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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Whining About Winning

 

 

Whining About Winning

September 20, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Exodus 16:2-15          Philippians 1:21-30               Matthew 20:1-16

 

Do you like horses?  Many of us do. 

John Wayne once said that the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse.

But even if we don’t keep horses, or ride horses, or even if we don’t like horses very much, we often talk about them because horses have been partners with humanity for so long that they have become ingrained in in our language.

Most of us are familiar with some older phrases in English that grew out of our pre-industrial history.  We say things like “biting the hand that feed you,” (which is pretty self-explanatory), or say that something, or someone is “long in the tooth.”   That phrase, “long in the tooth” became a part of our language because horses’ teeth continue to grow as long as they live, so older horses, naturally, have longer teeth.  And that brings us to the phrase “looking a gift-horse in the mouth.”  Because a horse’s teeth can tell you a lot about how old it is, and what kind of care it has been given, it was, and is, standard practice to look in a horse’s mouth before you bought one.  But if someone was giving you a horse as a gift, it was bad form, or even rude, to look in the mouth of a horse for which you paid nothing.  After all, why would you complain about something that you were getting for free?

But throughout scripture, and in our present generation, the people of God have a bad habit of doing exactly that.  Human beings seem to make a habit of complaining, and that complaining, grumbling, whining, often continues even when God answers our prayers, gives us everything that we wanted, and even pours out blessings for which we hadn’t even hoped.  We begin in Exodus 16:2-15 where we find the people of Israel who, after four hundred years of slavery and captivity in Egypt, had been were finally free, and who had witnesses God’s protection as he destroyed the Egyptian army that had been pursuing them.

In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning, you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning, there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

For four hundred and thirty years, the people of Israel pray that God would rescue them and, eventually, he does.  Then they pray that God would rescue them from the Egyptian army that is charging after them to kill them or return them to their slavery.  And they watch, as God parts the Red Sea, saves all of Israel, and destroys the chariots and horses that had been pursuing them.  And then… they complain and grumble that God doesn’t love them enough, that there isn’t enough food to eat, they maybe they ought to just return to Egypt on their own because at least when they were slaves, they had enough food.

Let me say that again.  They were rescued from slavery, given their freedom, watched as God destroyed the most powerful military machine on the planet, and then complained that God didn’t love them enough and maybe they should just give up and go back because slavery was better than freedom.  It sounds ridiculous, but this is not an exception.  Human beings do this sort of thing far more often than we care to admit.  In Matthew 20:1-16, Jesus tells an entirely believable parable about a landowner who needed to hire workers to harvest the grapes in his vineyard.

20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denariusfor the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

So, let’s review.  There were a bunch of people who needed work and gathered in the town square to meet people who would hire them.  The landowner needed people to help with his harvest and offered them work.  He offered them the common wage for a day’s labor, in advance, and they accepted.  Several times, throughout the day, he hired more people and offered to pay them “whatever is right.”  And then, at the end of the day, he paid them the agreed upon wage, or more, and… they complained.  Because the landowner was generous, and paid everyone well, the people who had been hired first grumbled that they should have been paid more, even though they agreed that the wage he offered was fair before he hired them.

But what about us in the twenty-first century?  After two millennia of following Jesus and studying his teaching, do we have it all together or are we just as prone to whine and moan and look a gift-horse in the mouth?  In Philippians 1:21-30, Paul writes to one of the churches in Greece and says this:

To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons:

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

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

12 Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guardand to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former, preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

Paul starts out his letter by making it clear that everyone knew that he was in prison because of Jesus.  But, because Paul was in prison, other followers of Jesus became fearless in proclaiming and sharing the gospel message.  Different groups had different reasons, but the response to Paul’s imprisonment by the community of faith was to preach louder and more often.  And so, even though Paul was suffering, he rejoiced because he knew that good things had resulted from his pain and discomfort.

Paul believes that eventually, he will be released from prison and continue preaching.  But he knows that if he dies, he looks forward to an eternity with Jesus.  And so he tells the church that no matter what happens, they should conduct themselves in a manner worthy of Jesus Christ, work together as one to promote the gospel message, and do so without fear by those who would oppose them.  For in the end, we have been given the gifts of both believing and of suffering.  Because, as Paul explained, our suffering in the name of Jesus, is still a part of God’s plan, and good can still grow out of it.

The people of Israel were whining about winning.  They got everything that they had wanted for more than four hundred years.  They were witnesses to God’s power in ways that no one had ever seen before.  And still they complained.

The people in Jesus’ parable were paid everything that they had agreed to, and more, and still they complained that they thought they deserved more.

But Paul rejoiced while he was suffering in prison and encouraged the church to do the same thing.

The difference was that Paul remembered to look at the big picture and remembered that God had a plan for the world. 

So, what will we do?

Do we look a gift-horse in the mouth?

Do we complain because we can’t see the plan? 

Do we think that we should be paid more?

Are we angry when God blesses someone else, or bitter that others are given more than we think is fair?

Do we think that the blessings that we have received aren’t enough?

Or do we remember to look for the big picture?  Do we remember the many blessings that we have already been given and the untold prayers that have already been answered? 

Rather than complain, in the middle of our pain and suffering, let us strive together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who might oppose us.  Let us remember that both our belief in Jesus, and our suffering in his name are blessings from God.  May we be like Paul, so that our time of trial and hardship, through the blessing of Jesus Christ, can become our greatest time of victory and growth.

 

 


 

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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.

Finding Meaning in Disaster

Finding Meaning in Disaster

August 16, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

Genesis 45:1-15         Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32                     Matthew 15:21-28

Can any good come from the chaos and loss of life caused by the Coronavirus?  Yes.

But, how does a disaster that destroys lives, end up saving lives?

