Christmas after Lockdown

Christmas After Lockdown

The last year and nine months has been, and continues to be, a long, strange, whirlwind of constant changes, news stories, changes, adaptations, and continued hope for a return to something approaching the “normal” that we remember.  Because of the threat of the coronavirus, and the statewide lockdown, we were unable to meet in person for Christmas Eve and so we did the best that we could to “meet” one another virtually.  Due to the hard work of our church staff and volunteers, and the amazing video editing of Bob Wallace, we produced a Christmas Eve video that I think surpassed almost any other similar attempt.

But as good as it was, it just wasn’t the same.

No matter how well we celebrated the arrival of the Christ child individually, there was still something missing.  Christmas wasn’t the same without being together.

Families are like that.  When we are apart, we can mail our gifts to one another, but it isn’t the same as being together.  In fact, for many of us, giving and receiving gifts has lost the urgency and the sparkle that it had when we were children.  What’s important, and treasured, now is just being together, seeing one another, sharing our stories and our lives, and just spending time together.

And Christmas Eve is all of that, and more.  Because the Spirit of God dwells within each one of us as the followers of Jesus, when we are together, we feel the presence, not only of other people, but also the presence of God himself.  That’s true every Sunday, and any time that we meet in groups that are large or small, but if you are like me, we feel that sensation of closeness to God most keenly only a few times each year and one of those times is on Christmas Eve.

This year, many of us will, once again, meet together, in person, for Christmas Eve, but we will also be livestreaming that worship service for anyone who is unable to attend or who still feels uncomfortable being around a crowd of people.  Rest assured, however, that we continue to encourage mask wear for everyone in attendance and remember that there is ample room to find seats with plenty of “social distance” between you and others.  In fact, if this year looks like others in recent history, you can probably have the balcony all to yourself.

But, whichever, option you choose, I hope that you will join us.  Moreover, I hope that each one of you will invite at least five others to join us.  Christmas Eve is easily one of the most attended worship services of the year in almost every church in North America and, for that reason, is a time when friends are most willing to accept an invitation to attend. 

Christmas Eve and Christmas are a time when we draw close to one another, and draw close to God, in a way that is both special and memorable not just because of the people, but because it is a time when we encounter the Spirit of God in a special way.  Of course, we will share the extraordinary experience of hearing our choirs, bell choirs, pipe organ, and singing traditional and meaningful carols of Christmas together.  But most importantly, we will remember the story of God’s invasion of the earth and the arrival of the Christ child, who would become the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity.

I hope that you will join us as we draw closer one another, and closer to God, together.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Good News of Great Joy?

Good News of Great Joy?

As I write this, Thanksgiving is just a few days away and Sunday we will begin our celebration of the Advent season.  During that season we will constantly be looking outwards, at others, and at the world.  We will look at Mary, Joseph, John the Baptist, Caesar Augustus, shepherds, wise men, angels, as well as a few other characters with smaller roles.  We will think about the coming of the Messiah and what that means to the church, to the world, to our calling as evangelize and share the good news, and other important lessons.  But, despite the value of doing all these things, we might also want to spend some time looking inwards. 

Looking inwards means asking what the story means to me, what the story is calling me to be, and to do.  When we see the shepherds, we should ask ourselves, “What would I have done if I were among them?”  Would we have stayed behind with the sheep?  Having heard the angels, and having seen the baby in a manger, would we have gone throughout the city rejoicing and telling everyone that we could find?

When we hear the story of the wise men, we might wonder how willing we are to hear the calling of God.  Would we drop everything, based on our best research and study, to spend months of unpleasant travel, just so that we could witness a miracle, bring gifts, and then spend months traveling home again?

After every story, there is a moment for us to look inward and ask God what he is calling us to hear, not just about a two thousand year-old story, but how God wants that story to change our lives, us, today.  Is God calling us to be more faithful, like Mary, Joseph, Elizabeth, Simeon the priest, Anna the prophetess, the shepherds, or the Magi?  Do we hear the calling for the church, and us, to evangelize the world in the story of the shepherds and the Magi?  And there is more.  In every story that we read in scripture God calls to us.  If we listen, our souls can feel the pull of God’s leading us in a new direction.

And so, as we celebrate the season of Advent and Christmas, I invite you to open your hearts, and take the time to reflect. Ask yourself, “What does God want me to do with this story?”  What is it that God is trying to tell me?  How is God asking me to change?  What kind of a person is God calling me to be?  Is God calling me into something new?

Every day, God is calling us to be transformed and renewed into the image of Jesus Christ.  Our regular prayer on Sunday morning is to become more and more like Jesus and the person that Jesus created us to be.  And so, when we hear the angels proclaim that they bring “Good news of great joy for all the people” we might ask ourselves if the same is true for us.  When people hear that Christ Church is coming, is that good news?  Or what do people think when they hear that we are coming?  Is the arrival of _(insert your name here)_ “good news of great joy”?

The stories of Advent and Christmas are wonderful and inspiring, but they aren’t just there to stir wonder and bring inspiration.  The stories are intended to transform us.  The stories of Christmas, and all of scripture, are intended to change us so that we become less like Saul and more like Paul, less like Satan and more like Jesus, less like we once were and more like God intends for us to be.

As we plunge into Advent, I hope that we will do more than splash around in the shallows or swim along the surface.  This year, I invite you to…

…dive deep.

