Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

Blessings, Weeds, and Suffering

July 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

 Genesis 28:10-19a                 Romans 8:12-25                     Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

If we can’t have church, how can we be the church?

If I am a member of the church, is there something that I should be doing for the church?

Can my faith in Jesus help me to understand, or even just to cope, with the craziness and suffering that is going on because of the Coronavirus (or anything else)?

In the middle of the chaos caused by the Coronavirus, some of the questions that gets kicked around revolve around the church.  What should the church be doing?  What should its members be doing?  Does our faith in Jesus Christ make any difference in how we ought to respond to the world, to the news, or to our leadership?  And, while I certainly don’t have all the answers, and we surely won’t have time to talk about all of the possibilities, or all of the relevant scriptures, today’s lectionary passages are enough to give us plenty to think about.  We begin in Genesis 28:10-19a, where Jacob has an encounter with the God of his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham and in which God reiterates a blessing that he had promised to Abraham, and by doing so reemphasizes that the promise had not only been passed down to him, but that it would continue pass through his descendants.

10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel.

God meets Jacob and he promises that he will give the land, upon which he sleeps, to Jacob and to his descendants.  But more than that, God promises that those descendants would multiply, spread out in all directions, and become so numerous that God’s blessing would flow through them and into the entire world.  Of course, as Christians, we believe that not only has this prophecy been fulfilled by the growth and expansion of the Jewish nation, but also specifically through Jacob’s descendant Jesus.  And therefore, from our perspective, the blessing of God flows through Jacob, down to Jesus, and through Jesus, flows into the world of today… through us.

But so, what?  Why does that matter?  What difference does it make if we are numbered among the descendants of God’s blessing to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?  It matters, and it makes a difference, because the world is also full of weeds.  What do I mean by weeds?  Listen to what Jesus had to say in the parable found in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time, I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

 36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.”

37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom. The weeds are the people of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels.

40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear.

Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven, in other words, the world in which we live, is like a field that has been planted.  The good seed is the people of the kingdom of God and that seed was planted by Jesus.  The weeds are the people who are controlled, or manipulated, or deceived, by the evil one, the enemy of God.  In the fields, and in the world, and even in the church, it can be almost impossible to tell the difference between the weeds and the wheat.  But as the plants mature, it becomes obvious what kind of fruit they will bear.  This is a story about God’s judgement at the end of time.  Jesus says that the angels will know which people are bearing good fruit and which are weeds and that the weeds will be pulled out, sorted, and separated from the good fruit, and burned in the fire.  As we have seen in other passages, when we become mature, we will be known, and judged, by what kind of fruit we produce.

But what does that have to do with being the descendants of Jacob, and the followers of Jesus?

The “So what” question is answered by Paul in Romans 8 and there he also explains what our faith matters in times when life is difficult, during pandemics, or worse. (Romans 8:12-25)

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[h] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Paul says that, as the church, we do not have an obligation to live well or to pursue comfort and the satisfaction of our fleshly desires.  But we do have an obligation to live according to the Spirit, to live as if our faith really mattered, to do the things that Jesus taught, be the kind of people that Jesus has called us to be, and to do the work that that Jesus has called us to do.  Paul reminds us that we are God’s children.  We are the adopted sons and daughters of the family of God.  We are the heirs, the inheritors, of God’s blessing, and co-heirs with Jesus.  But being heirs with Jesus means that we not only share in God’s riches and glory, but that we also share in the suffering of Jesus.

The present suffering of this world, our present suffering in this world, no matter how bad things get (and Paul was absolutely, intimately, familiar with just how bad things could get), simply do not compare to the glory that we will see as our reward and as our inheritance.  But for the present, we live in a creation that is the frustrated, tangled, twisted, perverted, and corrupted reality of the creator’s perfect creation.  Yes, we are enduring the chaos caused by the Coronavirus.  Yes, our culture is in turmoil.  Yes, our own denomination is tearing itself apart.  Yes, there is unemployment, and suffering.  Yes, our lives are chaotic, unsettled, and uncertain.  But Paul, and the people of his time, and his world, knew chaos and suffering too.  We live in this present, but like Paul and the church that he knew, we live with the hope that creation will one day be redeemed, rescued, and liberated from its bondage to decay.  We look forward to the day when, not only the world, but we too will be redeemed and made perfect.

