Built to Last: Prepared for Struggle

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Built to Last: Prepared for Struggle

August 22, 2021*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43               John 6:56-69              Ephesians 6:10-20

How old, is old? 

When we think of antiques, or national monuments, or other things built by human hands, how long do we expect things to last?

We live in an era when we’re surprised if anything lasts for more than ten or twenty years, and we’re impressed by old farmhouses and barns (and churches) that have lasted for more than a century.  But as I was thinking about a few other well-known monuments around the world, I started looking up some dates and I put them in sort of a chronological order.  The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair was supposed to be temporary and dismantled afterwards.  Most of the Great Wall of China was built between 1300-1600 AD, though parts are much older.  Heidelberg Castle was built in 1214, Windsor Castle in 1000, British Parliament has existed, in various forms, since 1295, and England as a nation from 959.  Hadrian’s Wall was constructed across northern England during the Roman era as protection from the Picts, and about the same time, the world saw the construction of Masada, the Colosseum in Rome, and so many other Roman artifacts.  The

Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall,” in Jerusalem also dates to the time of Jesus and some of the foundations found on the Temple mount can be dated to David and Solomon in 1000 BC.  The Great Pyramid of Giza is over a thousand years older and was built around 2500 BC, and Stonehenge is older still because we calculate that it was constructed over time between 3000 and 2000 BC.

But do you know what they all have in common? 

They weren’t easy.

You don’t just slap together a few boards and some sheet metal and expect it to last for a hundred, or even for a thousand years.  When you intend for things to last, the construction of those things takes thought, planning, preparation, hard work, and sweat.

And you know what else those things have in common?

They all stand witness to the world that endurance isn’t easy.  Every one of those monuments from the youngest to the oldest has witnessed the struggle and upheaval of human society, and have endured countless thunderstorms, lightning bolts, fires, floods, earthquakes, sandstorms, crawling vines, insects, and everything else that mother nature could throw at them.  They stand as witnesses that life is hard and not everyone, or everything, is prepared to endure for the long haul.

And it was the long haul that David and Solomon were thinking about when they planned and built the first Temple in Jerusalem.  But what they were building was more than just a building.  We rejoin the story in

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43.

8:1 Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.

The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.

10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:

“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.

25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.

27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.

41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

God promised David that there would never fail to be a successor on the throne of Israel if his descendants would continue to walk faithfully with God.  God was building the foundations of a building, but also the foundations of a nation, and a faith that was intended to reach every tribe, every nation, and every people on the face of the earth.  And in the Gospels, we find God fulfilling his promises to David, and revealing his greatest outreach to the people of the world… but it wasn’t always easy, and not everyone was willing to put in the effort that it required.  In John 6:56-69, Jesus says…

56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”

66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Just as God had promised, Jesus was the descendant of David who would walk faithfully with God, and would sit on the throne of David, of Israel, and of God forever.  But not everyone could bring themselves to believe.  Following Jesus was going to be hard.  Following Jesus was not going to make anyone rich, or powerful, or popular.  And when they saw that, many of Jesus’ followers bailed.  They quit rather than committing themselves to the hard work of really following and shaping their lives after Jesus.  But there were a few who saw who Jesus was, and they knew that there was no other way.

But even for those who stood by Jesus, their lives didn’t magically become easy and without pain or trouble.  All but one of the disciples of Jesus, all but John, would be executed or murdered while they were doing the work of Jesus and sharing the message of the Gospel.  And even though John died of old age, he too had been tortured, imprisoned, and died in exile on the island of Patmos.  Paul’s life wasn’t any easier.  Although he wasn’t one of the original twelve, Paul dedicated his life to following Jesus and to sharing the stories of the Gospel message, and he was also, repeatedly, tortured, chased out of town, imprisoned, and ultimately was also executed for his faith.  But during one of his times of imprisonment, Paul this advice to the church and to anyone who would answer the call to follow Jesus in Ephesians 6:10-20:

