Rediscover Church

Rediscover Church

Being around small children as they discover the world helps us to see the world the way that they see it, to set aside our skeptical, world weary cynicism and rediscover… wonder.  After a few dozen laps around the sun, it’s easy to forget how amazing our world really is.  But in the company of a child that is seeing the world for the first time, we rediscover how amazing butterflies are, or a weed fighting for survival in the crack of a sidewalk, a chick hatching from an egg, or a million other things.  When they see it, point to it, and marvel at it, we suddenly remember how amazing those things really are as well.

And thanks to last month’s stewardship campaign, the people of Christ Church were able to experience something that was very similar.  As a part of learning about Extravagant Generosity, everyone was asked to return cards asking them to “name a person who made a spiritual difference in your life,” or “What do you love about your church,” or “What is God asking you to do?”, or “Name one hope for our church in the future.”  And, while not everyone participated, the answers helped all of us to see our church through the eyes of others.  After years, or dozens of years, of membership, it’s easy to fall into a routine and see the church as the “same old – same old.”  But reading the answers, and seeing the things for which others were grateful, helped all of us to rediscover church that otherwise seemed so familiar.  In a way, all of us were able to rediscover church.

We remembered how extraordinary our worship services are, how much we love our Sunday school classes, Sunday sermons, small groups, being surrounded by people of faith, the encouragement of others, the friendships that we’ve made, the spirit of service that infuses everything, the way that our friends have become family to us, and even the opportunities that we have to work together making peanut brittle, working on Habitat projects, and other things.

One week we were asked to think about what God was asking us to do.  That was harder.  We had a more difficult time thinking about, and answering that question, and fewer people did.  But the answers that came showed that God was, and is, at work here and calls us to a renewed commitment to help others, serve others, give of our time, our talents, and our presence, and to be in tune with the needs of others.

And finally, we were asked to name one hope that we had for the future of our church.  Not surprisingly, some of us hoped that we would see better attendance, more members, more youth, more children, but we also hoped for more opportunities to pray, to do good in our neighborhood, and to be of service to others.

First, I want to thank everyone for having the courage to think about, and write down, their answers to these questions each week.  But also, I want to thank you for helping me, and for helping each other, to rediscover church.  We hope that more people would find faith in Jesus, and we hope that more children, youth, and adults would come here.  But why wouldn’t they?  Why wouldn’t anyone want to come here?  There are so many things that make our church special, vital, and important that many of the people that we know would love to be a part of it, and would undoubtedly be blessed, strengthened, and encouraged by it.  Of course, Christ Church would be a blessing to the lives of others.  If only they knew what they were missing. 

So, why don’t we invite them?

As we have rediscovered the gifts and blessings that our presence at Christ church is to us, it seems more obvious than ever that we would be selfish to keep it to ourselves.  People need what we have.  Many of the people we know are desperately searching for the sense of belonging, the purpose, the family, and the other blessings that we found at Christ church.  What we have is so good, and so important, that we have an obligation to share what we have with the people around us.  You’ve show us how much you love our church, you’ve told us.

Now go and tell your neighbors, your friends, and the people around you.

We have here is far too good to keep to ourselves.

People need what we have.

We need to share it.


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Christmas after Lockdown

Christmas After Lockdown

The last year and nine months has been, and continues to be, a long, strange, whirlwind of constant changes, news stories, changes, adaptations, and continued hope for a return to something approaching the “normal” that we remember.  Because of the threat of the coronavirus, and the statewide lockdown, we were unable to meet in person for Christmas Eve and so we did the best that we could to “meet” one another virtually.  Due to the hard work of our church staff and volunteers, and the amazing video editing of Bob Wallace, we produced a Christmas Eve video that I think surpassed almost any other similar attempt.

But as good as it was, it just wasn’t the same.

No matter how well we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child individually, there was still something missing.  Christmas wasn’t the same without being together.

Families are like that.  When we are apart, we can mail our gifts to one another, but it isn’t the same as being together.  In fact, for many of us, giving and receiving gifts has lost the urgency and the sparkle that it had when we were children.  What’s important, and treasured, now is just being together, seeing one another, sharing our stories and our lives, and just spending time together.

And Christmas Eve is all of that, and more.  Because the Spirit of God dwells within each one of us as the followers of Jesus, when we are together, we feel the presence, not only of other people, but also the presence of God himself.  That’s true every Sunday, and any time that we meet in groups that are large or small, but if you are like me, we feel that sensation of closeness to God most keenly only a few times each year and one of those times is on Christmas Eve.

