changed his life.

 

He knew that if he didn’t change… then nothing would change.

 

And so he changed.

 

And as he preached, he argued that everyone else had to change as well.  The “So what?” of the resurrection of Jesus was nothing less than world changing.  No one else in the history of the world had done what Jesus did.  The most famous and most powerful of God’s prophets had not even come close.  The resurrection was important.  The resurrection meant something.  And Peter preaches to the world about its meaning.  Peter says that the trial and crucifixion of Jesus really happened.  Everyone knew that it happened because they were witnesses and because they were witnesses, they had to do something.  They had to change.  We have to change.

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

Jesus has commanded us to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

Paul, writing to the church in Colossae, answers the “So what?” question in a slightly different way. (Colossians 3:1-4)

 

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

 

Paul says that since Jesus saved your life and rescued you from death, then you should do something about it.  If we believe in Jesus, and have put our faith in him, then we must build our lives around his teaching and around the expectation that heaven is real and that we expect to live there.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ isn’t just information.  It isn’t just something that we need to know to be well informed.  It is so important, so significant, that we are expected to do something about it.

 

Clearly, Jesus was no ordinary man.  Jesus had done miracles that even the greatest of God’s prophets had never accomplished, and rising from the dead was the greatest miracle of all.  The resurrection is important.  The resurrection means something.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that he is the Messiah, the Savior and rescuer of all humanity.

 

And because we are witnesses, we are expected to preach to the people, to testify about Jesus, and tell the world that he is the judge of all humanity, and by believing in him we receive forgiveness for sins.

 

We are expected to do these things…

 

Because if we don’t change… then nothing changes.

 

 

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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.

 

Aim Carefully

“Aim Carefully”

February 26, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 49:8-16a                      Matthew 6:24-34                  1 Corinthians 4:1-5

During the American Civil War, as General John Sedgwick’s troops were preparing for battle, they were being harassed by Confederate snipers.  General Sedgwick argued with his men that there was no need to duck because, as he put it, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this distance.”  Seconds later, General Sedgwick was shot in the head and killed by one of those snipers.

 

If you’ve ever watched some of the television shows about military snipers or Hollywood movies like “Shooter” filmed in 2007 with Mark Wahlberg, or if you’ve ever done any shooting of your own, you will know that there are a number of factors that can come into play if you want to hit your target.  Wind, gravity, bullet spin, even the curvature of the earth can be a factor, but one thing that is absolutely essential in hitting your target is where you are aiming.  If you aren’t aiming at the target, then your chances of hitting go down tremendously.

 

I say these things because, outside of shooting with guns, there is a principle that applies here that can also be applied in other places.  The principle that I refer to is this: You hit what you aim at.  Or also the contrary, you can’t hit what you’re not aiming at.  We begin this morning in Isaiah 49:8-16a, where we hear these words from God that speak about the coming messiah and about God’s love for his people.


This is what the Lord says:

“In the time of my favor I will answer you,
and in the day of salvation I will help you;
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people,
to restore the land
and to reassign its desolate inheritances,
to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’
and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’

“They will feed beside the roads
and find pasture on every barren hill.
10 They will neither hunger nor thirst,
nor will the desert heat or the sun beat down on them.
He who has compassion on them will guide them
and lead them beside springs of water.
11 I will turn all my mountains into roads,
and my highways will be raised up.
12 See, they will come from afar—
some from the north, some from the west,
some from the region of Aswan.”

13 Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the Lord comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.

God swears that he will keep watch over his people, that he will not give them away to anyone else, that he will make a covenant contract with them, and will restore them to the land that he had given to them.  In the end, God swears that he will never forget his people, so strong is his love for them, that it is more likely that a nursing mother would forget her baby, than it would be for God to forget his people.

 

But the warning that comes from God’s words in Isaiah is that the necessity of this promise comes out of the tendency of human beings to forget their promises and break their contracts.  God goes to great lengths to declare his love for his people and to remind the world how he always remembers and never breaks his promises, simply because Israel has regularly, and repeatedly, throughout history, broken its promises to God.

 

And then, as we move into the more modern era, in Matthew 6:24-34, we hear Jesus say this:

 

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Jesus reminds us that we are still prone to the same forgetfulness as the people of Israel.  We still try to split our allegiances, to cover our bases, and play both sides against the middle.  God knows that money is important, but so is food, and so is mathematics, but all of these are just tools for us to use.  The danger for us is in allowing any tool to become so dominant, that it becomes more important to us than God.  Jesus encourages us to trust God completely, to trust him with our money, to trust him with our well-being, to trust him with our health, and allow him to give us the things that he knows that we need.

