To Heaven, Through Hell

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To Heaven, Through Hell

November 13, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

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

Anyone with more than a few laps around the sun is well aware that sometimes life is not a bed of roses, or a bowl of cherries, or however you want to say it, life is not always all that great.  Sometimes it flat-out sucks pond water.  Life is filled with pain, sickness, hurt feelings, tragedy, betrayal, abandonment, loss, suffering, and death.  But it isn’t always bad.  As bad as life can be, and the bad stuff can sometimes last far longer than we’d like, we also know that life can also be filled with joy, healing, excitement, victory, hope, encouragement, friendship, and love.

This understanding is the source of two great quotes that help us to keep our pain in perspective.

Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat said, “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”

When we struggle with death and loss, and when whenever good things end, it helps to remember that the reason that we are mourning, is because of the good things that happened.  But when we are faced with pain in our future, or when we are enduring it in our present, we should remember that Winston Churchill famously said…

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

And it is those perspectives that I would like you to keep in mind this morning as we consider where we are going, what we will pass through on the way there, and how should live our lives in the present so that we can keep moving toward our final destination.  We begin this morning reading from Isaiah 65:17-25, as God paints a picture of what life will be like in the world that is to come.

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

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

God will create a new heaven and a new earth that is fundamentally different from the one in which we live, and we will live there for so long, and our healing will be so complete and enduring, that we will hardly remember the pain and the suffering that we once endured.  Life will no longer be a struggle but will be filled with joy instead of weeping.  Old age will be normal and there will never be the sorrow of mourning the loss of a child.  No longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, pestilence, unemployment, taxation, or anything else but God’s people will live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with their families.  Even the animal kingdom will be changed so that we will have no fear of them, they of us, or them for one another.  God’s promise is that there is a better future for all those who love him.

But that isn’t at all the picture that Jesus draws for his disciples.  The future that Jesus describes reminds us that what God showed to Isaiah is the distant “not yet.”  In between our now, and the “not yet” is more of the ugliness that we have seen throughout history, and worse.  As Jesus and his disciples are walking through Jerusalem, the disciples marvel at the beautiful stonework of the temple and its surroundings.  But Jesus uses those stones as a warning of what is to come.  We hear these words in Luke 21:5-19.

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus says that his followers will be hated by their families, friends, neighbors, and the entire world simply because of their love for him.  But in the end, we will endure because who and what we are in Jesus Christ endures even beyond death.  The only way that we can lose is to give up.  Stand firm.  Keep moving forward.

“If you’re going through hell, keep going.”

But what does that mean for us today?  How does that inform us, or teach us, about how we might survive, one day at a time, through the weirdness that is life in the twenty-first century?  And that is one of the things that Paul addresses in his letter to the church in Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

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

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

Clearly, this isn’t a prescriptive text that tells us everything about how to live as a church in times of disruption and chaos, but Paul says that one of the things that we need to be to be doing, as we have heard in other passages in recent weeks, is to keep busy, and to stay on task.  And one of the ways that we do that is to stay away from people who are bad examples.  The first among these bad examples are people who aren’t doing anything.  But worse than that are the people who aren’t doing anything and are using their free time to disrupt the people who are doing something.  Also, a part of Paul’s description of these disruptors is that they are people who claim to believe, and count themselves among the believers of the church, but do not live as if they believe because they don’t do the things that the scriptures teach.

Paul says that, because he and his ministry team intentionally wanted to be a good example, they did not accept a salary, or gifts, or meals, or anything else while they were in Thessalonica.  They didn’t do so because pastors, missionaries, and work teams aren’t entitled to being paid or even being treated well, but because they wanted to be a model for the people to follow.

It is worth noting at this point, that the phrase Paul uses here, has been borrowed, grossly misinterpreted, and misused by a recent political campaign.  Apparently, there has been someone, during the most recent election, that was claiming that the phrase, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat” implies that welfare or giving to the poor runs against biblical principles.  But that is, frankly, spiritual malpractice.  Paul’s statement, and this example, in this case, is for internal church use and is ministry specific.  When the church was busy working, and fed its workers afterward, it didn’t make sense to feed people who didn’t do any work.  Paul wasn’t saying that the church shouldn’t feed the poor, that would be contrary to the words of Jesus.  What he was saying was, don’t show up to eat lunch at the Habitat for Humanity work project if you aren’t doing any work.  In that specific case, the food was intended to feed the workers.  And so that sentence should not, and cannot, be misconstrued to try to say that Jesus doesn’t want us to feed the poor.

Let’s summarize.  What we heard today is that we are on our way to someplace better.  God is at work, even now, preparing a place for us to live forever and in that place all the broken things of this world will be fixed.  There will be no more mourning, or crying or pain, parents will no longer have to bury their children, no longer will people and nations be uprooted by famine, warfare, natural disasters, or pestilence, and will all live, work, grow, plant, and endure in one place, in one home, with our families forever.

But between here and there, will be pain, and suffering, and death, and all the other terrible things that we have come to expect from our broken world.  Not only will those things continue but, at times, they’ll be a lot worse.  In the meantime, whether things are better for us or worse, the message is to stay on task, to keep doing the work that God has given us to do.  And while we’re doing that, we should stay away from busybodies who keep other people from doing their work.  Stay away from people who are idle and disruptive because they’re just going to waste your time and keep you from doing the work that God has given you to do.

The message for today is just to stay busy.  God has given us work to do as individuals, and as a church.  We can expect to go through difficult stuff.  We can expect that the horrors of this broken world will not get better and will often get worse.  But through it all, we need to keep moving forward, keep doing the work of Jesus Christ, and keep on calling the world to hear the message of the gospel so that they too can receive healing, rescue, and restoration.

Never tire of doing good.


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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 quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.comThe “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

Coming Soon!

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Or click here to skip straight to the sermon: https://youtu.be/05dgjGhOKY4

Children’s message: How is Jesus like a steam locomotive? https://youtu.be/iHXcL3eD4O0

This week’s challenge: What does it mean to “be prepared in season and out of season”? https://youtu.be/wL-8uCk8TAw


Coming Soon!

October 23, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 31:27-34                 Luke 18:1-8                2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

For those of us who grew up going to real movie theaters, as well as possibly the Netflix generation in a different format, we remember the movie posters and the movie trailers that would run, interspersed with commercials for popcorn, candy, and soft drinks, for fifteen minutes before the movie started.  And the banner under which all these appeared was, “Coming Soon.”  “Coming Soon” was meant to inform us that something amazing, spectacular, and wonderful was about to happen and build our anticipation and desire to see it when it came to town.  This was, I think, especially true for the golden age movie serials as well as the Star Wars type movies that were patterned after them.  Coming soon, is a phrase that is designed to get our attention, to take our focus, of only for a moment, away from our present troubles and busyness, and look forward to the future and the appearance of something new.

