Romeo United Methodist Church
Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Passing the Baton of Leadership

By Dr. Gary R. Glanville
June 14, 2015
 

Before I begin today with a final message that I hope will encourage you and remind you that God goes before you, and with you, and will never leave you, I want to offer a word of thanks.

I want to thank all of you for coming this day to honor Lisa and me and for taking time out of your busy schedule to share in a meal with us.  We have felt blessed in our time with you these past 19 years and we will always cherish them.  You will always be loved in our hearts.

I am so grateful that my family had the opportunity to live many of their pivotal years here in this area.  I want you to know how important and meaningful that was to us, because that doesn’t always happen with pastoral families as we are called to move about, at least in the Methodist Church.  When you think about it, all of our four children completed their education at Romeo, along with their secondary education.  They made lasting friendships, went on their first dates, first school dances and proms, and learned about sports and music and art and drama.  They completed their driver’s training here which means you were at risk four times.  (So thanks for watching out.)

Romeo provided an opportunity for my wife Lisa to finally use her college degree to pursue a career teaching many of your children.  You allowed her to develop an after school tutoring program here at the church that offered enrichment for younger children they would not have received otherwise.  She had an idea for a prayer meditation garden and you let her pursue that.  In the early years she invited women from the church to join her at various Christian conferences and you trusted her to try something new.

For myself, you let me travel to Nicaragua and Kenya to teach pastors.  You allowed me time for a sabbatical leave to follow in the footsteps of the Apostle Paul traveling around the Mediterranean, but primarily focusing on Greece, Italy, and Turkey.  In the early years you took a risk with me and allowed me to launch a contemporary worship service even though I really didn’t know what I was doing, I just believed it was the right thing to do.  You entrusted me with some of your most personal moments, from weddings to funerals to baptisms to sharing your deepest hurts and pains.  On the first anniversary of 9/11, I was one of three pastors asked to lead a candlelight walk with our community and share words of hope in the Romeo Park under the banner of the American flag.  You let me take your teens hundreds of miles away to a field in Kentucky, while sleeping in tents, to get their ears blasted out by Christian rock bands and be challenged by speakers who wanted them to know Christ and live for Christ.  At other times we screamed together on rides at Cedar Point.  My point is, whatever the event or situation you gave me your trust and I thank you.

And then I look at all the things you have accomplished in our years together.  Not every church decides to step out on faith and build something new - but you did.  I can’t even begin to think of all the fundraisers you did to accomplish various goals.  From purchasing a new organ console, to adding air conditioning to a sanctuary built in the late 1800s, buying the McNeven House, the pew pads you sit on, the sound booth with all of its electronic equipment, from a projector to flat screens, drums, a keyboard, a guitar amplifier, remodeling rooms, adding staff, it’s amazing how much you have done.  And what’s even more amazing - is that God is not finished with you.  God still wants to use you to touch lives in this community.  You are important to the Lord’s work and you need to hear that.

For 191 years, starting as the very first church in a wooded area before there was ever a village of Romeo, God believed in you to offer leadership and to share the good news of Jesus Christ.  You have been leaders when it comes to missions and disaster relief, leaders in scholarships for young people to go to camp, and leaders in letting graduates know at baccalaureate that Christ wants to walk with them in their futures.  For shut-ins and local residents, you have probably been the longest running church on channel 6.  As a matter of fact, one of my very first funerals I did in the community, was for a woman with cancer who watched our services on channel 6 and called me one day to ask if I would perform her funeral when the time came.  

Well I believe God still has great things in store for Romeo UMC.  We have yet to discover what God wants to do next.  Think about it.  God knows the needs of our communities and neighborhoods and schools and work places and families and marriages far better than we do.  What if we were to ask God, what do You want to do next Lord?  How do we get on board with Your plans?  How can we assist You in touching the lives of the people You want to reach?  What ministries do You want us to start that are best suited for this area?  It could be pretty amazing don’t you think - as we do our best to patiently discern what is on the heart of God at this time, in this place?

