What Does God Want?

What Does God Want?

October 06, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Acts 26:27-31             Galatians 5:22-24                 

 

If you’ve been in church for very long, you’ve heard the message before, and in fact we’ve heard it here over the last few weeks.  We’ve heard messages like “be content with what you have,” “money is a root of all kinds of evil,” and, “…people who are eager for money have wandered from the faith.”  We heard last week that the values of our culture and the values of God are often at odds with one another. 

So, what is it that God wants?

What is it that we should do with out lives, with our time, and with our money?  What is it that God wants us to do?  How should we manage the things that we have been given?  How should we manage our lives, our time, and our money?

And, as odd as it may seem, there is word for that.  There is a word that encompasses and describes that exact sort of management.  How we manage our lives, our time, and our money, in ways that honor and please God, is called stewardship.  Stewardship recognizes that all that we have been given, our lives, our time, and our money, have been given to us by God.  God owns them all.  God owned them before we were born, and God will own them after we die, but for now, God has given them to us and has entrusted us to care for them and to mange them.  And that, is stewardship.

So, while, in one way, this is a message about stewardship, in another way, it isn’t.

For the next few weeks, during our stewardship campaign, you will hear someone (other than me) offer a few minutes of reflection as a “stewardship moment” during our morning worship service.  Each of those reflections will guide you to think about different aspects of how we might honor God and the gifts that we have been given.  But what I want to talk about is bigger than that, and it builds on the same things that we’ve already been talking about for several weeks.

What is it that God wants from us?

And, as a part of answering that question, I want to remember the story of the Apostle Paul in the book of Acts.  In that story, Paul had been visiting the Temple in Jerusalem when some of the Jews there started a riot over some of the things that he had been preaching in other cities.  During the riot, some of these people attempted to beat Paul to death, but he was rescued by the Roman soldiers in the Fortress Antonia.  Several more times, the people who were plotting to kill Paul planned to murder him while he was being transferred from one place to another, but each time Paul was rescued.  But a part of Paul’s defense was that the accusations against him were religious in nature, and were not, under Roman law, a criminal offense worthy of punishment or imprisonment.  Ultimately, Paul would use his rights as a Roman citizen to carry the message of Jesus Christ all the way to Rome and to Caesar himself, but in Acts 26, Paul tells King Agrippa, who was the king of the whole area around Israel, the story of his life, his pursuit and persecution of Christians, his trip to Damascus to hunt for, and arrest, more of Jesus’ followers, and ultimately his encounter with Jesus on the road, his conversion, and his new mission as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  At the end of that story, Paul, knowing that Agrippa was a follower of God and a man who knew the stories of scripture, asks the king if he believed the stories of the prophets that he knew and had studied.  (Acts 26:27-31)

27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

30 The king rose, and with him the governor and Bernice and those sitting with them. 31 After they left the room, they began saying to one another, “This man is not doing anything that deserves death or imprisonment.”

Just as we learned in recent weeks, Paul used his Roman citizenship, and everything else that he had, to save his life and to bring him, and his message, into audiences with the Governor and with the king.  And in those audiences, Paul not only defends himself, he preaches the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone that he can whether they are Jewish citizens, Roman guards, or the king himself.  And then, even though King Agrippa and others who heard his case were willing to dismiss Paul’s case and release him, Paul appeals his case to Rome and to Caesar himself (as was his right as a Roman citizen).  And in Rome, Paul would continue to preach the good news of Jesus Christ to everyone, and to anyone, that would listen until his death.

I can almost hear you thinking, “But, I’m not Paul.”  Indeed, most of us are not Paul.  We weren’t born into the best of families, or trained under the best teachers, or hung out, and worked for, and with, the powerful movers and shakers.  We don’t speak, or write, like Paul, so how can we learn how to manage our lives from him?  Simply this: Just as we’ve heard in recent weeks, Paul used what he had, whether that was much, or whether it was little, in order to advance the cause of Jesus Christ.  And, with that in mind, let’s remember some of the things that we have been given as the followers of Jesus.  And this list, incidentally, is also from Paul, in his letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 5:22-24).