Before we think about today, let’s go back a hundred years or so.  When the HMS Titanic sank on April 15th, 1912, 1500 lives were lost and newspapers around the world carried stories about it under gigantic, bold print headlines that filled most of the space above the fold of the paper.  It was a terrible tragedy and one of the greatest maritime disasters in all of history.  But as bad as it was, that disaster has saved the lives of a great number of people in the hundred years since it happened. 

So, how does a disaster save lives?

In the case of the Titanic, the news was so big, and so bold, that many things changed quickly and many more over a longer period.  First, while radio was only an experiment at the time of the Titanic sinking, and only a few ships were equipped with them.  And, while the USS Californian, which was the closest ship to the Titanic at only 20 miles away, had one of the new wireless transmitters, they only had one radio operator who had gone off-duty and to bed before the Titanic sank. 

Because of the sinking of the Titanic, radio use was regulated so that all ships would have radios and that they would have trained operators around the clock.  Further, the radio act of 1912 required that any ships receiving, or observing, a distress call, immediate attempt to render aid.  The Titanic sinking also led to requirements that life jackets be available for every passenger, that every passenger receive training in what to do and where to go in the event of an emergency, that crews be trained in the use of emergency lifeboats, and that each ship should carry enough lifeboats to carry every passenger and crew.  And those were just the things that happened quickly.  Over the long-term, the designs ships everywhere were changed to make them safer, particularly considering the things that failed to save the Titanic.

And with the story of the Titanic in our minds, rewind history even farther to the story of Joseph in the Old Testament that we find in Genesis 45:1-15.  Although the entire story of Joseph is an incredible tale, and although I am enormously frustrated that our lectionary has skipped from the beginning of the story that we read last week to the very end of the story this week, there is still much to be learned.  To catch us up, after Joseph was sold to Midianite merchants by his brothers, he was taken to Egypt, sold as a slave, falsely accused, imprisoned by that false accusation, and then rose a position second only to the Pharaoh of Egypt when God allowed him to interpret the nightmares that had been sent by God to plague the sleep of the Pharaoh for nights on end.  That dream told of a coming famine that would devastate the land, and Joseph’s interpretation, and his administration, allowed Egypt to store enough food to survive.  And then, during the famine, Joseph own brothers, the same ones who had sold him into slavery, travelled to Egypt to beg for food.  But when they stood in front of the administrator to beg for food, they unknowingly stood in front of their brother Joseph who had been so changed by the passage of time and the culture of Egypt, that none of them recognized him.  And then, after torturing them enough to make them bring his brother Benjamin on a second visit, Joseph reveals himself to them.

45:1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So, there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks, and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. 13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”

14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.

Considering our present situation, I want to point out that despite the betrayal of his brothers and many years of slavery, abuse, and imprisonment, Joseph doesn’t hold a grudge.  His brothers are understandably terrified that, because Joseph is now the second most powerful person in Egypt, that he will take his revenge upon them.  But he doesn’t.  But despite the terrible things that happened to him, Joseph learned from his experiences.  Second, Joseph’s closeness with God was the one thing that made it possible for him to see what the Egyptians could not.  It was Joseph’s relationship with God that allowed him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and that, in turn, led to Joseph’s appointment as the overseer of all Egypt, their food production, storage, preparations for, and management of the nation to navigate through seven years of prosperity and seven years of famine.

In an entirely different story found in Matthew 15:21-28, we see a similar vision of the world as Jesus meets a Canaanite woman with a terrible problem.

21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So, his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

27 “Yes, it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

This story is unusual because while we often think of Jesus, as we saw in the feeding of the five thousand (or fifteen thousand),  as being always being ready and willing to help people, in this story, Jesus tries really hard, three times, to make this woman go away.  At first, Jesus completely ignores her, but the disciples urge him to send her away because she is being a nuisance.  And so, with their encouragement, Jesus tells the woman that he was sent to care for the Jews who had been lost to God and that taking care of foreigners was not his job.  But even that did not dissuade her, and so Jesus tells her, quite clearly, that she is not his priority because it wouldn’t be right to take something away from God’s people and throw it to the dogs. 

But this is where the woman demonstrates that she sees the world differently than most other people.  Rather than thinking of God, and God’s power, as a finite and limited resource, the Canaanite woman sees God as infinite and that the healing for which she asks is of no more value to God than the crumbs that fall from a rich man’s table.  And it is this understanding, and this faith in God, that leads Jesus to heal give the Canaanite woman what she wanted, and he heals her daughter, from a distance, without ever meeting her.

Both Joseph and the Canaanite woman were blessed by God because they saw the world through a lens of faith in the power of God.  It was the Canaanite woman’s vision and faith that allowed her to see God’s power, and see Jesus, in a different way and that vision, and that faith, was rewarded.  It was Joseph’s vision and faith that allowed him to see what the Egyptians and all their wise men could not.  And it was that vision and faith elevated him to one of the most powerful positions in the ancient world, allowed him to guide Egypt, one of the world’s greatest super powers, through a time of great crisis and, at the same time, rescue family, and God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and his father Jacob, and lay the groundwork for the protection of the future nation of Israel until it had grown enough, eight hundred years later, to survive on its own.

Watching her daughter suffer from an incurable demon possession year in, and year out, must have been incredibly difficult for the Canaanite woman.  Obviously, being betrayed by his own brothers, and enduring years of imprisonment and slavery had to be agonizing.  But it was their vision and faith in God, through those difficult circumstances, that allowed them to receive the blessings of God and overcome those circumstances.

And that brings us to our present, twenty-first century crisis during this global Coronavirus pandemic.  As we are enduring these difficult circumstances, these stories from scripture call us to examine ourselves.  We should be asking ourselves, at least these two questions: 1) Do we have the kind of vision and faith in God that Joseph and the Canaanite woman had?  And, 2) What is God what is God showing us in our present circumstances, what is God calling us to see in the world around us, that the world is missing?  How should we see the world, our community, our neighbors, our friends, and the people around us, that we can only see through the lens of faith in the power of God?

