Trouble Times Three

Trouble Times Three

November 17, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 65:17-25                      2 Thessalonians 3:6-13                      Luke 21:5-19

 

Have you ever been in trouble?

Or been a part of an organization, or a nation, that was going through trouble?

And, in the middle of that trouble, did you ever wonder where God was, or why God would allow your pain, or why God allowed such trouble to come at all?

As much as we dislike trouble, and as painful as it can be, pain and trouble seem to be an integral part of life itself.  Where there is life, trouble seems to be present.  And that seems always to have been true.  Trouble existed from the beginning of God’s story in Genesis and dances its way through scripture all the way to the end in Revelation.  But even though trouble and pain and suffering are always there, it seems fair to wonder what God thinks about it, why God allows it, or what God is doing about it.  So, together, let’s explore that idea for a little while.

We begin in the book of Isaiah (Isaiah 65:17-25) as God’s prophet helps the people of Israel to wrestle with what seems like the inevitable destruction of Jerusalem, the capture of her people, and slavery in Babylon for the survivors.  They know that trouble is coming, the future seems bleak, and it seems as if God will not answer the prayers of his people.

17 “See, I will create
    new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
    nor will they come to mind.
18 But be glad and rejoice forever
    in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
    and its people a joy.
19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem
    and take delight in my people;
the sound of weeping and of crying
    will be heard in it no more.

20 “Never again will there be in it
    an infant who lives but a few days,
    or an old man who does not live out his years;
the one who dies at a hundred
    will be thought a mere child;
the one who fails to reach a hundred
    will be considered accursed.
21 They will build houses and dwell in them;
    they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
22 No longer will they build houses and others live in them,
    or plant and others eat.
For as the days of a tree,
    so will be the days of my people;
my chosen ones will long enjoy
    the work of their hands.
23 They will not labor in vain,
    nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
for they will be a people blessed by the Lord,
    they and their descendants with them.
24 Before they call I will answer;
    while they are still speaking I will hear.
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together,
    and the lion will eat straw like the ox,
    and dust will be the serpent’s food.
They will neither harm nor destroy
    on all my holy mountain,”
says the Lord.

It is interesting, I think, that God doesn’t offer any explanation as to why the prayers of the people seem to be unanswered or offer any assurance that the threat of death and destruction at the hands of the Assyrians will go away.  Instead, God simply begins to talk about the future.  Let me say that again, slowly, for effect.  God begins to talk about… the future.  At the moment when the people of Judea and Jerusalem are beginning to realize that the prophecies of their destruction are about to be fulfilled, and just when they are all beginning to think that they are all going to die and their nation erased from history, it is at that moment, the moment in which the people are beginning to believe that they have no future at all, that God begins to talk about the future.

God says that he will create a new heaven and a new earth that will be so good that we will finally forget the pain of the past.  The future that God describes will be a place where crying and pain will be no more.  Premature death, for any reason, will be abolished.  Even the wild animals of the animal kingdom will set aside their animal natures, the instinct coded into their DNA changed, so that enemies, rivals, predators, prey, victors and victims will all live together in harmony.

Although that future has not yet come to pass, or maybe because that future has not yet come pass, we can find the same comfort that was offered to Israel so many years ago.  God declares that there will be trouble, some of it terrible, some of us may not survive it, but God will be with us through it, God will be with us after it, and the future that God promises afterward will be far better than any life that can be offered in our present reality.  Yes, there will be trouble.  Yes, there has always been trouble, but in the end, even in trouble and suffering… there is hope.

And, just as we know from Isaiah that God’s people are not immune from trouble, the letters that Paul wrote make it clear that the church is not immune from trouble either.  In 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 Paul writes to address several problems coming from inside the church:

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. 10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”

11 We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. 12 Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.

Within the church in Thessalonica, there were people who chose to be disruptive and others who refused to work but who continued to live off the church’s charity.  Neither, Paul says, is acceptable.  The believers of Jesus Christ should be willing to work, as much as possible, as a part of the common effort of the church and should, in the same way, work together with others rather than creating disruption and division within the body of Christ.  Although what we do can sometimes seem to be thankless and unending, and often for what seems to us to be unappreciated or for minimal gain, Paul encourages us to “never tire of doing good.” 

