Choosing Discomfort

We were cold. But would be hot almost within the hour. The fog was still liftng from the mountan valleys as we walked to breakfast just after dawn. There was a chill in the air and several of us had spent a fitful night tryig to keep warm in our tents. But as we walked to breakfast, we were also aware that soon, almost within the hour, the sun wouold rise above the mountains and temperatures would rise enough to make us sweat. And so, as each of us dressed that morning, we had made choices. We were all faced with the same facts, but each of us had made different choices. One had long sleeves and long pants, another long sleeves and shorts, another long pants and short sleeves, and still another both short pants and sleeves. Would we be comfortablly warm now, and cold later?  Or cold now, and comfortable later? Each of us knew that our choice was transient. Discomfort was inevitable. We were choosing the form of our discomfort. And it was so ordinary that no one gave it a second thought. But in other situations we seem shocked by it… and we shouldn`t be. We wonder why migrants would choose to come across our border when they know that the journey is arduous, that the “coyotes” that guide them vicious, rape ordinary, and often detention when caught. The thing is, many are aware of the dangers before they begin but, when faced with daily violence, death and mayhem at home, they’ve chosen the most comfortable discomfort. The discomfort they face at home seems endless and unsolvable, but the discomfort on the road to citizenship, or even residence, in a foreign country seems like a light of hope at the end of a dark tunnel. We wonder why young people who grew up in the church, and who believe that life begins in the womb, still sometimes choose to end that life through abortion. But often these young people, married and unmarried, are faced with impossible choices, none of which are good. While we may not agree with their choices, we should understand that they are choosing their discomfort. When every possible choice seems to be a path of pain, they must choose which path of pain seems ever so lightly less painful. We wonder why people who have few posessions and little money make choices that seem wasteful and foolish.  But they are doing the same thing.  They are choosing their discomfort.  It can easily be understood that although none of their choices are good, they choose a path that offers a little joy, however transient. We wonder why our friends choose to vote for candidates that do not represent their values, or who are known to act in ways that are contrary to the interests of the voters.  But the same principle applies.  It is often the case that voters are fully aware of the candidate’s failings, faults, and voting patterns.  But, believing that the other candidates are just as flawed, or who violate their conscience in other ways, the voters are compelled to choose their discomfort. Which path of pain seems the most bearable? Which uncomfortable choice offers a chance at hope? I didn`t laugh at my friends on the way to breakfast because I understood that each of us, in our own way, was choosing the uncomfortable path that we though offered the least discomfort. If we can understand that, then shouldn’t we extend the same grace to others who are making harder, more painful choices between their available paths of discomfort? Isn’t that what Jesus taught us? Each of us must make choices that guide us through paths of discomfort. We should have the grace to allow others to do the same. Friends… …always choose grace.    
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The Path to Peace

The Path to Peace

May 26, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

John 14:23-29            Acts 16:9-15               Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5

 

Let’s begin with an easy question that turns out to be more difficult than we expected.

What is peace?

While at first a part of us wants to think that defining peace ought to be easy, the more we think about it, the harder it gets.

When most of us begin thinking about peace, we probably thing about the violence between nations.  In that case, peace is simply the absence of war and violence.  That’s probably the kind of peace that we’re thinking of when we talk about “world peace” or when hippies say things like “peace, man” or “peace out.”  But then there’s the kind of peace that Mom is looking for when she says that she just wants “a little peace and quiet.”  Of course, that means the end of sibling violence, but in this case, she also means a lack of worry and the ability to find a moment of rest.  If we extend those few moments of quiet rest, maybe that’s what we mean when we say that we are “at peace” or when we are searching for “inner peace,” or maybe that’s what the Eagles mean when they sing about that “peaceful, easy feeling.”  And, of course, there is the religious wish that is common to Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, when we express our wishes for Salaam, Shalom, or “peace be unto you.”

But as much and as hard as we might search for, seek out, strive toward, or wish for peace, it may well be that our human efforts will always fall short if we do not include God as a part of, and as a participant in, our search for peace.  In John 14:23-29, Jesus tells the disciples that peace is a gift that he is giving to them, and to us, if only we will truly love him.

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

28 “You heard me say, ‘I am going away, and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.