And, although we won’t find the words “Coming Soon” anywhere in scripture, the idea that it represents is a common theme of the prophets, Jesus, and the gospel writers alike.  We heard the words in the scriptures that Susan used last week, and I’m going to use some of those same scriptures this morning but will look at them from a different direction.  The first words that we heard last week from the prophet Jeremiah, and will hear again this week, compare almost exactly to the modern usage of “Coming Soon.”  In Jeremiah 31:27-34, we hear…

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord… doesn’t that sound a lot like “Coming soon?”

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband tothem,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

God announces through Jeremiah that something new is coming.  The days are coming, when God will once again plant his people, kingdoms, and nations and watch over them as they rebuild.  In those days, as we heard last week, everyone will be held responsible for their own sin because… in those days, in the days that are coming soon, God will make a new covenant with his people that will be different from the covenant that he made with them when he led them out of slavery in Egypt.  This will be a new covenant, a new contract, a new promise that God will write upon the minds and hearts of his people.  It will be a new day, a new era, and a new relationship between God and his people.  And that day is… coming soon. 

No matter how you translate it, whether you say, “the days are coming,” or “coming soon,” or “I will…” God presses his people to look forward, to look past their present suffering, to put their trust in God, and look toward the future.  And in the parable that we heard last week, and again this week, this is very much what Jesus is doing as well as we hear these words in Luke 18:1-8:

18:1 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally, he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you; he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

God promises to bring justice to his people who cry out to him, but Jesus encourages us not to stop, to continue praying, to continue to cry out to God for justice, because prayer is the expression of our faith.  Prayer is a mechanism by which we shift our focus, look past our present condition, and look forward, because fundamentally, prayer is an expression of our faith in God and our hope for the future.

But… as we hold on to our faith, and as we look toward the future, how do we live, love, and care for the people around us… today?  These are exactly the kind of questions that Paul answers in his second letter to his protégé Timothy as we hear these words in 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

What should we do today?  We should continue to do the things that we’ve been taught to do, to teach the things that we’ve been convinced of by the Spirit of Jesus Christ and continue in our faith.  We should continue to study scripture, and use it to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others in righteousness so that the people of God might be fully equipped for every good work.

Paul’s charge, or assignment, to Timothy carries forward to each of us two thousand years later.  Preach the word, be prepared, at all times, to tell the gospel story and the message of salvation and rescue.  Correct, rebuke, and encourage, and offer instruction, but do these things with great care and patience so that the message that we bring is the message of scripture and not just a modern interpretation that resonates with our culture and makes us feel good.  Keep your head, stay calm… no matter what, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, and be in ministry, at all times, to all the people around you.

Paul’s instruction to Timothy, much like the words of Jeremiah and the parable of Jesus, remind us that the day is coming, and coming soon, when we will all stand in judgement.  Our mission is not to get bogged down in the troubles of today, but to look forward past our present troubled and divisive times, to look past our present condition, and live, love, teach, preach, correct, rebuke, and encourage so that we can bring as many of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and classmates into the gates of heaven as we possibly can.

No one can know the day or the hour of Christ’s return, but just as God’s people were called in the time of Jeremiah, and just as they were in the time of Jesus and Paul, we are called to look forward, to look past our present struggles, to put our trust in God, and look toward the future.  Because even if we don’t know when he’s coming, we know that he is… coming soon.


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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.

Will Faith be Found on Earth?

An image of earth in God's hand

Will Faith be Found on Earth?

October 16, 2022

Dr. Susan Haddox

This Sunday was Laity Sunday wherein the wonderful lay persons (ie. not clergy persons) of Christ Church took over our worship service. Dr. Susan Haddox, who is a professor of Religion at the University of Mount Union here in Alliance, brought us all a wonderful message about faith and how it can be found in the twenty-first century. There is, however, no text for me to post here, but I invite you to click the links below that will take you to the podcast, the recording of the full livestream, or to an edited version that only includes Dr. Haddox’s message and scripture readings.


Click here to listen to the podcast

Click here to watch the livestream: https://youtu.be/tmj3jwL77eg

Click here to see Dr. Haddox’s message, “Will Faith be Found on Earth?”


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Sources of Suffering

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Sources of Suffering

October 02, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Lamentations 1:1-6               Luke 17:5-10             2 Timothy 1:1-14

On January 1, 1970, George V. Higgins, while he was still employed as Assistant US Attorney, but who would eventually be described as the grand master of crime fiction, published his first crime novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  In that story, gun runner Jackie Brown famously said, “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  That quote has often been misattributed to John Wayne, but there is no record of John Wayne, nor any of his movie characters, ever saying such a thing.  In any case, many of us have found this to be true.  “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  Few, if any of us, have managed to always make good decisions, and while we have learned valuable lessons from them, those bad decisions often made our lives much more difficult and painful than they needed to be.  But, at the same time, sometimes life is hard because we made good decisions.  Changing careers, working as a student pastor, with a student pastor’s salary, going to school full-time, while raising three children was hard, despite being a good choice.  And many of you could describe similar choices and similar struggles.

But despite our experiences, and our past struggles, many people ask the question, “Why is there suffering?” Or “Why am I suffering?”  And while I don’t have the definitive answer that applies to all people for all time, this morning we’re going to read several stories which illustrate several kinds of sadness, sorrow, and suffering and maybe, along the way, we will find some of the answers to our questions about suffering. We begin this morning, in a place where we don’t often go, to the book of Lamentations.  A lamentation is defined as a “passionate expression of grief or sorrow” and so this book of scripture is the place where we find the mournful prayers of the people of Israel who have lost the war with the Babylonian army, been ripped from their homes, watched as their city and their temple were destroyed, enslaved, and dragged into Babylon to make a new life in captivity.  Not surprisingly, tears were shed, and God’s people asked why this had happened to them.  “Why are we here?”  “When will we go home?”  Will we ever go home?”  “Why did God allow this to happen?”  And “Why has God allowed us to suffer?”  We begin in Lamentations 1:1-6, where we hear these words:

1:1 How deserted lies the city,once so full of people!
How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn,for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan,
her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish.

