Not Enough by Half

Not Enough by Half

March 08, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 12:1-4a                     John 3:1-17                Romans 4:1-5, 13-17

How many of you have ever supervised children who have been instructed to clean their room?

Usually, the way that this worked in our house, was that our children, particularly Noah and Jonah, would be told to go and clean their room.  After some time had passed Patti or I would check on their progress and, most likely, there would be none.  So, the next step was to repeat the instructions, sometimes with more specifics, and we would sit in their room and supervise for a short period to ensure that they were complying with our instructions. Later, we would once again check on their progress and… there probably wouldn’t be any.  At some point, I would occasionally stop and ask them if they understood my instructions, and even asked them to repeat my instructions back to me.  There was no misunderstanding.  They could repeat my instructions almost word for word.  They just never connected their knowledge to their actions.  Or, put a different way, they couldn’t make the connection between what they knew and what they believed.  They knew that their parents wanted their room to be clean, and they knew how to do that, but they didn’t believe for themselves that it was an important thing to do.  That shortcoming, that limitation, often kept our boys from receiving a special treat that we had in the kitchen or some other reward that we had intended to give them for their success.

And this limitation that most of us have witnessed in our children, and in ourselves, illustrates a spiritual shortcoming that we witness in scripture.  We begin in the book of Genesis where we find God giving instructions, and a promise, to Abram. (Genesis 12:1-4a)

12:1 The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

“I will make you into a great nation,
    and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Harran.

 

God begins his instruction with a command to “Go,” but continues by demanding that Abram trust him regarding his destination.  Abram knows nothing about where he is going except that God promises to show him the way.  In return for his trust, God also promises to bless him and turn his family into a great nation. 

 

And Abram trusted God, and he went.

 

Abram heard God, Abram knew what God said, he believed and trusted that God would do as he promised, and he obeyed God and put his faith and trust into action.  That is the process, and the model, that we are to follow.   But, like Noah and Jonah, some people get stuck in the middle of this process as we see with some of the Pharisees in John 3:1-17.

 

3:1 Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

Nicodemus, a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council, comes to Jesus, probably as a representative of several others in that group, though probably not all of them.  And he says that they know that Jesus has been sent by God because only God could give someone the power to do the things that Jesus has been doing.  But, despite knowing that Jesus has been sent by God, Jesus knows that they do not believe the things that he has been teaching.  This is their disconnection.  They know, but they do not believe.  Information has penetrated their head, but not their heart; and Jesus is clear that knowing is not enough.  Jesus came to open the door to heaven, but in order to receive eternal life, we must not only know, we must believe.

 

From Nicodemus’ visit, we understand that some of the Pharisees were struggling with the things they knew to be true.  They knew that Jesus came from God because the evidence was overwhelming.  But even when they were equipped with this knowledge, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe everything that Jesus was teaching because believing Jesus meant that they had to let go of something else and begin to act differently.  Moving from knowing to believing, required that they change the way that they lived their lives and they weren’t willing to let go and make that change.

 

To be fair, the Pharisees weren’t the only ones that struggled with what Jesus was teaching.  Many Jews believed that they were saved by the law of Moses, and that all they needed to do was to obey the law in order to be “good enough” for God.  The Pharisees took this view to extremes, but many others held this same view to a lesser extent.  And so, when Paul wrote to the church in Rome, many of whom were Jews, he tried to explain why simply obeying the law was not enough. 

(Romans 4:1-5, 13-17)

 

4:1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.

 

13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.

 

Paul wants us to understand that it wasn’t the law of Moses that makes us “good enough” to be justified before God.  Since the law of Moses was written a thousand years after the death of Abraham, it seems obvious that the law couldn’t have anything at all to do with Abraham’s justification or righteousness.  Instead, Paul says, Abraham’s righteousness was a gift that was credited to him, by God, because he believed in God and put his whole faith and trust in God.  The promise of God that was given to Abraham, came to him through God’s grace because of his faith and it was faith that made the difference.

 

Many Jews believed that they would inherit the gifts of God because of their DNA or because of their obedience to the law, as we saw in the lives of the Pharisees.  But Paul, who was once a Pharisee himself, specifically argues against that mistaken idea.  Paul says that it is not the law, or obedience to the law that brings the inheritance that was promised to Abraham.  If grace came from the law, then grace would be earned like wages are earned.  But we can’t earn our salvation.  Instead, the inheritance of God, his gifts, rescue, forgiveness, and eternal life, are a gift of God’s grace that is unmerited, unearned, and comes to us only by putting our faith and trust in God as Abraham did.