Jesus says that if we will only obey his teaching, God will love us, and both he and Jesus will make their home with us, and a part of what comes with that, is Jesus’ gift of peace.  Moreover, Jesus helps us to define what he means by peace, in this case, by saying that we should not let our hearts be troubled nor should be we afraid.  But peace can be hard.  We are often plagued by doubts about the future, and questions about where we ought to go and what we ought to be doing.  We ask ourselves, “Should I study this or that,” take this job offer or that one, is God in this, or not, is this better or worse than that, or more generally, “Just what does God want from me?”  And in asking those questions, we struggle, and we sometimes lose our sense of peace.  But as we read the stories about how God has called others to do his work, we can learn something about how God might call us.  In Acts 16:9-15 we remember the way that God called Paul to ministry in Philippi.

Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia [central Turkey], having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia [western Turkey], they tried to enter Bithynia [northern Turkey], but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas [northeast coast of Turkey]. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia [across the Aegean Sea and north of Greece] standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace [Aegean island], and the next day we went on to Neapolis [eastern Greece]. 12 From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony [and a bit inland] and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

13 On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. 14 One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira [a Greek city in eastern modern Turkey, near Mysia, where Paul had just been] named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. 15 When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.

Now, if all of that wasn’t confusing enough, if you were trying to follow along this journey on ancient maps, one of the things that you’d probably notice is that the woman that Paul meets, and in whose house they end up staying, Lydia, comes from the city of Thyatira, which is in the nation of… Lydia.  Anyway, after all of that, what I wanted to point out was that Paul was struggling to find peace with what he was doing, where he was going, and what God wanted him to do.  He kept trying to do different things, and go different directions, and things were not going his way.  He wanted to do ministry in Asia, or as we understand it, in eastern Turkey, but felt that the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so.  We don’t know if that was an unsettled feeling, or an inability to sleep, or just physical or political barriers, but clearly something kept Paul and his team from going where they wanted to go.  But one night, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia, a nation to the north of Greece, begging them to come there and preach.  And so, that’s where they go, and once there, they meet a wealthy businesswoman, who specializes in the manufacture and distribution of rare purple cloth, she comes to faith in Jesus Christ, is baptized, and all of them are persuaded to stay with her in her estate.

All of that may sound like a rabbit trail, but I include it here to make a point.  Even though Paul’s journeys were long and difficult, even though his direction was not always certain, even though his travels often seemed to include arrest and torture, Paul had the peace of knowing that he was where God wanted him to be and he was doing what God had called him to do.  Certainly, while being arrested and beaten does not sound peaceful, Paul had inner peace, the peace of knowing that he was where he was supposed to be.  But Paul also knew that the peace that we so desperately seem to pursue cannot often be found in this life.  Paul knew that a greater peace awaited him as a reward for his faithfulness.  John writes about that in Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 where we hear these words:

One of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues came and said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.

22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

22:1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.

Believe it or not, as odd as some of this language sounds, many of its visual images are all about safety and peace.  Because darkness in the ancient world, and to a lesser extent today, was associated with danger, John notes that in the new Jerusalem, it never gets dark.  The light of God and the protection of God, shines on everyone constantly.  Both nations and their kings come to live under the light and under the protection and justice of God and that, finally, after thousands of years of history, sounds like a government that we can trust.  And then John says that the gates of the city are never shut.  For those of us who live in the twenty-first century, far removed from a time when it was necessary, or even possible, to live inside of walled cities, it might be easy to miss the importance of what John is saying.  But, at a time when walls meant safety, remember that the gates were closed at night to keep out robbers, spies, and enemies.  If an enemy army approached, the gates would be shut.  If danger was suspected, the gates were there as a last measure of protection.  But John says that here, the gates are never closed because there is never any danger.  There are no thieves, bandits, spies, there is are no armies, and there is no danger.  There is no impurity, there is no hunger or thirst, and leaves of the trees, as common as they are, provide for the healing of any wounds that we carry in with us.  The curses that God laid upon humanity after the failure and fall of Adam and Eve are all removed.  We will serve God only, and we will see him face to face.

In every way, by every definition, there will be peace.

Let’s put that all together.

Jesus said that his gift to us was a gift of peace.  Some of that we can have now, and the rest is promised to us after the judgement at the end of time.  But, if we follow Jesus, if we listen for his voice, and are obedient to him, then we can find peace in knowing that we are where we need to be and doing what God has called us to do.  And even when our call brings difficulty into our lives, or when the chaos of our world erupts around us, we can trust that when we reach our eternal destination, we will finally, and forever, by every possible definition, be at peace.

There is a roadmap and a path that will lead us to peace.

