Fear or Faith?

I am not afraid.

If you read my blog last week (Who Will Be the Canary?), you probably noticed that while I look forward to returning to worship in our church sanctuary, I prefer to err on the side of caution.  And, as I noted in my greeting yesterday morning, I find it a little odd that we are being told that it is safe to return to corporate worship (with proper spacing) but day cares, sports teams, and others are being told to limit activities to groups of ten.  Similarly, hospitals nursing homes and other care facilities remain closed to visitors and family members.  In that environment, I am just not convinced that it is responsible to put nearly one hundred of us in a room together.

I realize that there are several schools of thought on this issue.  A few of my colleagues believe, and have made it clear in online forums, that such cautiousness will harm church attendance and membership.  But I am not so sure.  In 2016, the entire Chipotle restaurant chain lost customers and revenue when 55 customers were sickened by the e coli bacteria in seven states.  The damage to sales (attendance) took years to repair.  An outbreak of the COVID-19 virus in your local church would be a major media event and, if we’re going to use church attendance as a measuring stick, would have an even more profound impact than cautiousness.  In any case, while we are making plans to return to corporate worship in our sanctuary, I think it’s more important to put the safety of our members ahead of worries about attendance.

But I am not afraid.

While there have been many posts on social media that churches (and pastors) should simply have faith, and trust that God will protect us, this isn’t an issue of fear versus faith.  While I have seen reminders about how God protected Daniel in the lions’ den or Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, I don’t think that they apply here.  Yes, they all had great faith and, yes, God protected them, but at the same time, Daniel didn’t volunteer to be thrown to the lions.  And, realizing that Shadrach and company were bound hand and foot prior to their attempted incineration says something about their willingness to participate in the experience. 

Yes, Bible heroes the likes of Moses, Gideon, and David are lifted up as people of great faith, and they were.  But it pays to remember that they were also cautious.  Moses was content to raise sheep, for forty years, until God commanded him to return to Egypt and promised him divine protection.  Gideon led Israel’s revolt against the occupying Philistine army, but God spent days convincing him that the voice he heard really was God, and that God really was promising that Gideon wouldn’t die in the attempt.  Yes, David volunteered to fight against the giant Goliath, but David had spent years training with a sling and stones and had used them to fight against a lion, a bear, and other wild beasts before he did.

Being cautious doesn’t mean that we lack faith.  It just means that we choose not to risk our lives foolishly. 

Let us take the time to understand our enemy and the weapons we have at our disposal to fight against it.

Let us be careful, cautious, and listen for God’s voice.

The heroes of our faith did these things too.

 

 

 


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Who Will be the Canary?

Whether we know it or not, some of us are about to be asked to a “canary in a coal mine.”

While that phrase is probably familiar to many of my friends from coal country, let me offer you some brief historical background.  In the years before more advanced technology, the people who dug wells, mined coal, and worked underground often ran the risk of being overcome by carbon monoxide or other toxic, but odorless, gasses.  To defend themselves, these laborers began to carry small birds, often a canary, with them underground.  Since the birds were small, they would be overcome by the presence of toxic gases, or simply a lack of oxygen, before their, much larger, humans owners would.  These underground laborers knew that if the canary lost consciousness and fell off its perch, they were already on borrowed time and needed to head for the surface.

That brings us to this present Coronavirus pandemic, social distancing, and for my purposes, church worship.  Soon, as state health advisories are relaxed, church members will begin to ask, or even press, for pastors to resume congregational worship.  Some churches in our area have already set a date, in the next couple of weeks, to do so.  Certainly, we will do things differently.  We will offer hand sanitizer, our staff will be dizzily disinfecting everything in sight, we will space ourselves out in the sanctuary, we will refrain from shaking hands, and we might even eliminate singing for a while.

But should we?

I know what our congregation looks like, as well as all those parishes in which I have served and been a member or regular attender.  And all of them were, and are, full of wonderful saints who belong to any number of vulnerable populations.  Our churches are full of mature citizens, elderly persons, cancer patients, a variety of immune suppressed brothers and sisters, as well as those suffering from asthma, heart and kidney disease, and other health issues.  Opening our churches for congregational worship puts all these vulnerable friends at risk.

Think about your own friends, family and other saints in your church.

Which of them would you choose to bury before year’s end?

I’m certain that, like me, you’d like to avoid that.