This year, many of us will, once again, meet together, in person, for Christmas Eve, but we will also be livestreaming that worship service for anyone who is unable to attend or who still feels uncomfortable being around a crowd of people.  Rest assured, however, that we continue to encourage mask wear for everyone in attendance and remember that there is ample room to find seats with plenty of “social distance” between you and others.  In fact, if this year looks like others in recent history, you can probably have the balcony all to yourself.

But, whichever, option you choose, I hope that you will join us.  Moreover, I hope that each one of you will invite at least five others to join us.  Christmas Eve is easily one of the most attended worship services of the year in almost every church in North America and, for that reason, is a time when friends are most willing to accept an invitation to attend. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas are a time when we draw close to one another, and draw close to God, in a way that is both special and memorable not just because of the people, but because it is a time when we encounter the Spirit of God in a special way.  Of course, we will share the extraordinary experience of hearing our choirs, bell choirs, pipe organ, and singing traditional and meaningful carols of Christmas together.  But most importantly, we will remember the story of God’s invasion of the earth and the arrival of the Christ child, who would become the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

I hope that you will join us as we draw closer one another, and closer to God, together.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Good News of Great Joy?

Good News of Great Joy?

As I write this, Thanksgiving is just a few days away and Sunday we will begin our celebration of the Advent season.  During that season we will constantly be looking outwards, at others, and at the world.  We will look at Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Caesar Augustus, shepherds, wise men, angels, as well as a few other characters with smaller roles.  We will think about the coming of the Messiah and what that means to the church, to the world, to our calling as evangelize and share the good news, and other important lessons.  But, despite the value of doing all these things, we might also want to spend some time looking inwards. 

Looking inwards means asking what the story means to me, what the story is calling me to be, and to do.  When we see the shepherds, we should ask ourselves, “What would I have done if I were among them?”  Would we have stayed behind with the sheep?  Having heard the angels, and having seen the baby in a manger, would we have gone throughout the city rejoicing and telling everyone that we could find?

When we hear the story of the wise men, we might wonder how willing we are to hear the calling of God.  Would we drop everything, based on our best research and study, to spend months of unpleasant travel, just so that we could witness a miracle, bring gifts, and then spend months traveling home again?

After every story, there is a moment for us to look inward and ask God what he is calling us to hear, not just about a two thousand year-old story, but how God wants that story to change our lives, us, today.  Is God calling us to be more faithful, like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon the priest, Anna the prophetess, the shepherds, or the Magi?  Do we hear the calling for the church, and us, to evangelize the world in the story of the shepherds and the Magi?  And there is more.  In every story that we read in scripture God calls to us.  If we listen, our souls can feel the pull of God’s leading us in a new direction.

And so, as we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas, I invite you to open your hearts, and take the time to reflect. Ask yourself, “What does God want me to do with this story?”  What is it that God is trying to tell me?  How is God asking me to change?  What kind of a person is God calling me to be?  Is God calling me into something new?

Every day, God is calling us to be transformed and renewed into the image of Jesus Christ.  Our regular prayer on Sunday morning is to become more and more like Jesus and the person that Jesus created us to be.  And so, when we hear the angels proclaim that they bring “Good news of great joy for all the people” we might ask ourselves if the same is true for us.  When people hear that Christ Church is coming, is that good news?  Or what do people think when they hear that we are coming?  Is the arrival of _(insert your name here)_ “good news of great joy”?

The stories of Advent and Christmas are wonderful and inspiring, but they aren’t just there to stir wonder and bring inspiration.  The stories are intended to transform us.  The stories of Christmas, and all of scripture, are intended to change us so that we become less like Saul and more like Paul, less like Satan and more like Jesus, less like we once were and more like God intends for us to be.

As we plunge into Advent, I hope that we will do more than splash around in the shallows or swim along the surface.  This year, I invite you to…

…dive deep.

Blessings,

Pastor John



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Advent 2021

Advent 2021

Do you have a friend that always ruins new television shows, movies, or books for you by telling you the ending?  Online, the word that everyone uses is “spoiler.”  If an online conversation is going to talk about a big surprise, or how a movie or television show end before everyone has a chance to watch them, then the beginning of the conversation is often labelled “Spoiler Alert” so that you can choose to stop reading those posts and ruin the surprise for yourself.