The great question of humanity is not “How do I achieve peace?” 

The question is, “Am I willing to trust the one who has shown me the path?”

 

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

God’s Unwanted Gifts

God’s Unwanted Gifts

October 07, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

Job 1:1; 2:1-10                       Mark 10:2-16             Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12

 

Have you ever gotten gifts that were more exciting to unwrap than to receive?

You know what I mean.  You’ve opened gifts, and been all excited, and the gift turned out to be an ugly sweater.  Our kids would occasionally get gifts from relatives that were things that they really liked… three years before.  A Dora the Explorer backpack would’ve been welcome in elementary school, but it just wasn’t what our junior high daughter had in mind.  Over the years, I’ve seen a number of those kinds of things in all degrees of severity.  Lovely gifts of wine or scotch whiskey… to friends that don’t drink, hair coloring to people who prefer natural color, a white sweater to a platinum blonde that never, ever wears white, a Bible for an atheist, and so on.  But the next level is when your boss tries to do you a favor and gives you a raise and a promotion, but it means that you must sell your house and move.  You interview for a new job, get hired, and move to a new city, only to discover that the company that just hired you has declared bankruptcy and your new job is gone.

Some gifts are not what we wanted and others, that we thought we wanted, turn out to be much less valuable or pleasurable than we thought they would be when we asked for them.  And the stories that we find in scripture often reflect this same idea, and sometimes we find that the gifts that God wants to give us, are the kinds of gifts that make us run screaming from the room.  We begin in the story of Job.  An honest, upright, and faithful man of God, to whom horrible things would happen, for no apparent reason.  (Job 1:1; 2:1-10)

1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

2:1 On another day the angel came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came with them to present himself before him. And the Lord said to Satan, “Where have you come from?”

Satan answered the Lord, “From roaming throughout the earth, going back and forth on it.”

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil. And he still maintains his integrity, though you incited me against him to ruin him without any reason.”

“Skin for skin!” Satan replied. “A man will give all he has for his own life. But now stretch out your hand and strike his flesh and bones, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

The Lord said to Satan, “Very well, then, he is in your hands; but you must spare his life.”

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord and afflicted Job with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head. Then Job took a piece of broken pottery and scraped himself with it as he sat among the ashes.

His wife said to him, “Are you still maintaining your integrity? Curse God and die!”

10 He replied, “You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

For the record, I understand that it was Satan who afflicted Job and not God, but God knew about it, God knew what Satan intended, and not only did God allow it, God seemed to invite it.  And, while a study of the book of Job can, and has, result in volumes of sermons with a great many valuable lessons, the takeaway here is Job’s rhetorical question, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”

If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, knows everything about us, and knows everything that happens to us, then do we demonstrate a lack of faith when we wonder if God is aware, or if God cares, when we go through times of trouble?  Job’s question is as relevant to us as it was to his wife, if we accept good from God how can we not accept trouble as a gift from God when it comes?  Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, and are sometimes gifts that cause us to run screaming from the room, but many times, not always, but many times, these difficult situations are indeed gifts from God that are intended for a higher purpose.

In Mark 10:2-16 we find a story that may give us some insight into how we accept difficulty in our lives.

10:1 Jesus then left that place and went into the region of Judea and across the Jordan. Again, crowds of people came to him, and as was his custom, he taught them.

Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

“What did Moses command you?” he replied.

They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.”

“It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”

13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

This passage seems a little odd because it starts with a conversation about divorce, but if we take a moment to consider what it meant to the people in the story, it helps us to understand it better.  The pharisees were having an argument over what criteria needed to be met in order to grant a divorce.  Historically, some rabbis made the case that the slightest infraction, like burning your breakfast, was enough, but others argued for a much higher standard.  Jesus rightly points out that all of this came about because Moses had said that it was okay for people to divorce and the rabbis throughout history had argued over how high a standard should be met before giving permission to do so.  But Jesus wades into the dispute like a bull in a china chop and upsets every vested interest, by saying that God is never okay with divorce, that it is always a sin, and that Moses only allowed it because human beings, even faithful, churchgoing humans, are a miserable, stubborn, disobedient, hardhearted bunch and would disobey God no matter what he said.

Ouch.

Instead, Jesus says, we ought to be more like the children that came to meet them.  The kingdom of God, Jesus says, belongs to people who are like children and, what’s more, if we don’t receive the kingdom like a little child, we can’t enter the kingdom at all.