Well, after an introduction from my heart to yours, let’s look at our Scripture for the morning and see what we can figure out together about passing the baton of leadership. 

 

Deuteronomy 31:1-3, 7-8 (NIV)  (two slides)

Then Moses went out and spoke these words to all Israel:  “I am now a hundred and twenty years old and I am no longer able to lead you. The Lord has said to me, ‘You shall not cross the Jordan.’  (However) The Lord your God Himself will cross over ahead of you. He will destroy these nations before you, and you will take possession of their land. Joshua also will cross over ahead of you, as the Lord said.

Then Moses summoned Joshua and said to him in the presence of all Israel, “Be strong and courageous, for you must go with this people into the land that the Lord swore to their ancestors to give them, and you must divide it among them as their inheritance.  The Lord Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

 

You know when I think about a baton, (slide) I think about track and a relay race, such as the 4 x 400 meter race in which four people each run 400 meters while passing a baton.  You know, in middle school and high school track we might look behind us with anticipation for the next runner that will pass the baton on to us.  But in the ideal relay race, such as with the Olympics, the goal is actually to transfer the baton blind, that is, without looking behind, because that shaves off time. (slide) The outgoing runner reaches a straight arm backwards when they enter the changeover box, or when the incoming runner makes a verbal signal – go! The outgoing runner does not look backwards, because it is the responsibility of the incoming runner to thrust the baton into the outstretched hand, and not let go until the outgoing runner takes hold of it.  Races have been won or lost with the exchange of the baton. 

(slide blank) Moses has been told by God that he will not enter the Promised Land.  He will be allowed to see it from a distance, but not the lead the way in. That responsibility will be left up to Joshua.  It is time for Moses to pass on the baton of leadership to someone else; to not look back but only forward.  It is time to hand it off, because God never intended for one person such as Moses to do it all.  For God chooses to use various leaders to succeed one another.  For example, in America, since 1789, starting with George Washington and leading up to present day with Barack Obama, we have had a succession of 44 presidents giving leadership to this nation.  I can also think back to the many times I either started or restarted the youth group and passed the baton of leadership on to the next youth leader.  Well, God had chosen Joshua to succeed Moses in leading the nation of Israel after 40 years.  He was to receive the baton and now run with it.

Q:  How do you follow someone like Moses?  How do you follow someone whom God used to challenge Pharaoh with 10 plagues?  How do you follow someone whom God used to part the Red Sea?  How do you follow someone whom God gave the Ten Commandments and spoke with on Mt. Sinai?  How do you follow someone whom God used to provide water and manna and the tabernacle with a pillar of cloud leading by day and a pillar of fire leading by night?  Talk about some tough leadership shoes to fill; I don’t think I would want to be Joshua following Moses.  And yet, it was time to pass the baton.

So Moses had to set the stage for the people to get them ready to follow the next baton holder.  Moses had to prepare them, make sure they were equipped mentally and emotionally and spiritually to cross the Jordan River into the land God had promised them.  And Moses uses a phrase that is repeated at least 11 times in the Bible – be strong and courageous!  I want you to notice how Moses prepares the people in verse 3.  (slide) 

First, Moses tells all of Israel, the Lord your God is going to be the first One to cross over ahead of you.  God will be there every step of the way preparing the way for you to enter.  So don’t panic.  Just believe and obey God’s ways and you will do well.  For how can anything fail if God is leading the charge? 

Second, God will make certain any obstacles, any nations you come in contact with, God is going to fight on your side and they will be destroyed.  Not only that, you are going to take possession of their land and their cities and homes and fields, and it will become all yours.  [How would you like it in 2015 to move into a house already built for you and not owe a dime?  How would you like it if the wells were already dug for drinking water and the land was already cultivated for growing crops and all you had to do was take possession of someone else’s labor?  How would you like it if in every city you entered the infrastructure was intact and you just had to step in?]   Moses tells the people this is a done deal if you will walk in faith and faithfully follow these instructions as God commands. 