But by rushing to be first, by opening as soon as we are “allowed” to do so, or as soon as state or denominational health advisories are relaxed, we are volunteering to be the “canary in a coal mine.”  Like those coal miners, we don’t have the technology to measure our safety.  We don’t have a test, or a meter, or a buzzer that will tell us when it’s not safe.

As reasonable as the voices around us may sound, everyone is guessing.

We think… that it’s probably… safe.

But the people who tell you that it’s probably safe will be watching the churches that go first to see what, if anything, happens.  And, as sincere as they might be, and as reasonable as their voices may sound, they won’t be the ones burying your friends, family, and saints of the church.  You will.

I miss our church family.  I miss our community.  I miss our hugs, and handshakes, and covered dish dinners.  I miss the choir, and coffee and donuts, and everything else.

I completely understand why you would want that back.  I do too.

But whomever goes first, is volunteering to be the canary.

And it’s worth remembering that, for the canary, it doesn’t always end well.

Like you, I look forward to welcoming our community of faith into the church sanctuary again.  I long for a return to “normal.” 

But I have no desire to be first.

My friends, my family, and my church are far too valuable to be used as a lab experiment to see if it’s truly as safe as some bureaucrat, government official, or scientist thinks it is.

You can volunteer to be the canary if you want to.

Feel free to go first.

But I’m in no hurry.

 

 

 


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Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

May 10, 2020*

Mother’s Day

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 10:1-10              Acts 2:42-47                  1 Peter 2:19-25

 

There is a common theme in the movies, in literature, and even in computer hacking that should sound familiar.  If you can impersonate one of your enemy’s leaders well enough, you can fool them into giving you all kinds of information.  And you might even be able to take control of something valuable.  Computer hackers have been known to call in to the information technology or computer department at a company headquarters pretending to be the CEO, or the president, or some other corporate official, act as if they forgot their password, and try to convince someone to either give them the password over the phone or reset their password in a way that gives the hacker access to the company computer network with the access of that corporate officer.  Likewise, we’ve all seen movies where someone masquerades as a military general, or someone else in order to steal something, to rescue someone, or to save the world or something. 

 

In short, if you pretend to be someone’s leader, and can fool them well enough, long enough, you can do a lot of damage and can steal almost anything you want.  And as familiar as that theme is to us in literature, in movies, and real life, it ought to make sense when we read almost that same story in scripture, and we do in John 10:1-10, when Jesus accuses Israel’s Pharisees of impersonating real leadership.

 

10:1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.

 

Jesus’ accusation is that the leaders of Israel are only masquerading as leaders so that they can steal what they want, destroy what they want, and kill whomever they want, so that they can benefit themselves rather than offer leadership that genuinely cares for the people for whom they are responsible in the way that a true shepherd cares for their sheep.  Jesus explains that this is why many people do not follow the example of the Pharisees.  It is because the people, also known as the sheep, are smart enough, and sensitive enough to the calling of God, to know that these are not true shepherds.  Likewise, this explains the popularity that Jesus has, because the people recognize the care of the true shepherd in him.

 

But recognizing Jesus as our shepherd, and as the true shepherd of God, has implications for every one of us not only in what we believe, but in how we act and how we respond to the actions of others.  In 1 Peter 2:19-25, the Apostle Peter says this:

 

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

That means that, as followers of the true shepherd, we are called to do what is right, and what is best for everyone, regardless of the cost (much like many of our Mother’s sacrificed what they wanted so that we could have the things the we needed and wanted).  There is, of course, no commendation if we are punished for doing wrong, but we our actions are commendable before God if we are punished for doing what is right.  Because we were once lost, and because we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, we are called to be like him and to do what is right regardless of what it costs.

 

Well that sounds nice, and it certainly applies to those of us who find ourselves in leadership, but what does it mean otherwise?  Most of us are not being persecuted for our faith.  What does it look like to bear the cost of doing what’s right?  How does doing what is right apply to the ordinary business of day-to-day living for ordinary people?  And Luke offers an answer to that question in Acts 2:42-47 where he says:

 

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

Simply put, the followers of Jesus Christ made it a habit to be together, to share meals together, to share the stories of what they had seen God do in their lives, in the lives of the apostles, and in the lives of others.  And they not only shared these things, they shared all that they had.  They used what they had to meet the needs of others, not just the needs of those who belonged, but the needs of “anyone who had need.”  I know most of our parents taught us to share, but this is different.  This takes sharing to another level.  This kind of sharing costs something.  The followers of Jesus Christ sold some of the things that they had, and they sold off property, just so that they could give it away and care for those in need.  They invited people with nothing to eat, to eat with them, in their homes because their faith was sincere. 