Through Jesus, we are the descendants of Jacob, and the inheritors of God’s blessing.  And while we live in a world that is filled with weeds, enemies, frustrations, disasters, bad governments, and outright evil, we look forward to something so much better that we are able to look past the suffering of the present and into a future filled with glory and light.  But while we are here, in this present time, we have an obligation to be and to do.  We are called to live according to the Spirit of God, to be the kind of people that Jesus called us to be, to live the way that Jesus lived, and to do the work that Jesus did.  We are called to live lives that look like Jesus, lives that reveal Jesus to the people around us, to love the people around us like Jesus did, and to do the work that Jesus did.  Yes, the fields are full of weeds, but until the time comes for the harvesters to separate the weeds from the wheat, our calling is to nurture the seeds that have been scattered.  Those seeds surround us in our families, in our community, in our places of employment, and everywhere we go.  Many of those seeds can still be saved.

Although we aren’t meeting together in a church building, we have never stopped being the church.  Every day, whenever, and wherever we can, we must look for opportunities to be Jesus to the world.  We must do what we can to relieve the suffering that we see; and help the people around us who are struggling in any way that we can.

Despite the chaos that surrounds us, we must keep moving forward. 

This week look for ways that you can help.  Send a card, call, donate food, mow someone’s grass, buy groceries for an unemployed neighbor, maybe even pay somebody’s rent.  In big ways or small ways, let us answer the call to show the love of Jesus to those around us.

And let us keep our eyes…

…on hope.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Y8cHcw79Uuo

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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.

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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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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The Birth of Hope

The Birth of Hope

April 19, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-38                        Acts 2:14a, 22-32                   1 Peter 1:3-9

 

 

Some of us have known, or might still have, family members who lived through the Great Depression, followed by World War Two.  Eighty years later, we can still see how that experience changed their lives, and their lifestyle forever.  People who watched banks collapse never completely trusted banks again.   People who lived through hard and uncertain times learned to save for a rainy day because they knew, from experience, that sometimes life rains on our parade.   People who found their way through a life filled with ration cards and nationwide shortages of practically everything, learned how to keep a garden, can and preserve their own food, and keep reasonable amounts of many staples, canned goods, and other things in stock, “just in case.”  The experiences that they had living through the Great Depression and World War Two changed them forever and shaped their lives because of the hard lessons that they taught.  And those of us who were their children, grandchildren, or even friends, only had to listen and pay attention to see the deep and enduring impact those experiences had on them.

 

It isn’t surprising then, that the events of Jesus’ crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection would also have a similarly transformational and enduring impact on the lives of the people who lived through them.  And scripture tells us that is exactly what happened.  We begin in John 20:19-31, where we rejoin the disciples, after the resurrection of Jesus, but still so frightened of the religious leaders and government authorities that they only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

 

24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”

But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

30 Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

 

 

At the beginning, the disciples are afraid.  So afraid, that when they even dare to meet, they will only meet in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked so that no one will see or hear them and know that they are there. 

 

But Jesus.

 

At this point, they already know that Jesus has risen from the dead, but they are still afraid.  And Jesus shows up again, this time there are no missing disciples.  Peter and John are there, and so is Thomas.  And this passage concludes by saying that Jesus performed many other signs so that they, would believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah and that by believing we could have life in his name.

 

Why is this important? 

 

Because it is after this, and after the events of Pentecost, that the events witnessed by the disciples and the other followers of Jesus, begin to completely transform their behavior.  Nowhere is that change clearer than when we see Peter speaking in Acts 2:14a, 22-32, where this happens:

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd:

 

22 “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. 23 This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24 But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. 25 David said about him:

“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
    Because he is at my right hand,
    I will not be shaken.
26 Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest in hope,
27 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    you will not let your holy one see decay.
28 You have made known to me the paths of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence.’

29 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.