Avoiding spoilers is sort of the same reason that I encourage everyone to attend church and participate in all our Advent worship services between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Skipping Advent and showing up at Christmas Eve is a lot like buying a new book and reading the last chapter first, or fast forwarding and watching the ending before you watch the rest of the movie.  Sure, the story is the same either way, but by starting at the end rather than at the beginning, and by skipping the character development, the plot twists, and the natural growth of the story we miss much of the excitement and anticipation as the story evolves.

All those reasons are a part of why we celebrate Advent.  It isn’t because we don’t already know how the story turns out, but it’s a lot like rereading a favorite book, or rewatching a favorite movie.  A week or two ago, Patti and I were re-watching Mel Brooks’ “Young Frankenstein” movie, and there were several times when one of us would say, “Oh, I didn’t remember that part.”  But each of those parts made watching the whole movie even better. 

Christmas is like that.  Christmas Eve is the last chapter, the denouement, the conclusion, the finale, the big ending.  It’s a great part of the story, but there’s so much more to it that we often forget from year to year and the story is so much stronger, and the anticipation greater, if we start at the beginning.

And so, once again, I invite you to join me as we journey through the Advent season, as we remember the whole story, dig into the character development, plot twists, and the natural evolution of the story.  Trust me, just like reading a good book, or watching a favorite movie, starting at the beginning will make the ending even more awesome.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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2021 Pastor’s Report

2021 Pastor’s Report

During 2021 we continue to struggle with the fallout from the global COVID-19 pandemic.  For nearly half of the year we were online only, then in-person, but outdoors, and now indoors with livestreaming to those who remain uncomfortable with a return to indoor worship.  The pandemic, and its effects on worship has, not surprisingly, had enormous ripple effects throughout the life of the church.  Giving, while stable through 2020, saw a major decline during the first half of 2021 but has seen some recovery since our return indoors.  Church committees, which did an admirable job of pivoting to Zoom during the lockdown, have largely returned to in-person meetings but, to some extent, still struggle with finding ways to maintain effective mission and ministry while also wearing masks, social distancing, etc.

But, as we have transitioned back to worship in our sanctuary, and have retained our online presence, we are hopeful that, as the pandemic, eventually, winds down, that we will see more members return to a fact-to-face connection.  We are hopeful that we will renew our connection with our friends and meet in-person with those who found us online, and whom we have only met virtually.  We are hopeful that our attendance, and giving, will return to, and exceed, our pre-pandemic levels, and we look forward to a return to more active participation in mission and ministry outside the walls of our church.

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t done anything this year.  Although all meals continue to be carry-out only, we continue to host the weekly community dinners which are now serving more than 130 meals each week.  Christ Church once again raised considerably more than was pledged for our part in the “Apostle Build” Habitat for Humanity house constructed this summer.  And, due to the unexpected spike in the price of building materials caused by the pandemic lock down, the excess funds that we raised were sorely needed and greatly appreciated.  Our United Methodist Women had a successful Basement Sale fundraiser and, once again, donated a large amount of unsold clothing and housewares to our friends at the Big Creek mission in the Red Bird missionary conference.  Even though we have been unable to send a mission team for two years, we hope to deliver a full trailer of donations before the snow flies.  These and other mission efforts have adapted and continued despite the difficulties of the past two years.  This adaptability and persistence encourages us and makes us hopeful that next year will be even better.

And so, as we move toward Thanksgiving, Advent, and a New Year, we understand that the crisis is not over.  We look forward to preparing 1200 Thanksgiving meals for our community, double our number for last year and close to where we were before the pandemic.  But we know that we will continue to face struggles and will have obstacles to overcome.  At the same time, we are encouraged and hopeful that God will has plans for us and will continue to use Christ Church as a lighthouse of hope and an embassy of his kingdom in our community and for our world.  Our prayer is that we will move from a place of struggle and surviving, to reviving, and then onward to thriving.

We may not know the future, but we know who holds the future. 

And that future is full of hope.


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Not Normal (Yet)

Not Normal (Yet)

Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.”  And that kind of sums up where we are in our struggle to return to normal from this global pandemic.  Some things are returning to normal but, as it has been for the last fifteen months, “normal” remains a moving target.  Even so, things are getting better and as they do, our church is returning to more familiar routines.  But even as we move toward the familiar, our routines will be different than they used to be. 

What does that mean?

Well, let’s talk about a few of our routines and how they might be different.