Blessings,

Pastor John



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Things Money Can’t Buy

Things Money Can’t Buy

October 10, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Job 23:1-9, 16-17                   Mark 10:17-31           Hebrews 4:12-16

There are several well-known phrases that we’ve probably all heard.

We’ve all heard that “money can’t buy happiness” and we’ve probably all heard the Beatles sing “Can’t Buy Me Love” in which Paul McCartney sings: “I don’t care too much for money, Money can’t buy me love.”

Let’s be honest, money is powerful and can do many things, but there are things that all the money and power in the world can’t change.  And that idea is an integral part of what today’s scriptures have to say.  We begin in Job 23:1-9, 16-17, as Job complains that as he is suffering with the loss of his family and his fortune, he cannot seem to find God.

23:1 Then Job answered:

“Today also my complaint is bitter;
    his hand is heavy despite my groaning.
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
    that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
    and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me,
    and understand what he would say to me.
Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
    No; but he would give heed to me.
There an upright person could reason with him,
    and I should be acquitted forever by my judge.

“If I go forward, he is not there;
    or backward, I cannot perceive him;
on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him;
    I turn to the right, but I cannot see him.

16 God has made my heart faint;
    the Almighty has terrified me;
17 If only I could vanish in darkness,
    and thick darkness would cover my face!

If we listen, Job’s words hold some interesting contradictions.  Job insists that he wants to find God, to give voice to his arguments about his innocence and insist upon hearing God’s answers.  But, at the same time, he understands that while he expects that God would listen, he knows that God is not likely to engage in an argument and he hopes that God would acquit him of any guilt.  We also hear Job insist that he has been searching everywhere and wants to find God, but at the same time finds the idea of meeting God a terrifying prospect that makes him wish that he could be invisible and disappear into the darkness.  Job essentially says that he can’t find God but he’s afraid that he will.

Job knew that he was a faithful man who had once had money, power, and the blessings of God.  But he also knew that his money, power, and faith, amounted to nothing in comparison to an all-powerful creator God.  Job understood that no matter how much he demanded his day in court there was nothing that he could do to sway God’s opinion.

We often forget that.  We forget how powerless we really are and how powerful God is.  In our modern era of spaceflight and computers, a time when we have bent creation to our will by moving mountains and stopping the flow of rivers, we are persuaded to think too much of ourselves. We have lost Job’s fear of the power of God and have come to believe in a domesticated God that bends to our will.  To be fair, we aren’t the first to have done so.  In Mark 10:17-31, Jesus meets a man of wealth, and probably some power, who has become so accustomed to getting what he wants that he has become arrogant and blind to his own shortcomings.

17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it isto enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.” 29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

It might be reasonable for you to wonder why I said that this man was blind to his own shortcomings.  And, in answer, I would point to how Jesus answered his question about eternal life.  Jesus begins to recite the ten commandments, from the middle.  He skips past the parts about honoring God, lists almost all the rest, and then deliberately skips one.  Remember that this is exactly the sort of thing that people memorized in the synagogue in preparation for adulthood, so we can be reasonably certain that everyone listening was silently reciting the ten commandments to themselves as Jesus recited them.  But rather than taking note of the commandment that Jesus skipped, the man arrogantly declares that he has kept all the commandments since he was a youth.  But the commandment that Jesus skipped is the one that the man stumbled over.  Do not covet.  Don’t covet your neighbor’s wife, and don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff.  And to make that point even sharper, Jesus tells the man that to find eternal life, to prove that he didn’t covet money, he would need to give away his wealth.

The disciples, I think, got Jesus’ point because they are terrified by his answer.  Jesus is teaching that it is easy for money to tempt us away from God.  Money has a way of making us want… more money.  The disciples knew that while it was easy to say that we didn’t steal or kill, everyone wants more money.  If Jesus is going to use that as a measuring stick to get into heaven, then no one can get in.  Peter protests by saying that even though he likes money, and may even covet the money of others, he has demonstrated his love for Jesus by leaving behind his family, friends, and his job to follow him.  And Jesus agrees.  This was the point he was trying to make.  But Peter had the humility to see and acknowledge that he fell short of God’s standard. 

The disciples realized that they could of great wealth and great power do not.  They are deceived by the illusion of control that is brought by wealth and power and they become arrogant and blind to their own shortcomings.  That is why Jesus says that many who are first will be last and the last will be first.  The people who have everything, and who get to be first in line for everything, will have deceived themselves into believing that they are right with God, but the people who have little, and who are often last in line, are aware of their faults and their need for God.

The writer of Hebrews describes God’s judgement this way in Hebrews 4:12-16:

12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Peter and the other disciples were terrified when they realized that the desire for money and power, something that almost all of us want at least a little of, was a sin that could keep us out of the kingdom of God.  God is the righteous judge. 

Because our faith is in Jesus Christ, and because he was tested and lived his entire life without sin, we rest in knowing that he is our high priest.  Jesus stands between us and God, and between us and judgement.  Because of Jesus, we approach the throne of God, not with fear and the terror of judgement, but with boldness and confidence in the grace of Jesus.  We know that through Jesus Christ we will find mercy and grace in the place of judgement.

Sir Paul was right.  Money can’t buy me love.

Money can’t buy happiness.

It can’t buy peace, cheat death, find God, calm fear, buy forgiveness humility, repentance, righteousness, or admission to heaven.  God will not be domesticated.  All the money and power in the world won’t do us any good on the day of judgement and many people will discover that they put their trust and faith in the wrong places. 