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

I want to pull out a few key phrases that I think are important to the context of what we’ve been talking about this morning.  First, “Be strong” but not just trying to be strong by relying upon our own strength, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”  Second, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” tells us that it is not the people around us with whom we fight, but we fight against principalities (governments), against powers (kings and other government officials), and against unjust systems that are subverted by evil.  Third, that we must arm ourselves with all the protection that God offers so that we can stand firm, stand our ground, and live without retreating from the enemy.  Fourth, never stop praying.  And finally, note that Paul says that he is “an ambassador in chains.”  He is writing to the church from prison, and he begins by reminding them that even though they may not be in prison at that moment, that life, for all of us, is going to be a struggle.  When we read scripture, we remember that we shouldn’t be surprised when life is hard, we should be surprised when life isn’t hard.  Some of Jesus’ own followers quit because, while they loved the good news, they didn’t want to hear the bad news.  They didn’t want to do the hard work that comes with following Jesus but that has been God’s message all along.  The Kingdom of God has its foundations deep in the Old Testament.  God is building his kingdom, and he is building our lives, to last forever. 

But endurance is never easy.

If we are going to follow, we must be willing to do the planning, preparation, hard work, and sweat. We will need to rely upon God’s strength working through us.  We will need to fight against governments, against officials, and against systems that are corrupted and subverted by evil.  We must arm ourselves with all the protections that God offers so that we can stand without retreat.  We must never forget to pray for one another and for all of God’s people. 

And we must always be…

…prepared for struggle.


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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 Promise of Power

The Promise of Power

May 16, 2021*

(Ascension Day)

 By Pastor John Partridge

Luke 24:44-53                        Acts 1:1-11                             Ephesians 1:15-23

Whether it’s Jesus or Adolf Hitler, Harry Truman or Fidel Castro, Donald Trump or Joe Biden, there is a common theme that revolves around many of their followers and closest associates.  And that theme is often the promise, explicitly stated or dubiously implied, that those followers and associates will be given some sort of power and authority because of their association with the person they are following.  While many of those followers may be there because of their idealism, there are always some that are there because of the promise of power.

Of course, we know that Jesus was nothing like any earthly leader, but even so, scripture tells us that many of Jesus’ followers were expecting him to pursue earthly power and for them to benefit from it in some way.  Or at least they did so untihol Jesus told them otherwise, but even then, they didn’t really understand what he was trying to tell them.  It is at least in part, for that reason that they were so despondent after Jesus’ crucifixion.  Any dreams they had of gaining earthly, political power died with Jesus on the cross. 

But just because their dreams of political power died, doesn’t mean that Jesus didn’t have power to give them.  There’s no question that Jesus wielded incredible power, it just that the disciples had to understand that power, and the purpose of that power, in an entirely different way than they had before.  Luke tells us that Jesus began to prepare the disciples for a transfer of power after his resurrection, and shortly before his return to heaven.  First, we read this story in Luke 24:44-53 where Jesus gives his disciples some last-minute instructions:

44 He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.”

50 When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them. 51 While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up into heaven. 52 Then they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy. 53 And they stayed continually at the temple, praising God.

The next to the last thing that Jesus did before he left this earth and returned to heaven, was to promise his disciples that he was “going to send you what my Father has promised.”  And so, they stayed in town, they stayed together, and they continued to worship daily in the temple.  Clearly, Jesus was reminding them of a promise of God that they had discussed before and it must have been a discussion that they all remembered.  But since we didn’t live with them for the three years of Jesus’ ministry, we aren’t quite as clear about which promise Jesus was referring.  But the good news for us, is that Luke knew that.  Luke knew that when he was describing these events to people who were less intimately familiar with the disciples that more details would be needed.  And that is exactly what he does when he writes to his friend Theophilus and describes these same events in Acts 1:1-11 where he says:

1:1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days, you will be baptized withthe Holy Spirit.”

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

And in this retelling, we can see details about that earlier conversation.  It is here that we see Jesus tell his disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for the gift that God had promised and Jesus says that if they wait, as he instructed, in a few days God would baptize them with the Holy Spirit and, when that spirit came, they would receive power so that, as witnesses, they could carry the message of what they had seen to their city, their state, their nation, and to the ends of the earth.