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

As the followers of Jesus, we have been filled by the Spirit of God, and that spirit develops within us, fruit that God uses to grow his kingdom.  We may not show all these fruits at the same time, but as we mature in Jesus Christ, we should see them grow within us.  And as we do, we should use them, steward them, manage them, however you choose to describe it, so that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is spread, so that people come to faith in Jesus, and so that his church, both on earth, and in heaven, grows as well.

What does God want?

God wants disciples who are committed.  God wants us to be intentional about using the things that he has given to us, to focus on something bigger than the ordinary everyday things that occupy our time.  God wants each one of us to use the gifts that he has given to us, life, liberty, freedom, time, money, talent, rights of citizenship, the fruits of the spirit, and anything else that we have at our disposal, so that we can be a blessing to God, to his Son Jesus, and to his kingdom.

Are you ready to be committed disciples?

Let us not just thank God for what he has given to us.

Let us use those gifts as a gift to God.

That, my friends, is stewardship.

 

 

 

 


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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.

A Change of Plan

 

A Change of Plan


February 10, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 6:1-8                            Luke 5:1-11                            1 Corinthians 15:1-11

 

Have you ever had your plans change?

It’s the kind of thing that often happens but sometimes it happens more dramatically than others.  In 2005, when Patti and I were serving the Johnsville and Steam Corners churches in Morrow County south of Mansfield, I was in the car taking our kids somewhere when suddenly, I got a phone call that one of our members was in an ambulance on his way to the emergency room.  I wasn’t yet far from home, so I called Patti, turned around, we switched cars in the driveway, Patti took the kids wherever we were going, and I headed straight to the Morrow County hospital emergency room. 

Cars get flat tires, flights get cancelled, professors miss class, the power goes out, one of your kids gets sick just as you’re leaving the house. Life is never completely within our control. Sometimes our plans change. 

And sometimes those changes are big changes.

Sometime around 2001 or 2002, I was working in an engineering job that I liked.  I thought engineering was going to be my life’s work.  But then I got laid off.  Even though the economy was good, and the job market was decent, I was unemployed for two years.  And in the process, I began to consider the possibility that God might be calling me to do something else.  At the time, pastoral ministry was about the farthest thing from my mind.  I grew up in a Methodist preacher’s house, and I always knew that I didn’t want to do what Dad did. 

But God had other plans.  That whole story is a sermon or two all by itself, but my point for today is simply this:

Plans change.

But if we look, that story is not a new one.  Last week we heard how God called the prophet Jeremiah and this week as we read Isaiah 6:1-8, we hear the story of how God changed Isaiah’s plans as well.

6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook, and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

You might remember that Jeremiah protested to God that he was too young and didn’t know how to speak, and God wasn’t buying any of his excuses.  In this passage of scripture, we hear Isaiah make a different excuse, saying that he isn’t good enough, or pure enough, that his lips are not clean enough to speak the words of God.  But God’s answer is a lot like his answer to Jeremiah.  One of the angels in the throne room of God grabs a hot coal from the altar, flies over to Isaiah, and touches his lips with it saying that now you have been purified, your guilt is gone, and your sin has been paid for.  There is no longer any reason to prevent you from answering the call of God, your excuses and your obstacles have been removed.

And, despite the reality that Isaiah was totally intimidated by his obvious sinfulness when faced with God’s holiness, he understood that God was calling him to a change in plan and accepted by saying, “Here am I. Send me!”

But dramatic changes of plan don’t end with the Old Testament.  In Luke 5:1-11 we read the story of Jesus meeting, and calling Peter, James, and John to join him as his disciples.

5:1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

When Jesus showed up at the lakeshore (at the Sea of Galilee, Gennesaret = Galilee) to preach, he and the fishermen already knew one another.  Jesus had healed Peter’s mother-in-law, they had been together at the wedding where Jesus turned water into wine, and on a few other occasions, but clearly up to this moment, Peter, James, and John had planned to be fans of Jesus but believed that they would keep their jobs as fisherman and follow Jesus from a distance, or on weekends, or something.  Giving up their jobs, and their livelihoods, was not a part of the plan.

But when they met Jesus, there was a change in plan.

And we see the same thing again in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, as the Apostle Paul tells his story.