The message of Paul is that trouble comes even to the church, but here we should stay away from those who stir up division and try to game the system, but we should also find ways to encourage one another to keep moving forward and doing good.

Obviously, from Paul’s experience, the future that Isaiah saw was not the future fulfilled by the coming of Jesus.  At least not yet.  We have faith that such a future is coming, but when his disciples asked him about it, Jesus told them that things would get worse before they got better.  (Luke 21:5-19)

Some of his disciples were remarking about how the temple was adorned with beautiful stones and with gifts dedicated to God. But Jesus said, “As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

“Teacher,” they asked, “when will these things happen? And what will be the sign that they are about to take place?”

He replied: “Watch out that you are not deceived. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am he,’ and, ‘The time is near.’ Do not follow them. When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away.”

10 Then he said to them: “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. 11 There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.

12 “But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and put you in prison, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 And so you will bear testimony to me. 14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. 16 You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. 17 Everyone will hate you because of me. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 Stand firm, and you will win life.

In an echo from last week’s message, Jesus warns his disciples that there would be fake news, that others would come who would pretend to be Jesus, or who would pretend to speak for him.  There would be a time when the beautiful Temple in which they worshipped would be torn down and destroyed and all the things that they found to be familiar and comforting would be thrown into chaos.  But even though Jesus warned them of the trouble to come, he also gave them hope and warned them they needn’t be frightened.

Even though there would be trouble in the future, even though there would be violence and wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and all kinds of other scary things including signs in the heavens, even though the disciples themselves would be arrested, imprisoned, and tried in court, their mission was unchanged.  No matter what happened to them, or what happened in the world around them, the followers of Jesus Christ were to tell the world about Jesus.  In their trials, and in their trouble, Jesus would give them the words and the wisdom that they needed.

Jesus is clear that his followers would face trouble, trial, suffering, and even death, but even in death, Jesus says, “not a hair on your head will perish.”  Isn’t that an odd turn of phrase?  “They will put some of you to death.  Everyone will hate you because of me. But not a hair on your head will perish.”  Like the message of Isaiah, Jesus reminds his followers that God is bigger than our trouble.  That no matter how bad things get, even if it means the end of life itself, something better is coming.  There is a day coming when death will be abolished, and when trouble and pain, mourning and suffering, and even trouble, will come to an end.

Obviously, that day is not yet.  For now, we endure trouble times three.  There has always been trouble in the past.  Today we can expect trouble.  And we can expect more trouble in the future.  Just because we are the followers of Jesus, or even because this is his church, we are not immune from trouble.  But even in trouble, there is always hope.

Something better is coming.

The world that is broken will be made right.

Until then, stay on mission.

Stand firm, and you will win life.”

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Fake News and Faded Glory

Fake News and Faded Glory

November 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Haggai 1:15b-2:9                   2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17                        Luke 20:27-38

 

Are our best days behind us?

As a nation, the language we use suggests that many of us think so.  We throw around terms like “Greatest Generation” and suggest that other generations don’t measure up. “Make America Great Again” suggests that it isn’t great now, rival politicians say that they want to get our country “back on track” and implying we are already off-course. 

But what about the church?  It seems undeniable that Christ Church was built to seat many hundreds of people while today we would think that one hundred would be a banner day.  Our denomination, and almost every denomination in the United States, has been declining in both membership and attendance for decades.  And, with that in mind, we ask ourselves whether the best days of our church, or even Christianity, might be behind us.

But it certainly wouldn’t be the first time in history that such a question has been asked.  In 538 B.C., the emperor of the Persian empire, known as Cyrus, or Darius, allowed the people of Israel to end their exile in Babylon and return to their homeland.  But those who were old enough to remember the glories of Solomon’s Temple, wept at how far their nation had fallen and how little they had in comparison to what was once theirs.  (Haggai 1:15b-2:9)

1:15b In the second year of King Darius,

2:1 on the twenty-first day of the seventh month, the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, to Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people. Ask them, ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’

“This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place, I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

About 50,000 Jews returned to Israel with Zerubbabel, and for two years they labored to build a temple on the temple mount.  But, for the people who had seen what was there before and had been witnesses to the glory of the past, what they built seemed to be as if it were nothing when compared to what had been there before.  They had not only lost fifty or more years of their lives, but it seemed as if they would never be able to restore what they had once had.  The campaign to “Make Israel Great Again” seemed to be a horrible failure.