5 Her foes have become her masters;her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe.

6 All the splendor has departed from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled before the pursuer.

Not everyone was taken into captivity because farmers and laborers were needed tend the land, harvest crops, and send taxes and tribute to the nation of Babylon.  It was not in Babylon’s best interests to take everyone, and so, much like the takeover of the communists in China, they took, or killed, the king, the royalty, the leaders of the military, the government, the church, and anyone else who might lead and rally people together in rebellion.  To borrow an expression from our nation’s experience in Vietnam, what Babylon wanted was a pacified Israel that would obey the orders of Babylon’s king and pay their taxes.

The people who were left behind may have been almost as miserable as those who have been taken into captivity.  Every day they remembered.  They remembered what their cities had once been, they remembered how beautiful their temple had been, how busy the roads had been, how peaceful it was to go to the synagogue and hear the words of God read from the Torah scroll.  But now that was all gone.  The roads mourn in their emptiness, the city gates are broken and desolate.  The people are gone.  Their friends and allies abandoned them in their time of need.

But there is recognition of why this had happened to them.  Jeremiah might not have been popular when he came to Jerusalem to proclaim the words, warnings, and condemnation of God, but the people remembered what he, and other prophets had said.  They knew that their grief and their suffering had come about because they loved their sin and had turned their backs on God.  And now life was harder, infinitely more difficult, and filled with weeping, sadness, mourning, suffering, and pain because of the bad choices that they had made.

But we often twist the question and, rather than ask “why are we suffering?” we ask, “why isn’t God blessing us?” and essentially ask why God is shortchanging us for doing good or assume that we aren’t getting what we want, or aren’t getting the expected result of God’s blessing, because we don’t have enough faith.  That’s the question that the disciples are asking Jesus in Luke 17:5-10 when Jesus is telling them about the consequences of sin and the need for his followers to forgive others.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jesus says that you don’t need a lot of faith because even a little bit of faith is a powerful thing.  The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough faith, the problem is that we expect God to bless us every time we do what we’re supposed to do.  We don’t expect our employer, or our boss, to thank us every time that we show up for work in the morning.  Rather than expecting God to pour out blessings on us for every little thing, our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do.

Let me say that again.

Our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do just as our employer expects that we will show up for work on time and do the job that we’ve been hired to do.  Doing the minimum doesn’t give us the right to expect bonuses and an abundance of praise and thanksgiving.  We shouldn’t expect God to bless us because we did half of what was expected. Doing the minimum is the least of what God expects from us.  Jesus said that servants are expected to do what servants do and at the end of the day simply acknowledge that “we have only done our duty.”

I’m sure that’s not the most encouraging thing that I’ve ever preached, nor is it the most encouraging thing that you’ve ever heard in church. 

But it gets worse.

In his second letter to his friend Timothy, the Apostle Paul explains that while God will empower us, and give us the tools, and the strength that we need to do what he has called us to do, even making the right choices, and doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, may still result in suffering.  In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, we hear Paul say this:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my dear son:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald, an apostle, and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Paul breaks down the ideas of faith and works for Timothy by saying at he knows Timothy has faith. Because he has faith, he knows that he has received the gift of the Spirit of God.  Because the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline, then Timothy should not be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to tell the people around him about Jesus Christ or about Paul’s     imprisonment.  Instead of being embarrassed, Paul says that Timothy should join with him in suffering for the sake of the gospel message, which is, in Paul’s view, suffering by the power of God.  Paul says that God did not call us because we deserved it, or because we had great qualifications, or because we had any qualifications at all, God called us because we fit into his plan, for his own purposes, and God called us because he chose to pour out his grace into our lives.

In the end, we are like Paul.  We have been called to be the heralds, proclaimers, apostles, town criers, and the announcers of the gospel message and the good news of Jesus Christ.  But suffering has always been and, until the day of judgement, always will be a part of the human experience.  Sometimes life is hard, and we suffer because we’re stupid and we made poor choices.  Sometimes we suffer because we get so selfish and self-focused that we put God in second, or third, place.  And sometimes we suffer for all the right reasons.  We made the right choices, did the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, and suffered anyway.  The odds are good that most of us here have endured through some hard times and in this life, the odds are good that we’re not done.  Suffering is just a part of the human experience.  But, if we’re going to suffer, let it be because we’ve made the right choices, done the right things, the right way, and for the right reasons.  Let it be so, that when we suffer, we suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ and for his kingdom.  Let us busy ourselves answering his call, and doing his work, so that when the day comes, we cannot be accused of only doing half of what we were called to do but can instead proclaim that ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”


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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.

Broken Trust

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Broken Trust

September 18, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               Luke 16:1-13              1 Timothy 2:1-7

When our children were just beginning elementary school, our school district had a problem.  They had too many elementary school-age children and not enough space to fit them all.  That is not a unique problem.  The problem was that they had an additional elementary school building that was in good repair, that they couldn’t use.  Immediately behind the district administration building was an empty elementary school whose steam plant was active and supplied heat to the administration building. The problem, and the reason that the school was empty, was asbestos. 

Before the school could be safely filled with children and teachers, the district would need to spend a half a million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  At the same time, they couldn’t tear it down because it provided heat to the administration building and because… it would cost a half million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  The obvious solution would have been to ask the taxpayers for a one-time, emergency, tax levy to raise the half million dollars that would be needed to remove the asbestos and return that school to its useful purpose.  But, because taxpayers have been lied to by politicians for so long, it was impossible to pass a temporary tax levy because no one trusts a politician when they say that a new tax would be temporary.

The trust between taxpayers and their government has been broken so repeatedly, that we now simply assume politicians are lying most of the time.  Frank Sonnenberg said that “Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.” And Dr. Jane Greer had this to say about trust, “Broken trust forces us, first, to acknowledge a painful reality we may have chosen to ignore, then, to make some difficult decisions.” That’s exactly what the taxpayers of our school district did.  They made some difficult decisions, which caused more problems and more difficult decisions later.  It is this cycle of broken trust that has complicated the administration of our government, the operation and conduct of our churches, our schools, and it creeps into every facet of our lives.

And, as we read the words of Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1, what we hear underneath the words of a nation mourning from its captivity in Babylon, is the pain of the trust that was broken between the people of Israel and their God.