We will all render an accounting of our lives.  Not only for our actions but also for the intentions of our hearts.  Perfection is the standard of God and not one of us is perfect.  The only thing that will save us on the day of judgement, is the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ.

Job searched for God but was terrified of what he would find when he met him.

But we look forward to meeting Jesus with humility and boldness… because in him, and in him only, do we find…

…hope.


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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.

Favoritism, Mercy, and Dead Faith

Video of this message can be found here: https://youtu.be/lzZoTyv6N_g

Favoritism, Mercy, and Dead Faith

September 05, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23              Mark 7:24-37             James 2:1-17

Last week, it was clear that we don’t like fakes. 

But not far behind our dislike for fakes, is our dislike of favoritism.  You know what I mean.  As kids, we knew who Mom’s favorite was (it was me), we knew who the teacher’s pet was, we’ve seen favoritism in nearly every group to which we belonged, from sports teams, to marching band, to our employment as adults with brown nosers, suck-ups, and other sycophants.  Sometimes we don’t mind as much when the favoritism is earned and the favorite is genuinely exceptional, but when it’s just politics and ego it can be ugly.

But what would you say if I told you that God plays favorites? 

He does.

But the way that God plays favorites may surprise you.

For background, let’s begin with a sampling of verses from Proverbs 22 (Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23).

A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
    the Lord is the maker of them all.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
    for they share their bread with the poor.

22 Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate;
23 for the Lord pleads their cause
    and despoils of life those who despoil them.

While we recognize that the Proverbs are an expression of common wisdom and not the promises of God, these are powerful and sensible words.  A good name is more valuable than riches.  Favor is better than money.  Regardless of who is the favorite, we all have common ground because God is the creator of both the rich and the poor.  Whether you call it God, or karma, or something else, the people who spread injustice and anger seem to always find calamity and failure rather than prosperity and comfort.  And in the same line of thinking, we often find that the people who spend their lives giving of their time and their money to others are the ones who are blessed by God. 

The guideline for us as we think about these things is that God really does take sides.  God takes the side of the poor.  He pleads their case in court and champions their cause in the public square.  Anyone who robs the poor or crushes the afflicted discover that they stand against God.  We see this demonstrated throughout Jesus’ life and ministry and we find several examples of this in Jesus’ journey recorded in Mark 7:24-37.

24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesusordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Jesus was sent to seek and to save the lost children of Israel.  His mission was with the Jews, but he meets an immigrant woman who begs him to save her daughter.  Jesus argues that she isn’t a part of his mission and that the children to whom he was sent should be fed first, but her response shows that she understands Jesus’ true power.  She knows that Jesus’ power was so great that healing her daughter will not take power away from the Jews any more than losing crumbs to the dogs under the table starves the children who sit at the table above them.  And so, Jesus takes the side of the underdog, casts out the demon, and heals her daughter. 

We see something similar in the next story.  The Decapolis were ten cities built by the Greeks and were, largely, cities of Greek influence and culture.  And for that reason, we don’t know the religious affiliation of the deaf man, but there’s a good chance that he wasn’t Jewish.  But regardless of his religion, being both deaf and having a speech impediment, he was almost certainly impoverished.  It would have been difficult, or impossible, for him to earn a decent living.  He could do nothing for Jesus, and there was no benefit to Jesus for helping him.  But Jesus heals him anyway.

These stories provide us insight and balance to our understanding of the mission, mind, and heart of Jesus and allow us to understand him better.  Yes, Jesus did miracles for rich people and for powerful people, but he also, often, did miracles for people who could offer nothing to him in return.  If we were to count how many rich people Jesus helped and compared that to the number of poor people that Jesus helped, we would see that it was far more common for Jesus to help the poor.

That kind of favoritism is echoed in the writings of Jesus’ brother James in James 2:1-17 where he says:

2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,”have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James writes in reaction to people in the church that are favoring those with nice clothes over those who wear dirty clothes. They give preferred seating to people who could do something for them rather than the people who could do nothing for them.  They preferred the rich and the powerful over the poor and the common.   But James reminds them that God always favors the poor, the downtrodden, the outsiders, the sick, the hungry, the dirty, the outcasts, and just about everyone who, by definition, can’t do anything in return for his generosity, mercy, and compassion.  James says that by favoring the rich and the powerful the people of the church violate God’s command to love their neighbor.  Rather than judge the poor for being poor, James says, we are called instead to show compassion and mercy.

It’s great to have faith.  It’s important, and wonderful, and vital to have faith. 

But faith that lacks mercy is dead faith.

Faith that sees the poor and wishes them well, but does nothing to bring them warmth, comfort, and full bellies, is dead faith.  Faith that spreads injustice and anger and robs the poor is not only dead faith but stands in opposition to God and invites God’s judgement.

God really does take sides.  God takes the side of the poor.  He pleads their case in court and champions their cause in the public square.  And to do any differently is to invite the judgement of God.

Scripture, the teachings of God, and the witness of Jesus Christ are united, and they are clear.  We should play favorites.  But our choice of favorites had better be the same as those of scripture, of God, and of Jesus.  And our neighbors stand as witnesses to our faith, not by the faith that we have in our hearts, but to the faith that we show them on the streets.

Let us pray that our faith will be lived out in mercy, compassion, and love so that the world will know that mercy triumphs over judgement.


*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.

Religion: Doers or Deception?

Religion: Doers or Deception?

