Whiners Executed.

Whiners Executed

March 14, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

Numbers 21:4-9                     John 3:14-21                          Ephesians 2:1-10

Throughout history, one of the things that human beings seem to be incredibly, repeatedly, and reliably, good at, is complaining.  It isn’t difficult at all to imagine that the soldiers who crowded into the Trojan Horse were complaining about the cramped spaces and the smell of the guys next to them.  We’ve read stories about how even as the troops sailed ever closer to the coast of France on D-day, they complained about the weather and their seasickness.  Any student of history can tell you that no matter what nation you examine, no matter what system of government was in place, the people of every nation have always found reasons to complain about their leadership, and the same is true of virtually every church, every corporation, every union, and every employer… even when we are self-employed.  In good circumstances and bad, in feast and in famine, in joy and sorrow, no matter where humanity finds itself, we always seem able to find something to complain about.

And the people whose lives are recorded in scripture were no different.  But from them, we learn that we should be careful about what we complain about.  In Numbers 21:4-9, we read the story of the people of Israel, recently freed from 400 years of slavery and bondage in Egypt and discover that the joy of receiving their freedom faded quickly from their memory.

They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!”

Then the Lord sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So, Moses prayed for the people.

The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.

For four hundred years, the people of Israel had prayed that God would rescue them and bring them freedom.  But when God answers their prayers, it doesn’t take much time at all before they begin to complain about the conditions of their freedom.  Worse, they blame God, and Moses, for causing their suffering.  As a result of their whining, God sends poisonous snakes to slither among the people, and many of those who are bitten, die. 

The people cry out to Moses, repent of their sin, and in answer to his prayers for the people, God instructs Moses to construct bronze snake, and lift it up on a wooden pole.  And anyone who had been bitten, and had faith in God, could look at the snake and would be saved from death.

The people had sinned when they blamed God for causing their problems by answering their prayers and they suffered and died, because of their sin, when they were bitten by the snakes that came among them.  But God provided a way for the people to be saved if only they would have the faith to believe in the power of God and look up to the bronze figure as God had commanded.  And that imagery is recalled in John 3:14-21 as John compares God’s rescue of Israel in the time of Moses, to God’s rescue of the world through the crucifixion of Jesus.

14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

In the time of Moses, anyone who believed that God could save them from the venom of poisonous snakes could look up to the bronze figure of a snake and be saved.  And John says that now, anyone who believes that God can rescue them from sin and death can look up to Jesus on the cross and be saved.  In both cases, God provided a way for his people to be saved, if only they had the faith to believe.  Jesus did not come to earth to condemn us for our sin, but to save us from it.  All that is needed is for us to believe in Jesus and in the power of his death and resurrection to rescue us.  Anyone who believes in Jesus is not condemned but has been given the gift of life for all eternity.

The Apostle Paul explains it this way in Ephesians 2:1-10:

2:1 As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Just in case we were tempted to think that we had anything at all to do with out rescue, Paul disabuses of that notion by bluntly saying, “you were dead.”  Much like the people who had been bitten by snakes and already had a fatal dose of venom circulating through their bloodstream, we had already consumed a fatal dose of sin and were just waiting around to die.  Because we lived the way that the culture of the world lives, and lived only to gratify our desires, we were deserving of, and already condemned to, death.  But God chose to be merciful and demonstrate his great love for us through grace.  Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, God opened a path for us to be rescued from death.  Paul emphasizes that our rescue is a work of God’s grace, kindness, and love and the only part that we play in our rescue is in looking up to Jesus and placing our faith in him.  Our rescue is God’s undeserved gift to us and not anything that we could ever earn through works of any kind.  And, because our rescue is a work of God, because we are a new creation through the work of Jesus Christ, our life’s purpose is to do good for the people, and for the world, around us.  God has rescued us so that we could do the work that he has planned, prepared, and intended for us to do.

Although human beings have always been extraordinarily good at complaining, and just as good at being selfish, committing sin, and offending God, we need not sit as people condemned and wait for our execution and death.  Instead, we have been rescued by God’s grace, kindness, and love, and have been given a new life, a life whose purpose is to do good and to do the work of the kingdom of God.

During this season of Lent, let us stop complaining and look up to the cross.  Remember God’s grace, mercy, kindness, and love, and recommit ourselves to doing good for the people, and for the world around us, so that everyone might hear the good news, be rescued, and receive God’s incredible gift… of life… and love.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/EmHE8dCyeEc

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

Life is Not a Show

Life is Not a Show

February 17, 2021*

(Ash Wednesday)

By Pastor John Partridge

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17                    Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21                        2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10

In William Shakespeare’s play “As You Like It,” the character, Jacques, declares that all the world is a stage.   The first few lines of this soliloquy begin like this:

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts…

But despite Shakespeare’s insistence that the world is just a stage, our life is not a show that is lived for the benefit of other people.  In Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus cautions us this way:

6:1 “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. 

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Jesus is clear that although we might, as Shakespeare suggested, live our lives on a stage viewed by others, the only spectator that matters is God.  As we live our lives, we do not donate food to impress the people at the food pantry, or put money in the offering plate to impress people, or pray out loud so that people will think that we are religious, or holy, or somehow better than anyone else.  This isn’t an act.  Our lives are real, and our actions have eternal consequences.  Our goal should never be to look good, or to impress people, or to inflate our own ego, but always, and only to do the will of God.  Our goal is to be obedient and faithful and that’s all.

In Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he amplifies this message of faithful living by saying this in 2 Corinthians 5:20b – 6:10:

5:20 We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

6:1 As God’s co-workers we urge you not to receive God’s grace in vain.For he says,

“In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.”

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.

We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; 10 sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

Paul says that no matter what happens, our one, singular goal, is to get our hearts right with God, and to return to a right relationship with God.  That, my friends, is the entire reason that we set aside this season of Lent.  It is a time for us to reflect upon our lives and our actions.  It is a time for us to consider how we have been doing and consider the health of our relationship with God. 

Have we been as obedient as we could have been?

Are we as faithful as we could be?

Are there ways in which we can do better?

Are we doing things that make it harder for others to believe that we are following Jesus?

Or that make it harder for them to believe in Jesus?

Let us consider where we have fallen short and where we can do better.

And let us commit ourselves to using this season of Lent, to draw closer to God, to live in such a way that we look more like Jesus, to be more obedient, and to be more faithful.  Not so that we will look better to the people around us, but so that the people around us will see Jesus more clearly and be drawn closer to him because of the change that they see in us.

 All the world may be a stage…

            …but our lives are not an act.

Let us live lives that carry us into an eternity with God, and which draw as many others as possible along with us

_______

Old Testament Reading: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

2:1 Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy hill.

Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.
It is close at hand—
    a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.
Like dawn spreading across the mountains a large and mighty army comes,
such as never was in ancient times nor ever will be in ages to come.

12 “Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart,
    with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

13 Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the Lord your God,
    for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love,
    and he relents from sending calamity.
14 Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing—
grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

15 Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly.
16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children,
    those nursing at the breast.  Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber.
17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar.
Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn,
    a byword among the nations.  Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’”


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/ULPY2qwgoek

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  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

The Anti-Blessings of God

The Anti-Blessings of God

June 14, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Genesis 18:1-15                  Matthew 9:35 – 10:23                Romans 5:1-8

 

 How would you feel if you prayed that God would protect you and pour out blessings on you, and what you got was trouble, suffering, and pain?  Would you feel protected and blessed?

What if you prayed, in the middle of your pain, for the suffering to end, and it just kept going, and going?  Would you feel as if God answered your prayers?

And imagine that you spent your entire life praying for God to answer one specific prayer, one that everyone around you seemed to have answered, and after a lifetime of prayer, you gave up simply because the answer to your prayer was no longer even possible.  Would you feel blessed?

Contrary to what we might want, and contrary to what some television preachers might tell you, God isn’t a genie that dispenses wealth and happiness in answer to our prayers like some kind of cosmic vending machine.  God is more complicated than that just as our lives are more complicated than simplistic sayings like “earning a living” and “raising a family.”  Life can be hard, but we worship a God who understands our needs better than we do and who dispenses blessings that are far more complex than those things for which we might have asked.  Rather than giving us things that we think we want; God blesses us with gifts that he knows we will need.  Unfortunately, we often find that these “anti-blessings” are gifts for which we would never have prayed and are gifts that we didn’t want.

In Genesis 18:1-15, we hear the story of how Abraham met God, and was given a gift for which he and Sarah, his wife, had prayed for decades.  But now, as Abraham and Sarah had given up on that prayer, after both were long past the age of having children, God begins the fulfillment of an almost forgotten promise.

18:1 The Lord appeared to Abraham near the great trees of Mamre while he was sitting at the entrance to his tent in the heat of the day. Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby. When he saw them, he hurried from the entrance of his tent to meet them and bowed low to the ground.

He said, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, do not pass your servant by. Let a little water be brought, and then you may all wash your feet and rest under this tree. Let me get you something to eat, so you can be refreshed and then go on your way—now that you have come to your servant.”

“Very well,” they answered, “do as you say.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah. “Quick,” he said, “get three seahs [about 36 pounds] of the finest flour and knead it and bake some bread.”

Then he ran to the herd and selected a choice, tender calf and gave it to a servant, who hurried to prepare it. He then brought some curds and milk and the calf that had been prepared and set these before them. While they ate, he stood near them under a tree.

“Where is your wife Sarah?” they asked him.

“There, in the tent,” he said.

10 Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”

Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. 11 Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. 12 So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”

13 Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ 14 Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”

15 Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”

But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

God visits Abraham decades after he changed his name from Abram, which means “father of many,” to Abraham, which means “father of nations.”  By the time of this visit, Abram and Sarah are in their eighties or nineties, or as the passage notes, “already very old, and Sarah was well past the age of childbearing.”  And yet, God honors his promises, and when the visitor returns a year later, the impossible has happened and Sarah, the octogenarian, has given birth to a son named Isaac.  This is amazing, and miraculous, but imagine the pain that the two of them endured for generations.  Imagine introducing yourself as “the father of nations” but having no children.  Why did God allow that to happen?  Isn’t the creation of these circumstances extraordinarily cruel?  What could God possibly have had in mind?

We will come back to that, but now, let’s consider the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples, and the warnings that he gave them, and us, at the same time in Matthew 9:35 – 10:23.