15:1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

Paul was not originally a follower of Jesus.  Instead, Paul was a Pharisee and a part of a group that was violently opposed to the followers of Jesus.  Paul was a persecutor of Jesus’ followers.  He was the guy that had warrants for the arrest of any Jews who wouldn’t deny Jesus and would drag people back to Jerusalem to face trial for heresy.  Paul intended to keep right on persecuting Christians and never planned to stop.  He certainly never planned to become a Christian, let alone a leader in that movement.

But then, while he was traveling on the road to Damascus, Paul met the risen Jesus.

And suddenly, there was a change of plan.

And you’ve probably noticed by now that from Isaiah, to Peter, James, and John, to Paul, and even to this very moment, there is an obvious pattern.  Whenever a human being has an encounter with God, or with the risen Jesus Christ, there is an almost certain probability that your life will exhibit a change in plans.  Simply because we’re human, we are likely to resist those changes.  We don’t like change.  We’re selfish.  We want what we want.  We want to follow our own path, and our own plans.  But in all the examples that we saw in scripture this morning, we also see that God is able to remove our excuses and clear away all the obstacles that stand in the way of taking us to the place where he wants us to go.  God’s plans are always bigger, and more powerful, and vastly more important, than the ones that we came up with by ourselves.

God may not be calling you to be his prophet, or the pastor of a church, but he is calling you to walk with Jesus.   God isn’t interested in collecting fans who follow his activities from a distance, God is calling you to be his disciple. Christianity has never been a spectator sport.  God wants disciples, not fans.  If you are serious about being a follower of Jesus, then you need to accept the fact that God has called you, not only to church on Sunday, but to be a part of his plan to change the world and to rescue the lost. 

And since this is Scout Sunday and we have a room full of scouts today, I can make this next comparison.  “Scout” is a verb.  Scouting isn’t just who we are, it’s what we do.  We don’t just sit around and read books about scouting, scouting is something that we do.  What we do here at church is very much the same.  “Disciple” is a verb.  Being a disciple isn’t just something that we read about, it’s something that we do.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t just about believing, it’s about doing.  And if you think that you can just sit back and watch from the sidelines, be prepared for…

… a dramatic change in plans.

 

 


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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.

Connecting the Dots

dog-connect-the-dotsHave you ever played “Dot-to-Dot”?  Do you remember doing those dot-to-dot games and worksheets when you were younger?  When you start one of those sheets, it just looks like a mess, an unorganized mass of dots.  But as we move our pencils and draw lines from one number to the next, the picture begins to fill in.  In Kindergarten, our puzzles only had a few dots, but the older we got, the more complex they became until there were some advanced puzzle sheets that, with a little patience and care, became beautiful and interesting pictures.

Real life in our church is lot like that.

It’s a conversation that I’ve had with our church staff and with a few others and it’s a conversation that we will likely keep having because, like all humans, we tend to forget.

The reason we need to keep talking about it, is this: Our church, like most other churches, does a lot of great things.  We care.  We care about people, and we care about things like scripture, and faithfulness, and Jesus, and sharing the gospel.  But sometimes, we get so focused on doing all the things that we do, that we forget to “connect the dots.”  It’s important to stay focused on the mission of Jesus Christ, to rescue the lost and bring comfort to the poor and the hurting.  But while we do that, we need to remember that coming to faith in Christ is a process that doesn’t happen all at once.  People don’t hear about Jesus and suddenly <<POOF!>> become mature disciples.

And so, as a church, we find ourselves with all these “dots.”  We have a “dot” for evangelism, and a dot for missions, and a dot for Christian Education, and a dot this, and a dot for that, and, if we aren’t careful, it begins to look like a mass of unorganized dots.  The goal is to connect the dots, so that we can not only reach out to the lost, but to also guide them along a process that will lead them to faith in Jesus, and then to church attendance, church membership, growing Christian maturity, and eventually to becoming mature disciples of Jesus Christ working toward the transformation of the world.

I encourage us all to think about how we “connect the dots” here at Christ Church.

As we plan worship services, and mission trips, and evangelism, and all sorts of other “dots”, let’s try to remember to pause occasionally to ask ourselves, “What happens next?”  What part of the process came before this one, and what part should come next?  Let’s think about how we can guide new people and fellow believers alike through the process from unbeliever to mature disciple.