August 29, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Song of Solomon 2:8-13              Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23             James 1:17-27

Have you ever been called a fake?

One of the worst accusations that our friends and acquaintances can level at us, is the accusation of being fake.  We don’t like fakes.  We don’t like fake friends, we don’t want to buy a fake Rolex watch, or a television that’s supposed to be a good name brand that turns out to be a fake.  The government has teams of people that regulate commerce by at least attempting to prevent the sale of fake products and it’s important.  Fake purses or fake watches fraudulently cost consumers money, but fake computer chips, or fake bolts, or fake gas valves, in critical applications can be deadly.  The government even has an entire department, the department of the Treasury, and the Secret Service, whose job it is to prevent people from printing fake money because enough fake currency could potentially destabilize our entire economy. 

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

Fake money can hurt the economy.  Fake products can hurt people.  And fake friends can do serious damage to our psychological and emotional well-being.

But there’s at least one more fake that we need to be concerned about, and that’s fake religion.

But before we get too far in that direction, let’s begin, not by looking at what is fake, but at what is real.  Let’s look at what real religion, real faith, looks like.  And to do that, let’s begin by reading from God’s love story contained in the Song of Solomon 2:8-13.

The voice of my beloved!
    Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
    bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
    or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
    behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
    looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
    and come away.

The story contained in the Song of Solomon isn’t just about the love that King Solomon had for his bride (or at least one of them) and she for him, but its inclusion in scripture at least hints that this love story might also be an allegory for God’s love for his people and, by extension, the church.  It describes a love that is tender, passionate, and filled with longing.  And, if we understand it this way, at the end of this passage we hear God calling his people to “come away” with him.  But even if, as some interpreters assert, that this is only about love, and not about our relationship with God, it still describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.  And although he never references the Song of Songs, that kind of pure relationship seems to be exactly what Jesus is getting at in his conversation with the Pharisees in Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23.

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not liveaccording to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

The Pharisees and the scribes rigorously and religiously adhered to traditions that were not required by scripture, and they criticized Jesus’ disciples for not following them as well.  Their implication was that the disciples, and Jesus, were not sufficiently faithful to God because they failed to adhere to these man-made traditions.  And Jesus’ response was to criticize them for treating the traditions of human beings as if they were the doctrines and teachings of God, and at the same time, ignoring and disobeying the real commandments of God.  Jesus says that the intentions of our hearts matter, what we think about matters, that sex, theft, murder, greed, wickedness, loose living, envy, slander, pride, deception, and sometimes even just foolishness are evil things that come from the inside, and it is those things, the things that that come out of us, that defile us. 

Jesus says that it is the faith of the Pharisees that is lacking and not the faith of his disciples.  Because, while his disciples may have eaten lunch without washing their hands and dishes in exactly the right way, it is the Pharisees who are harboring these sorts of evil desires inside themselves.  For Jesus, real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

Jesus’ brother James echoes this same language, and this same understanding, as he describes what real faith looks like in the lives of the followers of Jesus Christ in James 1:17-27 when he says…

17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselvesin a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.

26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

In this passage, and in a whole lot of other ones, James makes the argument that faith is not an abstract concept, thought experiment, or something that is only internal and private.  Faith is not something that we do for show, it is not an act, but instead is life changing and transformative.  Faith isn’t something that we can practice in the privacy of our own homes without anyone noticing, but changes who we are, how we think, how we care for ourselves and one another, and is reflected outward in everything that we do.  Faith, James says, is revealed not when we become believers, but when we become doers of God’s word.

The Song of Solomon describes a loving relationship that is passionate, tender, and real.  There is no fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship.

And since we know that faith is an expression of the loving relationship that we have with God, we understand when Jesus says that real faith is all about what’s inside of us and how that faith is lived out.  Real faith isn’t just an act so that we look good to the people around us.  Real faith isn’t just for show.  Real faith is not about fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply a pure and loving relationship with God.

And just like a real, tender, and passionate loving relationship, real faith changes us.  We’ve seen it all in the movies as well as in real life.  When two people are really in love with one another, it’s almost impossible to hide it.  Real love isn’t fake or deceptive.  Real love, and real faith, aren’t just words, but are pure, life changing, and transformative.  They change the way that we think, the way that we live, and the way that we act, and they are lived out in everything that we do.

The bottom line is that we don’t like fakes.

We don’t like fake purses, fake watches, fake televisions, fake money, fake friends, or fake relationships.

And the same is true about faith.

Real faith isn’t just and act. 

Real faith isn’t evil.

Real faith can’t have anything to do with fraud, deception, trickery, or manipulation but simply grows out of a pure and loving relationship with God and with Jesus Christ.

Real faith produces generosity, truth, patience, righteousness, purity, openness, humility, mercy, compassion, and love that is unstained by the world.

If it’s real, faith isn’t something that we only have in our heads, or even in our hearts.  When its real, faith is transformative and is revealed, and demonstrated to the world in everything that we do.

Let us not only be hearers of God’s word.

Let us instead commit ourselves to being doers of the word so that the world can know that what we have…

…is real.


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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.

Live. If. Unless. Always.

Video of this service can be found here: https://youtu.be/4fI64mGGvAY


ALWAYS read the fine print

Live.  If.  Unless.  Always.

August 15, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14                     John 6:51-58              Ephesians 5:15-20

You should always be sure to read the fine print.

