The High Cost of Shortcuts

Years ago, I saw a poster with a phrase that has stuck with me.  It said, “If you don’t have the time to do something right the first time, how will you ever find the time to do it over again?”  It’s sort of funny, but it turns out that this cuts to the heart of a lot of the shortcuts we take in life.

We’re tempted to buy cheap shoes, or cheap toys, or cheap lawnmowers because, well, because they’re cheap.  But then they break or wear out much sooner than we expected them to and we end up replacing them… over and over again.  But after we’ve paid for the cheap thing three times, we realize that we would have been better off paying more for the better one.  In the everyday rush to get from one thing to another, we often do the same thing when we choose between options that will get the job done quickly versus a better solution that takes a little longer.  And almost as often, we regret that we didn’t choose the better solution while we’re doing it all over again.

But how we make these choices with televisions and lawnmowers should be different than how we make choices that have long lasting consequences.  If we want to raise children that have a strong moral compass and positive values, it simply doesn’t pay to take shortcuts.  And we see this play out in our spiritual lives as well.  We thank God for the gift that our parents gave us by raising us in the church, teaching us scripture, and modeling biblical values, but that gift came at a price in time and commitment that many seem unwilling to pay.

But closer to home, we find this to be true of our own feelings of well-being and mental health.  We wish that we could slow down and find a few moments of rest, but we say ‘yes’ to too many things, schedule our calendars from morning until dark seven days a week and find ourselves constantly tired and irritable.  We wish that we could be closer to God and live a more spiritual life, but our hectic schedules only allow us to find our way to church once or twice a month, or maybe just a few times each year.  As much as we might wish otherwise, some of the most important things can’t be rushed.

The cost of taking shortcuts is too high.

As addicting as social media might be, it just doesn’t work to build real friendship.  Close friendships require that we spend time getting to know one another.  There’s no way that you can finish one another’s sentences, know what someone else is thinking, or order their favorite food before they arrive at the restaurant if we haven’t spent lots of quality time in one another’s company.

We rob ourselves of that kind of intimacy with our friends when we try to take short-cuts.  Likewise, we rob ourselves of the power, mystery, and majesty of Christmas by skipping the time that was set aside for repentance and reflection during Advent.  If we truly want to find rest, draw closer to God, and to become more like Jesus, we need to make the time to invest in that relationship.

During this Christmas season, I hope that all of us will remember that God gave humanity a day of rest as a gift and not as a burden.  God didn’t need to rest for one day each week, but the lesson was so important that he modeled it for us even at the creation of the world.

It is only when we make the time, when we are willing to pay the price of time and commitment, to our personal well-being, to our friends, and to our faith, that we finally discover…

…Peace on Earth.

 

 

 

 


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Be Prepared

Be Prepared

December 01, 2019*

(First Sunday of Advent)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 2:1-5                Romans 13:11-14                   Matthew 24:36-44

 

Everyone knows that the motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”

As a scout, and as a scout leader, that phrase was often drilled into us not only as a motto, or as a cute saying that you would repeat from time to time, it was instilled in us as a lifestyle.  We were constantly encouraged to think about what was needed, what unexpected thing might happen, and to be prepared, in advance, so that we would be able to cope, adjust, and overcome no matter what happened.  As winter, or other foul weather approached, one of our scout leaders often said, “There is no bad weather in scouting, only scouts that are unprepared for the weather.”  But it went farther than that, our troops constantly emphasized the need, and the importance, of knowing things like knot tying, first aid, and CPR because you never knew when you might need them.  Knowing such things have often proven to make the difference between life and death for someone.  Many former scouts and scouters, decades after their time in scouting, still carry a pocketknife, or a can opener on their key ring, or a Leatherman.  You can almost bet that these are the people who carry jumper cables in their cars and have a first aid kit under the front seat.

But as wise as the advice to “Be Prepared” is to a scout or even to the general public, did you know that this is also the command of God as it relates to our spiritual lives?

As we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent, which is known as the celebration of prophecy, we are reminded that there is a consistent message throughout scripture, that warns God’s people to be ready for the end of time and the day of Judgement.  We begin in Isaiah 2:1-5 where God’s prophet tells of the coming Messiah and a time when he will judge the nations.