 

Where we most often go wrong is in aiming for the wrong things.  If we truly want to have a relationship with God and if we truly want God to hold the most important place in our lives, then that is what we ought to be aiming for.  But when we take our eye off the ball, when we shift our aim, and we make the accumulation of money, or power, or sex, or pleasure, or something else to be the target, then our aim has drifted and we’re no longer aiming for God.  But what many of us will try to argue is that what we really want is God and money, or God and success, but what Jesus is very clear about is that we cannot aim at two things at the same time.  You are either aiming for God and a relationship with him… or you aren’t.  If you’re aiming for “God and” then you are no longer aiming for God at all.

 

In 1 Corinthians 4:1-5, the Apostle Paul offers this description of how we might think of ourselves:

4:1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

 

Paul says that we are servants of Jesus Christ and people who are entrusted with the truth that has been revealed in scripture.  Because of the trust that God has placed in us, we must be faithful to him in return.  In the end, when Jesus returns to earth to judge humanity, he will shine light into the darkness and he will reveal the motives of every human heart.

 

On the one hand we have God, who has declared that his love for his people will never end and that he is constantly thinking of our well-being.  God has entrusted us with the great riches of the mysteries of God and the Good News of Jesus Christ and we will be judged by the motives of our hearts.  But on the other hand are the fickle and ever changing hearts of humanity.  We are constantly adrift, constantly tossed this way and that by the people around us, by our culture, and by our circumstances.  We are constantly tempted to put our trust in places that are not trustworthy.  We are constantly tempted to aim at the wrong things.
But God won’t share first place.

 

You just can’t aim at two things at once.

 

Aim carefully.

 

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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.

 

The Reason for Rules

“The Reason for Rules”

February 19, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Why are there so many rules?

 

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

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

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

11 “‘Do not steal.

“‘Do not lie.

“‘Do not deceive one another.

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

13 “‘Do not defraud or rob your neighbor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be holy, because God is holy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus says, I know that you’ve all heard about “conventional wisdom,” but the conventional wisdom is wrong.  The only way to reduce violence is not to participate in it.  Be willing to take a loss, be willing to look foolish, be willing to be disturbingly generous, even when it is costly to you.  God has done good to you and has poured out his love upon you, even before you ever met him.  It doesn’t impress anyone that your love is “just as good” as the tax collectors, or that you are “just as loving” as everyone else.  Being “just like everyone else” means that you are no different than everyone else and that your faith is no better than their lack of faith.  The followers of Jesus Christ have been called to be different; we are called to a higher standard.  Our goal isn’t to be “just like everyone else,” our goal is to be perfect.

 

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

 

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


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

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

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

So what does this all mean?

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

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

You can do whatever you want.

Do you want to get better?

Or not?

 

 

 

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

 

Christmas Heroes

hero“Christmas Heroes”

December 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture:       Matthew 2:1-13

 In 1959 a story appeared in Showcase comics and was retold in a July 1960 magazine entitled “The Planet of the Doomed Men.”  In this story, Abin Sur crashes his alien spaceship in a remote and desolate part of planet Earth.  He is dying.  And as he dies he searches for a man who is, at the same time, most outstanding and quite peculiar.  Abin Sur wears a ring of power that searches the world to find the type of man that he needs – and in all of planet Earth, only two such men are found, Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan.  Because time is of the essence, test pilot Hal Jordan is selected because he can be reached and summoned to the crash site more quickly.

And so, Hal Jordan becomes one of Earths greatest Super Heroes, The Green Lantern.

The thing that made Hal Jordan and Guy Gardner and later John Stewart and Kyle Raynor unique wasn’t their choice of career.  While Hal Jordan was a test pilot, Guy Gardner was a school teacher, Kyle Raynor an artist, John Stewart an architect, and Abin Sur was a professor of history.  Their careers were not what made these men unique.  What made these men worthy of being selected as member of the Green Lantern Corps was something that they lacked.  While every man and woman on Earth experiences fear, a Green Lantern has no such capacity.  Sometimes the banner heading of the comic magazine would say that, “Green Lantern, man without fear.”

 If you hadn’t guessed, I am a fan of Green Lantern, and for many years I collected comic books and there were things that I learned from them.  The comics of the Golden and Silver ages and to a lesser degree, still those of today, teach such things as integrity, chivalry, honesty, patriotism, the value of every intelligent being, teamwork, and freedom.