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

 10:1 Jesus called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out impure spirits and to heal every disease and sickness.

These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts— 10 no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. 11 Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. 12 As you enter the home, give it your greeting. 13 If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you. 14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town, and shake the dust off your feet. 15 Truly I tell you; it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore, be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time, you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. 23 When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. Truly I tell you, you will not finish going through the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because he saw people who, like sheep, were lost, aimless, alone, and suffering from a total lack of unity.  To combat that isolation, Jesus sent the disciples into the world to cast out spirits and heal the sick.  And while that sounds a bit like sending gallant knights on a brave quest, this blessing, and these gifts, come with a warning that would turn your hair white.  Jesus warns the disciples, and us, that the world isn’t going to be appreciative or grateful for the message that we carry.  Instead, Jesus frighteningly compares those that carry the message of the kingdom of God to sheep among wolves.  The disciples are warned that they will be arrested, judged, hated, beaten by their own churches, persecuted, and made homeless when they do what he has sent them to do.  But, at the same time, they will be given gifts from God, be accompanied by God, and be used by the Spirit of God.

These anti-blessings are gifts that none of us want.  Jesus isn’t promising that his followers will have wealth, comfort, happiness, and career advancement.  He is promising misery, suffering, pain, and death.  These are not the things that you would find on a recruiting poster, these are the things that wake you in a cold sweat run screaming into the night.

And so again, just as we did with Abraham, we ask ourselves, “What could God possibly have in mind?”

We find some of the answers in Paul’s letter to the church in Rome (Romans 5:1-8).

5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Paul explains to the church that the things we find through our relationship with Jesus aren’t wealth, prosperity, and comfort.  What we find in Jesus… is peace with God.  Paul says that if we want to learn perseverance, we learn it through suffering.  If we want to build character, we build it through persevering through suffering.  And if we want to find hope, we find it while we are journeying through suffering and building character.  If you ask someone if they would like to learn patience, most will say yes.  But we all know that the only way to learn patience, is to live through difficult circumstances that require it.  The same is true here.  While everyone wants to have hope, and character, the path we follow as we learn them takes us through dark places that are filled with pain and suffering.

So why did God allow Abraham and Sarah to endure, and suffer, for fifty or seventy years while they waited for God to fulfill his promise?  Perhaps it is because God needed a man and woman with a specific set of skills and gifts to be the parents of Isaac.  Perhaps God needed parents with perseverance, character, and an abundance of hope.  God called Abraham and Sarah to be the parents of his new nation, but first he needed them to become the kind of people that Isaac, Israel, and the world, would need.

The same applies to the disciples and to us.  God calls us as we are, but to do the work that he has called us to do, it is often necessary for us to become the people that he needs.  And the journey from where we are to where God need us to be often passes through pain and suffering so that we can learn perseverance, character, and hope.

So yes, God just might be answering your prayer for his blessing when you are on the receiving end of trouble, suffering and pain.

And yes, when your suffering lasts longer than you had hoped, and even long after you prayed for it to end, God may just be answering your prayer in ways that you hadn’t expected.

While none of us wants these kinds of anti-blessings, God might just be allowing them today so that we can become the people that he needs tomorrow.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/8ywdXlDfGjI

Did you enjoy reading this?

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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.

Servant Leaders, Servant Followers

Servant Leaders, Servant Followers

April 09, 2020*

(Maundy Thursday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 13:1-17, 31b-35

 

 

Why is the Last Supper important?

 

Clearly, whenever we read the story of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, or Maundy Thursday, we remember that this is the moment when Jesus institutes the command to share our eucharistic meal, or the Lord’s Table, or the communion meal together at a gathered body of believers to celebrate our new covenant through Jesus Christ.  And, in this setting, our communion feast is connected to Moses and the people of Israel, the first covenant, and the celebration of the Passover. 

 

But there’s more than that.

 

The story of the Upper Room is about communion, but it’s also about us, and about our calling, our role as believers and as followers of Jesus Christ.  Why?  Well, let’s read the story in John 13:1-17, 31b-35 and see for ourselves.

 

13:1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

10 Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” 11 For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not everyone was clean.

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

 

Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. 32 If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

33 “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

As Jesus addresses the disciples, he knows that he is speaking to the people who will become the leaders of the church, but he is also speaking to us.  Many people want to advance their careers, and to climb the corporate ladder, and to accumulate more power and authority in whatever job they do.  But Jesus says that for us, for the people who follow him and use his name to describe ourselves, we are called to have an entirely different frame of reference.  We are called to remember that God’s own Son, the savior and rescuer of all humanity, found it important, even critical, to take upon himself the role and responsibility of the lowest servant.  Foot washing just wasn’t done by important people.  It wasn’t even done by important slaves if it could be avoided.  It was done by the lowest ranking.  It was the lowest servant, or the least important, or at least the humblest, family member.  But Jesus reframes it and explains that anyone that wants to be important, must be willing to serve the humblest, most demeaning, needs of everyone else. 

 

Leaders must be willing to care for their followers.  And, at least for us, the concept of “servant leaders” or “servant leadership” comes from this story. 

 

But this isn’t just about leaders.

 

Jesus speaks to all of us when he says, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

 

Jesus says that this demonstration was an example that was intended for all of us.  Every follower of Jesus is called to be a servant of others because Jesus was a servant of others.