We will need to work together to accomplish our mission and… connect the dots.

Blessings,

John

Teaching the Next Generation

“Teaching the Next Generation”

May 13, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 17:6-19              Acts 1:15-17, 21-26               1 John 5:9-13

 

Last week I stopped at a body shop in Massillon to get a quote for repairing the rusty fenders on my truck.  As we concluded our conversation, the owner took the time to say goodbye to his high school or college aged son who was leaving at the end of the day.  After he did so, he told me that he was teaching this young man his trade and passing down what he had learned.  We both agreed that it was important to teach the next generation to do what we do so that someone will be around to take over for us when the day comes for us to quit.

 

Isn’t that what we remember today on Mother’s Day as well?  Aren’t we who we are, because of what our mothers taught us?  Doesn’t every good mother try to teach the next generation the skills and the lessons that she has learned over a lifetime to her children?

 

But regardless of whether you are a mother, or in the auto body trade, or a pastor, or anything else, every one of us is on a countdown clock.  Regardless of our age or health, none of us is getting younger and the time that we have on earth is limited.  And so, no matter what we do, or what we know, we are motivated, at some level, to teach the next generation what we know.  As always, every person has their own gifts and their own natural “bent” but each of us need to learn the skills and gain the knowledge that will lead us through life.

 

Not surprisingly, none of this is new.  In both the Old and in the New Testaments we see fathers training their sons in the trades that they knew.  James and John were taught to be fishermen by their father Zebedee.  Joseph taught Jesus to be a builder, and in turn, as the oldest son, Jesus probably helped to teach his trade to his younger brothers.  But Jesus had other things to teach to other people as well.  Jesus called his disciples so that he could teach them, and others came later that learned from Jesus as well as from the disciples, but near the end of his ministry, Jesus knew that his time was running out.  And as the clock ran down, Jesus was concerned about those whom he would leave behind and he prayed this prayer for them (John 17:6-19):

 

6“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

 

Jesus talks about “those whom you gave me out of the world.”  At first, we might be tempted to think that this is about the disciples, but if we take a longer view of it, we realize that Jesus is talking about all of those who God has given to him, and that means not only the disciples, but all of us.  This is a prayer for each one of us, lifted up to God, by Jesus, and in it he prays for our protection, for our sanctification, which is our purification and our journey, with God’s help, to become more Christ-like.  And Jesus also notes that just as God sent him into the world to rescue the people from sin and death, he is sending us into the world to continue and to complete the work that he began.

 

John echoes this in his letter to the churches in Asia in 1 John 5:9-13, where he says:

 

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

 

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

 

It takes him a while to get there, but John is saying that whoever accepts Jesus must also accept the teaching of Jesus, but John writes to the church in the firm belief that everyone who believes will have eternal life.  Even though John couldn’t physically be in all the churches in Asia, he knew that it was important to continue to teach the words of Jesus, to encourage those who believed, and to train the next generation.

 

In Acts 1:15-17, 21-26, the eleven remaining disciples assemble because it was important to replace the authority that was lost with the betrayal and death of Judas.  And so, they met together to do something about it.

 

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

 

21 Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, 22 beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

23 So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. 24 Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen 25 to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” 26 Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

 

The disciple felt that it was critically important for the leadership of the church, to replace the position of the twelfth apostle.  But the qualifications were that the person selected had to be someone who had been with them the whole time.  Which means, although they weren’t among the 12 original apostles, it had to be someone who came shortly afterward and was among the very earliest followers of Jesus.  But Peter uses an interesting and important phrase here.  He says that whomever was chosen “must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”  Note that he doesn’t say that he must “have been” a witness to the resurrection.  That was already determined when they required that the candidate be someone who had been “with them the whole time.”  Peter isn’t using the past tense, he’s using the future tense, and so when he says that the twelfth apostle “must become a witness with us” he is saying that their job was to reproduce, to preach, to raise up and to train the next generation so that the church would continue to grow.