 

Clearly, this goes far beyond giving from our excess, or even giving a tithe, or a tenth, to the church.  This was truly sacrificial, costly, giving.  But the end result was that their hearts were glad, they praised God, the people of their communities noticed what they were doing and universally thought well of them, and God blessed what they were doing.  “The Lord added to their number… daily… those who were being saved.”

 

As we read scripture, both today and any other day, we often find that we are both sheep and shepherd.  We are sheep because we follow Jesus as our shepherd, but whenever we have leadership over others, whether that is over employees at work, over students at school, over our children at home, over volunteers at church, or anywhere else, we are called to lead like Jesus.  Because Jesus sacrificed to do what was right, we are called to lead sacrificially as he did.  We must do what is right, and good, for those under us, and those around us, even when doing what is right costs us something.  We are called to be loving, …and giving, …and caring, even when doing so costs us something. 

 

Because, in the end, Jesus says that there are only two kinds of leaders… shepherds… and thieves.

 

We are surrounded by examples.  As we open our newspapers and watch the evening news it often isn’t difficult to find people in positions of leadership that seem to use their authority to enrich themselves and get what they want regardless of who gets hurt.  But occasionally, we see people who stand out in stark contrast to that kind of leader.  Occasionally, we see people who are willing to take a stand for what’s right.  To stand up for the people that work for them or for the people they represent.  Unfortunately, that kind of selfless leadership shouldn’t be so unusual.  It’s something that every follower of Jesus Christ has been called to do.

 

We each get to choose for ourselves, every day, what kind of leader we will be.

 

Will we be shepherds? 

 

Or will we be thieves?

 

It shouldn’t be that hard, but I pray that we will all choose wisely.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/zVDiugvyzu4


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

When Will Church go Back to Normal?

Since both our governor and the President of the United States have been making a lot of noise about restarting the economy, and “getting back to normal,” I’m certain that many of us are wondering when church, and specifically, Sunday worship, will get back to normal.  It’s a great question, and it’s one that I have spent time thinking about, and one that has generated considerable discussion among my Methodist and other clergy colleagues.

And the answer is… it depends.

First, it depends on how quickly the rules are relaxed, both by our various levels of government and by our bishop.  But second, it also depends on how you define “normal.”  As to the first part, Governor DeWine has already made it clear that he intends to find a way forward with a “phased” restart which will insist that reopening businesses follow the safety protocols that have already been developed and put in practice by those essential businesses that have remained open.

What I think that will mean to the church, is that the restart will, at first, open things up to small groups of five or ten and then only if those group can insure a six-foot spacing between people.  It may also insist that meetings be kept under an hour.  Obviously, those guidelines will preclude worship, but we might be able to restart Bible studies, Threads of Love, or small Sunday school classes.  A little farther down that road, when larger groups are permitted, we might be able to worship in our sanctuary, but there will still be some significant changes.  We will have to be deliberate in spreading out across the sanctuary so assigned seating might be necessary.  We won’t want to shake hands, hug, or pass a plate from hand-to-hand, so our greetings and offering will look different.  Communion is going to be different too, and I have no idea how we will manage it just yet.  Similarly, it won’t be safe for the choir to squeeze into the choir loft, or the choir room, together so either we won’t see the choir for a while or, Lew and the choir will need to get a little “creative” in how they arrange themselves.  I honestly don’t know yet what that might look like.

And, more than that, any of our members and friends who are in a “vulnerable population” may well want to wait even longer.  Like it or not, gathering in groups is going to be risky, and potentially life threatening, until a vaccine is proven to be safe and becomes widely available.  That means that even though the economy restarts, people who are older, immune suppressed, have heart disease, asthma, or some other “underlying medical condition” may well want to stay home and join us in worship over the internet for some time to come.  That means that we should, and already are, thinking about how we can record, or livestream, our worship service over the internet even after we return to our sanctuary.