But God.

The way that we see the world around us is often nothing at all the way that God sees things.  And that was exactly the case here.  The temple that Zerubbabel and the people had built was a pale shadow of Solomon’s Temple, but that didn’t matter to God.  Although the people couldn’t see it, God knew that this humble temple would become the home of his Son, the Messiah Jesus.  God knew that the temple would be improved and expanded by Herod the Great and he also knew all the things that would happen in that place and how those things would change the world.

While the new temple appeared to be sad in comparison to the glory of the temple that once stood in the same place, God declares that the glory of the new would be greater than the old.  Where Solomon’s temple had been the center of controversy and warfare, the new one would be where God finally brings peace on earth.  When the power of their nation and of their church seemed to be in terrible decline, God’s message was, “Don’t be afraid.  Trust me.”

It seems as if, in the story of scripture, and throughout history, the people of God like to worry about the wrong things.  That was what we saw in the message of Haggai, and we see it repeated in the questions that the Sadducees directed at Jesus in Luke 20:27-38 where we hear these words:

27 Some of the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus with a question. 28 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies and leaves a wife but no children, the man must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first one married a woman and died childless. 30 The second 31 and then the third married her, and in the same way the seven died, leaving no children. 32 Finally, the woman died too. 33 Now then, at the resurrection whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?”

34 Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. 37 But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’  38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”

It is worthwhile to remember that the Sadducees didn’t like Jesus and, like the Pharisees, often came to him and tried to trip him up with trick questions.  Luke even points out that they are asking Jesus a question about resurrection and an afterlife because they didn’t believe in an afterlife.  The question that they bring is deliberately crafted to trap Jesus into saying something that sounds stupid or foolish because he believes in, and is teaching about, an afterlife. 

But all that aside, Jesus refuses to fall for their trap.  In answer to their question, Jesus restates his belief in an afterlife by explaining that all those who have died in this world remain alive in the Kingdom of God.  Jesus says that God “is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”  Jesus says that the dead are not really dead and that the question of the Sadducees is irrelevant because the future is different than the present.  The rules in the Kingdom of God will be different than the rules in the kingdoms of men.  

Asking who will be married to whom is worrying about the wrong thing.  Instead of worrying about the wrong things, Jesus essentially says, “Don’t be afraid.  Trust me.”

And finally, in a world where we can change the channel and hear different versions of the truth, and where we constantly hear accusations of “fake news,” it is helpful to be reminded that we are not alone, and that none of this is new.  As Paul writes to the church in Thessalonica, he is concerned that other people are inventing news stories, writing to the church, and pretending to be him.  (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17)

2:1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you, I used to tell you these things?

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

15 So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

Paul knows that others have written to the church, pretending to be him, or others on his team, saying that Jesus had already returned and, two thousand years ago, he is compelled to combat the effects of “fake news” so that the church would not be deceived.  Paul encourages the church to hold on to what they know is true, and to “stand firm and hold fast” to what they had personally heard him preach or had personally written to them.  Paul prays that Jesus Christ would encourage their hearts and strengthen them in all the good things that they would do and say.

In other words, in a world where the latest information might be “fake news” and where people pretended to be something that they weren’t, Paul reminds the church to remember what they had been taught.  He reminds them, and us, of the same message that we heard from Haggai and from Jesus, “Don’t be afraid.  Trust me.”

The world that we live in isn’t so very different than the world of the Old and New Testaments.  When it seems as if our nation or our church are in decline, remember that God is in control.  When people twist your words and try to get you to say something stupid, or distract you from what’s really important, don’t allow yourself to worry about the wrong things.  When the world is uncertain, when people pretend to be something they are not, and when we are bombarded by “fake news” designed to distract us from the truth, we would do well to remember the message that God has been sending to his people for thousands of years.

“Don’t be afraid.”

“Trust me.”