You know what I mean.  Department stores do it all the time.  You get an ad in the mail that says there is 75 percent off “everything” but in the tiny print at the very bottom, it says that the sale doesn’t apply to clothing, toys, housewares, and just about everything else in the store.  I read one of those once and I was hard pressed to think of anything that wasn’t excluded in the fine print.

You see commercials on television selling amazing new drugs that say that they can cure all sorts of things, but in the fine print warn you about side effects that sound a lot worse than the thing you want a cure for.  Military recruiters promise that they’ll put you into a particular school, or job, but we all know that the fine print in your contract basically says, “we promise to give this to you… unless we can’t, and then we can do anything we please.”

So common is this experience with fine print, that we often have our own lawyers look over important contracts so that we can discover and understand what has been hidden in the fine print.  And so many of us have seen it, or been burned by it, that we all understand what it means when people describe the fine print by saying, “The devil is in the details.”

But if we read carefully, the strange thing is that sometimes God is in the details too.  Sometimes God makes us promises that come with some fine print, and it is important for us to read and understand exactly what God is, and is not, promising.  We begin this morning as David dies and is buried with his ancestors, and as his son Solomon takes his place on the throne of Israel.  And, at that moment, Solomon receives one of history’s greatest and well-known blessings.  But if we pay close attention, that blessing came with some fine print. (1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14)

2:10 Then David rested with his ancestors and was buried in the City of David. 11 He had reigned forty years over Israel—seven years in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David, and his rule was firmly established.

3:3 Solomon showed his love for the Lord by walking according to the instructions given him by his father David, except that he offered sacrifices and burned incense on the high places.

The king went to Gibeon to offer sacrifices, for that was the most important high place, and Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon answered, “You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day.

“Now, Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?”

10 The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. 11 So God said to him, “Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, 12 I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. 13 Moreover, I will give you what you have not asked for—both wealth and honor—so that in your lifetime you will have no equal among kings. 14 And if you walk in obedience to me and keep my decrees and commands as David your father did, I will give you a long life.” 15 Then Solomon awoke—and he realized it had been a dream.

This exchange between Solomon and God is well-known even among people with no religious background.  God tells Solomon to ask for whatever he wants, and rather than asking for money, power, or a long life, Solomon asks instead for a discerning heart so that he would be able to rule well.  God is so pleased with Solomon’s request, that he chooses to not only give him the thing for which he asked, but also all those things for which he did not ask.  God promises to give Solomon wisdom, but also wealth, honor, and a long life.

And right there is the fine print.

God promises to give Solomon wealth and power no matter what, but his promise of a long life comes with fine print.  God says that he will give Solomon a long life… IF he obeys God and keeps his decrees and commandments as well as his father David had.  Of course, we know that David wasn’t perfect, so God isn’t requiring Solomon to be perfect, but God has an exclusion clause.  If Solomon doesn’t keep his part of the deal, God can end his contract and find another king that will.

And if you are tempted to think that this is a unique case, we discover that Jesus does the same thing in John 6:51-58 when he says:

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus says, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  And then, a little bit later he says, “the one who feeds on me will live, because of me” and, “whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”  This is exclusionary, small print, language.  Jesus doesn’t say that because he came to earth, everyone will live forever.  Jesus doesn’t say that anyone who has communion once, or who comes to church once, or who comes to church for a while and then quits, or who choose to follow him for a while and then quits, all get to live forever.  Jesus says, “the one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.”  The implication of this language is that eating and drinking the flesh of the Son of Man is an ongoing, continuous action and not something that we do once and then coast.  This is almost exactly like God’s wording in his promise to Solomon when he said, “if you walk in obedience.”  These are a future tense that implies a continuous action and not something that is accomplished once and completed.

Paul emphasizes this in his letter to the church in Ephesus when he says in Ephesians 5:15-20:

15 Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul says, don’t be foolish.  Don’t just get drunk to dull the pain and then allow yourself to get drawn into sin.  Instead, fill yourself, and your time, with spiritual things so that you will… always give thanks to God… for everything.  Paul echoes what we heard from the stories of Solomon and Jesus and emphasizes that following Jesus isn’t something that we do once, or for a little while, and then coast.  Following Jesus, being filled by the Spirit, caring for one another, worshiping together, and giving thanks to God are things that we are to do continuously or, as Paul said, “always.”

They say that the devil is in the details, but so is God.

From Solomon, we learned that we must not just be obedient, but that we must keep on being obedient and continuously keep God’s decrees and commands throughout our lives.

From Jesus, we learned that we must continue to share in the Lord’s supper, to continue to feed on the word of God and remain in love with Jesus.

And from Paul, we learned that we must always fill our time, and our souls, with spiritual things, and always give thanks to God.

Following Jesus has never been “one and done.”  We cannot claim Jesus once, or follow Jesus once, or go to church once, and say that we’re done.  Even the verb “to follow” is a continuous tense.  It is a thing that we begin to do, and never stop.

Because, when we read the fine print, we understand that what Jesus said was, if you do this… continuously, you will… truly…

…live.


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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.

The Power Within

The Power Within

July 25, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Samuel 11:1-15                   John 6:1-21                Ephesians 3:14-21

What is it that gives us power?

In comic books we know that Superman was born on a planet with a red sun and has superpowers when living near a yellow sun like ours.  Green Lantern has powers given to him by his ring of power, The Flash gained his powers through an accident of chemistry, Shazam has powers because of special magic, the X-Men have powers because of a quirk in their genetics, and of course biblically, Sampson, Elijah, Elisha, and other heroes of the faith all received their power as a gift from God.