 

And so, as we move ever closer to Easter, as we continue our social distancing, as we wrestle with what it means to be a virtual church, and to have virtual worship, we are also called to ask ourselves the question that Jesus has been asking for two millennia…

 

“How are we serving others?”

 

“How am I serving others?”

 

Following Jesus isn’t just an act of faith.  It isn’t just an act of church attendance.  It isn’t just participating in communion.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to live lives of service to others.

 

To be the servants of others.

 

Because we remember that Jesus said…

 

… “Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.”

 

 

 

 


You can find the video of this message here: https://youtu.be/TeEQy2-Wnxc


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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 Diane L. Thomas

Eulogy for Diane L. Thomas

February 13, 2020

by Pastor John Partridge

 

 

This may seem like an odd place to start, but one of the strangest, and funniest, scenes in the animated movie “The Incredibles” is when Lucius Best, also known as the hero Frozone, is desperately trying to go out in the street to fight the bad guy, and is having an argument with his wife over where she put his super suit.  Why does this matter at a funeral?  Because in that scene that only lasts a few seconds, we see that in the home of a genuine hero, the amazing abilities and even the heroism of Frozone is completely ignored because they have become entirely ordinary to the people that live with him every day.

 

In the years since I became a pastor, I have seen almost that exact same thing happen in the families of people who, although they didn’t have super-human powers, nearly lost sight of the heroes with whom they lived because of the ordinariness of everyday life.  And, as met with Diane’s family, and as I looked over the notes that I took while they shared her story, that is what I what I saw.

 

Diane was born on May 22nd, 1963, went to Alliance High School, and then to Mount Union.  She was in her mid-20’s when she met Brad at a campground where Brad was visiting friends and Diane had arrived with a mutual friend.  After their meeting, they dated for about a year before getting married in the chapel at Christ Church.  I want you to understand that our chapel is not very big.  It only seats about 30 people if you squeeze.  So small was their wedding, that other than the pastor and a few members of their immediate family, the only people in attendance were the kids who came from the daycare center downstairs.

 

For Diane and Brad, church wasn’t just the place that they had a wedding, it was more of a way of life.  Diane loved to sing, and she sang in the choir, played in the bell choir, and became the church’s financial secretary while Brad became the church’s custodian and jack-of-all-trades.  Diane was known by her coworkers to be one of the most organized people at church and she was always on top of anything with which she was involved.  Brad said that the most amazing thing about Diane was that she was able to put up with him.

 

Diane’s favorite color was purple, she was easygoing and hardly ever picky, she loved chocolate silk pie, she loved the holidays, loved watching movies, and she loved animals, especially her dog, Grace.  Diane and Grace were practically inseparable and although she isn’t human, just the same, Grace is struggling with Diane’s loss as much, or more, than many of you.

 

Diane and her family did just about everything together, from trips to Mexico, Niagara Falls, Myrtle Beach, and a bunch of other places with the word “beach” in them, motorcycling, walking, and lots of restaurants.  And Rachel emphasized that everything they did together was always fun.  While the kids were growing up, Diane was regularly reading to them.  She loved books.  She was not just an avid reader, she read constantly.  In this last year alone, Diane read more than one hundred books.

 

I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to all the children yesterday, but I’m going to guess that the experiences of Heather and Scott weren’t a lot different from the things that Rachel told me.  Rachel talked to her mom while she drove home from work every day, and she said that her mom helped her grow up, was always there for her, helped her with everything, and was absolutely her best friend.

 

But the hardest, and the most inspiring, part of Diane’s story started 12 years ago when she first discovered that she had breast cancer.  She fought it, and she won.  But on her ten-year checkup, they discovered that this beast from her past had returned.  And she fought it again.  She fought hard and she fought bravely, and she battled with the beast for three more years.  And in all that time, Diane never complained.  Brad said that Diane always handled her fight, and her situation, better than he did.  And, in the same way that she had always done everything, no matter what happened, Diane always had a positive attitude.

 

So, while those who were closest to her might be tempted to say that Diane Thomas lived an ordinary life, what are the things that she will be remembered for?  Certainly, she was loving.  There were never any doubts about her love for Brad, or for her kids.  She loved her kids partners as if they were her own.  This past Christmas, the family gathered at Rachel’s house and although they didn’t realize it, all her siblings had the chance to be together one last time.  No one will forget Diane’s love for them.

 

But Diane will be remembered for more than love.  If we think back through the stories that I just shared with you we saw fun, faith, faithfulness, dedication, tolerance, an infectious and consistently positive attitude, and an incredible abundance of courage.

 

A little while ago, I said people lose sight of the heroes with whom they live because of the ordinariness of everyday life and I think that’s what’s happened here.  Although in the middle of the everyday, day-in and day-out struggle, it might have seemed ordinary, upon reflection we realize that Diane spent years of her life fighting one of humanity’s greatest super villains.

 

Although they may not wear capes, we are surrounded by heroes

 

And clearly, Diane Thomas was one of them.

 

Obituary for Diane L. Thomas

 

Diane ThomasDiane L. Thomas, age 56, of Salem, passed away at 4:33 p.m. Saturday, February 8, 2020 at Salem Regional Hospital.  She was born May 22, 1963 in Alliance, Ohio to Hugh E. and Helen Marie (Taylor) Kiel.