 

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Guaranteed Reward. If…

Guaranteed Reward. If…

November 03, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18                Ephesians 1:11-23                 Luke 6:20-31

 

Do you know where you’re going?

I mean, do you know where your life is headed? 

While many of us have learned, the hard way, that our plans for life can often change unexpectedly, do you know, at least for now, what destination you have in mind for your life?

Many of us grew up watching the Depression era comedy, The Little Rascals.  In one episode, entitled, I think, “The Coaster Car”, the Our Gang built a big, unpowered, car in which a surprising number of them could ride.  At some point, using their donkey Algebra, they brought the car to the top of an impossibly long hill and, cut loose from their donkey, they began freewheeling, uncontrollably and with frightening speed, down the hill.  At one point in the dialog down the hill, Buckwheat famously exclaims, “I don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on our way!”

And, if we’re honest, that’s how many of us feel about our lives from time to time.  Our education, our careers, our children, and just about everything else can change so unexpectedly that our plans are often in a constant state of change.  We wake up in the morning and discover that while we have no idea where we’re going, we sure are getting there in a hurry.

But what about our spiritual lives?

Does being a follower of God and a follower of Jesus Christ give us any more stability than we often find in the chaos of our daily lives?  Well, it should.  Our spiritual lives come with a guarantee… if we do something simple.

But, before we get to the guarantee, let’s look at our destination.  We begin this morning in Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 as the prophet Daniel describes a dream that was sent to him by God that told him, and tells us, some important things about the future.

7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So, he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

While Daniel is clear that earthly kingdoms, like those with which everyone was familiar, even the superpowers of their day, rose and fell, and would continue to rise and fall, the followers of God, whom he calls “the holy people of the Most High,” will receive God’s kingdom and keep it, and presumably live in it, forever.  This is God’s promise to Daniel and to us, that we belong to God’s kingdom, that it is a real place, and that we will take ownership of it, and live in it, forever.

But how can we be sure?

After all, Daniel is a prophet of the Old Testament.  Wasn’t that a long time ago?  Didn’t the coming of Jesus change everything?  Is the promise contained in Daniel the same today as it was then?  And, the answer to all those questions is “yes.”  But, at the same time, the news is even better, because with the coming of Jesus we understand more clearly how and why that can happen.  In Ephesians 1:11-23, the Apostle Paul explains it this way:

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul says that we were chosen as the followers of Jesus Christ as a part of God’s plan to accomplish his will.  We were chosen so that people might see us, and our faith, and the way that we live our lives, and give praise to God.  The moment that you believed, you were marked with a seal that guarantees your inheritance.  Paul says that the God that has the power to raise Christ from the dead, certainly has the power rule over the kings, princes, popes, presidents, prime ministers, and all the other kinds of power and authority that exist on the earth yesterday, today, and forever.  And that God has put Jesus Christ in charge everything on earth, and in all of creation, for all time.

So, not only do we have God’s promise that we belong to God’s kingdom and that we will live in it forever, we can have complete confidence that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords yesterday, today, and forever. 

But, even if we believe that all of that is true, and are willing to put our faith and confidence in the promises of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ, how does it happen?  What do we have to do to get there?  What does God expect of us?

And Jesus draws us all a picture in his sermon on the mount in what we often call the Beatitudes contained in Luke 6:20-31, where we hear these words:

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Jesus starts with a list of blessings that we will receive in heaven when we live in God’s kingdom because the ancestors of the poor, the hungry, and people who wept, the people who were hated and insulted and rejected, treated the prophets with care, respect and love.  But many people will not be nearly so happy when that day comes.  For them, the coming of the kingdom of God will be far less pleasant because they, and their ancestors, the people who were rich, comfortable, well fed, and well liked, treated the prophets just like they treated Jesus, with disrespect, contempt, and violence.

Jesus says that if we are listening, we should do something about it.  If we want to be included in the first group, and not the second, if we want to be the people who receive the blessings of God, then we should love our enemies, do good to the people who hate us, bless the people who curse us, and pray for the people who mistreat us.  We must give to people who steal from us, be generous to everyone, and treat everyone, even those who don’t deserve it, the way that you would like others to treat you.

