Just Do The Next Thing

Some years ago, when I was still working as an engineer, I used to listen to a Christian radio station in Cleveland, Ohio and would often hear a program hosted by Elizabeth Elliot. For those of you who are unfamiliar with that name, Elizabeth Elliot was the widow of a missionary, Jim Elliot, who was killed by Ecuadorian natives from the Huaorani tribe– also called the “Auca”, along with Ed McCully, Roger Youderian, Pete Fleming, and their pilot, Nate Saint in 1952. Their story spread around the world and was recorded by Elizabeth Elliot in a best selling book “Through Gates of Splendor” as well as subsequent movies and other books written by Elliot and others.

In any case, in a conversation with a caller on her radio show, Elizabeth Elliot noted that there were many times, particularly after she was widowed with small children, as well as other crises later in her life, that she would remember and recite to herself an old poem entitled, “Do The Next Thing.” On that show, on more than one occasion, I heard her recite it, at least in part, and remind her listeners that when life is hard, when we are struggling to understand how we can possibly move forward, her advice was simply to put one step in front of the other, and just “do the next thing.”

Although I didn’t need that particular wisdom on the day that I heard it, my brain filed it away somewhere. And, there have been several occasions since then that I found myself reciting parts of it to myself, looking up the entire poem online, or just reminding myself to just “do the next thing.”

It occurred to me today that some of you might not have heard it and during the turmoil caused by the Coronavirus, or for a host of other possible reasons, maybe you needed to hear it today. Here it is:

Do The Next Thing

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
Its quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from Heaven.
And on through the doors the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DO THE NEXT THING.”
Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, and guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, do the next thing
Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
Leave all results, do the next thing.
Looking for Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be thy demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as He beckons thee, do the next thing.
– Elizabeth Elliot

Hang in there friends.

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Television pastor and writer Rev. Robert Schuller used to say,

“Tough times don’t last, tough people do. ”

I said it before, but I’m going to say it again anyway…

Whatever it is that you are facing, you will get through this.

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other and just…

Do the next thing.

God Bless.

____________________________________________________

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Slavery and Sacrifice

Slavery and Sacrifice

June 28, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 22:1-14                        Romans 6:12-23

 

There is an old joke that says, “Many people want to serve God, but only in an advisory capacity.”

We’re good at telling God what we think that he should be doing and how he should be doing it rather than accepting the God is God and we are not.  We get stuck in our understanding of scripture, and in our interpretation of modern culture, all because we expect God to do, and to say, what we think God ought to be saying rather than conforming our lives to the things that God actually said.  But as discouraging as that might be, we are comforted, at least a little, by knowing that we are not the first people to do that.

In the story of Genesis, more than once, Abraham trusted God in a limited capacity.  What I mean is, despite God’s promises to care for, and protect Abraham and Sarah, on several occasions, not least of which was when he made a baby with his servant, Abraham tried to use his own resources and ingenuity to fix God’s problems rather than fully trusting that God would fulfill his promises.  And although God is omniscient, which means all-knowing, perhaps it is this habit of “helping God out” and not fully trusting that makes God test Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22:1-14.

22:1 Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

For most of his life, God has asked Abraham to trust him and we remember Abraham because of his great faith and trust, except that despite his trust in God, too often Abraham tried to stack the deck and help God out.  But now, God wants to know, maybe God wants Abraham to know, or God wants future generations, us, to know that Abraham has finally put his whole faith and trust in God… without holding back.  God asks Abraham to sacrifice the one son that he has left, the one son that would be the father of God’s people, the son of Sarah, who was now even five or six years older than she was when Isaac was born.  In asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, God is really asking him to sacrifice everything.  Every hope, every promise, everything.  We can only imagine what was going through Abraham’s mind.  It was against God’s own law to sacrifice another human being.  Sarah was now older than she was when we knew that she was old and “far past the age of childbearing” and Abraham was probably now over one hundred years old.  How was God going to keep his promises if Isaac was dead?  How could Isaac become the father of God’s people?  None of it made any sense.

But Abraham trusted.

Abraham did what God told him to do and God worked it all out.  And in the end, the thing that Abraham sacrificed on that mountain wasn’t Isaac, but it was his own, last, tight grip on control.  Abraham finally let go of himself, his need to be sure, and his need to have a backup plan.  Abraham sacrificed an offering of self, and finally put his whole faith and trust in God.