Altogether, the only thing that will be “normal” for a while will be change.  Things are going to be different, and the “normal” that we are used to, and the “normal” that we’ve seen for the last hundred years or so, is probably not going to return for at least twelve months.   And twelve months might easily turn intosomething like thirty-six months.  And, at some point, we might just have to accept that the old “normal” isn’t ever coming back and just get used to a new normal.

But no matter what normal ends up looking like, God hasn’t changed.  Our faith hasn’t changed.  Our mission hasn’t changed.  We are still the church.  We are still called to carry out the mission of the Kingdom and to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.  We will still go about doing the same work that we have always done.  How we go about doing that work might change a little, and that’s okay.  This is a pivot point in history.  The church has adapted to change through the Renaissance, through the Industrial Revolution, through the changes brought about by steam ships, railroads, electricity, automobiles, and the internet, and we will adapt to whatever new things lie in store for us today and in the future.

Take heart.  Have courage.

God is with us.

But hold on to your hat, because it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

 

 

 


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And She Told Them

And She Told Them

April 12, 2020*

(Easter Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:1-18              Acts 10:39-43

 

 

Well here we are.

 

Happy Easter.

 

Our church is empty… But so is the tomb.

 

Even though we are unable to be together, and even though our entire planet is grappling with fear, isolation, depression, sickness, and death, we rejoice because today reminds us that we are a people who are connected to one another by our celebration of resurrection. 

 

Death itself has been defeated.

 

But, aside from Easter baskets full of candy, a ham in the oven, and maybe, if we can stay six feet apart, a family gathering, what should we take away from today’s celebration?

 

Well, let’s read the story first, and then we can circle back to that.

 

We begin in what we now remember as the first Easter morning, the day after the Sabbath day, where in John 20:1-18, we hear this:

 

20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.) 10 Then the disciples went back to where they were staying.

 

11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.

 

First, I love the way that John finds a way to write this and include a piece of the rivalry that must have existed between him and Simon Peter.  Sure, Jesus told Peter that “on this rock I will build my church,” but in this passage, John always makes sure to refer to himself as “the one Jesus loved” and not once, but three times, John points out that as they raced to the tomb, John was faster than Peter.  I don’t want to dwell on that, but feel free to read that again and count them.  Three times.

 

The second thing to notice is the shift in tense.  Although the disciples don’t yet understand that Jesus has risen from the dead, the crucifixion and even Jesus’ death has shifted to the past tense.  We hear phrases like, “the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head.”  Jesus used to be there, but now he wasn’t, the cloth used to be wrapped around his head, but now it wasn’t.  Although they didn’t yet understand exactly what had happened, clearly something had changed.  And so, Peter and John go to the tomb to check things out, they see that the tomb is empty, and they go back to the house where everyone is staying.  Maybe that house is where the Upper Room was, where they shared that last meal together with Jesus, and maybe it was someplace else, but they go, they see, they go home.

 

But Mary stays.

 

Mary stays by the empty tomb and cries.  She is emotionally lost.  First, she watched as Jesus, her anchor, mentor, rescuer, and friend is arrested, tortured, hung on a cross, died, and was buried.  And now, there isn’t even a place for her to mourn him.  The stone has been rolled away and the body is gone.  She is emotionally adrift.

 

And then two angels show up and ask her one of the most ridiculous questions ever to be asked in a cemetery.  “Woman, why are you crying?”  Seriously, if anyone, ever, sees someone crying in a cemetery, it’s painfully obvious why they are crying.  But not to the angels.  And, if we think about it at all, it’s certainly because they knew the truth.  They aren’t confused as to why someone would be crying.  They’re confused as to why anyone would be crying for a person who was no longer dead.  But when she turns around, she doesn’t see the two angels who were just there, instead she turns and sees Jesus.  But again, blinded by her grief, she doesn’t realize that it is Jesus.

 

Until he says her name.

 

There was only, ever, one person who ever said her name like that.  Maybe her grief allowed her to confuse the sound of his voice when he said the other things, but as soon as he said her name, she knew.

 

But what happens next is deeply meaningful for each one of us and for our understanding of our calling as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ.  Jesus says two things, “Don’t hold on to me,” and “Go and tell.”  Jesus tells Mary that she has to let him go, because he still has work that needs to be done.  She has to let go of the old mission, her old role as his follower, so that both she, and Jesus, can move forward to something new.  The first thing on Mary’s new list is to “Go and Tell.”  And, John says, Mary goes, “and she told them.”