Today we celebrate the lives of those who have passed from this world into the next, we honor their lives, remember what they have meant to us, how they showed us the grace of God, how they taught us about Jesus, and how they modelled a life of faith for us.  Today, we celebrate because we know that in them, God has already fulfilled his promise and they are, already, at home with Jesus in God’s kingdom. 

But as we remember, we also look forward to the day when we will rejoin all of those who have gone there ahead of us.  But we also remember that in order to get there, we have been called to do something about it.  

We have been called to live as if we believe.

Our reward is guaranteed.

If we walk the walk.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

What Happens When We Die?

Note: I have often asked our church youth and adults to ask me any questions that they had about faith, the church, or life in general and I would answer them.  Often that happened at youth group meetings.  This one came from a friend.


Question: A friend is asking a good question on Facebook and I think you would have a good answer. “Do you believe that when we as Christians die, we go immediately to be with Lord in Heaven, or do we sleep until He comes back for all of us and reunite with everyone who has passed?

 

My best answer is… maybe.

In theological discussions there are plenty of people, and denominations, on both sides of this issue and many of them are way smarter than I am.  But, that said, I think that we do, and we will, and there are several good reasons to think so.

First, there are several verses that may lead us to believe that we fall into some sort of “soul sleep” until the return of Jesus Christ, our resurrection. the final Judgement.  One of these, which is commonly read at funerals (I have used it a great many times) is 1 Corinthians 15:51-53, which says:

51 Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— 52 in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 53 For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.

Paul’s use of the word “sleep” might make us think that we will be sleeping between our death and resurrection, but we need to remember that Paul, and other writers, often used the word sleep as a kinder, gentler, way of saying die, death, or dead.  If we read that verse again with that in mind, Paul is simply saying that at the time of the last trumpet, not everyone will be dead.

On the other hand, many people use Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 5:8 as proof that we do not sleep, but that passage is problematic too.  It says,

8:1 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.

In some translations (such as the New American Standard) it is rendered as “…to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”  But that passage, alone, doesn’t confirm anything definitively.  In that passage, Paul is talking about looking forward to wearing his new body, which many believe that we won’t get until after the judgement.

Confused yet?

So far, what we have is ambiguous and more than a little confusing.  It isn’t hard to see why even theologians argue about such things.  But remember that I said this passage… alone… doesn’t confirm anything definitively?  The thing is, this passage isn’t alone.  While this may not be a profound theological argument, there are a couple of other verses that come to mine when I think about this.  The first is Revelation 6:9-11 which says:

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

Here, before the judgement, under the altar of God, are the souls of the martyrs who are waiting for justice and judgement.  If we all sleep, then how did these folks get here?  Are we to believe that only the martyrs see God before the judgment?  It seems arbitrary and a little cruel that they would be singled out as the only ones who are awake, who are watching the events of the earth, and who must suffer and wait for justice.  It seems more likely that everyone is awake, but the martyrs get “front row” seats.

And then in

 

 

Hebrews 12:1 after an extensive list of the saints and heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11 we hear this:

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

The implication of this verse following immediately by a deliberate listing of the saints and heroes of God is that these people are alive, and aware, and watching the things that we are doing.  Similarly, Jesus often referred to Abraham, and others, in the present tense and not in the past or future tense.  Jesus was deliberate in saying that Abraham worships God… at this present moment.

And remember that moment when Jesus was on the Mount of Transfiguration in Matthew 17:1-3 where we hear:

17:1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

Peter, James, and John watch and stand witness as Moses and Elijah appear in front of them and minister to Jesus.  Are we supposed to understand that God woke them from their sleep just for this one moment, that they somehow understood who Jesus was and what was going on, did what they had to do, and then fell back asleep?  Or, isn’t it easier to understand that they have been awake the entire time, carefully watching the unfolding spectacle of time, the birth of the Messiah and the entire Gospel story, and then answered the call of God to enter back into our story?  The second one makes a lot more sense to me.

There are many more passages like this.

So, yeah, while not everyone agrees about this, I think that when we die, our trip to God’s side is immediate and there is no “sleeping” in between.

 

 


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Do We Need a Catholic Order of Methodists?