 The downside is that comic books aren’t real.  There really aren’t superheroes that we can call upon when we are in trouble.  There was no Superman or Green Lantern to help us on 9/11.  And there is no such thing as a man without fear.  There is an old phrase that says, “A hero isn’t a person that isn’t afraid, it’s a person that is afraid but does their duty anyway.”  A hero isn’t someone without fear, but someone who perseveres, who does their duty, who does their job, or who just does what has to be done despite their fear.  I challenge you to read sometime the stories of the men and women who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Under the circumstances that arose for which they earned their medals, fear was natural and often pervasive.

 The difference is that a hero keeps moving when normal people are paralyzed with fear.

 As we read the Christmas story, we would do well to notice an underlying theme.  It is one that we know but probably haven’t thought about consciously.  Today I want to take a different look at the people of the Christmas story and I suppose the obvious people to start with would be Mary and Joseph.

 These two young people often did not understand what was happening to them, or to the son that God had given to them.  But do you suppose that Mary was afraid of what her father would think of her when she became pregnant before her wedding day?  Do you think that she was afraid that her future husband would demand that she be stoned to death outside the city gate, as was his right?  Do you suppose that she was afraid that Joseph would return her to her father and demand that the bride price be returned to him?  We read a lot about Mary, but we need to remind ourselves that she was still just a tiny, thirteen years old, little girl.  All of these things were real possibilities.  And ye, Mary trusted God and moved forward anyway.

 In Matthew 2:1-13 it says:

 1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

 3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5“In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:
6” ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'”

 7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

 9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

What about Joseph?  Did Joseph worry that his reputation, as well as his father’s and his family’s reputation, would be degraded because his betrothed had become pregnant before their marriage?  I’m sure that he did.  Everything I have read indicates that a family’s reputation, their honor, was literally worth money.  From how you were treated in the legal system, to what kind of kind of loans and interest rates you could get, to what kind of deals that you could make in the public market to whether of not you could do business as a tradesman, all depended on the appearance of your family’s honor.  I say ‘appearance,’ because honor was very much a thing of appearances.

 This system of honor goes a long way toward explaining how the system of law worked, and how even the sacrificial system worked.  If someone did something that dishonored another person, that dishonored the community or that dishonored God, some penalty had to be levied that would the system back into balance and that would restore honor and holiness to the people.  This is why an unfaithful woman could be stoned for bringing dishonor upon her family.  This is why the husband, father and brothers of the woman were permitted to hunt down a rapist and kill him, or demand from him the bride price and possibly, that he marry the girl.  These were all means by which the family’s honor could be restored.

 Did Joseph worry about that?  Was he afraid of what the people of his village would think of him and how it would affect his business?  You can bet that he did.  You can believe that despite the promises of an angel sent by God, that Joseph worried about being able to feed his family and you can be absolutely sure that he was afraid when he heard that Herod was sending his soldiers to kill his son.  Herod had done things like that before… and worse.  This story was entirely believable and their fear caused Mary and Joseph to make good speed in getting out of town in the middle of the night and fleeing to Egypt.  Was Joseph afraid?  I’m sure that he was, but it never stopped him from doing what God told him to do, or from doing what he needed to do.

 Were the shepherds afraid when the angels came to give them the good news of the birth of the savior?  We know that they were.  But were they afraid of what they would find in town?  Shepherds were among the bottom of the social classes right near the prostitutes and the tax collectors.  Shepherds smelled bad and they were most certainly not welcome in town.  Were the shepherds afraid of the reception that they might get in town?  Did they worry that angry townspeople would drive them out of town again?  They had cause to worry.  But the things that the angels had told them were so incredible that they had to see it with their own eyes anyway.

 Were the wise men afraid when they realized that all of their study and all of their data indicated that the new king that they had expected (because of the signs in the stars) would be born in Israel?  These men, government officials for a hostile government, would need to visit the Tetrarch of Judea, Herod, the man who was widely known as evil, vicious and cruel.  They would visit Herod while in the company of a token force of their own military, but while flying the flag of an enemy to Rome and they would visit Jerusalem, a city with an entire Roman legion in and around it.  Were they afraid?  I suspect that they would have been less than wise if they were not, but they pressed on anyway.

 Did Anna worry about how she would live when her husband of only seven years did and left her with no children and no way to support herself?  Did Simeon perhaps worry that he had misunderstood God and that he would not really live to see the salvation of Israel?