But still, what does that mean.  What does it mean to receive the Holy Spirit?  And what does it mean to receive power when that happens?  And what does any of that have to do with us twenty centuries later?  And again, Paul provides some of those answers as he writes to the church in Ephesus where he says (Ephesians 1:15-23):

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 Spiritof 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.

According to Paul, the presence of the Spirit of God in our lives grants us wisdom, revelation, the ability to know God better, to know hope, and to have the power and mighty strength that God used in raising Jesus from the dead.  The promise of power that we have as the followers of Jesus Christ is nothing like the power of politics, earthly kingdoms, and military might.  It is far greater than any of those but pointed in an entirely different direction.  Earthly power is the power to control and to enslave, but the power promised to us by Jesus is the power to rescue and free the lost and the enslaved.  Moments before his ascension into heaven, Jesus told the disciples that the purpose of God’s power, given to us by his Spirit, was to give us the tools that we need to carry his message of freedom, rescue, hope, and love to our city, our state, our nation, and to the ends of the earth.

This is the real promise of power.

Not control, but freedom.  Not earthly wealth, but spiritual wealth.  Not for personal benefit, but to give hope to the world.

It was this power that allowed the message of a small, largely uneducated group of followers, in a tiny country that was occupied by a hostile superpower, to grow and spread all over the known world.  That power wasn’t limited to a handful of disciples but is given to every follower who puts their faith and trust in Jesus.  And it is that same power which is given to us today.

The mission of the church has not changed.

The only question, is if we will use the power that we have been given.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/2OgDGwhgWv0

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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.

Capitol Destruction

Capitol Destruction

January 24, 2021*


By Pastor John Partridge

Jonah 3:1-5, 10                      Mark 1:14-20             1 Corinthians 7:29-31

What does it mean when we say that we are in the hands of God?

Of course, we sometimes joke about being in God’s hands, or about the wrath of God, such as this exchange with the mayor of New York City in Ghostbusters where the Ghostbusters were trying to communicate the seriousness of the situation presented by the appearance of the god Zuul:

Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes…
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together – mass hysteria.

And, as a comedy, it was funny.  We all laughed.  But the real wrath of God is anything but funny.

The early church father Origen of Alexandria, who lived from 184 to 253 AD., once said:

“We speak, indeed, of the wrath of God. We do not, however, assert that it indicates any passion on His part, but that it is something which is assumed in order to discipline by stern means those sinners who have committed many and grievous sins.”

Origen says God’s wrath is an unfolding of discipline directed against those people, and nations, that have committed many and grievous sins.

John Calvin expanded on that by saying, “When God wants to judge a nation, He gives them wicked rulers.”

And, at the founding of our nation, George Washington shared that understanding when he urged his countrymen to build a nation that would remain in God’s good graces by saying:

“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair; the rest is in the hands of God.”

It is worth pausing here to clarify that Washington wasn’t saying that our nation needed to fix something that was broken but was instead using a definition of repair that isn’t quite as common today than it was in the 1700’s.  In this sentence, Washington isn’t saying that our nation is broken, but that we needed to set a standard for government toward which wise and honest people would want to go, or one around which such people would want to rally.  It was Washington’s hope that this new nation would be, as Ronald Reagan described it, “A shining city on a hill,” and “A beacon of hope.”

But why does any of that matter?  Why is that relevant? 

It matters, because people and nations that wander far from God run the risk of falling out of God’s good graces.  In the biblical story of Jonah, we hear the story of the city of Nineveh, and the nation of Assyria which had become almost entirely evil.  And that evil caused God to warn them that, without repentance and change, he intended to destroy them.  Of course, Assyria and Israel were enemies, so Jonah wanted God to destroy Nineveh, but once we get past the story of Jonah’s rebellion and the incident with the whale, Jonah obeys and carries God’s message to the people of Nineveh in Jonah 3:1-5, 10 where we hear this:

3:1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

Nineveh was evil, but their repentance caused God to relent and did not bring upon them the destruction that he had threatened.  At least not right away. In the end, Nineveh and Assyria returned to their wicked ways and the prophet Nahum declares that God intends to bring them to judgement, and not long afterwards, the Babylonian Empire wipes Nineveh off the face of the planet.