 

Our children knew that we wanted their room to be clean, and they knew how to do that, but they didn’t believe for themselves that it was an important thing to do.  The Pharisees knew that Jesus came from God but even when they were equipped with this knowledge, they couldn’t bring themselves to believe what Jesus was teaching because believing Jesus meant that they had to let go of something else and begin to act differently.

 

Human beings haven’t changed in two thousand years. Many of us still have the same problem that the Pharisees had in John’s story of Jesus.  We’ve heard the story.  We know the story.  We can repeat the story.  Some of us have even accepted that the evidence for the truth of the story is both compelling and overwhelming.  But that’s not enough by half.  We’re holding so tightly to the things that we find comfortable, that we just can’t seem to let go of our old things and grab hold of Jesus.

 

Knowing the story is not enough.  If we want to grab hold the grace and forgiveness that is offered to us by God, then we must do as Abram did.  We have to be “all in.”  We must put our trust and faith in Jesus, go where he tells us to go, and do the things that he tells us to do.

 

Jonah and Noah’s stubbornness cost them the occasional bowl of ice cream, but our failure to trust Jesus will be far more expensive.

 

The message of Abram, Moses, Paul, and Jesus is that we must let go of our old life. 

 

Put our whole trust in Jesus. 

 

And finally, begin to really live.

 

Are you ready?

 

 

 

 

 


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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.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

God is Pro-Choice

God is Pro-Choice

March 01, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7                      Matthew 4:1-11                     Romans 5:12-19

If you have ever been around children, you have probably witnessed a moment when they begged you to give them something, often some kind of food, that you knew they wouldn’t like.  But being told that they wouldn’t like it, or that they couldn’t have it, made them want it even more. 

We laugh a little when kids do it, but we see the same behavior in adults all the time.  The easiest example is to watch Let’s Make a Deal, originally hosted by Monty Hall and now by Wayne Brady.  How often have we seen contestants on that show give up a pretty decent prize for the chance to see what’s behind door number three?  Likewise, we often “window shop” for cars that we can’t afford, but which would also be impractical, uncomfortable, and totally unsuited to the way that we want to use them.  But we want them just because we know we can’t have them anyway.  Human beings have a terrible inclination to want the things that we can’t have.  And that’s exactly what’s behind the story of humanity’s original sin in the story of Adam and Eve where we read this: (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7)

2:15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

 

3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so, they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

 

Adam and Eve were given everything in the garden and God met all their needs.  But Satan knew humanity’s weakness and played on it.  He knew that Adam and Eve would want the one thing that they weren’t allowed to have and all that he had to do was to make them think about not being allowed to have it.  God gave them freedom and allowed them to make their own choices…  and they chose poorly.  And in doing so, they established a pattern that humanity has struggled with ever since.  Even when we know what is right and just, we choose poorly.  And far too often, we simply choose poorly just because we want the things that we can’t have for no other reason than we know that we’re not supposed to have them.

 

And that was the pattern, it was normal, and it seemed as if that humans would always be trapped in that same rut.  Until we heard about the story of Jesus’ encounter with the same deceiver that tripped up Adam and Eve in Matthew 4:1-11.

 

4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.”

10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

 

In this story, Satan makes three offers, or three temptations, to Jesus and, from these, Jesus must make three choices.  The first two, are the same choice that were given to Adam and Eve.  Satan is tempting Jesus by saying something a lot like, “God didn’t really promise to take care of you, did he?”  or, “You don’t really have the kind of power you say that you have, do you?”  Jesus knows that he can do those things, but he knows that he should not, and he must choose to do what is right.  Instead, Jesus makes the right choices for the right reasons.  In the third case, Satan tempts Jesus with two more of humanity’s greatest weaknesses: Greed and Power.  “If you do this one thing for me, I will make your life easy.  I will give you all the money you want, all the women you want, and the power to rule the entire world.”  But again, Jesus chooses what is right, and what God wants, instead of satisfying his human desires.