But what about us?

Even if we don’t have super-powers, what powers do we have?  Or maybe the question that many of you are asking is, “Do I have any power at all?”

First, you shouldn’t doubt yourself.  But second, yes, you certainly do have power.  But a little background will help our understanding.  We begin in 2 Samuel 11:1-15, where we read the story of King David’s sin and fall from God’s grace.  But, although all of us are probably familiar with David, with his closeness to God, his power, and with his great military exploits, as we read this story together, I want you to pay attention to someone else.  As we read, I want you to pay attention to Uriah, an otherwise completely ordinary husband, immigrant, citizen, and soldier of Israel.

11:1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (Now she was purifying herself from her monthly uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So, Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.

10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So, he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”

11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”

12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So, Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.

14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”

To summarize, David has slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  And, when she tells him that she is pregnant and he realizes that their infidelity will be revealed to the world, David sets out to cover it all up.  After months of being at war, David sends Uriah home to spend the night in the comfort of his own bed and the closeness of his wife.  David assumes that any man would want to lie with his wife, and having done so, any resulting child would be assumed to be Uriah’s.  But Uriah doesn’t act according to David’s expectations.  For Uriah, to sleep with his wife, in his own comfortable bed, while all his friends and fellow soldiers are sleeping in tents on the battlefield, would be a betrayal of trust.  For Uriah, honor, integrity, and brotherly love are more important than his own comfort and sexual satisfaction.  Uriah chooses to do what is right, rather than what is best for himself in the moment and, as David continues his attempts to cover up his sin, that choice ultimately costs Uriah his life.  But it is Uriah’s honor that ultimately reveals David’s conspiracy, corruption, and sin. 

Next, we turn to the well-known story of Jesus and the feeding of the five thousand.  But again, instead of focusing on Jesus, as we often do, I want us to listen, and focus, on the contribution of Andrew in this passage from John 6:1-21.

6:1 Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing the sick. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, “It would take more than half a year’s wagesto buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). 11 Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

12 When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

14 After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” 15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined them. 18 A strong wind was blowing, and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles,they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Philip was a pragmatist.  There are five thousand men, and probably at least an equal number of women and children that have gathered to hear Jesus speak.  There are no nearby villages where they can stop to eat, and in any case, the cost of feeding so many is far beyond what their ministry finances could ever handle.  When Jesus asks where they should buy bread, Philip’s response is that buying enough bread was simply impossible.

But Andrew’s response was different.

Rather than explain why feeding everyone would be impossible, which everyone already knew, Andrew comes to Jesus with what he had.  I am sure that Andrew realized that what he had was inconsequential in comparison to what was needed.  It was obvious that five small barley loaves and two small fish were not enough to feed Jesus and the disciples, let alone ten thousand guests.  But Andrew ignores the impossible, ignores the obvious, and, in faith, offers Jesus what he has anyway.  And it is Andrew’s faith that sets up one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles.

These are both great examples.  But still, what do they have to do with any of us?

What they have to do with us, is that by turning our attention away from David and from Jesus, we have instead directed our attention to the often overlooked, ordinary, everyday, regular people that made these stories possible.  It’s easy to read these stories and say that we are not like David or Jesus, but we are almost exactly like Uriah and Andrew.  And as Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, he explains how, and why, this is important (Ephesians 3:14-21).

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every familyin heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

Paul connects two ideas that we often try to separate.  Paul says that he prays that because the church is rooted and established in love, that they may have power.  We often think of love and power as separate and distinctly different, even opposite ideas but Paul knows differently.   And the stories that we read today back him up.  Being “Rooted and established in love” gives us access to power. 

Knowing that we are loved, leads us to stability, confidence, courage, integrity, and honor.  And these all work together to give us the ability to make not only good choices, but choices that are good.  Let me explain.  “Choices that are good” are choices that we make to do what is right and loving even when doing what is right might not be what is best for us personally.  Uriah chose to do what was right and loving even when doing so came at a cost to him personally.  Andrew chose to have faith, risks being ridiculed for his simplicity, and offer Jesus what little he had, even when it seemed obvious that what he had wasn’t enough.

These things, combined with the Spirit of God that lives in us, and who works through us, and who empowers us, is what Paul describes as “his power that is at work within us.”  Because of our love and support for one another, within the family and community of the church of Jesus Christ, we empower one another and are therefore free to make good choices, to do what is right, just, honorable, and act in ways that honor God.  And that, in turn, frees God to act through us.

And so, let’s return to our original question, “What is it that gives us power?” 

We don’t come from the planet Krypton like Superman or have a power ring like the Green Lantern.  We don’t benefit from lab accidents like the Flash or have mystic powers given to us like Shazam.  But what we have is real.  What we have, is the power of God at work within us and the power of God at work through us.  And the key to unleashing that power on the world, is found in our faith in Jesus Christ and…

…our love for one another… and our love for the people around us.


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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.

Real Freedom (and Pandemic Paul)

We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.” 

But that’s exactly what we’re doing.

It’s become a cliché to ask, “What Would Jesus Do?”  But this week, I’ve been thinking church should be asking itself what Paul would do.  Of course, anyone who has spent any time in church or Vacation Bible School has heard about Paul the Apostle.  Paul was born in Tarsus which was a part of what is now the nation of Turkey.  But despite being born far from Rome, Paul was born to parents who were both Jews and Roman citizens. 