So, what does that mean?  Let’s unpack it a little bit.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time at all with children knows that children are both innocent and trusting.  If you say come, they come.  If you say go, they go.  If tell them to do this, or don’t do that, they do what you tell them to do (certainly not always, but as a rule, they are far more trusting than adults).  For our purposes today, it’s important to note that children accept teaching, rebuke, and correction from their teachers, mentors, and parents better than adults.  In short, they are teachable and correctable and if we adults want to get into the kingdom of God, we need to be like them.

In this passage of scripture, Jesus contradicts the teaching of the pharisees on the subject of divorce, but this isn’t unique.  Time after time, Jesus makes it clear, that we aren’t as good as we thought we were.  The rules are stricter, and God’s standards are higher, than we thought they were.  Over and over again, Jesus makes it clear that we aren’t as perfect as we thought we were or as good as we imagined ourselves to be.

But if God is so demanding, and we are so deeply flawed, shouldn’t we despair and give up even trying to be good?  No.  And in Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Paul explains why.

1:1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

2:5 It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified:

“What is mankind that you are mindful of them,
a son of man that you care for him?
You made them a little lower than the angels;
you crowned them with glory and honor
    and put everything under their feet.”

In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. 11 Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. 12 He says,

“I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters;
in the assembly I will sing your praises.”

Paul reminds us that Jesus came to earth to provide purification of our sins before God.  Jesus now rules over the angels in heaven because he suffered death for us, to pay the price for our sin and rebellion against God.  Jesus was, and is, the pioneer of our salvation and rescue so that we could be made perfect through suffering.

But if we read Paul’s words carefully, it says, “10 In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.”  Paul is reminding us that Jesus was the pioneer, the first, and through him God chose to make our salvation perfect through suffering.  But by using the word “pioneer,” in this way, it seems as if Paul is also reminding us that suffering was not unique to Jesus.  Jesus made us perfect, in the eyes of God, through suffering, but we face our own suffering and at times, God intends for our discomfort, our inconvenience, our pain, and our suffering to change us.  Sometimes, pain and suffering cause us to leave our comfort zones and discover new truths, sometimes suffering leads us to new discoveries about ourselves, about others, about our world, and about God’s mercy, grace, and love.  And sometimes, our pain and suffering are the means that God uses to move us toward perfection, toward a better version of ourselves, toward the person that God created us to be, and toward the person that God needs us to become.

Trouble, pain, suffering, difficulty, and trials are not gifts that we ask for, or gifts that we ever wanted.  But rather than fight God tooth and nail, rather than demanding that God immediately rescue us, consider that we might want to be like little children before God and consider that God has indeed given these to us as a gift.  Consider that God may intend for us to learn something from our pain.  Remember that God loves us enough to sacrifice his own son, loves us enough to personally suffer the agony of persecution, flogging, crucifixion, and death.  If we trust God, and if we trust that God cares about us, then we should consider that no matter what joy or sorrow, pleasure or pain, comfort or suffering, that God allows into our lives, each of them is a gift that is intended to shape us into something better.

 

 


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

Fear Not?

fearEarlier today, my friend John Thro posted a question that, in light of this election, is worth taking the time for all of us to consider.  He said…

“I have gay relatives, relatives with gender identity issues, relatives with mental health issues. 

I have friends and coworkers who are immigrants, friends and coworkers who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist.

How should they feel this morning?”

First off, I want to point out that throughout this election cycle I have not supported either candidate.  Professionally, I try very hard (with varying degrees of success) to keep my political opinions (though strongly held) to myself.  What I have to say, and what we do, on Sunday morning, and inside the walls of the church are far more important than whatever political differences that we might have.  Personally, I found both major candidates to be so deeply flawed that I could not, in good conscience, support either of them.  What button I pushed inside the election booth is not something I care to post publicly.

With that in mind, here is my perception. Despite the efforts of the opposing campaign to smear him, Mr. Trump’s history is not as bad as some would lead you to believe. Many of the things brought up were things that he had said, 20 or 30 years ago. People change. In general, as we age, we mellow.   For every accusation of hatred, there were employees, friends, associates, and others who countered with a story demonstrating the opposite.  Even so, I do not discount that some of the things said by Trump were troubling, some should not have been said, and these are things that we must watch for, and guard against.