Would you burn down your house because the furnace needed repairs?  Obviously not.  But the current disagreement, discussion, and proposed remedies over the issue of human sexuality within The United Methodist Church seems to be following that line of logic.  When applied anywhere else, it seems obvious.  If your engine is misfiring, you don’t rebuild the transmission.  If your bicycle has a flat tire, you don’t disassemble it and sell its parts.   Unfortunately, that seems to be how most everyone has been approaching the disagreement within our church.

But maybe there’s another solution that doesn’t involve burning down the house.

Let me explain.

The way that I see it, there are two principal disagreements within the church regarding human sexuality.  First, those persons who feel that sex outside of a monogamous, heterosexual relationship is sinful believe that they cannot, in good conscience, formalize or bless such a relationship.  And second, those same persons have difficulty belonging to a church that would ordain pastors and bishops who are in such relationships. 

Oddly, while both are disagreements over the role and membership of clergy, the solutions being proposed to the next General Conference in 2020 is to split up the church by forcing the laity to vote.  But if we are having a disagreement over the role and membership of the clergy, why isn’t anyone offering a solution that divides the clergy instead of dividing the laity?

Although this may seem strange, I think we might find a solution in the Catholic Church.  While my knowledge of the intricacies of the Catholic Church is admittedly weak, I know that within that structure there are at least three different orders who, to me, seem to be orders of priests and not laity, Dominicans, Jesuits, and Benedictines.  Without worrying about how these orders work within the Catholic system, this division, I think, points to a solution for United Methodists.

Rather than dividing churches and laity over a disagreement over the role of the clergy, why not simply divide the clergy?  I think a division of clergy solves our immediate problem, without dividing the laity or the church, better than the solutions that I’ve seen proposed to date. 

Here’s what I’m suggesting:  Under the existing United Methodist structure, we create a new order of clergy, the name doesn’t matter.  But those clergy that choose to belong to the new order, in line with their conscience, would be prohibited from performing LGBT weddings or officiating in the ordination of such persons.  Local churches, under such a system, would not choose whether to leave the denomination, but would vote, as a congregation, on two things.  First, would that congregation accept a pastor that only belonged to the new order, would they only accept a pastor that did not belong to the order, or would they accept a pastor from either the order.  Second, the church would vote whether they would be willing to allow same sex unions to be conducted in their building.  Churches could, therefore, accept a pastor from the new order while still allowing same sex marriages to be officiated in their church if there were an officiant (not the church pastor) willing to do so.

While there would be some significant logistical issues with such a system, rather than forcing local churches to vote on its denominational affiliation, bishops (and their cabinets) would be responsible to match churches with pastors (much as they already do) with some, admittedly, new and complicating differentiation.  Two obvious consequences would be that it would complicate the appointment process, and that it would likely necessitate the elimination of guaranteed appointment for ordained elders.  The second simply because, in many cases, there would be a significant disparity between the number of available clergy (of one type or the other) and the number of churches willing to accept them.

The advantage of such a system, of course, is that while the clergy would be divided, the church would remain whole.

Maybe we can take a hint from the Catholic Church.

Why burn down the house if you can fix the furnace?

 

 

 

 


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Pastor’s Report – 2019

Pastor’s Report – 2019

Note:  Each year I write a Pastor’s Report for our annual Charge Conference.  The following is my report for this year:


As I reflect on the past year, there are several things that I remember.  While there are no single, earth-shattering, monumental achievement to report, there are many small, sometimes incremental, changes that are building a sense of excitement and hope for the future.  Some of these are things that Christ Church has been doing for a long time but sometimes in a new way, others are new altogether, some are growing, and some are happening again after a long absence.

A class of confirmands graduated and joined the church and there have been two new member classes that have, so far, resulted in two new members, in addition to those from confirmation and transfer.  Among these were also two baptisms and a wedding.  We have trained and certified several of our members for the UMVIM Early Response Team disaster response mission opportunities that may arise in the future.  And several of our Sunday school classes have been discussing the call of scripture, and the command of Jesus Christ, to be invitational as well as how we can overcome our fear of inviting others to meet Jesus.