18 You who are my Comforterin sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah speaks for his people and says that they faint with sorrow over the loss of their nation and their God but, at the same time, he is angry that his people broke their trust with God and aroused his anger by abandoning him and worshiping the idols of another nation.  The people are saying that “the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”  The realization of reality is finally hitting them that God isn’t going to bail them out easily and quickly this time and that they are not going home any time soon.  Jeremiah says that with this realization, horror grips him and there is no comfort, no physician, and no healing to be found as they mourn what they have lost, come to grips with their new reality, and weep for all those who died because of their rebellion and broken trust.

And then in Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a story about an entirely different kind of broken trust but compliments the man who does wrong because of the lesson that the church should learn from him about how we can operate within a system that often struggles with trust issues.

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[about thirty tons] of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus praises the dishonest man for his shrewdness in using the tools that he had available to him.  Despite being fired, he had time left, and tools at his disposal, to prepare for, and to secure resources for his future.  Clearly his actions amount to fraud and theft, and certainly Jesus expects that we will not do those things.  But, although we are held to a higher standard, and expected to be trustworthy and live up to our promises to our employers and the people around us, we are encouraged to use the tools that we have been given by our employers, by our community, our leaders, our governments, and by our Constitution, to further the cause of the kingdom of God.  We are to prove ourselves trustworthy with what we have been given here, so that we can demonstrate to God that he can trust us with real wealth and true riches in heaven.

But how do we connect that story with the heartbreak experienced by Jeremiah and the people of Israel during their captivity in Babylon?  We begin with the idea that the phrase “we cannot serve two masters,” can be about money, it can also be about other things that take the place of God.  In a letter to his young friend and protégé Timothy, Paul briefly describes the relationship that we should be cultivating with the powers that surround us. (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth; I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Paul urges Timothy and the church to pray for kings and the people in authority in their governments even though, like now, those leaders had often broken trust with the people over whom they ruled.  Some had not only broken trust but had actively persecuted their citizens.  And yet, Paul’s encouragement isn’t to rebel, or to resist, but to pray for them, and to do whatever they could do to live peaceful and quiet lives of integrity and honesty that were both godly and holy.

Our goal is to peacefully coexist with our government, not to put our trust in the government and not to break our trust with God by putting our faith in money, power, or government officials.  Neither should we abdicate our responsibilities to God or entrust our government with do the work that God has commanded us to do.  Our calling is to shrewdly use the freedoms and the tools that we have been given, but to remain faithful to our God, to our integrity, honesty, and to the promises that we have made. 

The missionary journeys of Paul and the other disciples were made possible by the infrastructure and the safety and freedom to travel brought about by the Roman empire and its military.  In his letters, we sometimes see Paul use his Roman citizenship as a tool to accomplish his mission for Jesus Christ, but Paul never concedes that Caesar is lord, and he never puts his faith and trust in the Roman government.  For Paul, citizenship was a useful tool, but his loyalty was always firmly in Jesus Christ, and his faith and trust always belonged, without question, to the kingdom of God first.  We are similarly challenged.  Finding the balance that Paul had will be as challenging to us as it was for him.  But our calling is to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, to put our whole trust only in God, and to shrewdly use the rights, freedom, citizenship, money, and other tools at our disposal to further the interests of God’s kingdom wherever we can.  At the same time, we must live lives that are trustworthy, honest, filled with integrity, and remain faithful to the promises that we have made so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

If he were here, I am certain that Paul would confess that finding that balance, while living in a powerful military empire, was challenging, and doing so is likely to be similarly challenging for us in twenty-first century United States.  But one thing we can learn from Jeremiah is that getting that balance wrong can have devastating, and sometimes eternal, consequences.


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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.

Do You Need a “Do Over”?

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Do You Need a “Do Over”?

September 04, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 18:1-11                   Luke 14:25-33                        Philemon 1-21

Have you ever had a chance to have a “do over”?

In the 1991 movie “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal (as Mitch), four friends decide to get away from the city, and get away from their problems for a few weeks by going out west and joining a cattle drive.  One of the four friends, Phil, has a crisis because he had been caught cheating on his wife and was, to his mind, about to lose everything that he valued and one evening Phil breaks down in tears by the campfire.  Mitch pats Phil’s back and attempts to comfort him saying:

“Hey Phil, come on Philly… It’s OK man, it’s not that bad…”

To which Phil replies, “My life is over! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m at the end of my life!”

Mitch tries to get Phil’s attention saying, “Phil, hey.” And when Phil looks up, he continues with this:

“You remember when we were kids, and we were playing ball, and we hit the ball over the fence out of bounds, and we yelled, DO OVER? Your life is a do over. You’ve got a clean slate.”

Phil’s life was a do-over.  At 40 years old he was going to start over again and build a new life.  I’m certain that resonates with some of the people in this room, and certainly most of us have family or friends that have lived through divorce, or separation, the death of a spouse, the loss of parents, unemployment, and other situations that led to similar restarts, or do-overs in their lives.  But while naming this sort of situation as a “do-over” might be new, the idea of starting over due to a crisis certainly isn’t.  In Jeremiah 18:1-11 we hear these words:

18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

At the command of God, Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches as he spins clay on his wheel and begins to form a pot.  But some imperfection marred that pot.  Sometimes a tiny pebble remains undiscovered in the clay and, as it spins on the potter’s wheel, the pebble rises to the surface, catches on the potter’s hands, and carves a groove in the clay, or worse.  But when that happened, the potter simply declares that the pot is a do-over, crushes it back into a shapeless lump, starts over, and begins to form something new.

And God says that this is what he intends to do with the nation of Israel.  Things are not going well.  God has warned them to repent of their evil and they have not, and so God is going to declare a do-over, he is going to allow disaster to befall them, to crush them back into a lump, start over, and build something new with the lives of each person and with Israel as a nation.  God intends to reshape his people into something new, something good, faithful, righteous, and beautiful.

Most often, do-overs are avoidable.  God had warned the nation of Israel more than once about the evil that they were doing and had commanded them to repent.  If they had listened to the warning of God and his prophets, if they had followed the commands of God that were contained in his scriptures, then the do-over, and all the pain that went with it, could have been avoided.  And that’s exactly the point of the illustrations that Jesus uses in the story of Luke 14:25-33 where we hear this story:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

The reason that Jesus’ illustrations in this story stand out for us today is because of how these stories stand out in contrast to what we just read in Jeremiah.  When we hear Jesus say that someone would consider the cost of building a tower before they started construction, we all think, “Well of course they would.”  And when he describes a king as considering the strength of his army in comparison to the strength of the army that opposes him, we think, “That seems natural and reasonable.”  But although the stakes were astronomically higher, what we saw in Jeremiah was that no one took the time to consider the cost before wandering away from God.  The stakes of their decision were a complete do-over, a total disaster, a complete destruction and restart of their nation, but no one was interested in considering the cost, or in hearing God’s warnings, before it came time to pay the price of their decision.