What I fall back on is that we still live in a nation of laws, a nation in which the violent crime rate has been dropping for the last twenty years, and a nation that is full of good people. No laws will be enacted that violate anyone’s Constitutional rights, violence against minorities or others will be not tolerated under our laws any differently than it has been, and the law will be upheld. In the end, as it has almost always been, to the man or woman on the street, there will be little or no perceived difference.

You are as safe today as you were yesterday.

The Gallup research organization says that 58 percent of all Americans claim to be third generation Americans, the grandchildren of immigrants.  I am one.  Our conversation about immigration is not only important, for more than half of us, it is deeply personal.  For that reason alone, as well as others, there will be no gigantic shifts in immigration policy.  We will not ban immigration.  We will not hate immigrants.  How can we when half of us claim that as our heritage?  What we will (or at least should) have, is a discussion about what legal immigration ought to look like, what reasonable limits we should put in place, and how we can do it better.

Similarly, we are already such a culturally, religiously, and racially, diverse culture that I do not expect any huge, or dangerous, changes in public policy.  And, despite those who would seek to attack our neighbors with gender identity issues, or those whose gender identity is different than the mainstream, I really don’t see any significant changes happening.  As a nation, we are a good, kind, compassionate, generous, and yes, tolerant people… even if it doesn’t always seem that way.

I said many of these things to John in my reply to his post, but I also added something else.  We must remember that President Obama, even though he was well liked and widely supported by the Democrat members of the United States House and Senate, occasionally proposed legislation that went too far.  In those cases, even his friends and supporters could not agree with him, and that legislation did not pass.  What President Trump will face, although there will be a Republican majority in both the House and the Senate, is a Congress in which many establishment representatives neither like him nor support him.  I believe that they will be more than willing to oppose him on issues that they believe cross the line and go too far.

In the end, I also have faith.

I have faith that the ultimate power is not the man or woman who sits in the Oval Office.  God is in control.  And our God is a god who is passionately concerned about the poor, the outcast, the voiceless, immigrants, minorities, and every kind of oppressed people.  What is left to us is not to be afraid, but to choose what we will do.  We must not wait for the President, or the Congress, or the government at any level to do what we should do.  I have always, regardless of political party, committed to pray for the President of the United States and all of our leaders at every level and I will continue to do that.

I encourage you to do the same.

But we must also busy ourselves doing what is right, good, and just, particularly if we are people of faith. We must commit ourselves to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the outcasts, being a voice for the voiceless, showing mercy and compassion for immigrants and the oppressed, and seeking justice for everyone.

I believe that our nation is full of good, decent, hardworking, compassionate, faithful, and generous people.

I believe that we will do these things.

We will be vigilant.

There is no reason to fear.

 

 

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The Fire Before the Finish

“The Fire Before the Finish”
December 06, 2015
(Second Sunday of Advent)
By John Partridge

Scripture:  Malachi 3:1-4    Philippians 1:3-11     Luke 3:1-6

This morning we are going to begin by filling in the missing words from some well known, and some lesser known, sayings.
1) When we suspect that something is wrong we have said, “Where there’s smoke there’s ______.”

2) The leader of the 21 gun salute said, “Ready, Aim, ________.”

3) The coach was disappointed by how his team was performing. He said that he needed to “Light a ______ under them.

4) The famous baseball player, Ty Cobb, once said, “I never could stand losing. Second place didn’t interest me. I had a ______ in my belly.”

5) Bernard Williams said, “Talent is a flame. Genius is a ______.”

6) Mae West said, “A man can be short and dumpy and getting bald but if he has ____, women will like him.”

7) Finally, President Richard Nixon once said, “The finest steel has to go through the hottest _____.

If it isn’t obvious by now, the answer to all of these was “fire.”

But on almost all of these, fire is the thing that happens at the beginning. Fire is the creator of smoke, the fire is what makes the gun go “boom,” fire is what motivates athletes, geniuses, and dumpy bald men. But President Nixon was in the right ballpark for today’s scripture because in Malachi 3:1-4, God warns his people that when the Messiah comes, things are going to get hot.

3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

In a prophecy that describes the coming of the Messiah, we see that Jesus is the messenger that we desire, and Jesus is the rescuer and redeemer that we have been looking forward to seeing, but when he comes, not everyone will be happy about it. Malachi tells us that his coming will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will be the one who drives out the impurities but the process of refining silver or gold is to place them in a fire until they melt and keep them there until the impurities float to the top. For the people of God, the fire didn’t happen at the beginning of the story, it comes at the end. It is after we have been refined that God will find our offerings to be acceptable because it is then that righteous men and women will bring them.