  1. We’re moving back to indoor church.  Hooray!  But being indoors isn’t going to be exactly like it used to be (yet).  We are returning indoors, but we’re still concerned about the spread of COVID, so some things will remain different for a while.  Sunday school classes and church committees are returning to in-person meetings, but not all of them.  Not everyone feels comfortable meeting in groups and some committee meetings are sometimes more convenient online, so some of those groups will remain online.

We are going to worship indoors, but worship still isn’t going to be the same as it used to be.  We are going to take the offering differently, we will be space ourselves out more than we used to, we plan to wear masks when we sing, and some people will likely choose to wear masks all the time. 

  • The building isn’t how I remember it.  We’ve made some changes.  Some of them are pandemic related, and some aren’t.  Our trustees have not been hibernating for the last year.  I’ve mentioned before that there were new lights installed above the stairs by the handicap entrance and in the lounge, but most of you will soon be seeing those changes for the first time so it will look a little different.  The trustees have other projects in progress that haven’t happened yet, so you can expect more changes.  In part because of COVID and in-part because of security concerns, we just aren’t going to unlock as many doors as we used to.  Many of you won’t even notice, but we will put up signs and let you know what’s going on so that we can all get used to entering through the doors that are open.
  • Money.  Honestly, this one is entirely up to you.  To everyone’s credit, last year, our giving remained steady even though we stayed home and made the transition to online worship.  But 2021 has not been kind to us.  I’m not sure that there is any single reason that can explain it.  We got out of the habit of coming to church.  We got out of the habit of putting our offering in the plate.  We got worried about our personal finances and cut back.  It could be any of those, or all of those, or a hundred other things.  But our offerings changed.  Dramatically.  I won’t belabor the point here, because our members will soon be receiving a letter that will go into more details.  For now, let’s just say that our budget, our staff, and all sorts of things will be facing substantial changes if 2021 doesn’t start to look more like 2019.
  • Dress. I don’t really know.  But I suspect that over the last year, many of you have grown accustomed to attending church in your bunny slippers.  I’m sure you don’t want to show up half-dressed, but if a year of worshiping online makes you feel like you want to dress more comfortably, I’m pretty sure no one will mind.  I’m sure I’ll go back to wearing a suit at some point, but I admit that I rather liked being able to preach wearing denim pants and hiking boots.  The important thing is that we all get back in the habit of going to church and being together.
  • People.  While we were online, we’ve had a few new people begin to worship with us.  Even though they have been “in church” with us for months, they will be unfamiliar to most of you.  I hope that you will make them feel welcome.  If you are one of those folks that joined us online, I hope that will join us in-person even though almost all of us will be unfamiliar to you.  At the same time, I’m sure that there are a few folks who just got out of the habit of coming to church and won’t be returning.  I hope it isn’t many.  And I hope it isn’t you.  We are the church.  We are the body of Christ.  All of us.  Together.

I’m sure that’s not all.  I’m sure that there are changes I forgot to mention, and others that I haven’t learned about, or that haven’t happened yet.  But life is all about change.  As we return to in-person, indoor worship, things are going to seem more like normal.  But, at the same time, not… quite… normal.  Whenever you feel comfortable, I hope that you will return to worship in-person.  And, until you do, we are working hard to continue some sort of online worship.  Although that may face some changes too.

Whatever happens…

“It ain’t over ‘till it’s over.” 


Blessings,

Pastor John


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This is Not Barbecue Day

This is Not Barbecue Day

by John Partridge

(Revised and reprinted from Memorial Day 2012)

    Today is not barbecue day.  It is not “just” a part of “just another” long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not another excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered to remember.  We have not come to thank our veterans (we do that in November), but to remember those who have fallen, and given their lives, so that we might have freedom and liberty.  We gather to remember men and women for whom words like duty, honor, and country had meaning, and because of whom, these words are themselves more meaningful.

    During the War in Vietnam, Marine Private First Class Gary Martini, braving intense enemy fire, raced through an open field to drag a fallen comrade back to a friendly position.  Seeing a second fallen Marine just 20 meters from the enemy position, Martini once again risked his life to bring the man back to safety.  Upon reaching the fallen Marine, Martini was mortally wounded but continued to drag his comrade back to his platoon’s position, telling his men to remain under cover.  As he finally struggled to pull the man to safety, Private First Class Martini fell and succumbed to his wounds.