 And what about Herod?  Was Herod afraid when he heard the wise men say that a new King had been born?  What about when his own advisors searched their own scriptures and found pretty much the same information?  From everything that we know, from scripture, history and archaeology, Herod was desperate to protect his job.  An appointment within the Roman government was tenuous and subject to removal or assassination.  Herod was constantly afraid of any upset in the peace or in the status quo in the nation of Israel.  If there were unrest or civil war, the Romans would move into Jerusalem in force to restore order, and Herod would be sent back to Rome, or worse.  Was Herod afraid?  Absolutely.

 But here we have a dividing line of sorts.  When Herod was threatened and was afraid, he did not react the way that the other characters in this drama reacted.  Herod’s response to being threatened was to strike back at the source of his fear.  Instead of responding in love or in faith, he responded in violence.  When others were afraid, they prayed and they trusted.  When Herod was afraid he mis-trusted.  When Herod was afraid, his fear and mistrust brought death to hundreds of innocent children in a sleepy town in the middle of nowhere.  When Mary was afraid she trusted and her faith and her trust brought new life and salvation to all people.

 We need to remember that in our real world, babies from the planet Krypton don’t crash to earth.  In our reality Abin Sur didn’t give his ring of power to Hal Jordan, and none of the other amazing superheroes of the comic books are going to come to our aid.

 We do however, worship a powerful God who created the universe, who knows each and every one of us, and who loves us so much that he allowed his only son to die in our place.  We worship a God who orchestrates the movement of the planets and who answers the prayers of little children.  The good news is that although our world doesn’t have Superman or the Green Lantern or even mutant warriors like the X-men, God has sent us heroes.  God has sent us heroes throughout recorded history, people that we know from the Bible and from other books.  Even today there are often even heroes among us.  God has sent us heroes that have shown us how to be faithful and how to make good choices.  From our heroes we learn things like integrity, chivalry, honesty, patriotism, the value of every intelligent being, teamwork, and freedom.  All of us should have a hero.

 But although there is no such thing as a man without fear, the good news is that heroes are very real.

 The key to having worthwhile heroes is in how you will identify them.

Green Lantern Abin Sur searched the world for a hero using his amazing ring of power.

How will you search?

Who will be your heroes?

You might start with the Christmas story.  It’s full of them.

 

 

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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.

Fear Not?

fearEarlier today, my friend John Thro posted a question that, in light of this election, is worth taking the time for all of us to consider.  He said…

“I have gay relatives, relatives with gender identity issues, relatives with mental health issues. 

I have friends and coworkers who are immigrants, friends and coworkers who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist.

How should they feel this morning?”

First off, I want to point out that throughout this election cycle I have not supported either candidate.  Professionally, I try very hard (with varying degrees of success) to keep my political opinions (though strongly held) to myself.  What I have to say, and what we do, on Sunday morning, and inside the walls of the church are far more important than whatever political differences that we might have.  Personally, I found both major candidates to be so deeply flawed that I could not, in good conscience, support either of them.  What button I pushed inside the election booth is not something I care to post publicly.

With that in mind, here is my perception. Despite the efforts of the opposing campaign to smear him, Mr. Trump’s history is not as bad as some would lead you to believe. Many of the things brought up were things that he had said, 20 or 30 years ago. People change. In general, as we age, we mellow.   For every accusation of hatred, there were employees, friends, associates, and others who countered with a story demonstrating the opposite.  Even so, I do not discount that some of the things said by Trump were troubling, some should not have been said, and these are things that we must watch for, and guard against.

What I fall back on is that we still live in a nation of laws, a nation in which the violent crime rate has been dropping for the last twenty years, and a nation that is full of good people. No laws will be enacted that violate anyone’s Constitutional rights, violence against minorities or others will be not tolerated under our laws any differently than it has been, and the law will be upheld. In the end, as it has almost always been, to the man or woman on the street, there will be little or no perceived difference.

You are as safe today as you were yesterday.

The Gallup research organization says that 58 percent of all Americans claim to be third generation Americans, the grandchildren of immigrants.  I am one.  Our conversation about immigration is not only important, for more than half of us, it is deeply personal.  For that reason alone, as well as others, there will be no gigantic shifts in immigration policy.  We will not ban immigration.  We will not hate immigrants.  How can we when half of us claim that as our heritage?  What we will (or at least should) have, is a discussion about what legal immigration ought to look like, what reasonable limits we should put in place, and how we can do it better.