 

Last week we talked about the need for Christians and for churches to reproduce, to tell the world about Jesus and to offer rescue from sin and death to those who are being lost.  But the emphasis this week reminds us that reproduction is not enough.  Our mothers, our parents didn’t stop caring for us when we were born.  They taught us to walk, to talk, to be polite, to have values, to care for other people and a host of other things.  Likewise, believing in Jesus is not enough.  If the church is to be healthy and if the church is to continue in the future as it has in the past, then we must also place an emphasis on teaching.  We must teach our children, we must teach new believers, and we must continue to teach those who have already accepted Jesus and have been in the church for many years.

 

It is our responsibility to train, and to be trained, to teach and to be taught, so that each person, and the entire church, can grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ.  If we fail to teach or to learn, then we end up with a church full of baby Christians, of all ages, who lack the understanding and maturity to survive the storms and struggles that life throws at us.  Without maturity, believers can’t get along with one another, or reveal Jesus to the world around us.  Without maturity, we cannot become one with each other as we have been called to do.  The unity of the church, and our ability to pull together in the same direction, grows out of our maturity, our faith, and our understanding of scripture and all of that grows out of our willingness to teach, to study, and to learn.

 

Our mothers didn’t give birth to us and stop, they had a lot more to teach us and they kept at it as long as they could put up with us.  We need to do the same for the church.

 

Let us all commit ourselves to teaching, and to learning, so that our people, and our church, can become healthy, filled with God’s spirit, and grow not only in numbers, but in our sanctification and in our Christ-likeness.

 

 

_________

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* 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.

 

Called to Be More

swan-and-ducksBeing a “follower” of Jesus isn’t enough.

Sunday, we begin another new year.  It is the season of making resolutions, where people promise themselves that they’ll do something different than what they’ve usually done.  Resolutions are built on hope.  We hope that we’ll do better than we usually do, but in reality, by the end of January most resolutions are already dead and buried.

People who are regulars at the gym know that the parking lots will be jammed in January but by February things are back to normal.  Running seems to be even worse.  There is a core group of dedicated walkers in our neighborhood but not a lot of runners.  Since I was often out running at the same time of day I knew which people were regulars.  There were a handful of folks who were always out, rain, shine, snow, ice, or brutal heat.  It didn’t matter, they were there.  But in the spring, there was a surge of folks just enjoying the nice weather, and then a similar jump in the fall, but once it was too hot, or too cold, these folks all disappeared.

But blogger Michael Hyatt has noted that there is big difference between a resolution and a goal.  While a resolution is built on hope, something that we hope to do better, a goal is built on an intended destination, a target that we intend to reach.  And so, when things get difficult, some vague desire to “do better” just isn’t enough to carry us through.  But a sincere goal of running a race, losing five pounds in time for beach weather, or other reasonable and attainable targets are enough of an emotional and psychological motivation to push us a little harder.

But how does any of this make a difference in our spiritual lives?

It makes a difference in the language that we use and in the language that Jesus intended for us to use.  You see, we have gotten into the habit of calling ourselves followers of Jesus and, while that’s not wrong, it doesn’t go far enough.  Jesus called Peter, James, John, and all of us, to follow him, but he also called us to become more than that.

Jesus called people to follow him so that they could become his disciples.

While some dictionaries use these two words as synonyms, scripturally, as well as in practice, they are quite different.  A follower is a person who likes what the leader does and follows them from place to place to watch them and see what happens next.  But a disciple is a learner who follows so that they can become more like the person that they re following.   A disciple’s goal is to learn so much from the teacher that they begin to live and act like the teacher in everything they do.  The ultimate goal is for the learner to become so much like the teacher, that they themselves are sent out to teach and to make more disciples.

Here’s an example: for years the rock band, The Grateful Dead, had a loyal following of people called “dead heads” who knew everything the band played and who followed them from place to place all over the country.  But even though they were dedicated, and had all the songs committed to memory, they were still just followers.  In contrast, many of you have heard Buddy Rich, the drummer who played for Frank Sinatra and who led his own band.  Buddy Rich was one of the most talented drummers in history.  I am certain that he had a great many followers, but he also had a handful of disciples.  As busy as he was, Buddy Rich taught drum lessons, but as skilled as he was, he only taught the best of the best.  Buddy Rich taught just a few people who were both highly skilled and professionally driven to become the best drummers in the world.  Although most of them aren’t household names, nearly every one of them played in bands that you’ve heard of or led bands of their own.  Likewise, there’s a big difference between being a fan of a famous sports team, and working hard to become good enough to try out and play for that team.

