A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sermon (February 3) - "The Jeremiah Leadership Training Course"

     Go into any bookstore, and you will easily find shelves upon shelves of books on how to become an effective leader.  Since there are so many books on leadership, this just goes to show how many of us want to be better leaders.
     Sometimes, I think that people forget to utilize one of the greatest leadership books out there and that’s the bible.  The bible is a great leadership book.  Just think of all the biblical leaders that are at our fingertips just by reading the bible.  Moses, Deborah, David, Peter, Paul, and Jesus himself.  We can learn so much by reading about how they led God’s people in their own time.
     Our reading from the Old Testament gives us another great example of a leader.  Jeremiah.  At a very young age, God called Jeremiah to be a prophet.  Being a prophet was risky business. Often times, that message was not an easy one to hear because it sometimes was a message of judgment for the people to change from their sinful ways. 
     So it’s no wonder that when God called Jeremiah to this kind of risky calling, that Jeremiah didn’t want to do it.  Jeremiah begins by saying that he’s only a youth.  He’s had no training in leadership.  He doesn’t have any experience. He’s not qualified for the job.
     Actually, Jeremiah’s response is a typical one.  Remember Moses?  When he was first called by God, he said pretty much the same thing.  There’s got to be somebody more qualified out there.  I’m not the best speaker.  I’ve not doing anything like this before.  In a way, I think it’s comforting to know that these biblical heroes were in many ways just like us
     So here’s the situation when God called young Jeremiah to be a prophet.  This was around 600 BC, several centuries before the birth of Christ.  The people of Israel have been straying from God’s ways and have been worshipping other gods. The situation is desperate.  God needed someone to tell the people that they needed to repent from their sins and turn toward God.
     Who does God choose for this daunting task with so much on the line?  Certainly it was somebody who has already served as chairman of the Church Council, someone who has been to Lay Speaker training, someone who has gone through the Franklin Covey leadership seminar. No, no, and no.  God chose young Jeremiah who didn’t have any of these things to be the prophet who would lead the people.
     Sometimes we get so caught up in having the education and the training that we forget to simply take that step forward and make a difference.
     Once there was an ecumenical gathering that was being held in a large city. Every imaginable denomination was in attendance for this unprecedented event. One afternoon the gathering was in session when all of a sudden a secretary rushed in shouting, "The building's on fire! The building's on fire!" Confusion reigned as each church group came together and did what came naturally:
     The Methodists gathered in the corner to pray. The Baptists cried, "Where's the water?" The Quakers quietly praised God for the blessings that fire brings. The Lutherans posted a notice on the door declaring that the fire was evil. The Roman Catholics passed a plate to cover the damages.
     The Unitarians reasoned that the fire would burn itself out if just given the chance. The Congregationalists shouted, "Every man for himself." The Fundamentalists proclaimed, "It's the vengeance of God." The Episcopalians formed a procession and marched out. The Christian Scientists concluded that there was no real fire. The Presbyterians appointed a chairperson to appoint a committee to look into the matter and make a written report.
     And while all of this was going on, the church secretary grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out!
     What does this unique Jeremiah leadership training course have to offer you and me?
     Well, the first thing that stands out is that Jeremiah was called by God.  Jeremiah was called by God.  Jeremiah didn’t initiate this calling. In fact he resisted it. 
     Let me read verses four and five again.  It says, “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’” 
     Here’s the important lesson in these verses: God’s calling in our lives precedes our conscious awareness of who we are to be and what we are to do.  The God of creation knows us inside and out.  God knows us better than we know ourselves!
     Think about this for a moment.  The God who created you and who knows you by name has also called you to be part of God’s redemptive work in the world.  How exciting is that?!  Each one of us has a purpose to live out God’s calling.
     So this is the first part of the Jeremiah Leadership Training Course.  Remember that God has called you.
     The second part of this training course is to remember that God is always with you.  After Jeremiah responds to God by saying that he is too young, notice that God reassures Jeremiah that he will give him the words to speak. Then in verse 8, God tells him, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.
     The phrase, “I am with you” is a good one to underline because this gets at the heart of the good news of our faith.  God is always with us.  When we speak, God is there.  When we are leading a ministry, God is there.  When we are facilitating a small group, God is there.  When we are serving on a committee, God is there.  When we are preparing to sing an anthem, God is there.  When we are getting ready to leave the country for a mission trip, God is there.
     The Jeremiah Leadership Training Course is different from the other courses because you can take the instructor with you!  God promises to never leave your side.  Remember, you are not alone.
     And then, this third important part of Jeremiah’s training.  God will equip you for the task.  God will equip you for the task.  We get this in verse 10.  God tells Jeremiah, “See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
     There are things that God wants to accomplish through us.  Notice that there are both negative and positive things that need to be accomplished.  The negative things like plucking up and overthrowing need to happen so that the positive things like building and planting can take place. 
     Whether we are plucking up or planting something new, God will equip and empower us to do things we never dreamed were possible.  When we remember that God has called us and that God will always be with us and that God will equip and empower us, what else do we possibly need?
     In a church I was serving, there were two teenage girls who were strong leaders not only in the youth group but also in the church at large.  They loved serving others in a variety of ways while keeping up with their studies and several school activities.
     They served as greeters, led bible studies, promoted church events, helped with meals, gave talks about their faith.  They were two of the strongest leaders in our church and it was a large congregation.  I often wondered what their secret was in being such effective leaders for Christ at a very young age.
     That is until one day, when I was walking past the church chapel and I saw them praying together.  That’s when I realized why they were such great leaders.  They knew to depend on God. 
     Now, I should have known that!

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