 

God gives Jesus the freedom to choose.  Jesus was just as human as Adam was, and just as human as we are, and he could have chosen the easy path and satisfied his desires.  But Jesus demonstrates for all humanity, that it is possible for human beings to consistently make good choices. 

 

But why is that important?

 

It’s important because the choices that Jesus made for himself, are the choices that made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.  To be fair, we aren’t the first people to ask why our choices are important.  The church has been asking this question from the very beginning and that’s why the Apostle Paul explained the importance of Jesus’ choices in his letter to the church in Rome in Romans 5:12-19

 

12 Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way, death came to all people, because all sinned—

13 To be sure, sin was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law. 14 Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, even over those who did not sin by breaking a command, as did Adam, who is a pattern of the one to come.

15 But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! 16 Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. 17 For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!

18 Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. 19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

 

Paul reminds us that it was the disobedience of Adam and Eve that birthed sin into our world, and from that time until the time of Moses, although no one sinned in the way that Adam did, sin still existed.  No one disobeyed a direct command of God, but people chose poorly, they acted in ways that violated their conscience, they violated other people, or acted selfishly and in doing so made themselves, their needs, and their desires an object of worship.  After the time of Moses, the people had a written law that told them what it was that God wanted, and still humanity failed.  Even knowing what God wanted, humans still made poor choices, still rebelled against God, wanted things that they couldn’t have, sinned against God, and were condemned.

 

But then came Jesus.

 

Jesus made good choices.  Not just in the desert when he was tempted by Satan, but all the time.  Jesus consistently made good choices every moment of every day so that his entire life was sinless and offered up to God and became the perfect sacrifice.  Because of the sin of Adam and Eve, sin flowed out into the entire world, but because of the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s grace overflows into all of humanity. 

 

God has always been, and will always be, pro-choice.  That has nothing to do with that other debate, it means that, from the beginning of time, God has never manipulated or controlled human beings in order to force them into one particular way of thinking or specific pattern of behavior.  God has always given human beings the freedom to choose for themselves regardless of the goodness or injustice of their decisions.  At the same time, we remember that one trespass of Adam, one act, one choice, resulted in the condemnation of all people, and one righteous act, one choice, of Jesus brought justification and life for all people.

 

God continues to be pro-choice.  Each of us have the freedom to choose whatever we want.

 

But remember that we often want things that we can’t have or want things that aren’t good for us.

 

We are free to choose, but we must remember that we are accountable for our choices.  One day we will all stand in judgement for the choices that we have made.

 

You are free to choose.

 

You can choose to follow Jesus, or you can choose to go your own way.

 

Choose wisely.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

What’s in Your Wallet?

What’s in Your Wallet?
February 26, 2020*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                    Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21                        2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

 

They seem to be everywhere.

 

It seems like you can’t turn on the television, regardless of which network you watch, without seeing one of those commercials from the Capital One credit card people.  Sometimes the spokesperson is Samuel L. Jackson and sometimes it’s Jennifer Garner (who always makes me think of her father in Maverick or The Rockford Files), but no matter who stars in them, they all end with the tag line, “What’s in your wallet?”

 

But, even though the message of Capital One has nothing at all to do with the church, as I read the scriptures for Ash Wednesday, I was reminded of their commercials because, in a lot of ways, that is exactly the question that Jesus, and the Apostle Paul are asking us.

 

We begin as Jesus challenges his followers to do good, not just for the sake of doing good, but to do good for the right reasons in Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21.

 

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

At its core, what Jesus is asking us is, “What’s in your wallet?”

Why are you doing the things that you do?  Are you doing good deeds so that your coworkers, your customers, your employers, or the people in town can see you doing good deeds?  Is your motivation for doing good deeds so that you can be well liked, recognized, or honored by someone else?  Do you give gifts to the church and to other charitable organizations for those same reasons?  Are you in church on Sunday morning because being seen in church is good for your image, or for your business, or for some other thing that primarily benefits you and your financial bottom line? 

Jesus knew that the people who were listening to him did all those things and just because our lives are separated from theirs by two thousand years, the motivations of people today aren’t that different.  But Jesus warns against doing those things or allowing your faith to be motivated in those ways.  Instead, we ought to be willing to do good, or to be obedient, or willing to things for the good of God’s kingdom, in total secrecy.  I don’t think that it’s necessary, or even always possible, to do things in secret all the time, but our willingness to do things in secret is a good measurement of whether we are doing them for the right reasons. 