     Sergeant First Class Paul Smith, while under enemy fire in Iraq, organized the evacuation of three soldiers who had been wounded in an attack on their vehicle.  Sergeant Smith manned the machine gun mounted on their vehicle, maintaining an exposed position as he engaged the enemy forces, allowing the safe withdrawal of wounded soldiers.  He was mortally wounded in the attack but not before killing as many as 50 enemy fighters in order to save his injured comrades.

    During the Second World War, First Lieutenant Jack Mathis, flying a bomb run over Vegesack, Germany, was hit by enemy antiaircraft fire.  His right arm was shattered above the elbow, and he suffered a large wound on his side and abdomen.  Knowing that the success of the mission depended upon him, Lieutenant Mathis, mortally wounded, dragged himself of to his sights and released his bombs on target before he died.

    These few examples give us only a flavor of the sacrifices that our men and women in uniform have made for our freedom and for the freedom of others, often total strangers, in other nations.  So highly do we value this gift we call liberty, that we are willing to expend the blood of our own sons and daughters so that others might enjoy this gift also.

    Brave men and women wearing the uniform of the United States have fought and bled and died in places like Bunker Hill, Yorktown, Concord, Lexington, Saratoga, Bazentin Ridge, Belleau Wood, Manila Bay, Guantanamo, Gettysburg, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Beruit, Okinawa, Pork Chop Hill, Hamburger Hill, the Chosin Reservoir, Pusan, Inchon, Bastogne, the Ardennes Forest, Pearl Harbor, Midway, Saipan, Medina Ridge, Al Busayyah, Wadi Al-Batin, Baghdad, Kandahar, Khaz Oruzgan, Musa Qala and thousands of other places most of us have never heard of as well as places so remote that the places don’t even have names.

     On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln spoke at the dedication of the Soldiers National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania four and one half months after the Union victory over the Confederate Army in the Battle of Gettysburg.  On this day or remembrance, it is good to remember the words that President Lincoln spoke.

    Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
    Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

    But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

    This day is much like the hallowed ground of Gettysburg.  There is little that our feeble efforts or words can do to consecrate this day beyond what the blood of patriots has already done.  As we gather today, our task is to heed the words of Abraham Lincoln.  It is for us, the living, to dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work for which these brave men and women have given their lives.  We must be resolved that these patriots did not die in vain.  It is too painful for us to remember their sacrifice each day, but on this precious and hallowed day we must take the time to remember.  We honor their sacrifice by appreciating the things that they have purchased with their blood. 

     Avail yourselves of the freedoms their sacrifices have purchased.  Vote.  Don’t just vote for the politician that promises to give us the most stuff. Vote for the men and women who hold dear the ideals of freedom and liberty.  Honor the flag that they fought for. It is more than a piece of cloth because it stands for the things those patriots fought, and bled, and died for.  Stand when the flag passes by, sing the national anthem, and teach your children to stand, teach them to take their hats off, and to hold their hands over their hearts.  I have been at sporting events where far too many are oblivious to the national anthem. While others are standing, they sit. While others are standing at attention with their hats held over their hearts, these others are busy talking on their cell phones.  We honor the blood of heroes by being courteous and respectful. 

I realize that all of us who put on the uniform of the United States did so to defend your rights not to stand, not to sing and not to hold your hand over your heart.  That’s fine.  If you are one of those who takes issue with it, what I ask of you is that you do so respectfully and that while the rest of us are standing and singing, you share a moment of silence and remember those brave men and women who gave you that right.

    Finally, I ask that you honor the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform with your prayers.  You don’t have to pray to the God I worship, feel free to pray to whatever deity you choose, but pray for all of the men and women who, even now, are away from their families, friends and homes.  Pray for those who today, instead of attending backyard barbecues and swim parties with their friends, are far out at sea, standing guard or even laying in a bunk half-way around the world, or eating cold Meals Ready to Eat out of a foil envelope while they huddle in a foxhole in the sand waiting for the next mortar round to drop on their heads.  Pray for the families of those who are away from home.  Today wives and husbands of these brave soldiers are doing what they can to hold their families together and their children are growing up wondering when, or if, their fathers or mothers are ever coming home again.

    Today is not barbecue day.  It is not just a part of another long weekend.  Today is not dedicated to automobile races and baseball games.  Today is not an excuse to go camping.  Today we have gathered to remember.  Today, let us remember the sacrifices that made us what we are and have given us freedom and liberty.  Today has been set aside as a day of remembrance. 