And then third, to help you as a nation, God has given you a leader for you to follow and to encourage you along the way.  His name is Joshua.  The same Joshua who has been with us from the beginning and has served as my second in command.  Have the assurance that Joshua is going to cross over ahead of you as well.  He will lead the armies in battle.  His leadership will not be like mine.  It will be different.  But God has chosen to use him and that’s all you need to know.  As the Lord has spoken, it shall be done. 

And as I think about us in 2015, I can’t help but wonder if there is any application for us in our situation?  For instance, I think about the tenure of Moses and how he must have grown to love the people he worked with after so many years.  I know I can understand that. 

I think of how Moses probably wanted to be with his people and lead them into the Promised Land himself, to finish the journey he had started, and then maybe retire and just enjoy his grandkids.  But God had different plans for Moses.  Q:  Have I ever thought about retirement?  Did I ever think I might finish my journey with you?  O yeah.  Definitely.  But God has different plans for me that I must honor just like Moses.  I have a calling to fulfill and until God releases me from that calling, I must do my part to be obedient in His service.  I need to always remember that this life I live here and now on this side of heaven is not all about me and my wishes and wants.  It’s about living each day saying to God I am available if You want to use me. 

And just as 19 years ago the bishop at that time assigned me to you, thinking I had the needed skills to help you move forward and encourage you, our bishop at this time believes I have the needed skills to encourage another church and help them move forward.  And though it is difficult to say goodbye, I must, because it is not about me.  (slide blank)

But you need to hear some good news.  God is giving you another leader, a Joshua, and the Lord wants me to hand off the baton of leadership to him.  His service of leadership will be different than mine, but that’s okay, because he will be the right person at the right time.  You just need to be strong and courageous and do the right thing following the Lord all of your days. Because if you do, God will go before you, and God will go with you, and God will show you the way to the Promised Land of His great glory. 

I want to show you something that in my opinion is both ridiculous and alarming - because it’s telling me how far our country is drifting away from God’s truth, and how secular we are becoming, and how much we need a spiritual revival to call us back. 

Did you hear about the Marijuana Church in Indiana that was granted tax-exempt status by the IRS last month?  (slide) The First Church of Cannabis plans to hold their very first worship service on July 1st and test the limits of their religious freedom by featuring recreational use of marijuana.  In other words, they are going to smoke pot together in the name of religion, but not for medical reasons. Bill Levin, (slide) who is the founder of the marijuana church (gotta love that hair style), doesn’t believe anyone will be arrested on July 1st because he thinks using marijuana is on par with sacramental wine used for communion.  And instead of following the Ten Commandments, the marijuana church came up with their own 12 guidelines they call the ‘Deity Dozen.’  (slide) Number 12 reads as following:  “Cannabis.  ‘The healing plant’ is our sacrament.  It brings us closer to ourselves and others.  It is a fountain of health, our love, curing us from illness and depression.  We embrace it with our whole heart and spirit, individually and as a group.” 

According to Levin, the church does not worship marijuana instead (slide) – “We celebrate life’s great adventure….We celebrate love in our lives and pray with cannabis.  It is a health supplement for our bodies and our minds.  It brings us closer to each other and closer to love.  And it is good.”  (slide blank)

Those two statements to me are sacrilegious, to equate the Lord’s Supper and prayer with smoking pot.  And why do I show them to you?  Because that is the world that we are living in right now and you need to be strong and courageous and be the church God has called you to be. 

You need to stay the course, just like the trustees have stayed the course with two houses that hopefully one day will sit on another piece of property and become homes for two other families. 

Here are my final thoughts I want to leave with you.  After Moses was gone, and all of Israel was probably unsure how this was all going to work out now (sort of like our church), God spoke to Joshua if he had any doubts, to encourage and bolster his heart, to provide the added confidence he needed.  This is what God said to Joshua that I would like you to hear God saying to you.  Remember this Scripture as my parting words to you.  (2 slides Joshua 1:5b-9)  

 

As I (meaning God) was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.  Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law My servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.

 

Keep this Book of the Law (for you the Bible, God’s Word) always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”      Let us pray.