And so, as we celebrate Advent, we remember that life isn’t always going to be easy. God isn’t always going to let things go our way. Sometimes, when we feel like we are in the fire, we are. And we are there because God intends to drive off some of our impurities.

Not surprisingly, we hear echoes of this in the Christmas story as well. Reading from Luke 3:1-6, we hear these words:

3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”

I want to point out that God found John in the wilderness. God didn’t wait for John to be doing something important. God didn’t wait until John came to the Temple in Jerusalem to call him. God called John from where he was, at the moment that he was needed. And when God called, only then did John leave where he was and go into the countryside to preach.

From time to time, each of us may feel that we are in the wilderness. We may feel that we aren’t doing anything important or we might feel that we are far from home, or away from the hustle and bustle, or away from the places where important people gather. But Luke’s message is that when God is ready, he will find us no matter where we are.

The second point that we should take from this passage is that John’s entire mission was to prepare for the coming of the Messiah by proclaiming a message of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John was the one who was “preparing the way” for the arrival of Jesus.

Today, we are in John’s place.

Today, we have been given John’s mission.

As we celebrate Advent, we are reminded that today, we are called to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus.

To do that, there is something that we must do. We must do as John preached; we must repent of our sins (and remember that ‘repent’ means to turn around, to change directions, and go another way) and we must prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Prince of Peace.

In Philippians 1:3-11, Paul reveals even more of this fundamental principle and why our season of preparation is important.

3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

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

Paul reminds the followers of Jesus that God has begun doing something amazing in their lives. God himself has begun doing something good in each of us and we, like Paul, are confident that if God has begun something, he will surely continue doing it until that thing is finished.

And so, let us remember these things:

Remember that life isn’t always easy, but it may well be that, in the hardest times, when we feel like we are in the furnace surrounded by fire, God is refining us so that we may be, in the end, purer and more beautiful than ever before.

Remember that Advent is the season of preparation. Let us repent of our sins and prepare our hearts for the coming of the Prince of Peace.
Remember that we have inherited the mission of John the Baptist and are called, from wherever we are, to proclaim the coming of the redeemer and rescuer of humanity.

And as we do these things, remember that God is working in each of us so that we might love more, know more, see more, understand more, so that we can make better choices and become more righteous. Paul’s desire, and ours, is to become pure and blameless on the Day of Judgment but, moreover, that we will become so much like Jesus, that we will live our lives like Jesus and pour out God’s love into the world around us.

The End of “The End”

“The End of ‘The End’”
November 01, 2015
(All Saints Day)
By John Partridge

Scripture: Isaiah 25:6-9                 Revelation 21:1-6a                        John 11:32-44

How many of you ever went to the movies when great actors and actresses like John Wayne, Vincent Price, Greta Garbo, and Katherine Hepburn were playing in the big screen? What about the Saturday morning cartoons with Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny?

It doesn’t seem to happen as much lately, but for many years those of us who watched movies in the theater, or cartoons on Saturday morning knew when the show was over because, at the very end, there was a sign that came up on the screen that said, “The End.” It was common for the cowboy hero to ride off into the sunset at the end of the movie as the words “The End” scrolled onto the screen. It was so common, and such a part of the movie environment, that comedies often had a little fun with the words “The End” and the credits that followed.

And as odd as it may sound, that is a lot like how the story of our lives seems to go. With the exception of those folks whose lives end in terrible tragedies where death comes swiftly, many of our endings are very similar. As we near the end of our story, family and friends come to see us, to say their goodbyes, to share a few last memories, perhaps to make a final apology, and to say “I love you” one last time. This is the big scene in the story of our life and for those who are left behind, it is as if, after our passing, the book closes on our story, the last reel of our movie has played, and the words, “The End” play on the screen.

That’s life, right?

Or, as it has often been said in the movies, “It is the way of things.”

But it was not always so.

The story of Adam and Eve tell us that in the beginning, when the world was perfect and without sin, death was not a part of our creation. Death, suffering, and all of the discomfort, mourning and pain that they cause us, were not a part of God’s original creation but entered into the world because of the rebellion of human beings.

And so, for now, “It is the way of things.”

But the good news is that it will not always be so.