 

Peter was the one who was so afraid of the Pharisees and the leaders of the Temple that, three times, he denied that he even knew Jesus.  Peter was the one who was so disheartened and emotionally wounded from his denial, and from witnessing Jesus’s crucifixion, that he went home to Galilee and back to his fishing boat.  Peter, even when he was personally summoned back to Jerusalem at the request of the resurrected Jesus is, with the other disciples, still so afraid of being arrested that they will only meet with the windows closed and the doors locked.

 

But that isn’t the person that we see in Acts.  The difference in Peter, and in the other disciples, is nothing short of a total transformation.  It is as if this is a totally different person.  Suddenly, Peter not only stands up and preaches, but he openly confronts the very same people of whom he was so very recently afraid.  Peter not only stands up in public and preaches in front of them, he openly confronts them, and reminds them that they were the ones who killed Jesus, and in his summation says that it is because of what he has seen, and because of what he has heard, and because of the experiences that they have had, that they now understand what must be done.  Like those who lived through the Great Depression and World War Two, the experiences, and the trauma, of the disciples and the first followers of Jesus have transformed their lives.  They are changed forever and will never be the same as they once were.

 

But so, what?

 

What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century, particularly as we endure the changes, and the strangeness, of our collective fight against the Corona virus?

 

For that, let us listen to what Peter thought in 1 Peter 1:3-9 where he says,

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

 

Peter says that in his mercy, through the experience, and through the story of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, God has given us all a new birth into a new life filled with hope.  And not only hope, but a living hope into an inheritance in heaven that can never be taken away from us.  Although, Peter admits, that in this life we may have to suffer grief from all kinds of trials, including disease and pandemics, through it all we can still rejoice greatly.  It is through our trials that our faith is revealed, proven, and refined as if by fire and it is through those same trials that may result in praise, honor, and glory when Jesus Christ is finally revealed at the end of days.  It is because of the experiences, stories, and trials of Peter and the other disciples that we too have seen Jesus, why we too have come to love him and believe in him as they did, and why we are also filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy.

 

And, from that, I want to draw a conclusion specifically for us as we endure the unusual circumstances of this present pandemic.  Certainly, from everything we know about the Great Depression, and World War Two, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan, and the story of Easter, we all know that our experiences, especially the experiences of trauma, change us.  Regardless of what we endure, or the illnesses that we suffer, or the friends or family members that are lost, those trials, those experiences, will change us.  These experiences will change us all, whether we go to church, or whether we have faith, or not.  And, if we are paying attention, we will notice that these experiences are already changing us.  Whether this ends in six months, or eighteen months, or in thirty-six months, we will not come away from this the same as we were at the beginning. 

 

We will be changed.

 

But we do have faith.  We have already heard the stories, and we have experienced the difference that faith in Jesus Christ has made in our lives.  We are already a people who are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy because we have been given new birth into a new life filled with hope.

 

May these trials prove the genuineness of our faith.  May we be so determined, so hopeful, and so anchored by our faith, that the change that God brings to us through this pandemic is not a change wrought by fear, but a change that only amplifies our courage, our hope, and our joy.  Let us pray that we may we emerge from this experience, and from whatever trauma we are called to endure, like Peter and the other disciples.  Let us pray that we emerge as a people who are more courageous, more fearless, more faithful, and more loving than ever before.

 

May we emerge from this pandemic so much like Jesus that the world cannot help but to stand up and take notice.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/Kb9-bPHeny0


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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.

A Seuss-ian Easter Poem

My brother, Mark, received an awesome poem from Rev. Gill Hill, who was a shipmate of our father on the USS Manderson Victory, an ammunition ship in the Pacific, during WWII.  The author is unknown, but it is an Easter story written in the style of Dr. Seuss and the Grinch who Stole Christmas.  I was impressed by it and so I recorded it on YouTube and I wanted to share it with you here.  I hope that you enjoy it as much as I have.


Did a Grinch Virus Steal Easter?

 
 
Twas late in ‘19 when the virus began,
bringing chaos and fear to all people, each land.
People were sick, hospitals full,
Doctors overwhelmed, no one in school.
 
As winter gave way to the promise of spring,
The virus raged on, touching peasant and king.
People hid in their homes from the enemy unseen.
They YouTubed and Zoomed, social-distanced, and cleaned.
 