Let us all pause…

                                                   …and may we never forget.

Real Freedom (and Pandemic Paul)

We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.” 

But that’s exactly what we’re doing.

It’s become a cliché to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”  But this week, I’ve been thinking church should be asking itself what Paul would do.  Of course, anyone who has spent any time in church or Vacation Bible School has heard about Paul the Apostle.  Paul was born in Tarsus which was a part of what is now the nation of Turkey.  But despite being born far from Rome, Paul was born to parents who were both Jews and Roman citizens. 

There were privileges that came with being a Roman citizen.  It was as if the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights only applied to citizens, and you carried those rights wherever you went, anywhere in the Roman world.  Non-citizens didn’t have the same rights and slaves certainly did not have them.  Romans could not be beaten or treated harshly, and while they could be arrested, they couldn’t be tried in any court outside of Rome but had to be returned to Rome, or to a Roman court, for trial.  In modern language, citizens were privileged.

But Paul didn’t always use that privilege.  Paul found that sometimes his privilege, his rights, his citizenship, and even his freedom, was a disadvantage when sharing the message of Jesus with the people around him.  In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul said:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Even though Paul was not a slave, he sometimes gave up the rights that he had so that he could be heard by the slaves and share the message of Jesus with them.  Even though Paul knew that following Jesus released him from some of the dietary restrictions and rules of the Jewish faith, he would follow those customs when he was with the Jews so that they would be able to hear his words when he shared the gospel.  But when Paul was living among the Greeks and other people who were not Jewish, he would follow their customs for the same reason. 

Wherever Paul went, he did whatever he could to allow people to hear his message.  And that often meant giving up something important.  Paul found that his rights, his privileges, and even his freedom, got in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Slaves wouldn’t hear a message that was preached by someone who used their citizenship and their freedom to act better than them.  Jews wouldn’t listen to someone who was an outsider and violated their religious laws.  And people everywhere feel more comfortable around a person who respects their customs.

But what does that mean to us?  What would Paul do if he lived among us today?

As we near what we hope is the end of this pandemic crisis in the United States, we are hearing a lot about rights and privileges.  We have a right to move about freely.  We are free to choose whether we will wear a mask.  And those persons who are vaccinated are being granted special rights and additional freedoms. 

But is exercising those freedoms the right thing to do?

I’ve seen churches advertising that they are “Open and Mask-less.”  Vendors are selling signs saying that vaccinated persons are welcome in their church.  And I’ve seen churches that say things like, “All are welcome.  Unvaccinated persons must wear masks.”  I understand that these are the rights that are given to us under the United States Constitution, and the privileges of having access to the Covid-19 vaccine.  But will exercising these rights prevent us from sharing the message of the gospel?

It was once common for churches to ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves.  That custom made me so uncomfortable that I vowed never to return to any church that made me do it.  And so, I worry that requiring unvaccinated persons to wear masks will make them feel unwelcome.  We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.”  But that’s exactly what these signs are saying.  Anything that draws a line between “us” and “them” is exactly what Paul spent his life trying to avoid.

If Paul were writing today, I wonder if his words wouldn’t be, “Though I am vaccinated, and am free to do as I wish, I have made myself to be unvaccinated, to win as many as possible.  To the unvaccinated, I have become unvaccinated to win the unvaccinated.  With the mask wearers, I have worn masks, to win those that wear masks.”  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

We have rights.  But what if using them turns people away?  In the twenty-first century, like Paul, we must be careful that our rights, privileges, and freedoms do not get in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Toxic Negativity

Toxic Negativity

We are being poisoned every day. 

And what’s worse, is that many of us are poisoning ourselves. 

I don’t mean that we’re sitting around drinking arsenic or antifreeze, and I’m not even thinking about more ordinary poisons like cigarettes or alcohol.  But in many ways, the poison that we are consuming is just as real, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made things worse.

The poison that I’m talking about is the negativity that surrounds us and seems to beat us down at every turn.  The newspaper and the evening news are filled with bad news, the radio station playing in our cars and office spaces, breaks in every ten or twenty minutes to share still more horror, mayhem, fear, and death.  I’m sure that some of you think that I am exaggerating. But am I?  Even a little bit of poison, the tiniest bit of arsenic or cyanide, taken in small doses, accumulates over time and will eventually kill us or cause irreparable harm.  And I’m convinced that living under a constant bombardment of negativity can do the same thing.