 

In that moment, Mary is transformed.  Mary’s role, and her mission, is transformed.  Instead of being simply a follower of Jesus, instead of being in charge of cooking, or taking care of the disciples, or whatever else she may have done, Mary now becomes the world’s first Christian missionary, and the first human being, ever, to share the good news of his resurrection.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary were to go and tell… and she told them.

 

Mary is the first, but certainly not the last.

 

Jesus’ instructions to Mary overflow into the disciples, and into every person who chooses to follow Jesus.  In Peter’s famous speech in Acts 10:39-43, he says,

 

39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

 

“We are witnesses.” 

 

“He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead.”

 

I want you to hear that again.

 

We are witnesses.”

 

On this odd Easter morning when we find our churches empty, we remember what Mary did as she left an empty tomb.

 

“…and she told them.”

 

We must do the same.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

And…

 

Happy Easter!

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/v8w2ohL_my4


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

What We’re Doing about COVID-19

Many of you don’t follow me, or my church on Facebook and, although you probably don’t worship with us either, I thought I’d pass along a message I sent out that describes what we’re doing as a local church about the Corona virus/COVID-19.  There are, so far, only four official cases in Ohio, but statistically, that means that there are, at least, hundreds of people infected.  And, since many of our members belong to vulnerable populations, we need to take steps to keep everyone safe.  In any case, I thought that by posting our list here, some of you who attend churches, synagogues, or other houses of worship, Rotary Clubs, etc. might find something useful. 

Stay safe everyone.


Christ United Methodist Church *will* be having church on Sunday. But, while we refuse to give in to panic, we do want to be prudent and act with caution. Toward that end, we are making a few minor changes to keep everyone safe.

We hope that everyone will wash their hands before they come, and after they get home, but hand sanitizer is available in the lounge. Please use it.

We will not be shaking hands, but feel free to bump elbow, bow, curtsy, wave, or share the Vulcan sign for “live long and prosper.”

We have removed all of the registration pads from the pews so we won’t be passing them hand-to-hand.

Similarly, during Sunday’s offering, we won’t be passing the offering plate. Instead, our ushers will bring the plate to you (as much as possible). In the weeks ahead, we may just have the collection plates at the door at the end of the service.

We ordinarily spread out across the sanctuary, but we ask that everyone consider doing this even more than usual. We have plenty of room, so we ask that worshipers keep some space in between one another.

And finally, although this is always good advice, we feel it is important to emphasize this, if you feel ill, or have sniffles, or a cough, or are sneezing, please stay home. Many of our members belong to vulnerable populations and we must all do our best to keep everyone safe and healthy.

If you belong to a vulnerable population, or if someone in your home is vulnerable, and you feel that you need to stay home, we completely understand. My wife, Patti, is immune suppressed and we are taking particular care to keep her safe.

These are difficult times. No one needs to panic, but we do need to be prudent. Please do what you need to do to stay safe and healthy and care for one another as best we can. We *will* get through this.

 


Also note that since I’ve posted this, I’ve seen recommendations  against fist bumps, elbow bumps, or any kind of physical contact at all.

Further, although we have already put video of our services online on YouTube (see the link below), we are taking a good look at how we can do it better, livestream, etc.  Hopefully, we will begin implementing some of those options in the next few weeks even if we don’t have to cancel church in the months ahead.

Again, stay safe out there everyone, and take care of one another.  Check on your neighbors and your friends who are elderly, on chemo, are immune suppressed, or who belong to other vulnerable groups.

 

Blessings,
Pastor John

 

 

 


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The Expansion

The Expansion

January 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 49:1-7                          John 1:29-42                          1 Corinthians 1:1-9

 

How many of you know how to drive a stick shift?

I want to be clear, what I mean by that is, how many of you have driven a stick shift truck or automobile?

I make that clarification because when I first got my driver’s license, I thought I knew how to drive a stick.  I had been in the car with my Dad and with my brothers on countless occasions.  I had a driver’s license, and I understood the principles and the mechanics of how a stick shift operated.  But the first time I tried to put that knowledge into practice, I drove my father’s Mustang into our garage door.  Thankfully, I didn’t do much damage to either the garage or the car, so I wasn’t in a lot of trouble.  But this was a great learning opportunity that reinforced the idea that there’s a big difference between knowing and knowing.  There’s a difference between hearing about something, or knowing about something, and having knowledge that comes from doing that thing.  There’s a difference between knowing how to drive a stick shift and physically driving a stick shift long enough to become skilled in doing it.  In the same way, there’s a difference between knowing about a person, and knowing that person because you’ve spent enough time together to genuinely know them.