And Jesus is warning his listeners, and us, of the same thing.  There is a cost of following Jesus.  We might lose relationships with family members, or friends, or coworkers if we choose to follow Jesus.  But, at the same time, there is a cost to not following Jesus just as there was in the time of Jeremiah.

If we want to see an example or two of what it might cost to follow Jesus, we can find them in the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a man by the name of Philemon 1-21.  In that letter, Paul writes to Philemon, a man that he knew who had come to faith through the ministry of Paul and his associates and had grown in faith by attending worship in Paul’s house church.  And, as he writes, Paul very publicly, asks Philemon to do something surprising.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you[plural] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

As you may have surmised, Onesimus was a slave that belonged to Philemon but, for whatever reasons, was not a good and obedient slave and eventually ran away.  While Onesimus was on the run, he encountered Paul and began to voluntarily work with, rather than serve, Paul and his team.  We don’t know whether Paul and Onesimus knew one another from the same time that Paul knew Philemon, but we know that Onesimus’ character changed because of the time that he spent working alongside Paul, studying the scriptures, and ministering to others.  In time, Onesimus was convicted by God to return to his master regardless of the consequences and so Paul writes to Philemon and asks him to do the right thing.

For Onesimus, honoring God and honoring the law of Rome, meant returning to his master and risking that Philemon would treat him fairly.  The risk that he took in doing so was that his master would be angry and could treat him harshly, beat him, or even kill him.

For Philemon, honoring God and honoring his mentor and pastor, Paul, meant losing money and risking the condemnation of his peers and his community for freeing his misbehaving, law breaking slave.  The Roman world ran on a culture of law, honor, and patronage.  Philemon would, understandably, lose the money that he had invested in purchasing Onesimus, but in addition to that, while freeing a slave was certainly legal, and not at all uncommon, his peers may not have appreciated the example and precedent that Philemon would be setting, and their displeasure, as well as the potential displeasure of Philemon’s patrons, might cost him a great deal of business.

Both Onesimus and Philemon had a chance at a do-over.  They both had a chance to start their relationship with one another over again.  But starting over carried risks and rewards for both men.  The risks we already mentioned, but the rewards were that their new relationship, outside of slavery, would be more amicable, less hostile, more productive, more profitable, and, most importantly, closer to the will of God.

There is a cost to following Jesus.  But there is also a cost to not following Jesus.

Is it time for a do-over in your life that will bring you closer to God?

There will undoubtedly be costs that must be considered.

But as we saw in the story of Israel that we read in Jeremiah, the danger of not starting over is that sometimes God will do it for 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.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Trading Gold for Beans

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Trading Gold for Beans

August 28, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 2:4-13                     Luke 14:1, 7-14                      Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the hero, a young boy named Jack is sent to the market, by his mother, to sell their cow that has stopped giving milk.  On the way to town, Jack is convinced to sell the family cow, not for gold, but for three magical beans.  On the surface, at least in the story, Jack has made a terrible bargain and has been fleeced and bamboozled by the bean dealer.  But again, in the story, it turns out that the beans really are magical and offer Jack a pathway to his adventure in the kingdom of the Giant and his golden goose.

But what happens in reality?  How often do hucksters and scoundrels convince our elderly to buy the modern equivalent of magic beans and rob them of their retirement funds?  How often do unscrupulous investment advisors line their pockets at the expense of unwise or overly trusting investors?  Or how often do we see internet pop-up ads selling products that just seem too good to be true?  It seems that too often, trusting people are hoodwinked into selling their gold in exchange for piles of worthless beans that aren’t even magical.

And curiously, that is what is at the root of God’s accusation against his people that we find in Jeremiah 2:4-13.  God says that his people have walked away from him and abandoned the gold that he had in exchange for worthless piles of beans.  Jeremiah said…

Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel.

This is what the Lord says:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord.
    “And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely;
    see if there has ever been anything like this:
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God wonders why his people started to drift.  The ancestors of Israel began to stray from God, followed worthless idols and never thought to ask what happened to the God and to the faith that led them across deserts and through the Red Sea.  God gave them an incredible inheritance that they could enjoy and pass on their children, but the people defiled the land and ruined it.  The priests never stopped to ask what happened to God, the theologians and the church leaders either didn’t know God at all or actively rebelled against him and the prophets of Israel sold out to what was popular and prophesied for Baal instead.

God tells his people that they are free to look anywhere they want and try to find another country that has abandoned their gods and they won’t find any even though the gods of other countries are no more than stone statues.  God is appalled and heaven in horrified.  God’s people have traded rivers of life-giving water for broken, leaking, clay pools of foul, stagnant, green water.

They traded piles of gold for a handful of ordinary beans.

In a similar lesson found in Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus shares a story that tells us how we tell the difference between gold and beans as we go about the busyness of our daily lives.  Luke says…

14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Our lives are filled with opportunities to collect wealth for ourselves.  Some of those opportunities allow us to store up gold, and others cause us to expend our time and our energy and end the day with little more than a handful of beans.  Jesus says that you do not gain from what you take, you gain from what you are given, and by what you give.  Throwing a party and inviting a house full of influential friends, who will, later, invite you back, gains you nothing.  Money, power, and influence will evaporate before your casket closes.  But offering a banquet to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and for those who are unable to care for themselves, that deposits gold into your account in God’s heavenly treasury.

Similarly, the writer of Hebrews offers us a list of things that we do in life that earn us gold rather than beans.  In Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, he says:

13:1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?”

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Without specifically calling out bankers, or businesspeople, or farmers, or anyone else who work to earn an income, the writer of Hebrews tell us that some activities are better, in the eyes of God, than others.  Loving the people around you, and not just family members, is a good thing.  Inviting strangers into your home because they need a place to stay, is a good thing.  Caring for people who are in prison and people who are mistreated, as if you were suffering alongside of them, is a good thing.  Honoring your marriage and staying true to that one person to whom you are married, is a good thing and so is insulating yourself from greed and envy simply by being content with what you already have.

And one of the best reasons we have, to be content with what we have, is that what we have… is a God who loves us, cares for us, and will never leave us or abandon us.  What we have is a loving God who is constantly beside us to give us strength, encouragement, patience, and comfort so that we can rest in his care and not worry about what our bosses, our bullies, or anyone else can do to us.