Sure, it’s nice to get be recognized, or even to get your picture in the paper for giving a big gift, but would you have given the gift if you knew that those things wouldn’t happen?  Would you have your feelings hurt if no one recognized you for your gift, or for your hard work?  Our willingness to do things in secret is a gut check to recognize our real motivations.  Jesus said, “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  Asking ourselves if we’re willing to do good for God without recognition, is a check to see what’s really in our wallets… and in our hearts.

And just to be certain that God’s real interest is in the condition of our hearts and is not just talking about money, we also should remember the words of the Apostle Paul as he wrote his second letter to the church in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10 where he says:

5:20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you,
    and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul’s first imperative is to beg the people of the church to be reconciled to, or to make things right with, God because Jesus, who was without sin, took our sin upon himself so that we could become the righteousness of God.  Paul also encourages them not to wait, but that now is the day of salvation.  And while we are encouraged to get our own lives in order, we are also called to be careful in the way that we live so that we don’t cause others to stumble or hinder anyone else from finding faith and rescue in Jesus.  Instead, because we are servants of God, we commend ourselves…

…wait, I want to explain what that means. 

To “commend ourselves” is not to pat ourselves on the back, and not to praise ourselves, which is the first dictionary definition, but the second dictionary definition means to present ourselves “as suitable for approval or acceptance.”  That means that, rather than saying that this list is why we are great, we are saying that this is a list of the things that have happened to us, and we are willing to offer them as illustrations of how we have lived our lives as an example to others.  Paul then lists many of the terrible things that have happened to him in his ministry in hopes that, after seeing his example, others would recognize, honor, appreciate, and accept his ministry as genuine.

In other words, Paul lived, so that his entire life was an example of God’s grace, power, and ministry.  And if I were to put that another way, I could say that Paul lived so no one ever had to ask what was in his wallet.  You could always see for yourself just by looking at how he lived his life.

Which brings us back to the same question we asked before: Why are you doing the things that you do?

Lent is a time for us to take a hard look at ourselves in the mirror and check our motivations.

Are your motivations for doing the things you do selfish?  Or righteous? 

Are you doing good because it’s good for you?  Or because it’s good for God?

What’s in your wallet?

 

 

 

 


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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.

Come with Us to Africa

Harrisburg Liberia High School
New school under construction in Harrisburg, Liberia.

As many of you know, Patti and I recently announced that we will be returning to Liberia in July of this year.  Although this will be my third trip and Patti’s fourth, this trip will be a little different because this time we will be the leaders of the team.  But there’s something else that we would also like to be different.  We would really like to take some of you with us.

But first, let me back up and offer a little history.  Several years ago, when we went on our first trip, we announced to our congregation (which at that time was Trinity UMC) that although we were familiar with the Farmer to Farmer mission and knew several of the people involved, our first trip was one of exploration.  We wanted to see the mission of Farmer to Farmer in Harrisburg, Liberia for ourselves.  We wanted to see what Farmer to Farmer was doing, to meet the people of Harrisburg, and to understand better what was being done and why they needed our help.

What we saw changed us.

We became friends with the people.  We understood the deep need and we understood why they needed help to move forward from where they were to where they needed to go.  But we also understood that our mission had to be a partnership and not just a means of moving money from the United States to Liberia.  The people of Harrisburg needed more than money and they needed to take ownership of what they had.  That understanding is what drove Farmer to Farmer to organize with a both a board in the United States and an equal board in Harrisburg.  We didn’t, and we don’t, want to tell them what they need.  We want the people of Harrisburg to tell us what they need, and we work together to find ways to accomplish those goals.  At the same time, the over arching goal is to reach a place where the mission in Harrisburg is self-sufficient and we aren’t needed at all.

Last year, Farmer to Farmer launched its first capital funds campaign to address one of Harrisburg’s greatest needs, a new school.  While there are already three elementary schools, the nearest high school is three hours away.  As a result, almost no one continues their education beyond the ninth grade.  But, with the success of that capital funds campaign last year, the first phase of construction for the new Farmer to Farmer agricultural high school has already begun.  And, while Farmer to Farmer has provided the funds to buy raw materials, it is the students, teachers, parents, and other volunteers in Harrisburg that are mixing cement, pounding the cement into forms to manufacture bricks, and offering other labor as their share of ownership in this new school.  More than that, the students and families of the St. John’s elementary school raised the money, and the labor, to build a new building just down the hill from the site of the new high school almost entirely without our help.