As I found out when I drove my dad’s Mustang into the garage door, the difference between these two kinds of knowing can be critically important.  A few years ago, while our son Jonah was shopping for a car, a friend from school wanted to sell him one.  Jonah liked it but, since it was a stick shift, and since he didn’t know how drive a stick, Jonah asked me to test drive it with him.  It looked nice enough and to Jonah, the car seemed great.  But when I got behind the wheel, something about the way the clutch worked and the way that it shifted seemed wrong to me.  I admitted that it had been several years since I had regularly driven a stick, but even aside from my slightly rusty skills, something just didn’t seem right, and my hesitancy caused Jonah to look elsewhere.  There’s a between knowing about and knowing from experience and that difference in knowledge often causes a difference in behavior.

It is this difference in knowing that we see in several of our scriptures this morning.  We begin in Isaiah 49:1-7 where we hear the story of how God called Isaiah to be the prophet of Israel and how God intended to use the nation of Israel, and Israel’s messiah, to call the world to repentance.

49:1 Listen to me, you islands;
    hear this, you distant nations:
Before I was born the Lord called me;
    from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
    and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me, “You are my servant,
    Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.”
But I said, “I have labored in vain;
    I have spent my strength for nothing at all.
Yet what is due me is in the Lord’s hand,
    and my reward is with my God.”

And now the Lord says—
    he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
    and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord
    and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
    to restore the tribes of Jacob
    and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
    that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”

This is what the Lord says—
    the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—
to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation,
    to the servant of rulers:
“Kings will see you and stand up,
    princes will see and bow down,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

 

Isaiah says that God called him before he was born, prepared him, and set him aside to be his servant.  But he did the same for Israel.  Israel was called by God before it was born and was set aside to display the splendor and glory of God to the world.  It was God’s intention to restore Israel, and to make that nation, and her messiah, a light to the Gentiles, a people that would go out, extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the kings, and the people, of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.  It was God’s plan for the world to know him because they had known Israel.

 

And, in a much more personal way, we see this same idea play out in John 1:29-42 when two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and (probably) John, meet Jesus for the first time.

 

29 The next day, John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

 

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So, they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

 

As disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and John would have heard stories and preaching about the messiah that God had promised to the nation of Israel.  They would have been told that the arrival of the messiah was imminent, and that John the Baptist had been called by God to prepare for the arrival of the messiah.  But, at that moment, John makes it plain that Jesus is the one about whom he had been preaching and that Jesus was God’s Chosen One and the Lamb of God.  And immediately, those two disciples had a different kind of knowledge.  Knowing that the messiah was coming was different than knowing that the messiah had arrived.  And then, having met Jesus, and now actually knowing Jesus, something else was required of them.  Now that Andrew genuinely knew Jesus, just knowing wasn’t enough.  Now that Andrew knew Jesus the first thing that he did was to find his brother Simon and tell him that they had found the messiah and the very next thing that he did was to bring Simon to meet Jesus for himself.

 

Knowing the messiah was coming, and even knowing that the messiah had arrived, were different than knowing the messiah.  Once Andrew and John had met Jesus, once they knew him, that knowledge changed their behavior and demanded something from them.  It wasn’t enough to know Jesus.  Knowing Jesus demanded an expansion, knowing Jesus demanded that they tell others about what they knew and introduce others to him.

 

And, just in case we are tempted to say that this was only true for the disciples of John the Baptist, or was only true for the first few disciples, in 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, Paul explains that knowing Jesus changes the rest of us as well.

 

1:1 Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and our brother Sosthenes,

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours:

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

 

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

Paul says that once we know him, Jesus pours grace into us and enriches our lives by giving us all kinds of speech and knowledge in order to confirm the testimony about Jesus by the changes that are evident among the people of the church.  Once the people came to know him, Jesus poured out gifts of grace, speech, knowledge and, according to Paul, the church receives every spiritual gift as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  And just in case we weren’t sure what every spiritual gift means, Paul provides a list later in this same letter in 1st Corinthians chapter 12, where he lists some of these gifts as being wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, spiritual discernment, speaking in tongues, and the interpretation of tongues. 