We are also encouraged to remember the pastors and people of our past who taught us the word of God and modeled the Christian life for us.  Think about how their lives influenced others, how their faithfulness was a blessing to others, and how their every day lives made the lives of others easier, better, more fulfilling, and sometimes even made the difference in their survival.  Let us remember those people, imitate their faith, and thereby live a life that is pleasing to God and to Jesus Christ.  Don’t just give the occasional gift of cash, give sacrificially, not of cash, but give sacrificially of your praise to God.  Live your life in such a way that you do good for the people around you and share what you have with others rather than hoarding it all for yourself.  God knows that sometimes your giving is a sacrifice, but it is with these sacrifices that God is pleased.

Our culture constantly bombards us with offers to trade our gold for a handful of completely unremarkable, non-magical, ordinary beans.  Our culture worships money, power, greed, influence, sex, the accumulation of possessions, politics, and all sorts of other idols.  We are tempted to run for the front of the line, to grab the best seats, and inflate our own importance.  But in God’s equation, we gain not by what we take, but by what we give.  We gain when we care for those who have no one to care for them.  We gain when we share what we have with those who have less than we do, or who have none of what we have.  We gain when we do good for people who may never be able to do good to us in return and give to those who cannot afford to repay us.

Our culture urges us to keep what we have and to build bigger barns, and bigger houses, to store even more of our abundance.  But God says that we store up real treasure when we swim against the current of our culture, when we love one another, when we welcome the stranger, care for those in prison, soothe the wounds of the mistreated, remain faithful to our spouses, and insulate ourselves from greed and envy by remaining content with what we have.

Our culture surrounds us with voices that shout louder every day and encourage us to get with the program and trade our gold for worthless beans.

Don’t fall for it.

There are no magic beans.

There is no beanstalk and no giant.

There is no golden goose.

But there is a loving God who is waiting to reward us with the gold that we have stored up for ourselves in the vaults, storehouses, and the treasury of heaven.

Don’t let our culture steal your eternity.


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

What Grows in Your Garden?

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What Grows in Your Garden?

August 14, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 5:1-7                Luke 12:49-56                        Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

Do any of you do any gardening?

If you attend here at Christ Church, you may know that we have a community garden on the other side of our parking lot.  Each Spring, with the help and support of our church trustees, we prepare our garden plots for planting and divide our various plots among those who are interested in using that space.  Sometimes, we are blessed to receive donated plants that we similarly divide amongst our gardeners. 

But if you’ve spent any time farming, growing vegetables, or flowers, you know that everything doesn’t always go according to plan.  Sometimes the free plants that we receive mature into something quite different than the label that arrived with them.  And buying your seed from trusted vendors does not always assure immunity from suffering from the same problem.  A year or two ago, Patti and I purchased seeds for spaghetti squash and while it was obvious that what grew was from that family of viny plants, those vines produced several different squash-like plants that mostly were not spaghetti squash.

Our gardeners also know that the row closest to the parking lot uses the same space used by the driveway of the house that once stood there.  That space is full of rocks and bricks, is almost impossible to rototill or dig, or plant and so we’ve covered it up with plastic and mulch rather than struggle to grow plants in soil that only wants to grow grass and weeds.

But our struggles in our community garden are not unique to us.  These kinds of problems have been shared from the time that human beings first began to cultivate crops.  And it is our familiarity with these sorts of problems that helps us to understand the illustration that God uses in his words to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 5:1-7.

5:1 I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
    neither pruned nor cultivated,
    and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
    not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
    is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
    for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

The owner of the vineyard cleared the land, planted the best grape varieties available, cleared out all the stones, built walls to keep the vines from being trampled, added a watchtower so that a guard could oversee the entire area and, in anticipation of the crop that would one day come, he even carved a winepress out of stone to use at harvest time.  The owner of the vineyard worked hard in anticipation of a positive future result.  But regardless of his intent, his effort, his care, and his investment, the soil of his vineyard only produced terrible tasting grapes or grapes that were rotten, or moldy, or otherwise unusable.

And so, much like we covered the soil of our old driveway with plastic and mulch, God says that he is giving up on his vineyard.  He is going to tear down the walls, the watchtower, and the hedges and abandon the land and let it go wild and be used for local wildlife or not at all.  But the frightening part of the story is in hearing that the garden in Isaiah’s story is Israel and Judah.  God planted his people with care, effort, and investment but instead of growing a crop of justice and righteousness, harvested only violence, bloodshed, and distress and God says that he isn’t going to continue wasting his resources on bad fruit and poor soil.

But eight hundred years, and a lot of history later, God plants Jesus in that garden to shake things up and put things right.  And in Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says this:

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

God plants Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but Jesus knows that his arrival will cause dissention and division, quarrels, separation, and violence.  People will not agree on who he is, or why he came, or how we ought to worship him.  But his coming, and the division that it causes, is a necessary part of repairing the damage to God’s vineyard so that it can grow a crop of justice and righteousness as he intended. 

Jesus continues by reminding the people that while they know how to read the signs of the weather, they know that a wind from the desert will bring warm air, and that a wind from the Mediterranean Sea will bring rain, they still pretend that they haven’t seen Jesus’ miracles or heard his teaching.  Jesus said things that no one else had said, and did things that no one else had done, and still people pretended that they couldn’t see the signs that God was showing to them. 

But what does all that mean to us?

What does God’s vineyard and Jesus’ lecture about reading the signs mean to this church, and this people, in this present time?

In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul explains it this way:

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Paul reminds his churches that God has done all sorts of incredible miracles because of the faith of his people.  And not only were there extraordinary miracles, but there were also miracles that happened as a partnership between God and his faithful followers who fought enemies, decided court cases, were thrown into fires, fed to the lions, and all sorts of other things.  But there were others who were not rescued but were tortured to death, were beaten, flogged, ridiculed, imprisoned, and put to death in all sorts of terrible and ugly ways.  God’s people were sometimes poor and homeless despite their faithfulness. 

And regardless of whether God rescued them, or performed miracles for them, or if they were allowed to suffer, none of them, in this life, received the blessings that God had promised because what God has promised is a life that is better than anything imaginable on this earth.  One day all of us who have been followers of Jesus Christ and who have been faithful to God will, together with God, be a part of something better.  Every day, we are surrounded by those people of faith who came before us and they are watching us and cheering us onward so that we might throw off the sin that trips us up, remain faithful, and run this race with perseverance with our eyes locked only on Jesus.