April approached and churches were closed.
“There won’t be an Easter,” the world just supposed.
“There won’t be church services, and egg hunts are out.
No reason for new dresses when we can’t go about.”
 
Holy Week started, as bleak as the rest.
The world was focused on masks and on tests.
“Easter can’t happen this year,” they proclaimed.
“Online and at home, it just won’t be the same.”
 
Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the days came and went.
The virus pressed on; it just would not relent.
The world woke Sunday and nothing had changed.
The virus still menaced, the people, estranged.
 
“Pooh pooh to the saints,” the world was grumbling.
“They’re finding out now that no Easter is coming.
“They’re just waking up! I know just what they’ll do!
Their mouths will hang open a minute or two,
And then all the saints will all cry boo-hoo.
 
“That noise,” said the world, “would be something to hear.”
So it paused and the world put a hand to its ear.
And it did hear a sound coming through all the skies.
It started down low, then it started to rise.
 
But the sound wasn’t depressed.
Why, this sound was triumphant!
It couldn’t be so!
But it grew with abundance!
The world stared around, popping its eyes.
Then it shook! What it saw was a shocking surprise!
 
Each saint in each nation, the tall and the small,
Was celebrating Jesus in spite of it all!
It hadn’t stopped Easter from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!
 
“It came without bonnets, it came without bunnies,
It came without egg hunts, cantatas, or money.”
Then the world thought of something it hadn’t before.
“Maybe Easter,” it thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Easter, perhaps, means a little bit more.”
 
And what happened then?
Well….the story’s not done.
What will YOU do?
Will you share with that one
Or two or more people needing hope in this night?
Will you share of the source of your life in this fight?
The churches are empty – but so is the tomb,
And Jesus is Victor over death, doom, and gloom.
 
So this year at Easter, let this be our prayer,
As the virus still rages all around, everywhere.
 
May the world see hope when it looks at God’s people.
May the world see the Church is not a building or steeple.
May the world find Faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection,
May the world find Joy in a time of dejection.
May 2020 be known as the year of survival,
But not only that –
Let it start a revival.
 
—Author unknown
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 


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The Dead Live

The Dead Live

March 29, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Ezekiel 37:1-14                     

 

 

Have you ever felt like you were so exhausted that you were just “Done”?

 

Have you ever been a part of a club, or a church, that was so downtrodden and so beaten up that everyone was ready to give up and surrender to the inevitable?

 

Maybe even now, in the middle of this time of Corona virus “Social distancing” and “stay at home” orders, many of us are dealing with significant anxiety, isolation, frustration, and loneliness.  I have heard many people both inside and outside our local congregation, express concern about how churches might survive during and after this crisis. 

 

We feel as if a part of us has died.

 

And the danger is that these feelings can lead to a loss of hope.

 

And so, with that in mind, imagine what it must have been like to be an Israelite in captivity in Babylon.  Their nation was devastated, their temple destroyed, and their people had been either brutally killed, or captured and dragged nearly two thousand miles, on foot, to be sold as slaves.  In the middle of this darkness and despair, some of the remaining priests of Israel were trying to minister to the needs of the people but it was understandably hard.  You can imagine them praying and asking God how they could possibly minister to the needs of the people when they were separated from everything that was familiar and when even the priests were losing hope.  And it is in that moment, that God comes to Ezekiel in a vision with an important message both for the priests and for the people.  And, as it happens, as we are all separated from one another, separated from our beautiful church building, and prevented from worshiping together, I think God’s message to Ezekiel may resonate with us in a special way today as well.  Listen to what God said in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

 

37:1 The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’” 10 So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast army.

11 Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. 13 Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. 14 I will put my Spirit in you, and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’”

God spoke to Ezekiel at a time when the people of Israel were beaten down and had given up hope.  And God’s message to his people was that he would open their graves, put their dry bones back together, breathe his own breath into them, bring them back to life and lead them home.

God’s promise was that he would bring life from death, that the dead would live, and that there was hope in the middle of their hopelessness.

God was never limited by the armies of Babylon, or by powerful governments, or thousands of miles of separation, or even by death itself.  What we are experiencing is difficult, but it is not anything that is too difficult for God.  While the promises that God made to Ezekiel were not specifically written for us, they still inspire us and fill us with hope for our future together.