The prophet Isaiah knew that God would not allow death, suffering, pain, misery, discomfort, and mourning to continue forever for the people that he loved. Isaiah wrote these words (Isaiah 25:6-9):

6 On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
a feast of rich food for all peoples,
a banquet of aged wine—
the best of meats and the finest of wines.
7 On this mountain he will destroy
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,
the sheet that covers all nations;
8 he will swallow up death forever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace
from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.

9 In that day they will say,

“Surely this is our God;
we trusted in him, and he saved us.
This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.”

If you have been here at Trinity in recent months, you will remember that we have seen this imagery of a shroud several times. The covering of the face, or the head, was a symbol of death. And so when Isaiah says that God “will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples,” he is proclaiming that God intends, at the appointed time, to destroy death itself.

And at that time, God himself will wipe away all of the tears that have been caused by death and the resulting suffering of the living that are left behind.

Isaiah knew that this was true even if he didn’t know how or when it would happen because he heard the words from God’s lips and also because he understood the nature of God.

But in John 11:32-44, we learn even more and the story becomes fuller, richer, and even more wonderful.

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

36 Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

When Jesus arrives, Mary cries out that if Jesus had only gotten there in time, Lazarus would not have died. Mary had great faith and trust in Jesus but it seems from her words that she believed that Jesus had great power to heal, but now that death had come, healing, no matter how great, would be of no use. Others in the crowd have the same opinion saying, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Surely if Jesus was such a great healer, could he not have healed whatever sickness that had afflicted Lazarus? And we know that the answer to that is “yes.” But Jesus wanted to reveal something about himself that they did not yet understand, something bigger, and much more important.

Jesus asks for the tomb to be opened and ignores the reminders that Lazarus’ body has surely started to rot in the Mediterranean heat and surely, after four days, has begun to smell really, really bad.

Lazarus’ book had already closed. His movie had already ended. “The End” had flashed on the movie screen of his life days before.

But they do as Jesus commands.

The tomb is opened. Jesus calls to Lazarus as if he was only in the next room.

And Lazarus, still wearing his grave clothes and his death shroud, walks out of his own grave.

Mary, and her sister Martha, and all their family and friends, and the entire world discovers that Jesus not only has the power to heal, but that he has power and authority over death itself.

For Jesus, death is not the end.

And knowing this, the words of God that were brought to us through Isaiah become even more real. God has said that, at the appointed time, he would destroy, or undo, death itself. At the appointed time, God will bring an end to “The End.”

And now, even though we still do not know exactly when, we do know a little more about how, and we certainly know who, Jesus.

The last piece of our knowledge falls into place through the revelation of the Apostle John who saw this in his great vision from God (Revelation 21:1-6a):

21:1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

At the end of time, the end of the age, and the end of all things, God, the creator of all that is, proclaims that he is not just the beginning, but also the end. Death is no longer the end. Jesus is the end. Death will be no more. Mourning and crying and pain will be no more. And God himself will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Jesus, who has shown us that he has power over life and death, will bring an end to death forever. Those followers of Jesus Christ who have been lost to death will be restored to us and we will take up residence in God’s new creation.

No more will we fear death, because death itself will be dead.

That may very well be the greatest day in the history of days.

It will be the end of “The End.”

And the beginning of forever.

The Call of Pain

The Call of Pain
(or, A 2×4 to the Head)
Ohio Northern University Chapel Service
September 24, 2015

Ohio Northern – The Call of Pain

This week, as you continue hearing a series of messages that build your understanding of “The Call” of God, Chaplain MacDonald had invited me to share, but my experience compels me to warn you that…

The call of God is not always a welcome one.

Remember that Moses tried to talk his way out of God’s call. Gideon kept asking for signs to make really, really sure that God wanted him. Esther had to be persuaded that there was absolutely no one else that could to the job, and even though Jeremiah answered God’s call, he was horrifically abused because those in power didn’t like the message that he delivered.

The call of God is not always a welcome one because the call of God often involves pain.

Even Daniel, who we often lift up as a great hero of the faith because of his night in the lion’s den, his confrontations of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, his interpretation of dreams, and his many great prophecies, even Daniel experienced pain. Remember that Daniel was called only after he had watched his city destroyed, many of his friends and family killed, and the treasures of God’s holy temple carried away by the enemy.

3 Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility— 4 young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. (Daniel 1:3-4, NIV)

Daniel answered the call of God, but he lived his entire life as a prisoner of a foreign invader.