Our United Methodist Women continue to be a strong, positive, and missional influence on our church, our community, and beyond as they reach out in many ways and in many places with the love of Jesus.  Not least of these efforts is their continuing Cooking for the Soul mission, in which they are teaching the women of our community the basics on how to cook at home and save money by cooking from scratch instead of buying prepared foods.  These classes continue to be filled to capacity and often have a waiting list to get in.  It is my hope that, with a little encouragement, these classes might be expanded to include other subjects such as basic sewing, or home/auto maintenance and repair.

Likewise, the meetings of our church trustees have taken on a new tone as we are no longer just discussing issues of church maintenance and repair, but ways that we can make our church more inviting, friendly, useful, and available to new and emerging ministry opportunities.  Among these discussions are facility upgrades like expanding the areas served by air conditioning, new interior and exterior signage, electronic defibrillators, and upgrades to our electrical service to more easily facilitate our plan to once again prepare and serve over one thousand Thanksgiving dinners to the people of our community (which was a new ministry which we took over from another church last year).

The support of our entire church for mission, of all types, local, national, and international continues to be strong and passionate.  The people of Christ Church are often asking how we can do more and contribute to ongoing projects in unexpected ways without being asked.  We continue to support, both financially and with many volunteer hours, the Alliance Food Pantry, Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and other community missions, support Red Bird Mission and its outreach centers in Kentucky, provide scholarships to school children in Sierra Leone and Liberia, as well as contribute to the construction of a new high school in Harrisburg, Liberia through our conference Farmer to Farmer mission.  And extensive as it is, this is certainly not a comprehensive list.  Christ Church and its people are doing the work of Jesus Christ in so many places, in so many ways, that it’s often difficult to keep track of them all.

There is an old question that I have heard in various places, from church conferences, to district superintendents, to books, to internet memes that asks, “If your church were to close tomorrow, would anybody notice?”  Christ Church can answer that question with a resounding “YES!”  As I reflect on our activities of the last year, I can say with confidence that we are here, we are active, and that Christ Church is making a difference in Alliance, in Stark County, and around the world.

Roadmap to the Future

Roadmap to the Future

October 27, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Joel 2:23-32                2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18          Luke 18:9-14

 

Have you ever gone on a long car trip as a passenger and, somewhere along the way, fell asleep for a while?  It isn’t bad when you’re going somewhere that you have been before or taking route that is familiar to you.  But if you are going to an unfamiliar place or traveling a road that you haven’t been on before, then the sensation that you have when you wake up can be a little disconcerting.  Upon awakening, you find your self wondering, and even asking, “Where am I?” and “How did we get here?”

But as we go about our daily lives, we sometimes have that same disconcerting feeling and we wonder, spiritually, where we are and how we got here.  And so, although I have preached similar sermons before, and likely will again, our scriptures for today offer us a link from the past to the present, and offer advice and guidance, a roadmap if you will, as we travel toward the future.  Our past, found in the Old Testament and heard through the voices of the prophets, reminds us of where we have been, the promises of God, and the wisdom of the ages.  The Gospels remind us of how those prophecies were fulfilled, and other books of the New Testament, such as Paul’s pastoral letters, offer us advice and guidance on how we might live our lives in a strange and confusing world, in a way that honors God.  These are the three sources that we will visit today as we learn the past, live for today, and plan for the future.  We begin by remembering the words of the prophet Joel as he addresses the nation of Israel in the aftermath of a natural disaster, a famine, that was caused by swarms of locusts that destroyed all of their crops and left both humans and animals hungry, starving, and searching for food.  (Joel 2:23-32)

23 Be glad, people of Zion,
    rejoice in the Lord your God,
for he has given you the autumn rains
    because he is faithful.
He sends you abundant showers,
    both autumn and spring rains, as before.
24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain;
    the vats will overflow with new wine and oil.

25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
    the great locust and the young locust,
    the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
    and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
    who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
27 Then you will know that I am in Israel,
    that I am the Lord your God,
    and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

28 “And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
    and on the earth,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.
32 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
    there will be deliverance,
    as the Lord has said,
even among the survivors
    whom the Lord calls.