A graduate of Alliance High School, Diane also graduated from Mount Union College.

She had been Financial Secretary at Christ United Methodist Church and Assistant Director of Public Affairs at Mount Union College, before retiring as Digital Content Specialist for Coastal Pet.

A member of Christ United Methodist Church, Diane was an avid reader; she loved animals, and spending time with her family and friends.

Survivors include husband, Bradley D. Thomas, whom she married January, 22, 1990; children, Heather Thomas, Scott Thomas, and Rachel Thomas; siblings,  Walter Kiel of Gratis, OH, Marilyn (Will) Omodt of Kingsport, TN, Phillip (Juanita) Kiel of Smithsburg, MD, Paul (Debbie) Kiel of N. Canton, OH; and many nieces and nephews.

Diane was preceded in death by her parents.

Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 13, 2020 at Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home. Friends may call from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday.

Interment will be at Alliance City Cemetery.

Memorial Contributions may be made to the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation for Breast Cancer Research, 16133 Ventura Blvd., Suite 1000, Encino, CA 91436.

Arrangements are by Cassaday-Turkle-Christian Funeral Home, 75 S. Union Avenue Alliance, OH 44601.

https://www.ctcfuneralandcremation.com/obituary/DianeL-Thomas

Why God Doesn’t See You

Why God Doesn’t See You

February 09, 2020*

(Scout Sunday)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Isaiah 58:1-9a                        Matthew 5:13-16                   1 Corinthians 2:1-6

Have you ever felt like you were invisible to the people around you? You raise your hand in class and no one seems to notice.  You share your opinion in a meeting with your co-workers and no one seems to hear.  But then five minutes later another co-worker says exactly what you said, and everyone thinks that it’s a great idea.  We call, or write, or email our elected officials and we don’t get anything in return, or we get a preprinted form letter or postcard that has nothing at all to do with our original message.  And it happens in church too.  Sometimes we feel like we come to church for years and no one knows our name or acknowledges that we have skills that we can contribute. 

It’s frustrating, even infuriating, to feel invisible when we desperately want to be known and appreciated.

But what happens when we feel as if we are invisible to God?  What happens when we cry out to God in prayers or in our frustration, or grief, or anger, and it seems as if God really doesn’t care?  We know that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent.  That means that God knows everything, is present everywhere, and knows everything that there is to know.  But sometimes, it seems that if God hears us, and knows us, he must not really care.

But is that true? 

And if it is, how can that be possible?

As we consider those questions, let’s begin by reading Isaiah 58:1-9a, where God explains to the people of Israel what was happening when they felt exactly that way.  They prayed, they worshipped in the Temple, they brought sacrifices, they fasted, they did everything that they thought they were supposed to do to make God happy.  But still, it seemed as if God was ignoring them.  And this was God’s reply:

58:1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

 

In the time of Isaiah, many people were going to the Temple, making sacrifices, studying scripture, praying, fasting, and, by all appearances, trying hard to please God.  But after all their hard work, they end up asking God why he hasn’t noticed them.  Although they knew that God had heard their prayers and seen their worship, they felt like they were invisible. 

 

But God did notice them. 

 

God did see the things that they did.  And God replies that the problem wasn’t with the things that they did, but with the things that they didn’t do.  Yes, they prayed, and they fasted, but while they were trying to show God their devotion, they were also mistreating their employees at the same time.  When they finished their fasting, they argued with one another and started fistfights with fellow believers.  It is as if God says, “Do you want to know why you are invisible?  It’s because this kind of “churchy” stuff that you are doing is not the important stuff that I expect you to do.”  The most important part of following God is not putting on a show by going to church, and praying, and fasting, and looking good to the people around you.  The most important part is living your life the way that God wants you to live and treating others the way that God would treat them by fighting injustice, freeing people who are oppressed by substance abuse, or by governments, or by corporations, or by anyone who is treating them unfairly, by sharing your food with the hungry, offering shelter to the wanderer, clothing the naked, and caring for your family.

 

God says that these are the things that make you truly noticed and visible to him.  It is when we do these things that God hears our prayers and brings healing to our brokenness.  It is when we do the things that are important to God that God watches over our steps, and that is also when the community around you really beings to notice that God is making a difference in your life.

 

And if you want a second opinion, in Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus says pretty much the same thing when he says:

 

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

 

Two thousand years ago, salt was valuable.  If you lived near the ocean, you could evaporate water and make your own, but most of the world can’t do that.  As a result, in the ancient world, salt was sometimes used as a form of currency and Roman soldiers were sometimes paid in salt.  (Which, incidentally, is how the phrase “worth his salt” came in to being.)  In any case, when salt was collected, or mined, and then transported over long distances, it was sometimes stored in the open where it could get rained on, and the “salty” part of the salt would be lost, leaving behind something that might look like salt, but which was no longer “salty.”  So, what Jesus is saying is that you are intended to be salt.  When we follow the commands of God, and when we live the way that God has called us to live, we change the way that our community “tastes” just like salt changes the flavor of food.  It’s a concept that we understand by experience.  French fries are awesome, but without salt, they’re just kind of “Meh.”  Popcorn is one of my favorite foods, but without salt, it’s just kind of okay. 