There are many more stories that I could tell, but I wanted to share this much to say that, obviously, Patti and I were convinced by our first trip of exploration.  As a result, we returned together in 2018, and Patti went again in 2019, and we are also now members of Farmer to Farmer’s board of directors.  This year, we are returning again to continue the progress that is being made, to paint classrooms, to sing, to pray, to play games with children, to encourage, and whatever else that we find to do that will move the dream of self-sufficiency closer to reality.

And we want some of you to come with us.  We hope to depart on July 21st and return home on August 4th.  We know that if you come with us, meet our friends, experience Liberia, and share the joy of the people of Harrisburg, you will be forever changed, as we were.  But your two-week investment will also change the world for the children of Harrisburg. 

Won’t you join us?

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Mission Impossible

Mission Impossible

February 23, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

For those of us old enough to remember the original Mission Impossible television show starring Peter Graves, Martin Landau, and Barbara Bain, or if you’re young enough to only remember the more recent Tom Cruise movies, we can probably hum the theme song to ourselves and some of us have occasionally done that as we merged into traffic on the freeway or imagined that we were embarking on some new daring adventure.

The general theme, or plot, of these adventures is, of course, that the IMF, the Impossible Mission Force, was occasionally offered tasks that, by all outward appearances, were so crazily difficult that they seemed, to anyone else, to be completely impossible.  And in every opening segment, we would hear a recording that essentially said, “Good evening Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” followed by a description of something that sounded impossible but which, the team always managed to accomplish by using technology, deception, wit, and trickery. 

But, if we’re honest, sometimes the things that God seems to ask us to do, seem no less difficult than some of the tasks given to the Impossible Mission Force.  With that in mind, let’s look at some of those “impossible” missions that we’ve been given, and think about what they mean to us ordinary people without the resources of an entire secret agency behind us.  We begin in Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18 where God explains the mission of his followers to Moses.

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.

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

 

 

God describes his impossible mission for the church in the first sentence: Be holy.  The rest of the passage is nothing more than an explanation of what God means by “be holy.”  And while some of the things that God commands us to do are reasonable, some of them are harder than others, and doing all these things, all the time seems to be almost humanly impossible. 

 

Remembering to set aside a part of our income for the poor is difficult, but easy to forget.  You would think that not stealing is easier, but statistically 75% of us have stolen office supplies or other things from our employers, and if you include coming in late, leaving early, or overstaying our breaks as theft, then I think that number is probably already pretty close to 100 percent.  Lying or deception creeps into our lives far too easily, showing favoritism toward the poor or toward the wealthy and powerful is a great cultural temptation, holding a grudge is easier than it should be, and actually loving our neighbors is much harder than we ever expected it to be.

 

Keeping one of these commands would consume a lot of time and attention, but keeping all of them, at the same time, suddenly becomes improbable.

 

And if that wasn’t hard enough, in Matthew 5:38-48, Jesus adds more layers of instruction on top of that and makes it even harder.

 

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 that we should not resist an evil person and turn the other cheek, but for most of us who have been taught to be independent adults, it is flat out hard, if not impossible, to not stand up for ourselves and fight back.  And even harder to not stand up for our loved ones.  But Jesus’ warning reminds us that the danger of resisting evil is that, in doing so, we risk committing, or even becoming, evil ourselves.  And after that, Jesus says that we’re supposed to love our enemies?  How hard is that?  And pray for those who persecute you?  Folks, if I am being persecuted, there are a lot of things that I might want to do to the person responsible for my persecution, but praying for them is certainly not the first thing that comes to mind.  But Jesus’ whole point here is that in order to be holy and be the kind of perfect person that God wants us to become, we must be loving, and the kind of love that God wants us to have is hard.  Real love isn’t just love for the people who can do things for you, or for people who are like you, or just for the people who can love you back. 

 

Real love is loving, even to the people who hate you and persecute you.  Real love is loving the people who are too poor, or too young, or too old, or too powerless, to do anything for you in return.  If we want to be the people that God created us to be, if we want to be more like Jesus, then we need to love the way that Jesus loved.  In fact, not only is real love hard, Jesus says that if love is easy, then it may not be real love at all.