Let us pray that we will see the vision that God is revealing before it is too late.

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here:https://youtu.be/vJmCWUfz4TQ

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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.

Escape from “Try-Fail-Repeat”

Escape From “Try-Fail-Repeat”

July 05, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.” – Japanese proverb

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67   

Romans 7:15-25a                  

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

If you do a search online for quotes about falling down, or about failure, you will be bombarded with results and it isn’t difficult to understand why.  Failure is as common to the human condition as breathing.  We learn to stand, and to walk, by falling down and pushing ourselves back up again.

And often repeated, and likely ancient, Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

But sometimes simply trying again isn’t enough.  As much as we might want to win an Olympic gold medal, most of us will never win one.  For couples struggling with infertility, simply trying again may never be enough.  And those of us in the church, who have spent years, even decades, trying to follow the teaching and the example of Jesus Christ have sometimes despaired over our repeated inability to get it right.

So, what should we do?

Are we doomed to continually repeat our mistakes?

Will we ever be good enough?

Is there any hope for us?

Of course, there is.  But first, let’s begin by remembering the story of how Abraham sent one of his servants on a quest to find a wife for his son Isaac.  Knowing that the Canaanite people, among whom he lived, worshipped different gods than he did, and had different values than he did, Abraham sent his servant back to Ur, among the Chaldean people, to Abraham’s own extended family to search for a wife for his son.  And when the servant arrived there, he described his mission this way in Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67.

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So, I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

 And when her family had heard the story 58 …they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

Why is that important?  Simply because the odds against success of Abraham’s servant were astronomical.  Without GPS, or maps, or telephones, or mail, or photographs, or even a good sketch, the difficulty of even finding Abraham’s family was overwhelming and the chance that a woman there would be suitable, and available, and that both she, and her family, would be agreeable for her to leave them forever and marry a man she had never met, in a country none of them had ever been to, was almost completely impossible.

Failure was almost inevitable.

But Abraham trusted God.

And Abraham’s faith was so obvious, and evident in his daily life, that his servant understood the power of Abraham’s God and the power of an earnest prayer to that same God.  And so, Abraham’s servant prayed… with an almost impossible set of conditions… and God answered.

And, at the end of the day, the family asked Rebekah if she trusted that the servant really was who he said that he was.  Did she trust that her grandfather’s brother really did have a son that was her age?  Did she trust that Isaac was a man to whom she could tolerate being married?  All those things are built into the question when her family asks her, “Will you go with this man?”

And Rebekah trusts God, and says, “I will go.”

The odds of failure were astronomical.

But God.

When the God that created the universe by speaking it into existence is a part of the equation, the odds don’t matter.

And then, with the coming of Jesus, the world begins to understand better how God chooses to use his power and how much God cares for the people of his creation.  In Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus says:

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus says that the people of his generation acted like the children who played in the marketplaces.  The children weren’t happy because the adults wouldn’t play their games or sing their songs, and the adults weren’t happy because John the Baptist and Jesus wouldn’t play by the rules of their games either.  Much like we often see in our culture today, their critics wanted things both ways and spoke ill of them no matter what they did.  John didn’t drink or socialize, and they said he was a demon.  Jesus drank and socialized, and they said he was a drunkard and a friend of the wrong kind of people.   But Jesus ignores the criticism and invites the world to find comfort and rest by following him. 

Are you tired of trying to live up to everyone’s expectations?  Are you tired of all the arguing?  Are you tired of the Coronavirus?  Are you tired of politics?  Are you tired of the burdens and expectations that government and culture pile on you?  Are just tired of being tired?

There is a different way.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.”  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

But how does that work when I seem to keep repeating the same mistakes?

How does that work when I can’t ever seem to be good enough?

Friends, you are not alone.  This is not a new a new question.  In Romans 7:15-25a, the Apostle Paul admitted to wrestling with the same frustrations, inadequacies, and failures and he explains it this way:

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul says that as hard as he intends to do good, and as hard as he tries to do good, he cannot manage to do the good things that he wants to do.  And, at the same time, as hard as her intends not to do evil, and has hard as he tries not to sin, he cannot manage to stop sinning.  Paul’s understanding is that human beings are not inherently good, that good does not live, at least exclusively, within us because we are consumed by our sinful nature.  As much as we want to do good, as hard as we try to do good, our lives become an inescapable, rotating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.  Paul says that the rules and laws that we know in our mind are at war with the sin that is at work within us.

But as disastrous as this might sound, this is exactly where the story turns around.

There is rescue.

There is an escape.

Our rescue from the repeating carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat is found in Jesus Christ who rescues us from ourselves and the sinful nature that lives within us.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from trying to live up to everyone’s expectations.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from all the arguing.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the fear of the Coronavirus.

It is Jesus who can rescue us from the drone of politics.

And it is Jesus who can rescue us from the burdens and expectations that government and culture piles on you.

Are just tired of being tired?

Abraham trusted God and sent his servant on an impossible mission.

Abraham’s servant trusted that God could lead him to the woman that God had chosen.

Rebekah trusted that God had brought Abraham’s servant to her and said, “I will go.”

Jesus asks us to do the same.

Jesus says, “Come to me” and “I will give you rest.” 

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

It’s time to get off the carousel of Try-Fail-Repeat.

Come to Jesus.  Trust him.  And discover how good it feels to finally…

               …rest.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 

 


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

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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.

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

Did you enjoy reading this?

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.

Eulogy and Obituary for Linda Montgomery

Eulogy for Linda Montgomery

June 22, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

This is hard.

Being here is hard.  Watching this family suffer… is hard.  Losing a friend… is hard.  Not being able to have the celebration of life that Linda deserves, is hard.  All of this is hard.