In Luke’s story, we heard Jesus explain to us that not everyone is going to agree, or even like it, that we have chosen to follow him.  Following Jesus is a choice that will cause people to disagree and sever their relationships with us.  Following Jesus isn’t going to always bring peace and prosperity, but will sometimes make us unpopular, be tormented and ridiculed, get arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and worse.  But through it all, whatever life brings us, we must remain faithful and steadfast, with our eyes only on Jesus, and run our race with perseverance.

Because, at the end of the day, God is still planting a crop of justice and righteousness among his people and the question that God asks us is the same question he was asking the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah.

What’s growing in your garden?


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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.

Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

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Two Big “Ifs” of Christianity

August 07, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20                    Luke 12:32-40            Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

If you have ever programmed computers, you know that on the first day of your first programming class, you learn about the IF-THEN statement.  It is just what it sounds like.  The IF-THEN statement asks the computer to check some value and if that value is what you want, then you instruct it to do some other thing.  For example, IF the turnstile rotates one time, THEN add one to the memory location tracking the number of customers.

But outside of computer programming, we deal with if-then situations all the time.  If I want to earn interest on my savings, then I need to take our money out of my mattress and put it in the bank or invest it somewhere.  If we want to have a less difficult visit to the dentist, then we should brush our teeth every morning and do the things that our dentist asks us to do.  If we don’t want to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere, then we need to stop and buy fuel when the needle moves to toward empty.

We understand if-then decision making because we make those sorts of decisions every day.  But sometimes those “ifs” can be big and dangerous.  If we smoke three packs of cigarettes a day, then we run an exceedingly high risk of cancer and other health problems.  If we drive our automobile over one hundred miles per hour, then the odds of dying in the event of an accident are almost 100 percent.

We can find if-then choices throughout our laws and in every contract ever written.  They say, if you do this for us, then we will do that for you.  Or, if you do this to us, then we will do this to you.  And, not surprisingly, this is also the kind of language that God uses to explain our choices to us and, in Isaiah 1:1, 10-20, we find two really big “ifs” in God’s words to Israel, and despite the passage of time and the coming of Jesus, they remain important advice and instruction to which we should listen. 

1:1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah, son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

10 Hear the word of the Lord,
    you rulers of Sodom;
listen to the instruction of our God,
    you people of Gomorrah!
11 “The multitude of your sacrifices—
    what are they to me?” says the Lord.
“I have more than enough of burnt offerings,
    of rams and the fat of fattened animals;
I have no pleasure
    in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats.
12 When you come to appear before me,
    who has asked this of you,
    this trampling of my courts?
13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
    Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
    I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.
14 Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals
    I hate with all my being.
They have become a burden to me;
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
    I hide my eyes from you;
even when you offer many prayers,
    I am not listening.

Your hands are full of blood!

16 Wash and make yourselves clean.
    Take your evil deeds out of my sight;
    stop doing wrong.
17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
    Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
    plead the case of the widow.

18 “Come now, let us settle the matter,”
    says the Lord.
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
    they shall be like wool.
19 If you are willing and obedient,
    you will eat the good things of the land;
20 but if you resist and rebel,
    you will be devoured by the sword.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

By describing Israel’s leaders and people as Sodom and Gomorrah, God accuses them of all sorts of sin and injustice.  And because of their actions, God says that he doesn’t care about their sacrifices, gifts, offerings, religious holidays, festivals, celebrations, meetings, gatherings, or even their prayers. 

What God really wants is for his people to stop doing evil, to defend the oppressed, to speak for the legally voiceless such as widows and orphans who, without a male family member, couldn’t even speak for themselves in court.

After that, God presents the two big “ifs” to his people.  “If you are willing and obedient,” then “you will eat the good things of the land.”  “But, if you resist and rebel,” then “you will be devoured by the sword.”  If you follow God, and do what God commands, then he will give you all sorts of blessings.  But, if you choose to ignore God, and do things your own way, then God will withdraw his protections and his blessings and let you face the world, and all the evil in it… alone.

The temptation for the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah, as well as the time of Jesus, is a temptation that still afflicts us in the twenty-first century, and that is to deceive ourselves into thinking that God isn’t watching, or that the return of Jesus Christ won’t happen any time soon.  Sure, we understand that Jesus is coming back, and we say that we believe that he is coming back, but do we really act like we expect that to happen any time soon?

That is exactly the point that Jesus is making in Luke 12:32-40 and as he makes his point, Jesus offers a warning to the people gathered in front of him that is just as relevant to us today.  Jesus said…

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near, and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks, they can immediately open the door for him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus cautions us that we cannot act as if we are going to live forever.  When we say that we trust God, we must act as if we trust God, and that includes how we treat our wallets and our giving to the poor.  God’s call isn’t for us to give what is leftover or, only what we feel that we can spare, but to give to the poor as if we trust God to care for us like we say that we do.

That hits kind of close to home, doesn’t it?

Jesus continues by saying that we cannot act as if the master isn’t coming back until tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or sometime after we die.  We must take God at his word and behave as if we expect Jesus to return at any moment.  We must act as we would if we genuinely intended for Jesus to find us busy with the work of his kingdom upon his return.

Paul revisits this same idea in Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 by reminding his listeners about people who had great faith such as Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham, and using those examples to illustrate how faith might look if applied to our lives if we choose to be obedient.

11:1 Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.

By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed, and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. 15 If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

God promised Abraham an inheritance that only his descendants would see, and yet he persisted and remained faithful.  And through that, and other examples, Paul reminds us that our promise is for a future that we may never see in this lifetime.  We look forward to something better, we look forward to a better future, but it is a future in a kingdom that is not of this world.  We may never see health, or wealth, or prosperity in this world, we will face trials, temptations, loss, betrayal, and all sorts of struggle in this life but through these examples, Paul reminds us not to give up hope.

Instead, we, like Abraham, must remain faithful as we hope for a future that we might only see in brief glimpses or shadows in this life.  We must act as if we trust God.  We must give to the poor, share with others, and seek justice as if we believed what we say that we believe.  We must keep watch for the return of our master, Jesus, and conduct our affairs as we would if he might return this very afternoon and we wanted him to find us busy caring for his kingdom and his kingdom business.

Because, in the end, we still face those two big “ifs” that we heard in the words of Isaiah.

If you are willing and obedient,” then “you will eat the good things of the land.”

But, if you choose to ignore God, and do things your own way, then God will withdraw and let you face the world, and all the evil in it… alone.

Where will Jesus find you when he returns?