 

So, why is our mission impossible?  Why are the commands of God and Jesus so incredibly difficult? First, it’s because God, being perfect, cannot tolerate imperfection and wants us to become perfect as well.  But there’s more to it than that, as Paul explains to the church in Corinth 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.

 

You and I, and all the followers of Jesus Christ, are building on a foundation laid by Jesus and a foundation which Paul says, is Jesus.  But what we are building on that foundation is more than just a life, it is, we are, God’s temple and, in the eyes of God, God’s temple is sacred and holy.  Together, we are God’s temple.  It isn’t this building that we are sitting in, or some building past, present, or future in Jerusalem, we are God’s temple.  And God intends for his temple to be holy, pure, and perfect.

 

So how does that help us to understand our impossible mission?

 

It helps us to understand because it establishes the goal.

 

In football, gaining a few yards against incredible opposition is good, but it must be in the right direction, and everyone understands that a ninety-nine-yard gain still doesn’t count if you can’t cross the goal line.  It makes a difference, as a runner, if you are just going outside to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine or if your goal is to run, and complete, a half-marathon.  Football players, runners, choirs, bands, artists, and athletes understand that getting stronger requires that we push ourselves and a big part of that is knowing what the goal is.  We don’t get stronger, or faster, or increase our agility and stamina if we only do the things that we can already do easily.  In order to get better than we already are, we must strive toward a goal that is unreachable at our current level of skill and fitness.

 

Our spiritual growth is no different.

 

God wants us to know what the goal is so that we know what direction in which to travel and to push us to work toward that goal.  A runner that begins to train for a half-marathon might not be able to reach that goal, but you can bet that they’re going to become a better runner than they were before they started.  As Christians, if our only goal is “pretty good” or “good enough” then we aren’t likely to ever challenge ourselves enough to change.  It is only by striving toward the goal of perfection that challenges us enough for God to genuinely transform us into something better than we were before.

 

So yes, doing all the things that God wants us to do, and following all the teachings of Jesus are going to be incredibly difficult and almost completely impossible.  But it is only by attempting the impossible that we can become more like Jesus.

 

You can almost hear the message on that tiny tape recorder:

 

“Good evening Mr. Phelps.  Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is… to become perfect.”

 

I know that it’s going to be difficult.  And I don’t know if I will ever get there.

 

But I’m going to try.

 

How about you?

 

 

 

 


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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.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Ashes Mark the Beginning

crocusOur season of Lent begins this coming Wednesday, February 26th.

But what does that mean?

The season of Lent is a time that we have set aside on our church calendars, to remember and to reflect.  We know that Spring is coming.  And with its arrival, we will celebrate Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.  But in order to better appreciate Easter, to fully participate in, and to better enjoy the celebration, we set aside time to prepare.

If you think about it, we go through this sort of preparation for many things.  Of course, we could do things on the spur of the moment, but many things of importance in our lives deserve more thought.  We plan for vacation by buying tickets, reading travelogues, buying a good summer book to take along,  as well as sunscreen, snacks for the car or the airplane on our journey, and other “essentials” so that we are prepared, both mentally and physically, to fully enjoy our holiday.  We do the same thing was we prepare for scout camp, or for back to school.  We spend time and effort to prepare so that everything will go smoothly and be as enjoyable as possible when the time for those events arrives.

And since Easter is the biggest event of the church year (bookends with Christmas) we do the same thing.  For us to arrive at Easter as spiritually prepared, mature Christians, we shouldn’t try to cram all our preparations into one hurried trip to Wal-Mart the night before.  Instead, let us commit to a season or preparation so that we will arrive on Easter morning renewed, refreshed, equipped, expectant, and joyful.

Join us, so that we can journey together during this season of anticipation.

 

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

 

 


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We’re Going AGAIN, and we want YOU to come with us!

New school under construction in Harrisburg, Liberia.

From (approximately) July 21st – August 4th, Patti and I will be returning to Harrisburg, Liberia with our Farmer to Farmer mission. We are already putting together a team and YOU are invited.

I have just updated my “Mission Trip to Liberia” blog page so check it out and start planning to come with us. We’d LOVE to have you meet all our Liberian friends.

Click Here to read all about it!  (Clicky)