Joel begins with a reminder to all of us that the rain, and our food, come to us through the blessing and the faithfulness of God.  In Joel’s understanding, the locusts were God’s army and were sent to punish Israel for their unfaithfulness but also as a reminder that God is in control and constantly nearby.  Joel teaches that after a time of repentance, that God would restore Israel’s fortunes, along with her food.  As I read through the first part of this passage, there were two things that struck me.  First, because it is God that sends the rains and causes the crops to grow, our calling is to be thankful when these things are in abundance.  And second, because the restoration of Israel was a promise that had not yet been fulfilled, I also see a call for God’s people to have hope as we endure times of hardship.

The second half of this passage should have sounded familiar to most of us, because, beginning with “I will pour out my Spirit on all people.” these are the exact words that we hear quoted by the Apostle Peter as he speaks to the crowd on the day of Pentecost.  Peter announces that the promise of the prophet Joel is being fulfilled on that day, even still today and, as we understand it, will be completed the end of time.  Joel and Peter declare that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” and this becomes the work, not only of Jesus Christ, but also of his church on earth until his return.

I think that Joel emphasizes thankfulness in times of abundance because our temptation to cry out to God when things are bad, but forget him when we are living in abundance, is real, ancient, and common.  In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story about a Pharisee and a tax collector who were in the temple to offer prayers to God.  But while the average listener would have expected the Pharisee to be the hero (because they were  perceived as being godly), and the tax collector as the villain (because they were seen as traitors), we are instead surprised to find that the man who appears to be blessed by God is actually distant from him, and the man who appears to be distant, is much closer than we might have imagined.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

And so, the message for anyone who would follow Jesus is clear, if we have real faith, and if we desire the real blessings of God, then we have to walk the walk.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we must see our place in the world with humility and see the people around us the way that God sees them.  Just because we are living in abundance doesn’t mean that we should take any credit for the blessings that we have been given.  Likewise, just because others may not seem to have the things that our culture values, position, power, fame, glory, popularity, money, and so on, doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love them or that they are not, in fact, much closer to God, and his blessings, than we are.

But what about the future?  If we struggle to see people the way that God sees them, then what difference will it make?  What purpose will it give our lives?  And for at least one glimpse into the future, we can look to the end of Paul’s life as he is imprisoned in Rome and facing eventual execution, and there he writes his second letter to his young protégé Timothy. (2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18) 

Paul says,For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

16 At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. 17 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed, and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Paul writes that he can almost feel his life flowing out of him as he rots in prison and waits for his execution.  But even as he approaches the end of his life, he knows that he did well with the life that he had, he fought a good fight, and pressed hard all the way to the finish line.  Paul knows that the rewards of God are waiting for him and will be awarded to him, and to everyone who looks forward to the second coming of Jesus, on the day of Judgement.

But even at the end of Paul’s life, even as he sat in prison, even as he was abandoned by his friends and  faced trials, God continued to give him strength so that he could accomplish his mission and continue the mission that we all share as followers of Jesus and members of his church.  Paul’s mission, and ours, is to proclaim the message of Jesus Christ so that everyone, including the outsiders, the tax collectors, the sinners, and everyone else that we are tempted to dismiss and discount, might have the opportunity to hear it.

Paul’s message to Timothy is largely biographical but is also instructional.  We are called to dedicate our lives, even at the end, even when we are faced with insurmountable trials, we are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with the people around us.  For Paul, that meant, as he sat in prison and appeared in court, he was sharing the story of Jesus with inmates, guards, administrators, lawyers, and anyone else that he encountered, possibly even Caesar himself.

The witness of Joel, Jesus, and Paul remind us that following Jesus is not something that we do once during a church revival, or at the altar of the church, and assume that we’re done with it.  It isn’t a box that we can check and say that we’ve finished.  Following Jesus is a totally transformational lifestyle, a roadmap for life, that keeps us involved in the world around us and on mission, all the way to the end of our time here on earth. 

Joel calls us to live well in thankfulness and humility whether we are living in hardship or in abundance.  Jesus calls us to walk the walk every day, to remember that it is God who has blessed us, and to see the people around us the way that God sees them.  And Paul call us to rely on God for strength so that we can stay on mission, even in times of great hardship, even at the end of our lives, and finish well.

May we all, no matter where we find ourselves on life’s journey, be transformed into the lifestyle of Jesus, and follow his roadmap for our lives.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.