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
    as the highest of the mountains; it will be exalted above the hills,
    and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Isaiah says that “in the last days” God’s temple would be built (or rebuilt) and all the nations of the earth will come to worship him.  And, in addition to declaring that all nations would come, Isaiah also says that many peoples, not many people, but many peoples would come.  Written in this way, the word “peoples” is understood to be an amplification of what was described as “all nations.”  “Many peoples,” can therefore be understood to not only mean the people representing many nations, but also the people from many races, tribes, ethnicities, and other groups who have been absorbed by larger nation states. 

Isaiah warns the people that there is a day coming when God will judge the nations and the people of the earth, and he concludes by saying, “Come… let us walk in the light of the Lord.”  Which is, I think, the same as saying…

Be Prepared.

But with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, his followers, who were familiar with the judgement described by Isaiah, wanted to know when that would happen.  But rather than tell them when, Jesus said that no one knows except God. (Matthew 24:36-44)

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus explains that the coming of the last days and the final judgement would be a surprise to everyone just as the destruction of Noah’s flood caught everyone (except Noah) unprepared.  Jesus said that it would be like two people working side by side and one was suddenly taken away without warning. 

Jesus explains the point of his own story by saying that because the judgement will be so unexpected, we should all keep watch just as the soldiers who guard the city stand watch all through the night.  Soldiers never knew when the enemy might come, and their job was to always be prepared for the day that an attack might happen.  Likewise, we must keep watch for the return of Jesus, for the end of days, and for the judgement of all humanity.  In other words…

Be Prepared.

And then, a few dozen years later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and after the Spirit of God entered into his people at Pentecost, rumors would occasionally circulate that the end times had already begun.  Some people attempted to draw people away from the church to some “new” religion by preaching heresies that Christ had already returned.  And so, in that environment, Paul writes to the church in Rome about the end times, but as is often the case, Paul’s emphasis is to answer the “so what” question.  Paul wants the people of the church to know how our anticipation of God’s judgment should change the way that we live.  (Romans 13:11-14)

11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So, let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul’s message is that “the hour has already come.”  Meaning, it already time to quit coasting.  There is no time for us to procrastinate.  There is already less time now before the return of Jesus Christ than there was yesterday.  The return of Jesus Christ could happen at any minute.  The time for us to stop living in darkness is now.  The time for us to start living like children of the light and as the followers of Jesus Christ, is now.  The time for us to change the way that we live, is now.  Instead of living lives that are indecent, or are spent in wild parties, or illicit sex, or in arguing, or jealousy, now is the time for us to live the way that Jesus lived and do the things that Jesus taught.  Instead of living lives that revolve around satisfying our selfishness, excesses, passions, and lusts, we are called to live lives of restraint, decency, so that the world can see Jesus in all that we are, and in all that we do.

Paul wants the church to understand that people who are genuinely convinced that Jesus Christ might appear at any time, should live so that in the moment of Jesus’ return, he might find us busy doing Kingdom work.

In other words…

Be Prepared.

The call of the ancient prophets, and of Jesus, and of Paul is emphatic and consistent.  The end of time, and the Day of Judgement is coming.  That moment is nearer now than it was at the time of Jesus, or Paul, or at the day we chose to follow Jesus.  Jesus could return at any moment.  And so, as we celebrate the first Sunday of Advent and we hear the voices of the prophets, of Jesus, of Paul, and all of scripture, we must also hear the question that is implied by every one of those voices.

Are you prepared?

 

 

 

 


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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.

The Incredible Power of Small

It seems impossible, but there is incredible power in small things.

As we go about our business, as we watch the news, and as we experience life, most of us have accepted the reality that those things that are big will be the winners.  Billionaires will win out over millionaires, a 300-pound football linebacker is a good bet in a barfight, the state will win over a township in a legal dispute, and so on.  Face it, when David faces Goliath, Goliath usually wins.

But increasingly, I am being reminded of the enormous power of the small.

We know this almost unconsciously, but we are prone to ignore it in our conscious decision making.  Here’s what I mean:  Elephants and whales are huge, but there aren’t huge piles of dead elephants or whales anywhere.  Why? Because as soon as the large animals die, the small animals get to work.  Lions, sharks and other predators take their turn, then buzzards, fish, and smaller creatures, and then, beetles and tiny fishes, and finally bacteria and other microscopic creatures set to work.  And in this system, the web of life, each time the creatures get smaller, they grow greater in numbers.  And while a handful of lions may feast on the carcass of a dead elephant, the number of bacteria, fungi, and other microscopic creatures number in the millions and tens of millions.  We take them all for granted, but without them our planet would be overrun with dead things.