Oddly enough, the message carried by Jonah was almost the same message that we hear in Mark 1:14-20 as Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee.

14 After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 15 “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

16 As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 18 At once they left their nets and followed him.

19 When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20 Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.

Rather than declare that God intended to destroy them in seven days, the message of Jesus was that the kingdom of God had come to earth just as God had promised.  The time had come for God’s people to repent of their sins, believe the good news, and follow Jesus.  And, while Jesus calls his disciples, and while many choose to follow Jesus, many in Jerusalem, and in the nation of Israel, do not.  And less than forty years later, Rome levels Jerusalem to the ground, rebuilds it as a new Roman city named Aelia Capitolina with a temple of Jupiter in the place of the Jewish temple, and legally prohibits any Jew from living in Jerusalem for the next six or seven hundred years.

But what does that mean for us in the twenty first century?

Not surprisingly, the church in Corinth was asking a very similar question two thousand years ago and Paul explained it this way in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

Paul’s point, and the lesson from the previous stories of destruction, is that nothing in this world is truly permanent.  “Stuff” isn’t permanent, family isn’t permanent, even cities and nations are not permanent.  The only thing that lasts, is God.  It isn’t that we cannot enjoy the things that this world has to offer, or that we shouldn’t love and cling to our families, or that we shouldn’t have some loyalty to the nations in which we live, it’s that we should always remember that these things need to be secondary to our relationship with God and to the things that last for eternity.  If we want to be a part of something that lasts forever, we need to invest our time and our resources toward building that kingdom.  If we want our families to last forever, then we need to do things that will guide them into God’s kingdom alongside of us.  And if we want our nations to endure, then we need to do what we can to encourage our leaders, and steer them toward righteousness, so that our nations do not stray too far from God.

As we inaugurate a new president, we know that much will change.  But we also know that every president, and every other elected official, has failings and shortcomings.  None of us is perfect, and wandering from God’s path is, and always has been, entirely too easy.  That is true for each of us as individuals and it is true of governments and nations.  Nineveh repented and God spared them from destruction, until they once again wandered from the truth and did evil in the sight of God.  Even Jerusalem and Israel were not spared when they rejected Jesus and wandered too far from the truth.  God allowed his holy nation to be overcome by both the Babylonians and by the Roman Empire.  If history and scripture teach us anything, it is that must always keep God in the center of everything that we do.

Let us take this time to recommit ourselves to godliness and to prayer.  Let us remember to pray for all our elected officials.  Let us pray that God would grant them the wisdom to lead well, and to lead us to a place of justice and righteousness before God.  But let us also remember to keep the main thing, the main thing.  To keep God in the center of our lives, in the center of our families, and in the center of our loyalties. 

We are not, and never have been, divided by labels like Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or even American, Canadian, European, or African.  We are, instead, united under one banner, one nation, and one kingdom as the children of God and the followers of Jesus Christ.


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/QsrfZUR0C5o

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.

*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.



Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Note: Recently, as he was going through our father’s files, my brother Steve came across a column that Dad had published in a newspaper in December of 1970. As we end our season of Advent in 2020 fifty years later, it seems just as important, just as relevant, and just as contemporary, as it was then.

Shades of Rip Van Winkle

Guest Post by Rev. Stanley Partridge

One of the most delightful stories told is the one by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle.  After his very long sleep, he returns to his native village which is supposed to be the most familiar place that he knows.  As was his custom, he goes to the tavern.  There instead of finding the face of King George on the swinging sign, he sees the face of a man whom he comes to know as George Washington.  Most people have enjoyed the story, but not everyone discerns the moral of it.  In truth, Rip Van Winkle slept through a revolution.