If we’re honest, we will admit that we’re like Abraham.  We like to be sure.  Trusting God is unsettling because there is too much that we don’t know.  But that’s kind of the point of trust, isn’t it?  But the thing is, human beings always seem to want to put their faith in something and trust in something, even if that something isn’t God.  And it is that habit of ours that makes the story of Abraham real and relevant to us three thousand years later.  In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

We all have a choice.

Paul says that every human being eventually chooses to enslave themselves to someone or to something and our natural desires, given free reign over us, will drive us into slavery to our own selfishness, greed, pleasure, and wickedness.  But, like Abraham, God is asking us to make a sacrifice, to offer ourselves, to offer our desires, dreams, hopes, our everything, to him in exchange for our rescue from death, our second chance, and the new life that we have been given.  Rather than choosing to be slaves to greed, or slaves to selfishness, or slaves to greed, money, and pleasure, God calls us to choose different kind of slavery altogether.  God calls us to give ourselves to him, to put our whole faith and our whole trust in him, so that we become slaves to righteousness, slaves to doing what is right, rather than slaves to wickedness and sin.

The sacrifice in the Genesis story was never really about Isaac.  It was all about Abraham’s stubborn grip on control.

We are all confronted with the same question that confronted Abraham.  Like Abraham, God is asking each of us where our ultimate allegiance lies.  Is our allegiance on self-reliance and control?  Do we swear our allegiance to the security of our bank and investment balances?  Have we put our faith and trust in politicians, political parties, nations, and powerful armies, and overwhelming weaponry?  Will we enslave ourselves to selfishness and sin?  Will we keep our grip on control and hold too tightly to our doubts?

Or will we trust God?

Completely.

May God grant us the grace, and the courage, to surrender ourselves and become slaves to doing right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/epselMx9Ao4

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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.

Courage Unbound

“Courage Unbound”

April 29, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 10:11-18            Acts 4:1-12                 1 John 3:16-24

 

 

Where have you seen courage?

 

We’ve all been witnesses to courage at one time or another.  Sometimes it’s as simple as tasting a new food, emptying a mousetrap, or a new parent changing a diaper for the first time.  Sometimes it’s a cancer patient willing themselves to show up for one more chemotherapy treatment, or the parent of sick child putting on a brave face to calm the child’s fears.  But sometimes it’s more than that.

 

During the war in Yugoslavia, a Bosnian Muslim factory manager was captured by Croatian soldiers along with his family and his neighbors.  They were all taken to a makeshift prison camp and after several days, 40 of the prisoners, including this man, his wife, and his five year old twin boys, were taken out of the camp and lined up in a row.  The soldiers brought out a civilian man who was Croatian as they were, and demanded that he choose 12 of the prisoners from the lineup, and decide how they would be killed.  But, although he was ethnically Croatian, he had also been a neighbor to the people who stood before him and the closest friend of the Muslim father.  Rather than follow their orders, the man turned on the soldiers and said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves! These people are innocent. Release them. Let them go home.”  He then turned to his friends and said, “I’m so sorry. This is all I can do. I know they will kill me tonight. I wish all of you the best.”  The soldiers dragged the man off and took the Muslim prisoners back to the prison camp.  That night the Croatian man was killed by the soldiers, but many of the prisoners were later saved through a prisoner exchange.  (Story from Courage Under Fire – https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/courage_under_fire)

 

Imagine the courage that it took for that man to risk his life in order to do what was right?

 

In the last couple of messages, we have paid particular attention to the change that we see in Jesus’ disciples from the time of the crucifixion to the days immediately following Pentecost.   In a way, our scriptures revisit that today, but our focus this time is on us more than it is on the disciples.  We begin this morning with the words of Jesus which are recorded for us in John 10:11-18.

11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Long before his arrest and crucifixion, Jesus knew what was going to happen, but he also knew why it was going to happen.  Jesus said that a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.  Someone who is just in it for the money, fakers, thieves, and charlatans, don’t stick around when things get difficult.  Real shepherds are in it for keeps and are ready to stand and fight for their sheep.  But Jesus also says that the relationship goes the other way as well.  Real sheep know the shepherd and they follow him, they listen to his voice, and they join together as one flock.  This is the way that God intended for it to be and Jesus has been given the power and the authority to do everything that God commanded.