Like the people of Israel, our exile is temporary.  Normal life will return.  Our church will meet in worship, together, again.  Our trust is not in governments or in dollars.  Our trust, and our hope, is in God.  And we know that God has the power to return what has been taken from us so that we too will know that God has spoken.

Today we may feel like “dry bones” but our God is in the resurrection business.

As we often remind ourselves at this time of year, “It may be dark on Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”

There is no denying that these are difficult times, but God has not forgotten us.

I continue to encourage you to stay connected with one another by whatever means you have available.  Use your video chat or pick up the telephone and talk to some of your friends.  Be sure to check on those folks who might be isolated or vulnerable.

And, whatever you do, hold tight to your faith, remember that this, of all times, is the season of resurrection, and…

…hold on to hope.

 

 

Have a great week everybody!

Today’s Responsive Reading (from Psalm 130)

 

Leader:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
    Lord, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
    to my cry for mercy.

 

People:

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
    Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
    so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

 

Leader:

I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.

People:

I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.

 

Leader:

Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption.

People:

He himself will redeem Israel
    from all their sins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/ybcPf-d2IOQ

A longer version with music can be found here: https://youtu.be/TDaEo5i_Rk8


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Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

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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.

Fear and Arrogance (Part 1) – Fear Gives Poor Advice

Fear and Arrogance

Part 1: Fear Gives Poor Advice

March 22, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

1 Samuel 16:1-13                   John 9:1-41               

 

 

If you are a fan of scary movies, there is one thing that nearly every movie, from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, to Jaws, to Halloween and Friday the 13th to the movies of the present day all seem to have in common.  And the thing that they have in common is this: People who are afraid, make poor choices.  That’s why we’re always shouting at the screen “Don’t go back in the house!”  We saw it in Germany as an entire nation allowed the Nazi’s to commit unconscionable acts simply because the people were too afraid to speak up.  In fact, we need look no further that our local grocery store shelves as we’ve entered a time of fear caused by the arrival of the Corona virus.  People are rushing to the grocery stores, and department stores, and even Amazon.com to buy things for which they have no reasonable need.  People are buying food that will certainly spoil before they can eat it all, cases upon cases of water that comes out of kitchen faucet of nearly every home, and enough toilet paper to supply an average college dormitory for a year.  Why?

 

Because fear gives poor advice.

 

None of these things make any sense because people aren’t thinking logically, rationally, or sensibly, they are simply reacting out of irrational fear.  It’s a lot like a cattle stampede.  One cow gets stung by a bee and started running, and the rest of the herd starts running because everyone else was running.

 

And, although sociologists will be talking about our current crisis for generations, fear certainly isn’t anything new.  In 1 Samuel 16:1-13, we hear the story of how God sent his prophet Samuel to anoint a new king over Israel because of the disobedience of King Saul.  And, in that story, we see both the prophet, David’s father Jesse, and the elders of Bethlehem act out of fear before they listen and respond to the calling of God.

 

16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”

But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”

The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”

Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

 

Even before Samuel leaves home, he is already worried.  Samuel is afraid that if he obeys God, and if King Saul hears about what he is doing, Saul will be angry enough to kill him.  But God sends Samuel anyway.

 

Once Samuel arrives, the elders of the town of Bethlehem tremble when they meet him, and they aren’t even sure that they want to let him in, because the prophets of God had a reputation for bringing bad news, curses, and death.  And so, the elders (and this probably included Jesse) won’t let Samuel in the door until they are reassured that Samuel has come in peace.

 

But Samuel is deceived, one son after another, simply because he assumes that God is seeing the same things that he sees.  Samuel sees young men who are tall, handsome, physically fit, and seem like the kind of men that would look good as king.  In fact, David’s own father did the same thing. When Samuel arrives and invites his family to the sacrifice.  Everyone simply assumes that the youngest son, the kid who got left in the fields watching the sheep, isn’t worth anyone’s time and certainly won’t be missed.  It isn’t until God fails to select anyone that Samuel finally asks, “Are these all the sons you have?”  And then declares that they would not sit down to eat until that youngest son, the one everyone was prepared to ignore, finally arrives.  And that son, of course, turns out to be David, the greatest king in the entire history of Israel.