Good morning. My name is John Partridge and more than few years ago, I sat where you are now, a student pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. From Ohio Northern I moved to Akron, Ohio and worked in Cleveland with the American Gas Association Laboratories as quality engineer and also in research and development. After ten years I moved on to Lectrotherm in North Canton where we manufactured, and remanufactured induction furnaces, control systems and other equipment for the molten metals industry. But sometime around 2002 I got called into my boss’ office. I knew something was wrong because the head of human resources was there with my boss, and that is never a good thing. Without warning, and without a single negative review or job appraisal, I was asked to clean out my office and be gone by the end of the day.

I thought that I was good at that job and, more than that, I liked that job.

Years later, I found out that I was just the first of many who would be let go (and the company eventually went bankrupt), but losing my job was devastating. By this time I was married, owned a home, and had three children so being unemployed was a big deal financially. But losing your job is a big deal emotionally as well. I had gone to school for six years to become an engineer, and I had been employed as an engineer for thirteen years. I was not quite forty years old and for more than half of my life, being an engineer was my identity. Being an engineer was who I was.

So if I was unemployed… who was I?

As college students, most of you were in kindergarten when all this happened and so you probably don’t remember how good the economy was at that time. Business was booming, the stock market had been expanding for twenty years, it was the largest period of economic expansion in the history of the United States, and it was a great time to look for a new job.

Except I couldn’t find one.

Despite the fact that I had a good degree from a good school, despite the fact that the economy was as good as it has ever been, despite the fact that I had marketable skills, solid work experience, and continuing education, I couldn’t even get in the door for an interview.

And so I prayed. I prayed a lot. I yelled at God. I was frustrated, confused and depressed. I studied the Bible. I talked to my pastor. I read books that my pastor recommended.

And I began to wonder if God had a new purpose for my life.

I had left my job at A.G.A. because I wanted to see the results of my work instead of writing reports year after year. I loved my job at Lectrotherm because we built things. Every now and then you could go out to the shop and see a tractor-trailer loaded with things that we had built as it was leaving for a customer. But after September 11, 2001, I had begun to wonder if that was enough. The machines that we were building were replacing the machines that another engineer had designed, and others had built, twenty or thirty years before. And so I wondered what purpose there was for what I was doing. If everything that I was doing would be ripped up and replaced in thirty years, in a hundred years, what difference would my life make? While I was working, these sorts of things just got pushed to the back of my mind.

But during my two years of unemployment these questions came to the surface like never before.

Eventually, I went to my pastor and asked what “this seminary thing” was all about and if it was even possible for an engineer to meet the prerequisites for getting in.

She laughed.

My pastor… laughed at me.

She said that she had known for over a year that God was calling me to ministry, but that she was afraid that if she had said anything out loud to me she might mess up whatever God was doing in my life.

What God was doing, was hitting me upside the head with a two-by-four.

My father had been a pastor. And so I had grown up in a pastor’s house. And I had sworn, for forty years, that I would never be a pastor.

But God had other ideas.

It is often said that God speaks with a “still small voice.” That idea comes from this story from the life of the prophet Elijah:

…and a great and strong wind rent the mountains… but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire
a still small voice. (1 Kings 19:11-13, NIV)

    Because of that story, people often believe that God speaks to us in a soft, quiet, librarian voice and I suppose that is true… sometimes.

But some of us are stubborn enough, and thick-headed enough, and just deaf enough, that we will never hear that still small voice. And in those cases, God is not afraid to get our attention with a two-by-four to the head.

This is, theologically speaking, the call of pain.

My call of pain led me to seminary and then to ordained, pastoral ministry.

Pain has a way of getting our attention. Pain has a way of focusing our attention in ways that no other form of motivation ever will. Pain can call us to ministry, but it can also call us away from unhealthy lifestyles, away from jobs, away from all sorts of sinful things, and away from the people, places, and things God chooses to call us away from. I want to be clear, pain isn’t always from God. Sometimes we experience pain simply because we have made bad choices, or just because we live in a fallen world and sometimes life just stinks. But whenever you experience pain, it is worth your time to consider whether or not God has allowed your pain for some purpose. Whenever you find your life is bringing you pain, it is worth your time to consider that God may have something to say to you.

God may speak to you in a quiet moment with a still small voice, but if you are anything like me, and you find ways to ignore him long enough, he will find a way to get your attention.

And in that case, no matter how thick-headed and stubborn you might be, you might want to spend some time listening to what God is trying to tell you.

Because, trust me on this, the sooner you listen…

…the less it hurts.