Everyone that has ever met Linda Montgomery has a story that they remember, and they all want to tell about it.  We have already heard several of those stories.  And, most importantly, as I sat down with Linda’s family this week, they shared their stories with me for almost two hours.  It wasn’t boring or even difficult, but much like it has always been whenever anyone has ever talked about Linda, the stories about her, the love that they had for her, and the joy that she brought into their lives, just flowed out of them.  Everyone who met Linda, felt loved by her because she cared about everyone around her whether they were an old friend or a total stranger.  And in Linda’s world, strangers became friends almost immediately.

The difficulty that I have, is that between the stories that I heard, and those that have been emailed to me, I could stand up here and share with you for hours, and if we opened this microphone and offered you the opportunity to share, we could double that again.  But the reasons that everyone has great stories that they want to share, is because Linda cared about them.  She genuinely cared about everyone around her, she loved them, and more often than not, she put their needs ahead of her own.

One of Linda’s great loves was Mary Poppins, and like Mary Poppins, Linda was “Practically perfect in every way.”  She sang, she danced, and she made everything fun.  Linda literally sang her way through life and made up songs about whatever she was doing regardless of how trivial the task.  And, much like Mary Poppins, Linda brought a new and different energy to any room into which she would step.  In Mary Poppins, Mary and the children stop in the park to feed the birds and to make the acquaintance of the bird lady.  In Linda’s story, she was both Mary and the bird lady.  She loved birds, she loved watching the birds, and feeding the birds, and teaching her children and grandchildren, and anyone else, about the birds.  There was always a bird book near the window facing the bird feeder so that they could identify any unfamiliar birds that visited.  And she got terribly excited when a goldfinch stopped to have a snack and say hello and she made sure that Owen had a good set of binoculars so that he could see the birds too.

And loving birds was only a small part of Linda’s love of nature.  She loved the outdoors and was always happiest there.  She grew up camping and anytime that she went missing, everyone knew that you could probably find her near the fire circle.  And perhaps it was her time spent near the fire circle when she nurtured her ability to make the perfect smore.  She could toast a marshmallow any way that you liked it, from golden brown to crispy, to burnt.  Whatever was perfect for you, she could, and would, toast one just the way you liked it. She loved the water, but she loved being near the water and not on the water.  Whenever she was in a boat, she had white knuckles from holding on much too tightly.  But time on the shore had a much more relaxing and calming effect.

Linda’s father was a photography hobbyist and enthusiast and his love of photography infected her as well.  While she didn’t care to have her own darkroom or develop her own pictures, she was rarely without two or three cameras so that, wherever they went, she could get the perfect shot.

Linda always wanted what was best for her family, she did whatever she had to do, so that her children never knew how tight their money was, and she knew that she could never afford to send Jessica to college so she got work at Mount Union as a housekeeper so that, as staff, she would get a discount.  From there, she worked her way to the supply room, the key room, and the physical plant.  Then she had a heart attack and afterwards the university moved her to a less active secretarial position.  Somewhere along the line, she became “the duck lady” that could herd nesting ducks away from campus buildings and back to the lake.  Later she split her time between the physical plant and the chaplain’s office, and then finally full time at the chapel where, everyone knew that her gifts seemed perfectly matched to her position.  Mary Poppins, in the movie Mary Poppins Returns says, “Everything is possible, even the impossible.” And, Like Mary Poppins, Linda was known at UMU for doing the things that others thought were impossible.

One of things that often stood out, no matter where she went, was that Linda always put the needs of others ahead of her own.  Although she was often critical of herself, no matter who came in her office, she loved them.  Students who were far from home felt like they had a mom they could go to and no matter who she met, she liked to find the things that interested them.  Even when she was undergoing chemo, she was so focused on caring for others, and the needs of others, that many people didn’t even know that she was sick.  And even with all the things that she had on her mind, her friend Sarah Sherer told me that Linda agonized over whether she should retire or not because she didn’t want to leave anyone in the lurch.  She resisted taking sick days or Family leave days even when all of her friends and coworkers were urging her to do so, and to take care of herself, because she wanted to be sure that everyone else was taken care of first.

But as much as she cared for everyone, Linda’s family was everything to her.  As much as she gave of herself as work or at church, she did so many times over at home.  When she discovered that there was a Miami Dolphins playoff game being played while they were in Florida, despite the fact that she was not a Dolphins fan, and despite being undoubtedly expensive, and despite her dislike of driving in heavy traffic, Linda spent all day on the phone, found some available tickets, bought them, and drove to Miami so that Amanda, who was a fan, could have the once in a lifetime chance to see them in a playoff game.

Linda worried too much. She always knew what the weather was in Columbus before Amanda did and would call and warn her to take her umbrella, or to wear her galoshes, or a scarf, or whatever it is that mothers need to tell their children when the weather is bad.  All our moms did that, but Linda made an artform out of doing it long distance.  She worried about Amanda, and that created the need for Amanda to get an Instagram account and what she calls her “Amanda picture of the day.”  Every morning, Amanda would take a picture of herself, and send it to her mom, to reassure her that she was still alive and was doing alright.  This happened every morning, without fail, and if she was late, then Linda worried even more.

She was known for hot chicken sandwiches and cheesy potatoes, She and Sarah often made soup and salad for lunch for some of the faculty, staff, and students after chapel each week, and Linda always knew how to organize it and that chicken and rice certainly ought to be on the menu.  She wasn’t into fancy recipes, but she was a master at comfort food.  She, and her family, were obsessed with ice cream but she never drank alcohol.  This, of course led to a crisis for Amanda when she discovered that Linda was eating Rum Raisin ice cream.  In response to Amanda’s dismay at seeing her teetotaling mom “having alcohol,” Linda just explained that alcohol in ice cream “didn’t count.”