 

Jesus says that’s the effect that we are supposed to have on our relationships with other people and in the world around us.  Without us it’s okay, but with us it’s clearly better.  But, if that salt loses its saltiness, then it really isn’t worth anything anymore.  And it is our connection to God that makes us different.  When we do the things that God calls us to do, when we live the way that Jesus taught us to live, it is only then that we become “salty” and can bring God’s flavor to the world.

 

But wait.

 

Many of us don’t to be the center of attention.  We don’t want to be evangelists.  We’re afraid that we’re not good enough.  We’re not good at public speaking.  Won’t being “salty” and bringing God’s flavor to the people around me be hard?  Honestly, as intimidating as it might sound, no.  I know that I’ve said this before, but it’s always worth repeating, God is always the one who does all the hard work.  The Apostle Paul explained it to the church in Corinth this way in 1 Corinthians 2:1-6:

 

2:1 And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

 

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing.

 

Paul reminds the people of the church that he wasn’t good at public speaking and he wasn’t always very street smart when he was there sharing his story about God.  He arrived in Corinth “in weakness with great fear and trembling.”  But, despite his weaknesses and shortcomings, he lived a life that demonstrated God’s power. 

 

He lived a life that demonstrated God’s power. 

 

What do you suppose that means?

 

Here’s the picture that I have in my head:  In high school, a few weeks before prom, there were one or two guys who got a job working for local tuxedo rental shops.  These guys were usually football players and not experienced or skilled salespeople.  But their “job” was to demonstrate the products of the tux shops.  Every day they would show up to school dressed in a different tuxedo.

 

(pause)

 

That was it.  Just put on the tux and go to school.  Okay, maybe they passed out a flyer or business cards now and then, but they weren’t really offering a sales pitch or anything.

 

And I think that’s exactly the kind of thing that Paul is describing.  Our “job” is to “put on” Jesus and live our lives.  What God wants us to do is to live the way that he has called us to live, and to do the things the he taught us to do, to just “put on” God and live our regular lives.  We don’t need to be eloquent or well-spoken evangelists, we just need to wear God’s tux and let God do the rest.

 

The most important part of following God is not putting on a show by going to church and looking good to the people around you.  The most important part is living your life is to be “salty”, to live and to love the way that God wants, to treat others the way that God would treat them, by fighting injustice, freeing people who are oppressed, by sharing your food with the hungry, offering shelter to the wanderer, clothing the naked, and caring for your family.

 

God doesn’t require us to be brilliant.

 

He just wants us to be faithful.

 

 

 

 


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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 High Cost of Shortcuts

Years ago, I saw a poster with a phrase that has stuck with me.  It said, “If you don’t have the time to do something right the first time, how will you ever find the time to do it over again?”  It’s sort of funny, but it turns out that this cuts to the heart of a lot of the shortcuts we take in life.

We’re tempted to buy cheap shoes, or cheap toys, or cheap lawnmowers because, well, because they’re cheap.  But then they break or wear out much sooner than we expected them to and we end up replacing them… over and over again.  But after we’ve paid for the cheap thing three times, we realize that we would have been better off paying more for the better one.  In the everyday rush to get from one thing to another, we often do the same thing when we choose between options that will get the job done quickly versus a better solution that takes a little longer.  And almost as often, we regret that we didn’t choose the better solution while we’re doing it all over again.

But how we make these choices with televisions and lawnmowers should be different than how we make choices that have long lasting consequences.  If we want to raise children that have a strong moral compass and positive values, it simply doesn’t pay to take shortcuts.  And we see this play out in our spiritual lives as well.  We thank God for the gift that our parents gave us by raising us in the church, teaching us scripture, and modeling biblical values, but that gift came at a price in time and commitment that many seem unwilling to pay.

But closer to home, we find this to be true of our own feelings of well-being and mental health.  We wish that we could slow down and find a few moments of rest, but we say ‘yes’ to too many things, schedule our calendars from morning until dark seven days a week and find ourselves constantly tired and irritable.  We wish that we could be closer to God and live a more spiritual life, but our hectic schedules only allow us to find our way to church once or twice a month, or maybe just a few times each year.  As much as we might wish otherwise, some of the most important things can’t be rushed.

The cost of taking shortcuts is too high.

As addicting as social media might be, it just doesn’t work to build real friendship.  Close friendships require that we spend time getting to know one another.  There’s no way that you can finish one another’s sentences, know what someone else is thinking, or order their favorite food before they arrive at the restaurant if we haven’t spent lots of quality time in one another’s company.

We rob ourselves of that kind of intimacy with our friends when we try to take short-cuts.  Likewise, we rob ourselves of the power, mystery, and majesty of Christmas by skipping the time that was set aside for repentance and reflection during Advent.  If we truly want to find rest, draw closer to God, and to become more like Jesus, we need to make the time to invest in that relationship.

During this Christmas season, I hope that all of us will remember that God gave humanity a day of rest as a gift and not as a burden.  God didn’t need to rest for one day each week, but the lesson was so important that he modeled it for us even at the creation of the world.