That’s the difference between following and becoming a disciple.

We often call ourselves followers, but we can’t stop there.

We are called to something bigger, something more demanding, and much more important.

Our language makes a difference.

It makes a difference if we make resolutions or set goals.

We sell ourselves short when we think of ourselves as followers.

We are called to be more.

 

 

 

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Jesus the Destroyer

“Jesus the Destroyer”

August 14, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

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

 

If any of us have learned anything from the current election cycle, I think that there are two lessons that we have seen repeated over and over again. First, many people are not what they appear to be on the surface, and second, that no matter how badly you have mess up, a good publicist can “spin” it to look like something that wasn’t really that bad.  These same lessons can be applied to scripture.  By that, I don’t mean that Jesus has a publicist that is busy making him look better than he really is, but what I mean is that well meaning teachers, pastors and interpreters often focus on the good things, the nice things, the gentle things, about God and Jesus while overlooking some of the harsher aspects of their personalities.

Occasionally, this is deliberate, but I would guess that most of the time it is done simply because explaining and understanding these harsher realities is a little more difficult.  Likewise, understanding these harsher realities is more difficult for all of us to fit within our pre-established assumptions and understandings of both God and Jesus. But it is for exactly that reason that covering these aspects of scripture is important.  It is one thing to vote for a candidate because you heard all about the wonderful things that they have done, but before you vote, it is also critically important that we understand how they behave in private and that we know something about their core moral and ethical values.

If these things are important for us to know before we vote for a candidate for president, how much more important are they for us to know these things about the God that we worship?

We begin this morning with God’s message to the people of Israel during the time of the prophet Isaiah.  Here, God describes Israel as his very own vineyard where he had high hopes of raising a good crop, and producing a fine wine, but got something else entirely. (Isaiah 5:1-7)

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

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

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

God says that he cleared the land, planted the absolute best quality stock, watched over it, and did everything he could to prepare for a good crop, but all that he got was rotten fruit.  God asks, “what more could I have done?”  “Why did my vineyard only produce rotten fruit?”  But clearly, God is not pleased and he has already decided on a course of action.  The walls that protect it will be torn down, the hedges that made it pretty will be uprooted, and the vines will be trampled underfoot.  Nothing and no one will live there except briars and thorns.

Even the rain will refuse to go there.

And God says that is what will happen to Israel because the people of Israel are the vines that God has cared for and tended.  God didn’t look for grapes or wine from his people.  What God wanted was justice, but instead they only produced violence.  What God wanted was righteousness, but what his people produced was the distress of the poor, the underprivileged, the outcasts, and the outsiders.

Even though Israel worships a merciful, giving, loving, compassionate god, they have exceeded his patience and God declares that he will remove his protection and allow them to be trampled underfoot by their enemies.

That isn’t the picture of God that we usually get, but it is a vitally important one.  God is a god of justice, mercy, love and compassion, but God has limits.  There are limits to his anger, there are limits to his compassion, there are limits to his mercy, and there are limits to his love.  Just because God loves us, just because he is merciful, compassionate, and loving does not mean that we can do whatever we want.

We worship a loving God, but there are limits to what he will tolerate.

God freely pours out his love and his blessings upon his people, but he still expects something in return.  God expects his vineyard to produce fruit.  God expects his people to act with justice and righteousness.

We must also remember that Jesus is not just a nice man who was kind to women and children, who welcomed strangers and foreigners, and loved everybody.  Jesus has more than one mission.  During his first time on earth, Jesus came as the holy Lamb of God.  He came to be the rescuer, the redeemer, and the sacrifice for the sin of humanity.  But that isn’t the only role that Jesus has to play.  Jesus is also the commander of the Army of the Lord, the Lawgiver, the Lord of our Righteousness, the Mighty One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the one who will sit upon the Throne of Judgement.

In Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says,

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

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

Jesus says that he has been sent to set fire to the earth and he wishes that the fire had already started but he cannot because the time is not yet right.  Jesus says that he has not been sent to bring peace, but division.  In this role, Jesus is the destroyer.  The coming of Jesus will divide families, communities, and nations.  The coming of Jesus really is the beginning of the end of the world.  After his coming, Jesus says that we should be on the lookout for signs that will help us to interpret the times that we live in.  Some of these are signs of the coming of the end of the world but others are signs that we can, or at least should, interpret because they have happened before and we can find them in scripture.  What happened to Israel, God’s favorite nation, his very own people, the people with whom God made a covenant of love and protection, when Israel became morally corrupt and God could no longer find justice and righteousness in his vineyard?

God brought destruction.

And the reality of scripture is that the coming of Jesus wasn’t the beginning of pie in the sky by and bye where the world would be filled with everything wonderful and all God’s children would finally get along with peace and harmony.  Instead, the arrival of Jesus was a sign of the beginning of the end times.  Because of the coming of Jesus, families would be ripped apart, and family members would turn against one another.  Not only did this happen in good Jewish families and in Greek and Roman families in the time of Jesus but it is happening today.  It is difficult to think of a better example than those we see in the news in Muslim families where children are disowned, beaten, or even murdered because they have become Christian.  This is not limited to Muslims.  It is not uncommon for Jewish families to disown family members who convert, great tensions are created in some atheist families when one member comes to faith, and I have met Indian men whose families turned their backs on them when they converted from their Hindu faith.

So what is it that God desires from us?

We’ve heard it before in previous weeks but in Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Paul says is that following Jesus is no guarantee that life will be one endless chain of joy and wonder.  We aren’t guaranteed a dance in the meadow with unicorns and rainbows.  Instead, Paul reminds us of all the faithful people who died because of their faith… many of them horribly.  But Paul says that all of these faithful people are watching over us, are praying for us, and encouraging us.  Our goal is to do the best that we can, to trust Jesus as much as we can, even when life doesn’t isn’t all roses and margaritas and doesn’t go at all the way that we planned.  Paul’s message reminds us to hold on to faith even if we don’t live to see God’s promises fulfilled in our lifetime.

Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Lamb of God, the Author and giver of life, but also the commander of the Army of the Lord, the Lawgiver, the Lord of our Righteousness, the Mighty One, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, and the one who will sit upon the Throne of Judgement.

All these things are true.

We know that our God is a god of love, grace, mercy and compassion, but we also must not ignore the reality that God’s patience has limits and that we do not have license to do as we please.

As people of faith, as followers, and as disciples of Jesus Christ, we trust God, but we must also be constantly striving to be worthy of the God that planted us in his vineyard…

…so that we can produce fruits of justice and righteousness.

 

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* 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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Use of Power

“The Use of Power”

May 08, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: John 17:20-26                                Acts 16:16-34                         Revelation 22:12-21

 

How many of you are planning to do something today that has something to do with Mother’s Day?  By that I mean, are you taking your Mom out to eat, gathering together as a family to be with your mom or, you are the mom and your family is doing something for you?  More than likely, most of us are.

But why do we do that?

Just asking that question, “Why?” is bound to get a reaction of surprise, shock, and “Well, duh, because she’s my mom!”  And, again, for most of us, we want to honor our mothers because of what they have done for us.  They nurtured us, fed us, cared for us, bandaged our boo boo’s, took us to the doctor’s office, sat through all of our band concerts even when we were just learning and half the band was playing the wrong notes, gratefully and joyously received our third grade art project as a gift on Mothers’ Day, and then she told us how wonderful and talented we were.

But not every mother was like that.

All we have to do is to open the newspaper or turn on the evening news and we hear stories about mothers who abandoned or abused their children.  Just this month we’ve been following the story about a mother (and grandmother) who is now being prosecuted for the murder of her son because she bought him heroin as a 16th birthday present.

Every parent is given an enormous responsibility, to raise a child, to care for them, to nurture them, and to teach them to be a mature and responsible adult.  Today, on Mothers’ Day, we honor those mothers, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, who used what they had been given to do the best that they could in raising us.  But not every mother handles that responsibility well.  All of us have friends who dislike Mothers’ Day and who struggle every year when the rest of us celebrate.  And their struggles grow out of how their mother’s misused their parental responsibility.  Parents who misuse their authority can cause lifelong damage to their children.