I’m sure that no one’s death certificate is going to say that their cause of death was “negativity,” but I’m equally certain that that this everyday toxic stew contributes to deaths that are listed as heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, depression, suicide, and other health issues that wear our health down over time.

But what can we do about it?

We don’t control the news and we have no control over the pandemic, so what control do we have? 

And the answer is, more than you think.

I once had a coworker that radiated negativity in the way that Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen is surrounded by a cloud of dirt.  Any, and every, conversation with her became a conversation about how terrible life was.  A fender-bender became a sermon about how the world hated her.  There was never any recognition that she, and her son, were alive and unhurt.  It was all about the expense, the inconvenience, the trauma, and on, and on, and on.  No matter what it was about, after a conversation with her, I would inevitably walk away depressed as if I had somehow contracted her contagion.  She was a nice enough person, but her constant focus on the negative caused people to stay away from her.

My experience with that coworker has always reminded me that we have choices.  We ewget to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

We make our own stew.

The church in Philippi was concerned about Paul, about his health, and about the various imprisonments and other difficulties that he had faced.  And Paul writes back to encourage them, and to remind them not to dwell on the bad news that they had heard.  He said,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

10 I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:8-15)

Paul had been repeatedly arrested, imprisoned, shipwrecked, beaten, flogged, and driven out of town.  He had every reason to complain.  And yet, he wrote to ask his friends not to do that but instead to be content in whatever circumstances they found themselves.  Rather than focus on our trouble, our pain, or any of the bad news that surrounds us, Paul encourages us to focus on the good things in our lives, things that are noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable and anything that is excellent or praiseworthy.

I’m not suggesting that we should be ignorant of what’s going on in the world around us. It’s important to be informed and know what’s going on, but don’t allow yourself to simmer endlessly in a toxic stew of negativity.

We get to choose our attitude toward the things that happen to us.  We get to choose our focus.  We get to choose what we listen to, what we watch, what we read, what we talk about, and with whom we associate. 

Let’s do our best to look for the silver lining, to look for the places where God is at work, look for the blessing, look for the good in every bad situation, and focus on the things that good, pure, noble, and praiseworthy.  Let’s spend more time with people who encourage us, spend more time encouraging others, and less time dwelling on the negativity that wears at our souls.

We make our own stew.

Let’s make it a good one.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Remembering Who We Are

Remembering Who We Are

April 01, 2021*

(Holy Thursday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14             John 13:1-17, 31b-35                         1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Often during the important seasons of the church year, we find ourselves wondering why.  Why do we do this every year?  Why to we say the same words, read the same scriptures, and repeat the same rituals?  Why do we tell the stories of Holy Week?  Why is it important?  Why does it even matter?

And our answer in the twenty-first century is the same as it was in the first century and the same as it was a thousand years before that.  And that, of course, is another story worth repeating.  This story is the story of the first Passover that is recorded in Exodus 12:1-14:

12:1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lambfor his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs, and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.”

Even before the Passover happened, God commanded his people to commemorate, to tell the story, to repeat the rituals, so that they would remember what had happened, so that they would remember what God had done for them, so that they would remember where they had come from, and so that they would remember who they were, and to whom they belonged.

These stories serve the same purpose for us.  They remind us of where we have been, where we came from, and where we are going.  They remind us that we are a part of a much larger story and they remind us that over thousands of years, God has never stopped loving us.  Of course, while we remember the story of the Passover, with the coming of Jesus, that is the focus of our ritual.  But in our modern liturgy, we heard the story of the Last Supper in 1 Corinthians 11:24, and we remember that Jesus said, “do this in remembrance of me.

Just as God commanded Moses and the people of Israel to repeat the story of the Passover, and to make it a lasting remembrance, Jesus commands us to repeat the story and remember.

Just as it was thousands of years ago, we tell the stories, and repeat the rituals, so that we will remember what happened, remember what God had done for us, remember where we came from, remember who we

are, remember to whom we belong, remember that we are loved, and remember the price that was paid for our rescue.
And we remember because, by remembering the story, we are better able to remember what we are supposed to do with our lives.  Because the stories that we tell aren’t just the stories of the past, they are the stories that shape our present, and our future.  Because as we remember where we came from and who we are, we can clearly hear the words of Jesus in John 13:34-35 when he says,

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

May we remember who we are and live lives that the world around us will see and feel… as love.


Video of this service can be found at: https://youtu.be/EFVvpfpdZ2g

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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.