It is only when we make the time, when we are willing to pay the price of time and commitment, to our personal well-being, to our friends, and to our faith, that we finally discover…

…Peace on Earth.

 

 

 

 


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You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat

November 24, 2019*

(Thanksgiving)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Deuteronomy 26:1-11                       Philippians 4:4-9                   John 6:25-35

 

Do you remember all the encouragement and education that we once had to eat right?

Maybe they still do that in school, but we once studied things like the food pyramid, and the four food groups, and were encouraged to eat a balanced diet.  We were told that breakfast if the most important meal of the day so that we wouldn’t run out of energy before school was over and so that we could be at our best and learn things more efficiently.  We were discouraged from filling up on junk food and empty calories and we were told, repeatedly, that “You are what you eat.”  Our options seemed clear.  Did we want to be full of wholesome stuff?  Or full of junk?

But if we think about our connection to God in the same way that we think about food, we discover that scripture says a lot of the same things about our spiritual health that we heard about our physical health.  As it turns out, taking care of our spiritual bodies is just as important as taking care of our physical ones.

But before we talk about today, or what we plan for tomorrow, let’s start with remembering what we have been given and learn how the people of Israel made the connection between thanksgiving… and faith.  We begin in Deuteronomy 26:1-11 as we hear God’s instruction to his people as they entered the Promised Land.

26:1 When you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled in it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the Lord your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name and say to the priest in office at the time, “I declare today to the Lord your God that I have come to the land the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.” The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor. Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our ancestors, and the Lord heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; 10 and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, Lord, have given me.” Place the basket before the Lord your God and bow down before him. 11 Then you and the Levites and the foreigners residing among you shall rejoice in all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.

Even before the people entered the Promised Land, God established a system of giving offerings to give thanks for what they had been given.  But it is important to notice that for Israel, thanksgiving was not the Fall, but in the Spring or early Summer.  As the people began to harvest their crops, when the very first plants began to produce fruit, long before the full extent of the harvest was known, the people would bring gifts to God.  Rather than being a tithe, or a percentage of the harvest, as you might do in the Fall, these gifts bridged the gap between thanksgiving and faith.  By bringing the firstfruits of the harvest, the people of God showed their gratitude for what they had been given, but also relied upon their faith that God would bless the harvest that would come in the days ahead.  In this way, the celebration of Israel was not only a time to give thanks for what God had given in the past, but also a bridge to symbolize their trust in God for the future.

But then, with the coming of Jesus, the food for which we are thankful is seen as something altogether different, as we see in John 6:25-35.

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

30 So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Because it is a common theme of the human condition, Jesus often uses illustrations about food to help us understand.  Humans have always had to work for their food.  Either we hunted for it, worked the soil to grow it, or labored at other things in order to pay for it.  But when people started following Jesus in hopes that he would feed them, he cautioned that they shouldn’t work for earthly food that spoils, but instead should work for spiritual food that will endure throughout eternity.

Before we can begin to do good works for God, we must first believe in his son, Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the bread, the foundational sustenance of our faith, the staple food that anchors everything else.  Jesus is the true bread sent from heaven and not just earthly food that makes us feel good today and hungry again in a few hours.  Once we have accepted Jesus and have taken him into us, so that he becomes a part of us, then our spirit will never again be hungry or thirsty.

But then what?

If accepting Jesus, and having him become a part of us, is the first thing that we must do, then what is it that we are supposed to do next?  And for that, we turn to Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi where he says (Philippians 4:4-9)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, —put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

What Paul says is that accepting Jesus and allowing him to become a part of us, makes a difference.  Being a follower of Jesus Christ changes who we are and how people see us.  In other words…

…We are what we eat.

As the followers of Jesus, we are called not only to be thankful, but to rejoice in what God has done, and in what God is doing in your life every day.  Allow the love of Jesus to flow through you so that it can be seen by the people around you as gentleness and kindness.  Instead of worrying, pray and be thankful.  But, if indeed we are what we eat, then, Paul says, don’t stop eating.  It’s obvious that our physical bodies will starve if we don’t eat enough, and we’ve had it drilled into our heads that eating junk food all the time is bad for us, and Paul says that the same thing is true for our spiritual bodies.  If we want to stay spiritually healthy, we need to have a regular diet of healthy spiritual food, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, —put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”

You can’t be physically healthy on a steady diet of Twinkies and no exercise.

If you want to be physically healthy, eat a good balanced diet and do a little work in the gym.

Likewise, you can’t be spiritually healthy on a steady diet of Desperate Housewives and no exercise.

If you want to be spiritually healthy, give thanks, have faith in Jesus, eat a healthy diet of good spiritual food, and do a little work in the spiritual gym by doing the things that Jesus, Paul, and the other disciples taught us and modeled for us.

It makes sense because, just it is for our physical bodies…

…you are what you eat.

Maybe we’ll give that some thought this week before we reach for seconds.

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Guaranteed Reward. If…

Guaranteed Reward. If…

November 03, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18                Ephesians 1:11-23                 Luke 6:20-31

 

Do you know where you’re going?

I mean, do you know where your life is headed? 

While many of us have learned, the hard way, that our plans for life can often change unexpectedly, do you know, at least for now, what destination you have in mind for your life?