Linda was known for many things.  She was always smiling, rarely angry, she always made sure that the toilet was clean before company came, she had bright shining eyes that everyone noticed and remembered, even strangers would comment that she just smelled good, and somehow she made her favorite Clinique perfumes “Happy” and “Happy Heart,” smell different than they did on anyone else.  Her laugh, the “Linda cackle,” was well-known, could be heard from a considerable distance, often summoned friends who recognized it from around corners, and warmed the hearts of everyone withing earshot.   She loved all things Irish and, whenever the church basement sale received Irish themed items, they generally found their way to Linda before the sale ever started.  She was the favorite aunt that took them to the zoo and bought Evan his favorite dinosaurs and Ben said, “She was always comforting to me.  She always made me feel calm and endlessly happy, like being a kid all over again.  Being with her, and at her house, always relaxed me no matter what bad or stressful things were going on in the world.  I can’t think of someone who is more genuinely happy for others, so proud and thankful for her family, and so strong despite those fears and “quirks” she inherited from Grandma!”

There is so much more.

I know that I can’t tell you all of the stories that I have been told by Lynn, Jessica, Craig (whom she adored), Amanda, various church folk, Sarah, Ben, and Drew.  I apologize for not including them all.  I will add all of them to the text of this eulogy when I post it on by blog, but we just don’t have the time to share them all here.

For you who are her family, I hope that you remember that Linda Montgomery loved Jesus, and loved others like Jesus.  Linda loved others even at the expense of herself and her needs.  But as much as she loved others, she loved you more.  You were her reason to live and her reason to love.  You were her passion.  It was always your happiness that made her happiest.  Mary Poppins said that when the wind changed, it was time to go, even though the children were never ready for her to leave.    Like Mary Poppins, none of us were ready for Linda to leave.  But perhaps, it was just time.  Hold on to the love that Linda had for you.  Remember her laugh, her joy, her smell, her smile, her eyes, her love for others, and her love for you.  It was you who made her happy.  Hold on to the joy, the happiness, and the love that she gave to you.

And, because much of Linda lives on through you, I hope that you will share her love, her joy, and her happiness with the world around you.

Because life is hard, and all of us need more Mary Poppins-es and Linda Montgomerys in our lives.

Linda was indeed, “practically perfect in every way.”


Precious Memories

Linda Montgomery

Rev. Chris Martin

“Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul. In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”

Linda Montgomery was indeed a precious person. Regardless of the situation in which she found herself, Linda always wore a smile on her face. She showed kindness and compassion to everyone she met, always seeing the goodness in others, choosing to overlook anything less.  Her relaxed laughter made strangers into friends the moment she met them.  Linda was an easy person to love because she had the gift of putting people at ease in her presence.  While she was involved in so many things at Christ United Methodist Church, much of what she did was accomplished behind the scenes. She never sought recognition for what she did for others, preferring instead to work alongside others to share her talents and abilities.  Many of us at Christ Church knew her as the “reception” lady.  Often when there was a reception after a special program at church, Linda would not only solicit home-baked cookies from others, she would bake dozens-upon-dozens herself. Her emphasis was always on home-baked.

When the “Threads of Love” group formed to make prayer shawls for members and friends of the church who needed some additional love and concern, Linda took an active interest in this ministry. She was also instrumental in selecting and procuring a cabinet in which to store the prayer shawls until they were distributed.

When Lynn took over the responsibility of maintaining the church building and property, Linda was right there with him sharing in keeping everything clean and polished. Lynn and Linda had fun working together, often laughing as they completed their tasks.  Most of the conversations I shared with Linda were when I would stop at the church on Saturdays and she would be helping Lynn put the finishing touches on things so all would be ready for Sunday morning.  Those were truly precious times as Linda would talk about her daughters, Jessica and Amanda, and, of course, Owen.  I also remember Linda holding baby Owen in the back of the sanctuary during worship.  What joy he brought to her heart.  Jessica, Amanda and not-so-little-anymore Owen, your mom and Oma loved you more than life itself and still does as she watches over you now from her place in heaven.  Lynn and Linda loved and cared for each other in such a beautiful way, especially in the last months of Linda’s illness, when Lynn did everything he could to comfort and care for her.  Indeed, “Precious memories how they linger; how they ever flood my soul. In the stillness, of the midnight, precious sacred scenes unfold.”  Amen.

Chris Martin,

Pastor of Visitation

Christ United Methodist Church

Alliance, Ohio


Drew Shuster

Subject: Aunt Linda

I don’t have a particular story, but I did want to say that I will miss her laugh and her kind heart.   She had the kind of laugh that always made me laugh.   I will miss hearing her laugh at our family gatherings especially at Christmas when we always have such fun playing games and doing funny gift exchanges as a family.  She loved all of us kids so much and she always made sure we knew it.   Evan also wanted to say that she bought him his favorite dinosaurs when they were out together at the zoo and he will always think of her when he is playing with them.


Ben Shuster

Subject: My Aunt Linda remembrance

I just know that my mom and Grandma’s friends would always joke how Aunt Linda reminded them of Grandma Rickard — there was no mistaking she was Grandma’s daughter.  When I was a boy I loved going to Grandma’s house of course!  I always felt so at home there, a home away from my home.  Grandma would laugh and sit and watch us boys go crazy, say funny things, with love and happiness written all over face.

When Grandma passed, and as I grew up, and it became “Aunt Linda’s house” — every time I’d go visit I would think “wow, she really is looking more and more like grandma!”  Her laugh more like grandma’s, the way she’d sit and watch and laugh at us being silly adults.  And she became an Oma herself and it was official!  She was the new “Grandma.”