 

But Jesus did more than that.  His ability and willingness to sacrifice for his flock was passed on to his disciples.  After Jesus rose from the dead, they began to more fully understand who he was, what he did, and what he had accomplished.  And as they understood, they began to follow his example. (Acts 4:1-12)

4:1The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand.

The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is

“‘the stone you builders rejected,
which has become the cornerstone.’

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

As you will remember from last week, Peter and the disciples are proclaiming the name of Jesus to the crowd that gathered after Peter healed a lame man who was begging by the gate of the temple.  Now, as they preach, they are approached not only by passers-by, but by priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the representatives of the Sadducees and, we are told, they were “greatly disturbed.”  Most likely, if they weren’t being unruly, or causing a nuisance, the captain of the guard wouldn’t be too concerned, but the Sadducees were the political group that did not believe in any kind of afterlife.  They didn’t believe in heaven or hell, in souls, or spirits, and they certainly didn’t believe in resurrection from the dead.  This is most likely why they were greatly disturbed.  The teaching, let alone the existence, of a risen Jesus, was highly damaging to their worldview and to their ability to attract followers.

 

But many believed and the church grew.

 

Peter and John were arrested, thrown in prison, and the next day they were brought, almost certainly under guard, to appear before the high priest, the former high priest, the high priest’s father, all the elders, the teachers of the law, and all the political movers and shakers of the church power structures.

 

And Peter unapologetically preaches to them all.  Peter is bold and courageous and “in-your-face.”

 

Remember, that just a few weeks ago, this is exactly what Peter and the other disciples were so afraid of.  They were afraid that people would overhear.  They were afraid that the leaders of the temple would hear about them.  They were afraid that they would be arrested or manhandled by the temple guards.  They were afraid that they would be forced to appear before the leaders of the temple.  And now, that exact scenario has happened.

 

And at every step, the disciples are no longer afraid.

 

Why?

 

Peter’s explanation rocks the world of the temple leaders when he says, “Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

 

Peter essentially says that even though the temple leaders rejected him, Jesus is the cornerstone on which God’s church must be built.  Jesus has authority over life and death itself and nothing else matters because no one else, no other religious leader, no other political leader, no other church, matters because Jesus is the only one who can save them.

 

The disciples are no longer afraid because they know, without a shred of doubt, that Jesus is in control.

 

The courage of the disciples came from knowing, and trusting, that Jesus was in control and had authority over everything, even life and death itself.  And that courage was transformational.  It changed their lives.  It changed everything.

 

But so what?

 

That was still two thousand years ago.  What does that have to do with us?

 

And again, John has the answer.  In 1 John 3:16-24, we hear these words:

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: 20 If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God 22 and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

John says the reason that we know what love is, is because Jesus showed us.  Because Jesus was willing to give up his life for us, we ought to be willing to give up our lives for the people around us.  But love isn’t just risking our lives for people, it’s being willing to give up material possessions as well.  We aren’t just called to love other when it doesn’t cost us anything; we are called to love others when loving them means that we give up some of the stuff that makes us comfortable.  Love, John says, is demonstrated not by the words that we say, but by our actions toward others.  And it is our actions toward others that tell us that we belong to Jesus.  We know that we belong, when we act like Jesus.  We know that we belong, when our hearts tell us that we are right.  We know that we belong, when our hearts do not condemn us for being selfish, or greedy, or guilty of other sins against God.

 

A significant part of our transformation as Christians comes as we grow in courage, and that courage comes to us because, like the disciples, we know that Jesus is in control and has authority over everything, even life and death itself.  John reminds us that God forgives our past but we must live in such a way that we do not feel guilty for our actions.  “The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him.”  And we know that God lives in us because we live like Jesus.  We know that God lives in us because we love like Jesus…

…even when that love costs us something.

 

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are transformed by meeting the risen Jesus because in meeting him, and knowing him, we are given the gift of courage.

 

We are transformed because we have the courage… to love like Jesus.

 

 

 

_________

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U You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.