There were privileges that came with being a Roman citizen.  It was as if the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights only applied to citizens, and you carried those rights wherever you went, anywhere in the Roman world.  Non-citizens didn’t have the same rights and slaves certainly did not have them.  Romans could not be beaten or treated harshly, and while they could be arrested, they couldn’t be tried in any court outside of Rome but had to be returned to Rome, or to a Roman court, for trial.  In modern language, citizens were privileged.

But Paul didn’t always use that privilege.  Paul found that sometimes his privilege, his rights, his citizenship, and even his freedom, was a disadvantage when sharing the message of Jesus with the people around him.  In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul said:

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

Even though Paul was not a slave, he sometimes gave up the rights that he had so that he could be heard by the slaves and share the message of Jesus with them.  Even though Paul knew that following Jesus released him from some of the dietary restrictions and rules of the Jewish faith, he would follow those customs when he was with the Jews so that they would be able to hear his words when he shared the gospel.  But when Paul was living among the Greeks and other people who were not Jewish, he would follow their customs for the same reason. 

Wherever Paul went, he did whatever he could to allow people to hear his message.  And that often meant giving up something important.  Paul found that his rights, his privileges, and even his freedom, got in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ.  Slaves wouldn’t hear a message that was preached by someone who used their citizenship and their freedom to act better than them.  Jews wouldn’t listen to someone who was an outsider and violated their religious laws.  And people everywhere feel more comfortable around a person who respects their customs.

But what does that mean to us?  What would Paul do if he lived among us today?

As we near what we hope is the end of this pandemic crisis in the United States, we are hearing a lot about rights and privileges.  We have a right to move about freely.  We are free to choose whether we will wear a mask.  And those persons who are vaccinated are being granted special rights and additional freedoms. 

But is exercising those freedoms the right thing to do?

I’ve seen churches advertising that they are “Open and Mask-less.”  Vendors are selling signs saying that vaccinated persons are welcome in their church.  And I’ve seen churches that say things like, “All are welcome.  Unvaccinated persons must wear masks.”  I understand that these are the rights that are given to us under the United States Constitution, and the privileges of having access to the Covid-19 vaccine.  But will exercising these rights prevent us from sharing the message of the gospel?

It was once common for churches to ask visitors to stand up and introduce themselves.  That custom made me so uncomfortable that I vowed never to return to any church that made me do it.  And so, I worry that requiring unvaccinated persons to wear masks will make them feel unwelcome.  We would never dream of putting up a sign that said, “Unvaccinated? Keep OUT.”  But that’s exactly what these signs are saying.  Anything that draws a line between “us” and “them” is exactly what Paul spent his life trying to avoid.

If Paul were writing today, I wonder if his words wouldn’t be, “Though I am vaccinated, and am free to do as I wish, I have made myself to be unvaccinated, to win as many as possible.  To the unvaccinated, I have become unvaccinated to win the unvaccinated.  With the mask wearers, I have worn masks, to win those that wear masks.”  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

We have rights.  But what if using them turns people away?  In the twenty-first century, like Paul, we must be careful that our rights, privileges, and freedoms do not get in the way of people hearing the good news of Jesus Christ. 

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Pickles on My Feet

Pickles on My Feet

by John Partridge

February 18, 2021

The other day I looked, and I had pickles on my feet.

Okay, they weren’t really pickles.  What I had, was a pair of socks that looked as if they said “PICKLES” written on the toe.  What they really said, or were supposed to say, was “DICKIES” but, because of a particular choice of font, the way that the ink had been applied, and a little wear, what had been intended as a brand marking suddenly reminded me of cucumbers in brine.  Obviously, the two things are in no way similar.  Or at least they shouldn’t be.

But it got me to thinking (and that’s always risky).

How often are we mistaken for something that we are not?

We’ve all heard stories about people who were assaulted, or worse, because they were mistaken for someone, or something else.  We’ve seen national stories about people of color who simply decided to go running in the “wrong” neighborhood, innocent young persons who were assumed to have bad intentions because of the clothing that they wore, or even new reporters on assignment who were attacked by police.   Many of those incidents were racially motivated, and inexcusable for any reason.  But those situations, and pickles on my feet, illustrate how easy it can be to be mistaken for something, or someone that we aren’t… or at least, that we shouldn’t be.

How often are we, as Christians, mistaken for something, or someone, that we are not?

Or, to think of it in another way, how often do we appear to be someone that we should not?

It happens.  We get tired.  We get angry.  And our impatience, anxiety, exhaustion, and frustration cause us to look different.  These normal, human, emotions, especially in times of stress (like we might experience during a pandemic), can cause Christians to say and do things that do not represent the church, or Jesus, well.  A harsh word, and angry email, forgetting to tip an overworked and underpaid server, mistreating an employee, an angry or short-tempered reply to a store employee, or a hundred other ways we can act, poorly, because of our frustration and impatience.

And so, I hope that all of us will occasionally take a moment to breathe.  I encourage all of us to pause for a moment, whenever necessary, before we speak.  And, in that moment, let us consider how we will look when we “wear” those words.  Let us ask ourselves if those words and actions will make us look like Jesus, or as his followers, or will they cause the people around us to mistake us for someone, or something else. 

It doesn’t take much. 

A little wear around the edges and suddenly “Dickies” looks like “Pickles.”