Change is like that too.

Sometimes change seems impossible.  The task is simply too hard, or too big, or too expensive, and so change is left untried.

But small is powerful.

When great ships set sail from one continent to another, the most important person on the ship is the navigator.  Over and over, history demonstrates that a tiny error in navigation, an error of one degree, or even a fraction of a degree, multiplied by a voyage of a hundred or a thousand miles, and the ship arrives far from its intended destination.  In our era, as scientists consider how to protect our planet from potentially devastating, city-sized asteroids that may come our way in the future, the answer isn’t enormous rockets with powerful nuclear weapons, but early detection.  If we can discover the danger early enough, small rockets, with tiny nudges, can redirect planet killing asteroids by a fraction, even hundredths, or thousandths of a degree and, over the course of millions of miles, the asteroid never even comes close to us.

As we approach the end of one year and the beginning of another, we often think of what we can do to make the next year better than the last.  But change is intimidating.  Our problems seem to be too big, too powerful, too expensive, or too difficult.

But remember the incredible power of the small.

Losing weight can seem impossible, but what about a pound a week?  Even a half a pound per week means a loss of twenty-five pounds by this time next year.  Drastic changes aren’t needed.  A half a pound per week can be done, gradually, by eating just a little bit less and walking a little more each day and even then, you might have to work up to it a little at a time.  Making big changes is hard, but don’t be afraid to make a little change today, and then a little more next month.

Saving for retirement sounds impossible.  But don’t let the size of the goal scare you from starting small.  Maybe you can’t afford to save hundreds of dollars a month.  But can you, occasionally, give up your morning coffee?  Or pack a lunch instead of going out to eat?  Giving up a stop for a ($2.00) coffee, twenty days each month and banking that, produces almost $50,000 over thirty years at 7 percent interest.  Packing your lunch two days each week and saving another $20 pushes that number to almost $150,000.  That still won’t get you to a comfortable retirement, but one small change can motivate you to make another, and then another, and so on.

Growing our church and adding a hundred new members sounds impossible.  But, like we saw in the previous examples, it’s our focus on the big things that often prevents us from seeing the power of the small things.  No, we can’t plan a single event, or offer any kind of training that will allow us to instantly add a hundred people on Sunday morning.  But, could you find the time to invite one person to have coffee with you this month?  Could you join a new club, or commit to making one new friend in the next year?  How hard would it be to do something nice for a neighbor or someone you know?  Could you make some hot soup for a neighbor when they’re sick?  There are thousands of ways that we can invest ourselves in the lives of the people around us.

But those small acts, done consistently, are incredibly powerful.

If each member of our church reaches just one person this year, we will touch the lives of more than a hundred people in deep and meaningful ways.  And if only ten percent of those people choose to join our church, we will add ten new families.

Most likely, none of us will run for a national political office, or write a best-seller, or have millions of followers on social media.  But just the same, we have the power to transform our church… even change the world.

We have at our disposal the incredible power of the small.

Join me.

Make this year, a year of slow and steady progress.

We can change the world.

One cup of coffee at a time.

 

_____________

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 


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Fake News and Faded Glory

Fake News and Faded Glory

November 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

Are our best days behind us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don’t be afraid.”

“Trust me.”

 

 

 

 

 


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

Do We Need a Catholic Order of Methodists?

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

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

Let me explain.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe we can take a hint from the Catholic Church.

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

 

 

 

 


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Roadmap to the Future

Roadmap to the Future

October 27, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 


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

Cutting the Baby in Half

solomon

When two women argued over the custody of a baby, King Solomon famously threatened to cut the baby in two and give half of the corpse to each woman.  In that story, the biological mother of the living baby offers to give the baby away if only the king will spare its life.  In this way, the true parent was revealed, custody was granted, and the baby’s life was saved.  But as I watch the ongoing dispute within the United Methodist Church, it seems that factions on both sides seem ready to cut the baby (church) in half.