The American Revolution is dwarfed in comparison to the era in which we are now living.  The times of which we are a part is the greatest period of revolutionary ferment the world has seen.  Wherever we may turn, the fires of strife in one form or another are blazing, and far-reaching changes are under way.  Many political foundations which seemed so secure a few decades ago, are now shaking and sagging before our eyes.  The vast colonial empires, so familiar to the older generation, are now becoming an eclipse and who can tell the shape of the new world that is just emerging?

Tragically, too many people today are unaware or just do not care about this global war of ideas, and like Rip Van Winkle, they are sleeping through a revolution.  It was at a crucial point in the ministry of Jesus, that of the Sadducees and the Pharisees combined their forces against him.  They said to him, “Show us a sign from heaven that you are under God’s authority.”  Our Lord answers, “Why do you ask me for a sign? You are the experts in signs.  In the evening when the sky is red you say that it is going to be a fine day tomorrow.  In the morning if it is red and lowering you say we are in for a stormy day.  You know how to interpret the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.”  They were like Rip Van Winkle too, in that they were asleep to the great potential of the man that was before them.  They knew all the “Tricks” of the Roman political games and missed the one who would tower above men of all history—unique, solitary, and majestic.

These searching words of Jesus, “You cannot interpret the signs of the times,” apply to us also, for there are many on business, industry, politics, economics, yes and even the Church who can read most of the signs of our times but cannot see, or refuse to see, what is obvious.  How long can the world seek for PEACE and refuse demands for “clean air” and “pure streams” and a better living environment when the only god they know and have known is a god created in man’s image.  This age of materialism calls us all to bow down to its demands and has lulled us into a peaceful sleep of lethargy.

Our greatest need today is to begin to bridge the yawning gap between our profession of belief in human freedom and justice and our lamentable practices that discredit us in the eyes of the world and one another.

This is the season of Advent, a time when we again take time to remember that there was a man who came to bring to the world a new lifestyle that wasn’t meant to be encumbered with the trivia of life.  He comes to bring to us the things in life that want most but won’t turn to him to find.  He comes bringing peace, love, joy, and contentment, but we go our merry way attempting to find peace, love, joy, and contentment in any other place than in him.

Here is a goal for all of us: To follow in the footsteps of Christ our Lord who, when he was reviled, reviled not again, who kept loving men who hated him, who died for men who were unworthy of his sacrifice.  But you see, he released a Spirit in the world that alone can draw people together in the bonds of human love and peace under the over-arching care of an eternal God.


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

Real Power Reversed

Real Power Reversed*

October 25, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 34:1-12       1 Thessalonians 2:1-8    Matthew 22:34-46

Our current focus on the upcoming election has many of us thinking about power.  We think about who has power in our system, how that power is distributed, and whether the people in power use it well or poorly.  Often, during campaign speeches, press releases, debates or 30 second sound bites, modern candidates seek to corner their opponents, goad them into saying something stupid, or trick them into saying things that will alienate their supporters.  And it may not surprise you to discover that these tactics are not new.  In today’s scripture readings, we find the political leaders of Jesus’ day doing exactly those same things.  But God isn’t playing by the rules of human culture, society, and politics.  God has plans that upset the halls of power, unseat the powerful, and reveal that the rules of real power are completely reversed from our human expectations.  We begin in Deuteronomy 34:1-12, as God honors a promise made in past generations, makes a new promise to future generations, and the torch of power is passed from Moses to his successor, Joshua.

34:1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried himin Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak, nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spiritof wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So, the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Moses sees that land from a distance as the descendants of Abraham are about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of it.  At the same time, God tells Moses that his descendants are included in that promise even though he himself will not be among the people to cross into that new land but will die and be buried in Moab.  But before his death, Moses laid hands on Joshua, blessed him, and passed on to him the blessing of God and the spirit of wisdom that God had given to him.  But, and this is important, despite the blessing of God, and the spirit of wisdom that Moses passed on to Joshua, no prophet in Israel was ever like Moses had been.  No one ever had the kind of power that Moses had, or was able to perform the mighty deeds that Moses had done.  Moses was believed to be the pinnacle of all God’s prophets.  No one who came after him, regardless of their great acts, was ever seen as reaching that status.  But Jesus turns that status quo on its head.

In Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus has a conversation in which the Pharisees attempt to goad him into saying something stupid and in that conversation, Jesus turns the tables and completely upsets the conventional wisdom of political power.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
  “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees were rival political factions, much like our present-day Democrats and Republicans, with some significant religious differences thrown in as well.  Although they sometimes worked together, there was no love lost between them.  This passage begins with the Pharisees hearing how the Sadducees had been embarrassed by Jesus when they had tried to trick him and so, naturally, they decide to set a trap for Jesus as well in an attempt to succeed where the Sadducees had failed.  But much as he did with the Sadducees, Jesus deftly evades the trap the Pharisees had set, expertly answers their question, and then turns the tables by asking them a question that they can’t answer.

Remember the conventional wisdom that no prophet had ever done the things that Moses had done.  Then recall that Jesus had been performing miracles (or soon would) that even Moses had not done.  And then take note that the conventional wisdom about Moses had also been applied to King David, and from there into a general rule of thumb that no child was ever greater than his father.  So that, according to conventional wisdom, no ancestor would ever be as marvelous, or as devoted, powerful, godly, or as holy, of David.  And so, Jesus asks the Pharisees that if this is so, how is it that David refers to the coming Messiah, who must be his descendant, as “Lord.”  The Pharisees, of course, are caught in their own trap.  Jesus has revealed that the conventional wisdom about power is wrong and if the Pharisees agree, then they contradict their own teaching.  But if they disagree, then they contradict scripture.  And that is why the passage ends by saying that the Pharisees could not say a word.  They were trapped.  They were stuck.  And no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

The coming of Jesus was a disruption of the status quo, and overturned the conventional wisdom about power, authority, and many other things.  Jesus performed miracles that even Moses couldn’t perform, he pointed out that when the Messiah came, even the great King David would call him Lord and recognize him as greater than himself.  And with his death and resurrection, Jesus upset the conventional wisdom and understanding of death itself.  But as we look deeper into the teaching of Jesus, we begin to understand that the entire structure of real power was being upset, overturned, changed, and redefined. 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, we discover that the Apostle Paul modeled these changes as he, and his missionary team, lived and worked among the Greek church in Thessalonica.

2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young childrenamong you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Paul begins by reminding the people that his visit to Thessalonica was productive and produced good results despite the abuse that they had suffered when they had previously visited Philippi which is about a hundred miles to the east.  Paul says that even though they had suffered in Philippi, and even though they faced strong opposition in Thessalonica, they persisted in preaching the gospel message.  Paul credits the success of their mission team to the authority that they had been given by God, that they always preached in a way that was humble, honest, straightforward, and honest.  They didn’t suck up to people or flatter them to make them feel important and they didn’t do anything to get rich at the expense of other people. 

Instead, rather than using the authority that they had been given by God and by the church, they used the authority of children, which is to say that they acted as if they had no authority at all.  Paul then compares the method of their ministry to the way that a mother cares for her infant children.  Obviously, the mother has all of the authority, and has much greater strength than her children, but it is her love for them that guides her to use her strength to guide her children and care for them gently, tenderly, and with compassion.

This style of leadership is patterned after the life of Jesus and is a complete reversal of how we normally see power and authority exercised in the culture of the world from before the time of Jesus until today.  For the followers of Jesus Christ, this is a representation of how real power should be used and speaks to us about how we should use our power, and how we should minister to the needs of others in our communities both as individuals and as the church.  Jesus doesn’t say that we can’t have power or authority, but that we should upend the conventional wisdom and use our power, authority, and influence with gentleness, tenderness, compassion, and love.

As we follow Jesus, our patience will be tested.  Our tolerance will be tested.  Our compassion, our will, our strength, courage, compassion, and every other part of our humanity and our mission will be tested.  But, just as Paul and Jesus were tested, we must pass those tests with grace and gentleness so that we are known to the people around us not as the church with an iron fist, but as a people with a loving heart.

I pray that we might be known as a people with a loving heart.

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/VjzbCWP7gao

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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.

Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?