Now, more than ever, we should commit ourselves to doing everything that we can so that our friends, family, employers, employees, coworkers, and everyone around us can look at us and see Jesus… and not someone else.


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Dimensional Rifts, and You

Dimensional Rifts and You*

February 14, 2021

by Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 2:1-12                        Mark 9:2-9                             2 Corinthians 4:3-6

If you are a fan of Star Trek, science fiction, comic books, the Marvel moviemaking universe, or physics, you have almost certainly heard of dimensional rifts.  For those of you who have not, the basic idea is that other universes exist, within the same space as our own, but slightly out of phase with ours in some way, or more to the point, in a slightly different dimension than our own.  In comic books this is used to explain how Captain Marvel and Superman can both exist on a planet known as Earth but have never met one another or how Doctor Strange can magically travel from one place to another.  In Star Trek, it provides an opportunity for the heroes to encounter strange new aliens, or the basis of cloaking technology, or for the famous episode in which a good Captain Kirk fights with an evil Captain Kirk as well as how we remember Mr. Spock with a goatee.  In all these cases, a dimensional rift is place where, by accident or design, two different worlds that are ordinarily separated can meet, and even interact, with one another.

But since none of us are characters in comic books, television, or movies, what does any of that have to do with us?  And the answer is that these examples from our imagination might aid our understanding of a few unusual moments that we encounter in scripture.  Our first example of this for today if found in 2 Kings 2:1-12 where we read about the last day of the prophet Elijah’s life on earth.

2:1 When the Lord was about to take Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to Bethel.”

But Elisha said, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went down to Bethel.

The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” Elisha replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here, Elisha; the Lord has sent me to Jericho.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, they went to Jericho.

The company of the prophets at Jericho went up to Elisha and asked him, “Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, “so be quiet.”

Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”

And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So, the two of them walked on.

Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”

“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.

10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”

11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.

While the spiritual world is normally invisible to those of us in the physical world, there are moments, like this one, when a dimensional rift seems to open between them, and the spiritual world breaks out into ours.  As Elisha cries out in amazement, a chariot, and horses of fire emerge into our physical world and separate Elijah and Elisha just as Elijah is carried into heaven by a tornado of swirling winds.  And, just as suddenly as they appeared, the horses, the chariot, and the whirlwind, disappear back through the rift taking Elijah with them.

At least a part of the message for us is something that both Elijah and Elisha were well aware, that although it is most often unseen by us in the physical world, the spiritual world is just as real as ours and what happens in the spiritual world has an impact on the physical world as well as those of us who inhabit it.  The message of scripture is that the spiritual world is connected to our world, and influences the events of our world, even if it only occasionally breaks through in such a way that it can be seen by us.

Perhaps the most well-known dimensional rift between the spiritual and physical worlds is recorded for us in Mark 9:2-9 where we read the story of Jesus’ transfiguration:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

Because much like the angels, Jesus is himself a spiritual creature, during the time of his ministry on earth, he existed in both the spiritual and the physical worlds.  Despite that dual existence, his spiritual presence was not visible to the physical world, until a rift between the two opened on the top of that mountain.  At that moment, and in that place, both the physical and spiritual worlds existed, and were visible in the physical world, at the same time.  Although Mark describes Jesus as being “transfigured” in the presence of Peter, James, and John, we might also think of this as a moment in which the Disciples were simply able to see Jesus as he really was, or how he would ordinarily appear to be in the spiritual world.  And, because our two worlds collided in that moment, the disciples were also able to see Elijah and Moses, men who were long dead in the physical world, but whose lives had continued, uninterrupted, in the spiritual world.

But why does any of that matter to us?

It matters because it has implications for the people, and for the church, in the first, and in the twenty-first centuries.  In 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Paul writes to the church to explain our role in sharing the gospel and explains how we, as the followers of Jesus Christ, can be the agents of the spiritual world in the creation of “dimensional rifts.”  Paul says:

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

While it may be helpful to think of the spiritual world as being in another dimension or on the “other side” of a dimensional rift the truth, Paul says, is that the “god of this age” that blinds unbelievers to the truth.  And, while some have taught that the “god of this age” is Satan, Paul never describes the enemy of God in this way and likely would never have elevated one of God’s enemies to the status of a “god.”  But what Paul has described as a god, are things like wealth, money, sex, power, selfishness, culture, princes, governments, and other things that can be worshiped in place of the one true God.  Our own sin is what blinds us to the truth of the gospel and to the nearness of the spiritual world.  But, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we have the power to be “dimensional rifts” between the spiritual and the physical worlds.  We have the ability and the power to let light shine out of darkness, to let the light and truth of the spiritual world break out into the darkness of the physical world in which we live.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we can let his spiritual light shine in our hearts so that we can see the truth and so that God’s glory can be revealed to the people around us.

We are the “dimensional rifts.” We are called to be the sources of light and the sources of truth.  We are the ones who can fight against the gods of this age, who can fight against the worship of self, money, power, pleasure, and everything else.  We are the ones who can help our neighbors to see the light of the gospel by letting the light of Jesus shine in our hearts and break through into our spiritual dimension.

You may not be the captain of a starship and it may not be quite like what you might find in an episode of Star Trek, a movie from the Marvel Universe, or a Doctor Strange comic book.  But you are called to be a dimensional rift, and let the light, love, and truth of the spiritual world fill your heart and break out into your neighborhood and your community so that the people around you can see and hear the truth of the gospel of Jesus.

Make it so.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QhG52V8fQE0

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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.