And while that isn’t a pleasant thought when we are trying to celebrate those mothers who did a great job, it does tell us something about how other people, in other positions of responsibility (particularly in an election year) use the power and responsibility that have been given to them.  Let’s begin this morning with an example from scripture.  We begin in Acts 16:16-34, as Paul and Silas are arrested for preaching the gospel in Philippi.

16 Once when we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a female slave who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She earned a great deal of money for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.” 18 She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!” At that moment the spirit left her.

19 When her owners realized that their hope of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to face the authorities. 20 They brought them before the magistrates and said, “These men are Jews, and are throwing our city into an uproar 21 by advocating customs unlawful for us Romans to accept or practice.”

22 The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten with rods. 23 After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully. 24 When he received these orders, he put them in the inner cell and fastened their feet in the stocks.

25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken.  At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose.27 The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole household.

In the first paragraph we read how Paul, through the power of Jesus Christ, commands a demon to come out of a female slave.  But immediately, this display of power frightens the leaders of the city and they demonstrate their own power by having Paul and Silas arrested, stripped, beaten and thrown in jail.  But Paul and Silas are not intimidated by political power.  As they sit, chained, in the depths of the prison, they sing about God.  And as they do, an earthquake threatens to tear the prison apart.  All the doors are opened and chains on the prisoners are loosened.

The jailer, seeing that the doors of the prison have been opened, draws his word and prepares to take his own life because, he understands Roman justice.  In the Roman world, the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape is death.  And, for anyone who has ever heard the story of Easter, it isn’t difficult to imagine that the penalty for allowing a prison full of captives to escape would be unpleasant in the extreme.  And so, the jailer is prepared to kill himself rather than face the torture that the Roman army would exact upon him.  But as he does, Paul hears him unsheathe his sword and calls out that no one has escaped and that everyone is where they should be.

In this we see that God, once again, demonstrates his power over both humanity and nature, but also that the proper application of that power is not to crush his enemies underfoot, but to show them mercy.  The jailer recognizes mercy when he sees it, asks what he can do to be saved by such a god, and that very night, he and his entire household are baptized and become followers of Jesus Christ.

And in an era filled with broken families, broken government, ugly elections, and even broken churches, the message of Jesus recorded by the Apostle John resonates more than ever.  Jesus prays that God would use his indescribable power to do what some people would otherwise describe as completely and utterly impossible. (John 17:20-26)

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

24 “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

25 “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. 26 I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Jesus prays for two things, first, that God’s glory would be revealed by calling the lost to believe and second, that all of God’s people would stop fighting amongst themselves and come to a place of unity with one another and with God.  In a world where everyone seems to be constantly offended by everything, and where everyone seems to be fighting against everyone else, it is often helpful to remember that Jesus himself is praying that we could all get along and do the real work of saving the world.

And finally, in the Revelation of the Apostle John, we are warned about what is to come. (Revelation 22:12-21)

12 “Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. 13 I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.

14 “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. 15 Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you [“you” is plural] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.

18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.

20 He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

Jesus says that on the day of his return, he will bring rewards to everyone who has believed according to what they have done for him.  But more than that, Jesus, the creator of all that is and the judge of all humanity, stands alongside his bride, the church, and uses all of his incredible power… to invite everyone to accept the free gift of eternal life.

And so the answer to the question of why we honor our mothers comes down to this, we honor our mothers because not every mother could do what they did.  Just as many politicians have abused their power and we honor those who used their power responsibly, not every mother has been able to handle the responsibility of raising mature responsible adults.  And so we honor those that did.  We honor the women on our lives that lived the way that Jesus showed us, and who used their authority to show us forgiveness, rescue, unity, grace and mercy.

All of us are called to do the same with the power and authority that we have been given.  Whether we have little, or whether we have much, the church has been called to use our authority to move toward unity, to invite others into God’s kingdom, to tell the world about the good news of Jesus Christ, and to show everyone around us mercy and grace.

 

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* 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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.