While many seem to think that cutting the baby in half will simply result in two (or more) smaller babies, I suspect that the result of dividing the church will be more akin to the result of cutting a living baby in pieces.  That opinion won’t make me popular but let me explain my thinking.

As I watched the balloting to elect delegates from our East Ohio Conference for the upcoming United Methodist General Conference in 2020, I was struck by how evenly we were divided.  Both laity and clergy were so nearly divided, that it was difficult for us to find the required majority in order to elect our delegation.  In the end, the clergy ballot slightly favored the progressive delegates while the laity ballot favored conservative delegates.  The tension felt during that balloting reminded me that the division within our denomination, at least in the United States, is not a division between states, but is a division that flows deeply through the Annual Conferences, districts, and into each local church. And that is why I wonder, as we prepare for the 2020 General Conference, if we are watching the death of the United Methodist Church.

First, I want to be clear about what I am not saying.  I am not saying that one faction will “win” or “lose” the right to call themselves United Methodist.  Although that scenario seems likely, what I mean, is that no matter who “wins” or who “loses” the church will, quite likely, cease to exist, at least in its present form, because the actions of the General Conference will almost certainly set off an unavoidable cascade of unintended consequences.  While it is possible for a solution to arise that avoids the end of our denomination, this outcome, as much as it worries me, is what I see as the likely result.

From the reports that I have seen, several proposals will be presented at General Conference to broker the disagreements within the denomination over issues of sexuality, specifically, the ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.  All these proposals, in one form or another, ultimately ask Annual Conferences, districts, and/or local churches to vote on which new denomination they wish to belong.  In a perfect world, the church would then divide 50/50, or 60/40, and two, or three, new denominations would be born out of the ashes of the old one.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

Real life is messier than that, and this division will be no exception.

In conferences like East Ohio, a 50/50 split will mean that our entire organizational structure will collapse.  We will no longer have enough churches in each of the new denominational conferences to sustain a conference office or the people that staff it.  We hope that new conferences will arise within the new denominations, perhaps representing a larger geographic area, that will employ similar staffs and provide similar services.

And that might be a reasonable expectation… if we weren’t so deeply divided.

Because the membership of each local church is often just as divided as our Annual Conference, any “vote” by the local church to join one of the new denominations means that the membership will not be 100 percent in favor of any of the options.  That, in turn, means that some percentage of the membership will be unhappy with the results of the vote.  What happens to a congregation that is divided 50/50?  Or even 60/40?  Or, for that matter, 80/20?  By requiring a congregational vote of any kind, we are requiring that churches deliberately declare that some of their friends are unwelcome.  Intentional or not, that in turn will mean that within nearly every local church, some percentage of the membership will feel disaffected, choose to leave the church, or more likely, simply choose to stop attending.

And that, is the death of the church.

I have heard it said, and I have witnessed in my own career, that many small membership churches are only “four funerals away” from closing their doors.  Meaning, if four regular donors suddenly stopped giving, because they died, or because of a denominational rift, those churches would no longer have enough funds to maintain their ministry.  But almost no church could afford to lose 50 percent of its members, and few, without an endowment, could lose 20 percent (or even 10) without becoming financially insolvent.

Maybe other Annual Conferences more uniformly favor one side, or the other, and maybe other local churches are not as divided as the ones with which I am familiar.  But what I anticipate, is that asking/requiring local churches to “vote” to join a new denomination, or choose between two denominational options, will not “split” the United Methodist Church, it will destroy it.

Granted, it probably won’t happen overnight.  But where we are currently closing four or five churches in our Annual Conference each year, I expect that number to be far greater, perhaps by an order of magnitude.  We might start by splitting 50/50, or 60/40, or even 80/20, but what will we do if, within five years (or even ten) of our split, fifty, or even eighty, percent of the divided churches are closed?  Not only will the services of our Annual Conference offices be compromised, but nearly all the General Conference offices, and their services, will similarly become unsupportable.

It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  You know it isn’t going to end well, and you know there is nothing you can do to stop it.  But you can’t look away.

Still, once convened, General Conference can reject all these proposals and propose something entirely different.  And of course, we worship a God of miracles and anything can happen.

I hope that I’m wrong.

But I don’t think I am.

We seem to be prepared to cut the baby in half.  Just as they would be for a biological baby, the results, I think, are predictably bad.

Just how bad, remains to be seen.