Similarly, we are already such a culturally, religiously, and racially, diverse culture that I do not expect any huge, or dangerous, changes in public policy.  And, despite those who would seek to attack our neighbors with gender identity issues, or those whose gender identity is different than the mainstream, I really don’t see any significant changes happening.  As a nation, we are a good, kind, compassionate, generous, and yes, tolerant people… even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

I said many of these things to John in my reply to his post, but I also added something else.  We must remember that President Obama, even though he was well liked and widely supported by the Democrat members of the United States House and Senate, occasionally proposed legislation that went too far.  In those cases, even his friends and supporters could not agree with him, and that legislation did not pass.  What President Trump will face, although there will be a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, is a Congress in which many establishment representatives neither like him nor support him.  I believe that they will be more than willing to oppose him on issues that they believe cross the line and go too far.

In the end, I also have faith.

I have faith that the ultimate power is not the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office.  God is in control.  And our God is a god who is passionately concerned about the poor, the outcast, the voiceless, immigrants, minorities, and every kind of oppressed people.  What is left to us is not to be afraid, but to choose what we will do.  We must not wait for the President, or the Congress, or the government at any level to do what we should do.  I have always, regardless of political party, committed to pray for the President of the United States and all of our leaders at every level and I will continue to do that.

I encourage you to do the same.

But we must also busy ourselves doing what is right, good, and just, particularly if we are people of faith. We must commit ourselves to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the outcasts, being a voice for the voiceless, showing mercy and compassion for immigrants and the oppressed, and seeking justice for everyone.

I believe that our nation is full of good, decent, hardworking, compassionate, faithful, and generous people.

I believe that we will do these things.

We will be vigilant.

There is no reason to fear.

 

 

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Doing What is Hard

This past week my wife, Patti, and I traveled to Parris Island, South Carolina with other members of our extended family to watch our son Noah graduate from Marine Corps boot camp.  After graduation, we spent a day on the beach and then headed home.  During those twelve hours in the car, he shared some of the stories of how he had spent the last three months, of what he had done, and some of the things that happened during his training.  While I well remember the difficult things that we did during my eight weeks of Army basic training, what he did goes well beyond many of the things that I experienced.  For thirteen weeks these young men (the Marines also have women, but men and women train separately) did things that most of them, as well as their parents, would have thought impossible only a short time earlier.  But as I listened to Noah share his stories, I began to think of how this mirrors our walk with God and I thought of several lessons that would be good for us all to remember.

  • We are capable of more than we think we are – All of these young men accomplished things in thirteen weeks that they never dreamed they were capable of doing. And yet, all of them succeeded.  Why?  They were capable all along.  They had the ability all along.  All they needed was a little training, some encouragement, and the assurance that they could succeed.  We are exactly like them.  The only reason that we do not rise to the challenges that face us is our belief that we are not capable.  We may need a little training and a little encouragement, but it is often our failure to believe in ourselves that holds us back.
  • We don’t do what we can simply because we do not try – Similarly, when we allow our challenges to intimidate us, we retreat. We fail because we are too afraid to try.
  • We often shy away from doing what we can because it sounds difficult – Not everyone is cut out to be a United States Marine, but even fewer will attempt it because what they do sounds difficult. Make no mistake, it is.  What those young men did in thirteen weeks was almost certainly the hardest thing that they had ever done.  For some of them, it will, for the remainder of their lives, be the hardest thing they ever did.  But they will always remember that they succeeded and the memory of that success will make them less afraid to attempt other difficult things.  The worst thing that can happen if we attempt something difficult is that we might fail.  But if we do not try, we fail anyway.
  • We accomplish more as a team than as individuals – From the very beginning of boot camp the Marines are repeatedly reminded that they are a team. As platoons, as battalions, and whole of the Unites States Marines they are a team.  They succeed and fail together.  And together they regularly accomplish things that others believed to be impossible.  We regularly see thing play out in church as well.  There are many things that I could never do by myself but we regularly do together.  From Vacation Bible School, to Sunday worship, to mission projects and everything in between, our success comes only through all of us working together.  This is equally true of our larger church connection when many thousands, even millions of us work together to reduce poverty, build hospitals, and even reduce the death rate from malaria by fifty percent in continent of Africa.  We may not be the United States Marines, but our team is accomplishing amazing things every day.

I’m sure that there are more parallels that I could point out, but I hope that you will remember this:

You are capable of more than you imagine.

Never be afraid to try. Don’t be afraid to attempt big things, or try new things, because they sound difficult.  We often discover that the most worthwhile things are not easy.

But together, with God, we can accomplish the impossible.

 

 

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