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.

Baltimore – A Rush to Judgement?


I wish everyone would shut up for a minute.

But probably not for the reason you think.

    I waited a long time to write anything about the riots in Ferguson, Missouri because I wanted to try to understand the issues.   
    But this time, after watching and listening to media outlets talk about what is happening in Baltimore I don’t want to wait.  I am posting now, not because I think I understand what is happening, but because I am convinced that almost no one does.
Every media outlet, every reporter, every politician, and a great many bystanders have taken sides.
    Just like the Ferguson case, and the Travon Martin case, and so many others, everyone seems to be absolutely certain that they know exactly what is happening and why.
Everyone is rushing to judgement.
    They judge the police.  They judge Freddie Gray.  They judge the mayor.  They judge the President.  They judge the protestors, the rioters (those are vastly different groups), they judge the victims of the violence, and people are even judging the parents of the people in the streets. 
    Christians are often accused of being judgmental, but this is ridiculous.  Everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike seems to think that they know so much about what is happening hundreds of miles away in Baltimore that they can stand in judgement of people they’ve never met and who they know almost nothing about.
I wish everyone would all shut up and listen for a change.
As I watch and listen to the reporting from Baltimore, all I seem to find is more questions.
What exactly happened in police custody that led to the death of Freddie Gray?
Did Mr. Gray really have surgery on his spine only weeks before his arrest?
Did that matter?
Did the mayor tell the police to allow the mayhem to continue when it might have been stopped much earlier?
I could ask questions all day but it seems clear that, so far, there aren’t very many answers.
    And without answers, all the self-proclaimed experts (left, right and center) should slow down their rush to judgement until they actually have some facts.  Right now there are too many things that we just don’t know.   
Instead of rushing to judgement, why don’t we listen instead?
We all want justice.
    But we should be careful to find the facts so that there can be justice for everyone.  There needs to be justice for the police, the demonstrators, the rioters, the politicians, and especially for the victims.
Investigating, finding, and sorting through the facts are all things that will take time.
While we wait, instead of judging everyone, why don’t we do something helpful?
    Why don’t we try to find ways to help those who lost homes, jobs, and businesses?  Can our politicians and academics find ways to reduce poverty and joblessness instead of just pointing fingers at each other?  Why not volunteer with some charity or aid group to clean up and rebuild Baltimore?  We should all take the time to listen and understand people with whom we disagree.
    Instead of pretending that we know exactly what is going on and who is to blame, our time would be better spent trying to fix the problem and help Baltimore heal.  And while we’re doing that, we should talk less and listen more.
Instead of judging, try donating.
And if you are so inclined, I’m sure that everyone involved could use your prayers.

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Re-evaluating the things we value

Our house in in chaos.

No matter where you turn there are piles of stuff everywhere and even higher piles of boxes. Of course, we’re moving. I suppose I’m thankful that we’re not moving across the country or overseas, but once everything is in the back of a truck I don’t know that distance matters too much.

For the last six years I have had the distinct pleasure of being the pastor of two churches in Central Ohio, Johnsville Grace and Steam Corners. As a pastor in the United Methodist Church, I (and my colleagues) serve as an itinerant minister. That means that I don’t have to find a church where I can be in ministry and it means that local churches don’t have to conduct extensive pastor searches when they feel the need for change. It also means that we have to move when the bishop says we should move (there’s a little wiggle room in there, but not much). The end result is that after a series of meetings and interviews, my family and I are moving to Barnesville, Ohio and on July 1st, I will become the pastor of Barnesville First United Methodist Church.

Moving sucks pond water.

I despise the hassle of packing and changing schools, doctors, grocery stores, pharmacies and uprooting nearly every aspect of my life. On the other hand, I have begun to see an unexpected value in moving. Moving causes me to re-evaluate the last six years of my life. I have had to reexamine my call to ministry, the engineering career that I left behind, and I’ve had to take a hard look at what I have accomplished where I am. When we move our belongings, we take a look at a lot of stuff that never got a second glance most days and we need to decide if these things are worth keeping. In the same way, I find that I need to do these things with my ministry. In six years I have done a lot of stuff and I have met with a lot of people. Some of that stuff, and some of those memories are real gold but, like my stuff at home, mixed in with my treasure is a fair amount of useless baggage that I need to leave behind.

The process of getting rid of my kids outgrown clothes and broken toys is useful and something we probably ought to do once in a while. It’s too easy to stuff things in the basement or in the attic but moving forces us to make choices. The process of leaving behind the things I’ve collected in six years of ministry is sometimes even harder but in the process I’ve discovered some things that have real, lasting value. There are people who have been real friends. There have been incredible acts of kindness and generosity. There have been real life transformations. As I leave, and as I reevaluate, I can see that God has been at work in me, in this place and in these people.

Amid the chaos and the pain… I’ve discovered real gold.