Since my dad passed away and we moved away, I’ve always felt so uncomfortable in Alliance — but not at that house on Glenwood, and not with Aunt Linda.  She was always comforting to me.  She always made me feel calm and endlessly happy, like being a kid all over again.  Being with her and at her house always relaxed me no matter what bad or stressful things were going on out in the world.  I can’t think of someone who is more genuinely happy for others, so proud and thankful for her family, and so strong despite those fears and “quirks” she inherited from Grandma!

I’ll keep remembering her like I remember my childhood — happy, laughing, joking, peaceful.  And I’ll plan to teach Alex what she taught us — that no matter how tall the odds or what fears we might have, you face them strong and you fight as best you can because your family loves you and will support you no matter what.

We love you Aunt Linda aka Oma!


Sara Sherer

UMU Director of Residence Life

Thoughts about Linda

Before actual “stories” I will say that the things that stood out to me most about Linda were how much she loved to laugh… and she had a great laugh.  She had a servant’s heart – she worried about other people working too hard, but she never stopped.  She loved her family and worried about them, but she was so proud of her girls, and her nephews and sister.  But, she just cared about people and was a great listener.  She was an awesome co-worker.  She always found a way to get things done, even when other people told you they couldn’t happen.

Stories:

  • When I first started working at Mount Union, I didn’t know my own office phone number… I thought I did, but I didn’t.  I had never lived anywhere where there were 2 exchanges in the same city… so I thought all Alliance phone numbers began with 823…. but my office line didn’t.  So, one time Linda called my office and told me that she called a friend and realized that the last 4 digits were the same as a co-workers… and her friend asked, is your co-worker Sara?  Can you tell her to stop giving out my number??
  • Similarly – I used to re-record my voicemail message every week.  We had to, to update who was the emergency contact on campus.  I hated it recording it and often it took several “takes” before I got all the way through the long message without saying something wrong.  Well, one day, I got a voicemail from Linda and she was just laughing so hard.  When I recorded my voicemail, I thought I was starting over with each of my do-overs, but Linda told me that each and everyone of them were recorded, back to back… and that it had taken me 8 attempts that time and she had listened to every single one, laughing harder with each of my attempts.
  • Then there was the time that I donated a coat to the church basement sale and in the coat pocket was a campus key!  Thank goodness Linda recognized the key and figured out it was mine (I was pretty new to church at that time) and got it back to me! That would have been an expensive loss!
  • I think that it may have been Susan Diser who originally invited me to come to choir… but it was sitting with Linda and Lucinda and Diane in the alto section that made it so much fun. The altos always got into trouble with Lanny, the director.  I’ve missed all of them in choir!  (although the altos still probably are the most unruly section!)  The biggest problem I had, besides getting in trouble with the altos, was that we sat beside the tenors, so often I would find myself singing tenor along with Lynn instead of the alto part!
  • Linda was the first person that Ian and I ever visited (outside of family).  I was on maternity leave (and living on campus) and Linda was at home recovering from a heart-attack, so I loaded Ian up in his stroller and we walked to visit Linda.
  • Similarly – I think that Linda was one of the first people to ever meet Mark… the week after he was born was VBS at church (combined with St. Joe’s that year) and Linda and Lynn agreed to pick up Ian and take him to bible school every night.  When she came the first night, she came in to meet Mark, but made a big fuss over Ian becoming a big brother and brought him a stuffed animal dog – of the golden-retriever variety.  Ian immediately named him Sandy and he was the precious stuffy that had to go on everywhere with us.  I was pretty certain Sandy would end up going to college with Ian.
  • For the last couple of years, Linda and I have planned and provided light lunches, often soup and salad, for a small group of students/faculty/staff after chapel service most weeks.  She was a great partner!  I needed a decision maker.  At the beginning of a semester I sent a whole list of fancy soups that I could make… and the one that Linda requested first was chicken and rice!  It was such an “old standby” that I almost didn’t put it on the list.
  • She agonized about whether or not to retire.  She didn’t want to leave anyone in a lurch.  She fought against taking sick days and eventually FMLA even when we were all urging her to take the time off and take care of herself.  She wanted to make sure that we were all taken care of first.

Obituary for Linda Montgomery

Linda Montgomery

Linda Rickard Montgomery, age 59, of Alliance, passed away on June 18, 2020 at the Cleveland Clinic due to complications after courageously fighting leukemia and lymphoma.

She was born June 25, 1960 in Alliance, Ohio to Kenneth and Marjorie Rickard. A graduate of Alliance High School, class of 1978, Linda worked at the University of Mount Union since 1995 where she held many positions, but finally finding her perfect niche in the Dewald Chapel. She was planning to retire this month.

Linda was a member of Christ United Methodist Church where she spent many years as part of the choir and Threads of Love. She also served as the head of the reception committee and a member of the Friendship II Sunday School class. Linda was also a long-time member of Rainbow Girls and the Eastern Star.

Linda loved camping and being outdoors, spending time with her family, Christmas, bird watching.  She was always smiling and bringing joy to others, especially with her famous laugh, the “Linda cackle”.

Survivors include her longtime partner, Lynn Goldrick; daughters, Jessica (Craig) Crider of Salem, OH, and Amanda Montgomery of Columbus, OH; grandson, Owen Crider; sister, Susan (Dieter) Kahle of Solon, OH; nephews, Drew (Erin) Shuster of North Ridgeville, OH, and Ben (Erin) Shuster of Arlington, VA; great nephews, Evan, Isaac, and Alexander.

She was preceded in death by her parents.

A private funeral service will held.  She will be laid to rest beside her parents at Alliance City Cemetery.

Memorial contributions can be made in her name to American Red Cross (monetary or blood donations) http://www.redcross.org or Christ United Methodist Church 470 Broadway St. Alliance, OH 44601.

Arrangements are entrusted to Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, Alliance, Ohio.  Friends may register online at www.ctcfuneral.com.