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.  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com .  All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

How Can Life Have Meaning?

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How Can Life Have Meaning?

July 31, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23                    Luke 12:13-21            Colossians 3:1-11

What is your “why”?

At some point, most of us discover that our lives need a “why,” we need a purpose, we need something that gives our lives meaning.  For some people it’s writing, or painting, or other kinds of creative endeavors.  For others it’s building things or helping people.  But if we don’t find something that gives our lives meaning, it can cause us to struggle emotionally, spiritually, and even physically.  A life without meaning is a lot like planning a trip without having a destination, we wander from place to place, from one interesting thing, one shiny object to another, without knowing where we are going or why we are going there.  It might be fun, it might be interesting, and it can consume the waking hours of our lives, but before long, we begin to wonder why we’re doing it.

When I was an engineer, I really liked my work.  I liked the challenge, I (mostly) liked the people, I liked designing and building things, and it brought a great sense of accomplishment when I could go out on the loading dock and see us shipping out a machine that had once only existed in our imaginations and then only on paper but now was built, operational, and on its way to its installation.  But at some point, in large part after 9-11, I began to ask myself if that was enough.  We had built this great machine, but it was replacing another great machine that another engineer had imagined and built, thirty years earlier.  And I didn’t have any trouble imagining that in another thirty years, everything that we had done, everything that we were so impressed with and proud of, would likewise be torn out, cut up, and sent to the scrap yard.

This place of reflection and self-doubt where we question the purpose of our lives is not unique to us in the twenty-first century and it is not unique to those of us in the post-renaissance or post-modern eras who have sought to be “self-actualized.” This human struggle to find meaning and purpose is at least as old as recorded history.  In Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 we read the words of King Solomon, the richest, most influential, and most powerful king that ever lived.  And in these words, we hear Solomon thinking about his “why.”  What is his purpose?  What is it that gives this man of wealth, power, and influence a life of meaning?  Solomon says:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

12 I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. 13 I applied my mind to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under the heavens. What a heavy burden God has laid on mankind! 14 I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

18 I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. 19 And who knows whether that person will be wise or foolish? Yet they will have control over all the fruit of my toil into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. 20 So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. 21 For a person may labor with wisdom, knowledge, and skill, and then they must leave all they own to another who has not toiled for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. 22 What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labor under the sun? 23 All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless.

Solomon had it all.  He had hundreds of wives who were some of the best looking, most intelligent, and fun to be with people that his kingdom had to offer, he had more money than he could spend, he led an economy and a military that influenced much of the known world, he had servants and subjects who could do almost anything that he asked, and by most definitions he had it all.  And yet, he begins the book of Ecclesiastes by saying that everything is meaningless.

He studied academics, he learned wisdom, and found no meaning in it.  He had seen foreign countries, met dignitaries from around the world, and accumulated more of life’s experiences than anyone living, and found no more meaning than chasing the wind.  He worked to accumulate possessions, wealth, and power but knowing that one day all of it would be left to someone who hadn’t worked for it, found those things to be meaningless also.

So, if we don’t find meaning in the pursuit of wisdom and academic knowledge, or in sex and pleasure of all kinds, or in money, power, possessions, experiences, or influence, then what is it that can give our lives meaning and purpose?

This is the same question, and the same problem, that Jesus highlights in Luke 12:13-21 when someone asks him to help them settle a family dispute over their father’s estate.

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Jesus listens to this request and then makes two statements.  First that he is not the judge appointed to make such a ruling, nor does he desire to be, and second, that such a request is rooted in basic human greed.  Jesus also warns that all kinds of human greed afflict us, and the accumulation of possessions and money is not how we are to build a meaningful life.  Next, Jesus tells the crowd a parable about a wealthy man whose only focus was on becoming wealthier.  But, just as Solomon pointed out, all that accumulated wealth would soon be left to someone else.  The point of Jesus’ story is this conclusion: “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”  Jesus says that it is hopeless to build a life on the selfish accumulation of things if we are not rich toward God.  It is hopeless to accumulate wealth or possessions, power or influence, wisdom or knowledge, sex, pleasure, or experiences, or anything else if God is not an integral part of our “why.”

But what is it then upon which we should build a life?  What will give our lives meaning and purpose?  And as we consider those questions, we find that this is exactly what Paul is considering in Colossians 3:1-11 as he expands on the teaching that we saw in the story of Jesus in Luke 12.  Paul says:

3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is yourlife, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

Paul says that now, since you have put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ, have chosen to follow him, and he has raised us from death to life with him, then it matters what you do with your life.  Aim is important.  Where you point your life is important.  The meaning and the purpose of your life is important.  And to aim your life in the right direction, Paul says, we must point our hearts and minds on things above and not on earthly things like sexual immorality, impurity, evil desires, and greed.  If we are to follow Jesus, then God calls us to get rid of things like anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language, and to stop lying to one another so that we begin to increasingly resemble God and not our old self. 

In the kingdom of God, there are none of the divisions that turn humanity against itself.  There is no longer a difference between Gentiles and Jews, between those who are circumcised and those who are not, between slaves and free peoples, or between the sophisticated, cultured, and civilized people of the developed world and those who are referred to as uncivilized barbarians from less developed nations.  Those differences are all erased because Jesus Christ is everything that we have, and we can find Jesus Christ in every person that we meet.

Finding a life of meaning and purpose is all about focus.  If we focus our lives on ourselves, our needs, wants, desires, and aim ourselves at selfishly fulfilling them, we won’t ever feel as if we have a fulfilling, meaningful life of purpose.  Instead of focusing on today or tomorrow, we must shift our focus to eternity.  Instead of putting ourselves in the center of the bullseye, we must put Jesus in the center and focus on the needs of others and not on self.

Solomon begins the book of Ecclesiastes in a place of hopelessness as he mourns the meaningless of life, but as we read the rest of the book, he repeatedly encourages his readers to enjoy life and to be content with what they have.  And he concludes by reminding everyone to keep God in the center of their lives, to “fear God and keep his commandments” because in the end, “God will bring every good deed into judgement, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.”  Solomon wasn’t dumb.  He knew that selfishness emptied life of meaning and purpose.  It is only when we keep God in the center of our lives, and focus on the needs of others, that we can point our lives at a place of meaning and purpose. 

Before we can discover our “why” we must first remember that Jesus Christ is everything that we have. 

Our search for a life of meaning and purpose must begin by remembering that that we can find Jesus in every person that we meet.

If you want to find your “why,” you must start with Jesus.


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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.