 

Paul is clear that knowing about Jesus, and genuinely knowing Jesus are different things. 

 

Knowing Jesus changes us.

 

When we meet Jesus and get to know him, when we experience the changes that are evident in his people and in his church, and when we receive the gifts that Jesus gives to his people, we are no longer the same people that we used to be.  Knowing Jesus not only changes us, it calls us, and it demands something from us.  Like Andrew, once we meet Jesus, we are unable to keep that knowledge to ourselves and we are compelled to introduce him to others so that they can know him too.

 

From the beginning, it has always been God’s plan for his people to be a light in a dark world.  God has always intended for his people, for his church, to go out, to extend itself into the world, and expand the kingdom of God so that the people of the world would bow down and bring honor and glory to God.

 

We have met Jesus and we have been changed, transformed, and blessed because of it.

 

And now that we know him, we are called to tell others about him so that they can meet him and know him too.

 

 

 

 


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

2019 – By the Numbers

So now that we’ve turned the calendar to another year, and we are already preparing our “End of Year” reports for the Annual Conference, what do the numbers say about where we’ve been?  And, as is often the case, it depends.  There is always more than one way to look at things and our church is no exception but, at the same time, I think that there are some useful numbers worth examining.

Let’s begin with the number that everyone probably asks about first, attendance.  In 2018 we reported an average worship attendance of 71 in our Charge Conference report.  This year, in June, we reported that number as 78, and by the end of 2019 our average was almost 80 (technically 79.82).  Obviously, that’s a significant improvement but we all know that a church “our size” should, and could, have far more than that on an average week.  Still, we should all be pleased that we’re moving in the right direction.  What’s more, I hope that I’m not the only one who has noticed that we’re beginning to see more visitors, more repeat visitors, and a few more children and all those things are good signs.

But so far, none of those increases that we’ve seen in worship have found their way to Sunday School.  Attendance in our Sunday morning classes was 37 in 2017, 39 in 2018, and almost 39 (actually, 38.94) in 2019.  Even so, that isn’t bad news.  Considering the number of members that we’ve lost in the last three years, holding steady is a solid accomplishment.  Moreover, thirty-nine people in Sunday school and eighty in worship, means that 48 percent of our regular attenders are coming to Sunday school every week.  And whether you know it or not, that is a huge percentage that any church would be proud of.

Our social media presence is also, however slowly, increasing as well.  In January of 2019 our church Facebook page had 199 followers and by January of this year that number had risen to 219.  And, although even while 219 “likes” in the social media world is still tiny, a ten percent increase is still good news.  And during that same time period, the number of people who subscribe to our Sunday sermons increased from 206 to 333.  Of course, just because people subscribe doesn’t mean that they read those messages, and although it’s harder to put specific numbers to online readership, the number of readers has increased substantially as well.  Even more difficult, is trying to understand how any of that contributes to attendance or ministry at our physical location in the real world, but in a era when most people visit your webpage before they visit your church, having a healthy online presence is good news.

And, of course, we have many more programs, mission, and volunteer opportunities going on year-round that are even more difficult to count or number.  Our Thanksgiving dinner partnership delivered more than 1100 turkey dinners on Thanksgiving morning, we had a very successful burger event during Carnation Days in the Park, our church donated far in excess of our pledge to Habitat for Humanity for last  year’s Apostle Build and in the process our volunteers had a highly visible presence at last summer’s weekly concerts by the caboose downtown.  Our scouting program is healthy, growing, and continues to produce Eagle scouts and train the leaders of tomorrow.  But more than that, we now have two scout troops because this year Troop 50 has become Troops 50 as they formed a new all-female Troop 50, for girls and young women, alongside of the existing all-male Troop 50.

There are many more stories that could be told, but it seemed as if this was a year in which we were constantly hearing good news.  While we may not yet be where we would like to be, or perhaps moving as quickly as we might like, we are moving in the right direction.  The numbers affirm what many of us have suspected.  Christ Church is moving in the right direction and I want to thank all of you for all the hard work, in a hundred different places, and in dozens of events, and in countless hours of effort on the part of… well, practically everyone.  I want you to know that you are making a difference.

I’m looking forward to what this new year will bring, and I hope you are too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 


To see “2019 – By the Numbers (Part 2)” a review of my social media presence in 2019, click here.

 

 

 


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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.