To send flowers to the family or plant a tree in memory of Linda Montgomery, please visit our floral store.

 

Why Are We Here?

Why Are We Here?

(Trinity Sunday)

June 07, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a       Matthew 28:16-20       2 Corinthians 13:11-13

  

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

If we’re honest with ourselves, we would admit that we’ve probably asked ourselves, and others, these kinds of questions.  And at their core, all of these can be summed up by the question, “Why are we here?”  Why are we attending church?  Why are we following Jesus?  I mean, what’s the point of it all?

And thankfully, the answer is straightforward and not that difficult to find.

Let’s begin our discussion at the very beginning of the discussion, in the first chapter of Genesis, at the very beginning of God’s story (Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a).

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” 23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

 2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so, on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created,

First, we note that “In the beginning… God.”  And then we see, “The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  And then, if we skip ahead to verse 26, we see, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”  All of these, even from the beginning, indicate that while God is one, God is God and Spirit.  While there is only one God, God is also something more than singular.  But we also see that the intent of our creation was for us to share the image of God.  That doesn’t mean that we were created to be godlike, or to be little gods, or to become like God.  But it does mean that we were intended to share the character of God, to be like him in his generosity, compassion, faithfulness, kindness, and love.  Humanity was created and called to “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wind animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground” with the same nurture, love, care and benevolence that God has for us.  We weren’t called to subdue the earth by domination and destruction, but through gentle care and careful nurture.

And that understanding of our creation still applies as we read about the coming of the Messiah, as we watch and learn from the example of his ministry, as we witness his arrest, crucifixion and resurrection, and as we read about his last moments with his disciples in Matthew 28:16-20 where Jesus offers his last words of instruction as a reminder of their, and our, mission on earth in his absence.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Particularly with today being Trinity Sunday, we are reminded, much as we were as we read from Genesis, that our God is one but, at the same time, is something more than singular.  We do not worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as three gods, we worship one God, but acknowledge that, in ways that we cannot fully grasp or understand, God exists in the three persons of the Trinity.  And within the trinity, Jesus declares that all authority in heaven and earth has been given to him as he watches over, rules, and sits in judgement of humanity, our planet, and the entire universe.  Our mission, as his followers, and his expectation of us, is that we are to go out into our communities, out into our states, our nations, and into the entire world in order to make disciples, baptize them, and pass on the wisdom, teaching, and commands that Jesus gave to us.

But why?

Why is this our mission?

What is the goal of such a mission?  What is our purpose?  What’s the point?  Why do we need to be the church to get the job done?  Why do we need to work together?  And, despite Paul’s habit of writing incredibly long sentences and intricate explanations, in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 he offers a remarkably short, succinct summary of why we do what we do when he says…

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

So, what’s the point?

Restoration is the point.  God’s purpose and goal for his mission on earth, and therefore ours, is to restore the relationship between God and his people.  To restore the relationship between God and us, the people who know him so that we can have the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have, and to restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and  become estranged from him.

So important is this goal, that all three persons of the trinity have a role in working toward it and that mission has been given to us as well.  And in these two bullet points we find the answers to all those questions we asked at the beginning of this message:

What is the point of going to church?

Why do we belong?

What is our purpose as Christians and as followers of Jesus Christ?

“Why are we here?” 

All of it.

Number one, we are here so that we can restore our relationship with God to the deep, meaningful, loving, and intimate kind of relationship that he intends for us to have.

And number two, we are here so that we can learn how we can restore the relationship between God and those children who have wandered off and become estranged from him.

Along the way, by gathering in community, we can encourage one another, support one another, and work together to that all of God’s children can live in peace.

And if the chaotic events of the last week tell us anything, it is this:

We have a lot of work to do.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/blhbTcrm2sw

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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.

Endurance

If any of you have participated in sports, or even something as simple as casual walking, one thing that we all learn is that endurance cannot be purchased at the store.  We can buy good shoes, and sports equipment of all kinds, but the ability to play through an entire game, whether it is a walk in the park, or full contact football, or tennis, golf, soccer, or anything else, can only come from hard work.  If we say that there is a price for endurance, then that price can only be paid in sweat.  I have friends who, after major surgery, could barely walk across the room without stopping for rest.  But they persisted.  First it was a walk across the room, then to the end of the driveway, and then walking down the street one telephone pole at a time, until finally they were walking several miles every evening.  The same growth in endurance is seen in other sports in much the same way.  As strange as it sounds, just as we learn patience by being patient, we learn endurance, we train our bodies to endure, by repeatedly enduring. And, as difficult as it is for us to live through a global pandemic, we are learning to endure, and we learn endurance by enduring.  Granted, compared to the bread lines of the Great Depression, or ration cards and blackout drills of World War Two, the difficulties and hardships that we face may not be as great as those faced by other generations, but like it or not, great or small, these are ours. But as we stay at home, practice social distancing, and are separated from one another and from loved ones by doing so, as many of us suffer from unemployment caused by the shutdown, or by other byproducts of the pandemic, it is worthwhile for us to remember that the writers of scripture were no strangers to suffering and endurance.  In 2 Corinthians 1:3-11, Paul writes: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you, patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many. Let me pull a few bullet points from Paul’s words that apply to our current situation:
  • We worship the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort
  • God comforts us in all our trouble so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we have received from God.
  • We are distressed for the comfort of others. In this situation, we are fighting against our desire to be together so that we might not, unwittingly, pass this virus to others, family, and friends that we care about, and bring harm to them.
  • Paul says that they were distressed, and experienced trouble, beyond their ability to endure, but at the limits of their endurance, they learned that they could rely upon God rather than relying upon themselves.
It is the calling of the strong to protect the weak, and today we struggle against the pandemic by denying our desires to protect the weak and the vulnerable among us.  But our struggle is not without cost.  The cost of our endurance is being paid in sweat, in tears, and in great frustration. Proverbs 18:14 says, “The human spirit can endure in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” Please don’t allow your spirit to be crushed.  Pray that God might give you strength and endurance beyond your own.  Pray that we might learn to rely upon God rather than upon ourselves.  Encourage one another wherever, and whenever, possible.  Call, write, email, text, video chat, Zoom, or whatever it takes to stay connected and to encourage those around you who are struggling.  And please, please, don’t feel as if you must stoically struggle alone.  If you are struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Call me, call a friend, let someone know that you are struggling so that we can do whatever we can to help. And finally, because we are still the church, and our mission to do the work of Jesus Christ doesn’t stop for a pandemic, also remember Paul’s words from 2 Thessalonians 3:12-14. 13 And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. Hang in there.  Endure as long as you can.  Lean on God when your endurance ends.  Help one another.  Help the people around you. And never tire of doing good.   Blessings, Pastor John    
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A Religious Heart Condition