 

During our Bible study this week we talked about how Simon Peter swore that he would stand by Jesus even if he was arrested and put to death.  But when push came to shove, he denied even knowing Jesus not once, but three times.  Why?  Fear.

 

And so, as we shelter in place, and practice “social distancing” in the face of the Coronavirus outbreak, this message from scripture seems especially relevant.  We must not act out of fear because fear gives poor advice.  Fear told King Saul to disobey God (and he listened).  Fear told the prophet Samuel not to even leave the house to anoint David as God’s new king (but he didn’t listen).  Fear told Jesse and the elders of Bethlehem not to even let Samuel in the door, and it told Simon Peter to save his skin and betray Jesus.

 

Instead of listening to our fears, we are reminded to put our faith and trust in God.  God still cares.  God still loves you.  We will get through this difficult time if we listen to, and trust, God and we behave rationally, carefully, and behave prudently.

 

Fear says that it’s not safe to trust God.

Fear says that God will demand too much from you.

Fear says that you might miss out on something else if you follow God.

Fear says that you need to hold back on God so that you can stay in control.

Fear says that you need a year’s supply of toilet paper and ten gallons of hand sanitizer.

 

But fear is a liar.

 

Fear gives poor advice.

 

And so, as we watch the latest news and practice social distancing, let us also remember the words that the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome and the words of the Jesus’ beloved disciple John.

 

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31)

 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (1 John 4:18)

 

And finally, in this time of uncertainty, I want you to hear God’s words from the prophet Isaiah:

 

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

 

Although these are uncertain, and even frightening times…

 

Be encouraged.

 

Don’t be afraid.

 

God still cares.

 

God still loves you.

 

God is in control.

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 

 


You can find the livestream of this message here: https://youtu.be/MmS9yA5Sfas

To continue to Part 2, click here: https://pastorpartridge.com/2020/03/23/2689/


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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.

It’s More Than Selfish

Note: The video of this commentary can be found at: https://youtu.be/R7cfHs15CNQ


 

It’s More than Selfish

 

For the last few days, we have all been watching people go crazy.  While society hasn’t broken down, it has certainly proven to itself that Agent ‘K’ in the “Men in Black” movie was absolutely correct when he said:

“A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.”

And, when people are scared, they are the most panicky, dangerous animals in the planet.  It seems obvious to everyone, whether you are a Christian or not, that there is something horribly wrong with what is going on around us.  But for those of us who have spent some time in church, or in reading scripture, we have a pretty simple name for it. 

Sin.

In Matthew 22:36-40 some Pharisees asked Jesus which commandment he thought was the most important.  To which, Jesus replied that there were only two important ones.

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

The second, of the two great commandments, is for us to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves, and this is, fundamentally, a condemnation of selfishness.  It’s okay for us to take care of ourselves, and it’s okay for us to be concerned for our own welfare, but it’s not okay for us to be so selfish that we no longer care about the needs of our neighbors, and indeed take so much for ourselves, that there our neighbors cannot meet their most basic needs.

There’s no way that any one family, let alone any one person, really needed to go out and buy a hundred rolls of toilet paper or several gallons of hand sanitizer.  I’ve seen a large bottle of hand sanitizer, out in a public place at church, last through three or four entire flu seasons for our entire congregation.  I’m sure that there is no good reason that anyone really needed to buy an entire case of them for themselves.

If you’ve been shopping this week, or if you’ve seen the photographs of your friends who have, you probably noticed that the shelves are empty of almost anything remotely edible.  Sure, we’re going to need food to eat, but you know what?  Since those stores normally provide the food that most of us need week in, and week out, year in, and year out, it seems obvious that people are not only stocking up, but that, in their fear and panic, they have almost certainly bought more than they can possibly use and my bet is that, while some of our neighbors are going hungry, much of that food is going to spoil and go to waste.

And that bothers me.

Folks, I’m not going to mince words here.  This kind of behavior is not only selfish, and not only tragic.

It’s sin.

 

 

 


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