Many of us grew up watching the Depression era comedy, The Little Rascals.  In one episode, entitled, I think, “The Coaster Car”, the Our Gang built a big, unpowered, car in which a surprising number of them could ride.  At some point, using their donkey Algebra, they brought the car to the top of an impossibly long hill and, cut loose from their donkey, they began freewheeling, uncontrollably and with frightening speed, down the hill.  At one point in the dialog down the hill, Buckwheat famously exclaims, “I don’t know where we’re going, but we’re on our way!”

And, if we’re honest, that’s how many of us feel about our lives from time to time.  Our education, our careers, our children, and just about everything else can change so unexpectedly that our plans are often in a constant state of change.  We wake up in the morning and discover that while we have no idea where we’re going, we sure are getting there in a hurry.

But what about our spiritual lives?

Does being a follower of God and a follower of Jesus Christ give us any more stability than we often find in the chaos of our daily lives?  Well, it should.  Our spiritual lives come with a guarantee… if we do something simple.

But, before we get to the guarantee, let’s look at our destination.  We begin this morning in Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 as the prophet Daniel describes a dream that was sent to him by God that told him, and tells us, some important things about the future.

7:1 In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel had a dream, and visions passed through his mind as he was lying in bed. He wrote down the substance of his dream.

Daniel said: “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.

15 “I, Daniel, was troubled in spirit, and the visions that passed through my mind disturbed me. 16 I approached one of those standing there and asked him the meaning of all this.

“So, he told me and gave me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘The four great beasts are four kings that will rise from the earth. 18 But the holy people of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever—yes, for ever and ever.’

While Daniel is clear that earthly kingdoms, like those with which everyone was familiar, even the superpowers of their day, rose and fell, and would continue to rise and fall, the followers of God, whom he calls “the holy people of the Most High,” will receive God’s kingdom and keep it, and presumably live in it, forever.  This is God’s promise to Daniel and to us, that we belong to God’s kingdom, that it is a real place, and that we will take ownership of it, and live in it, forever.

But how can we be sure?

After all, Daniel is a prophet of the Old Testament.  Wasn’t that a long time ago?  Didn’t the coming of Jesus change everything?  Is the promise contained in Daniel the same today as it was then?  And, the answer to all those questions is “yes.”  But, at the same time, the news is even better, because with the coming of Jesus we understand more clearly how and why that can happen.  In Ephesians 1:11-23, the Apostle Paul explains it this way:

11 In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

Paul says that we were chosen as the followers of Jesus Christ as a part of God’s plan to accomplish his will.  We were chosen so that people might see us, and our faith, and the way that we live our lives, and give praise to God.  The moment that you believed, you were marked with a seal that guarantees your inheritance.  Paul says that the God that has the power to raise Christ from the dead, certainly has the power rule over the kings, princes, popes, presidents, prime ministers, and all the other kinds of power and authority that exist on the earth yesterday, today, and forever.  And that God has put Jesus Christ in charge everything on earth, and in all of creation, for all time.

So, not only do we have God’s promise that we belong to God’s kingdom and that we will live in it forever, we can have complete confidence that Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords yesterday, today, and forever. 

But, even if we believe that all of that is true, and are willing to put our faith and confidence in the promises of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ, how does it happen?  What do we have to do to get there?  What does God expect of us?

And Jesus draws us all a picture in his sermon on the mount in what we often call the Beatitudes contained in Luke 6:20-31, where we hear these words:

20 Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
    for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now,
    for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
    for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you,
    when they exclude you and insult you
    and reject your name as evil,
        because of the Son of Man.

23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

24 “But woe to you who are rich,
    for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
    for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
    for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
    for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Jesus starts with a list of blessings that we will receive in heaven when we live in God’s kingdom because the ancestors of the poor, the hungry, and people who wept, the people who were hated and insulted and rejected, treated the prophets with care, respect and love.  But many people will not be nearly so happy when that day comes.  For them, the coming of the kingdom of God will be far less pleasant because they, and their ancestors, the people who were rich, comfortable, well fed, and well liked, treated the prophets just like they treated Jesus, with disrespect, contempt, and violence.

Jesus says that if we are listening, we should do something about it.  If we want to be included in the first group, and not the second, if we want to be the people who receive the blessings of God, then we should love our enemies, do good to the people who hate us, bless the people who curse us, and pray for the people who mistreat us.  We must give to people who steal from us, be generous to everyone, and treat everyone, even those who don’t deserve it, the way that you would like others to treat you.

Today we celebrate the lives of those who have passed from this world into the next, we honor their lives, remember what they have meant to us, how they showed us the grace of God, how they taught us about Jesus, and how they modelled a life of faith for us.  Today, we celebrate because we know that in them, God has already fulfilled his promise and they are, already, at home with Jesus in God’s kingdom. 

But as we remember, we also look forward to the day when we will rejoin all of those who have gone there ahead of us.  But we also remember that in order to get there, we have been called to do something about it.  

We have been called to live as if we believe.

Our reward is guaranteed.

If we walk the walk.

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

What Does God Want?

What Does God Want?

October 06, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

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

So, what is it that God wants?

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

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

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

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

What is it that God wants from us?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What does God want?

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

Are you ready to be committed disciples?

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

Let us use those gifts as a gift to God.

That, my friends, is stewardship.

 

 

 

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.