A Religious Heart Condition

May 24, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 14:15-21

Acts 17:22-31 

1 Peter 3:13-22

 

Do you have a heart condition?

Certainly, some of you said yes, but the truth is that we all have some sort of heart condition.  Some of our hearts are strong, others are less so.  Some of our hearts are giving and generous, and others less so.  Some hearts are warm, and others are cold, and so on.  The average person has a resting pulse rate between 66 and 72 beats per minute.  Athletes in endurance sports can commonly have pulse rates between 30 and 40 beats per minute.  Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps’ was said to be 38 beats per minute at his peak, and

Miguel Indurain, an Olympic cycling gold medalist in 1996, and a five-time winner of the Tour de France is said to have registered a resting pulse rate of only 28 beat per minute.  Those athletes were likely in the peak of health and we would probably never describe them as having a heart condition, and yet, if you are I were to go to the doctor with a pulse rate anywhere close to 30, we would probably be in an ambulance before we could blink.  The condition of an athlete’s heart is medically and numerically different than the average person and their doctors understand the difference.

But throughout scripture, we discover that God has a keen interest in the condition of your heart.  In story after story, the message that we hear is much like the messages that we hear from our doctors, and that is, having the wrong kind of heart condition can be both dangerous and fatal.  And in John 14:15-21, Jesus points our that just as we wouldn’t expect someone with a pacemaker to compete in the Olympic games, neither should we expect someone with a spiritual heart condition to be the same as those who do not.  Jesus said,

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Jesus says that the world cannot accept God because they can’t see God.  We can’t expect the world to obey God and act the way that we do, because they don’t have the same heart that we do.  But because we do know God, because we do have a heart for God, then we are expected to obey the commands of God.  And, by loving God, and by obeying God’s commands, we receive the gift of life.  When we obey God, we know that God loves us back and reveals himself to us.

But although it seems like it’s a popular thing to do in our modern culture, simply loving and obeying “some” god, or “some” spirit, and just being generally “spiritual” isn’t enough.  In Acts 17:22-31, Paul explains it this way:

 22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

Our modern culture would not be that unfamiliar to the people that Paul knew in Athens.  Many people were very spiritual, they each chose a god, and a style of worship that they liked, and Paul even found that they had built a place of worship for an “unknown god” just in case they missed one.  But in a message that might just resonate with us while we worry about our safety during this pandemic and shelter in place, Paul’s message is that none of these gods, and indeed none of these places of worship, were necessary.  The God who created the universe doesn’t live in temples or churches, or in anything built by human hands, and doesn’t need anything from us.  But although God doesn’t need anything, he desires that the people of his creation would look for him, find him, hear his voice, repent, and return to a relationship with him.  God doesn’t need us, but what he wants, is a relationship with us, and for us to have a heart for with him.  What God wants, is for us to have the right kind of heart condition.

But what difference does it make?

What difference does it make if we have a heart for God, and the kind of a heart condition that God wants?

The difference has everything to do with fear, freedom, rest, and being comfortable in your own skin and is described by Peter in 1 Peter 3:13-22, where he says:

13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

First, Paul notes that people usually notice when you are trying to do good and, most often, no one wants to stop you from doing good.  But, even if you suffer for doing what is right, you can find comfort in knowing that you are blessed.  If you get arrested for feeding the homeless or get beat up because you stopped a bully from beating up the new kid, God still knows that you were doing the right thing.  But Paul also knows that when these things happen, people are going to want to know why you did it and, when they ask, we should be prepared to tell them why we have hope, and why that hope makes us want to do what is right, even when doing right causes us suffering.  And, if you noticed, Paul says that the reason that we do it is that our hearts revere Christ as Lord.  We have a heart condition, but it’s the right kind of heart condition.

If we have hope, if we revere Jesus as Lord, if we do what is right, if we are prepared with an answer, and if we answer with gentleness and respect, then we will have a clear conscience and the people that slander us will ultimately bring shame upon themselves.  The example that we follow is the example of Jesus Christ.  Jesus suffered for doing what was right.  He suffered to make a path for us and bring us to God.  It is because of Jesus death and resurrection that baptism has become the symbol of our rescue and rebirth into a new life and into a new kind of heart condition.  Baptism, Paul says, was never about washing the dirt from our physical bodies, but about our heart condition.  Once we have our hearts in the right place, once we begin to have the heart of Jesus, then our conscience toward God becomes clear.  We live at peace and are at rest because we have a clear conscience toward God.  We become fearless, and experience true freedom, because our conscience is clear.  We become comfortable in our own skin, and with who we are, because we have the right kind of heart condition. 

Our goal isn’t to have a resting pulse rate of 40 beats per minute, but like those elite athletes, our goal is to have a different kind of a heart.

Our goal is to have a clear conscience toward God.

Our goal… is to have a heart… like Jesus.

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/At65fTeqFOM


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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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