May 10, 2020*

Mother’s Day

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 10:1-10              Acts 2:42-47                  1 Peter 2:19-25

 

There is a common theme in the movies, in literature, and even in computer hacking that should sound familiar.  If you can impersonate one of your enemy’s leaders well enough, you can fool them into giving you all kinds of information.  And you might even be able to take control of something valuable.  Computer hackers have been known to call in to the information technology or computer department at a company headquarters pretending to be the CEO, or the president, or some other corporate official, act as if they forgot their password, and try to convince someone to either give them the password over the phone or reset their password in a way that gives the hacker access to the company computer network with the access of that corporate officer.  Likewise, we’ve all seen movies where someone masquerades as a military general, or someone else in order to steal something, to rescue someone, or to save the world or something. 

 

In short, if you pretend to be someone’s leader, and can fool them well enough, long enough, you can do a lot of damage and can steal almost anything you want.  And as familiar as that theme is to us in literature, in movies, and real life, it ought to make sense when we read almost that same story in scripture, and we do in John 10:1-10, when Jesus accuses Israel’s Pharisees of impersonating real leadership.

 

10:1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.

Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.

 

Jesus’ accusation is that the leaders of Israel are only masquerading as leaders so that they can steal what they want, destroy what they want, and kill whomever they want, so that they can benefit themselves rather than offer leadership that genuinely cares for the people for whom they are responsible in the way that a true shepherd cares for their sheep.  Jesus explains that this is why many people do not follow the example of the Pharisees.  It is because the people, also known as the sheep, are smart enough, and sensitive enough to the calling of God, to know that these are not true shepherds.  Likewise, this explains the popularity that Jesus has, because the people recognize the care of the true shepherd in him.

 

But recognizing Jesus as our shepherd, and as the true shepherd of God, has implications for every one of us not only in what we believe, but in how we act and how we respond to the actions of others.  In 1 Peter 2:19-25, the Apostle Peter says this:

 

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

22 “He committed no sin,
    and no deceit was found in his mouth.”

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 

That means that, as followers of the true shepherd, we are called to do what is right, and what is best for everyone, regardless of the cost (much like many of our Mother’s sacrificed what they wanted so that we could have the things the we needed and wanted).  There is, of course, no commendation if we are punished for doing wrong, but we our actions are commendable before God if we are punished for doing what is right.  Because we were once lost, and because we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, we are called to be like him and to do what is right regardless of what it costs.

 

Well that sounds nice, and it certainly applies to those of us who find ourselves in leadership, but what does it mean otherwise?  Most of us are not being persecuted for our faith.  What does it look like to bear the cost of doing what’s right?  How does doing what is right apply to the ordinary business of day-to-day living for ordinary people?  And Luke offers an answer to that question in Acts 2:42-47 where he says:

 

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

 

Simply put, the followers of Jesus Christ made it a habit to be together, to share meals together, to share the stories of what they had seen God do in their lives, in the lives of the apostles, and in the lives of others.  And they not only shared these things, they shared all that they had.  They used what they had to meet the needs of others, not just the needs of those who belonged, but the needs of “anyone who had need.”  I know most of our parents taught us to share, but this is different.  This takes sharing to another level.  This kind of sharing costs something.  The followers of Jesus Christ sold some of the things that they had, and they sold off property, just so that they could give it away and care for those in need.  They invited people with nothing to eat, to eat with them, in their homes because their faith was sincere. 

 

Clearly, this goes far beyond giving from our excess, or even giving a tithe, or a tenth, to the church.  This was truly sacrificial, costly, giving.  But the end result was that their hearts were glad, they praised God, the people of their communities noticed what they were doing and universally thought well of them, and God blessed what they were doing.  “The Lord added to their number… daily… those who were being saved.”

 

As we read scripture, both today and any other day, we often find that we are both sheep and shepherd.  We are sheep because we follow Jesus as our shepherd, but whenever we have leadership over others, whether that is over employees at work, over students at school, over our children at home, over volunteers at church, or anywhere else, we are called to lead like Jesus.  Because Jesus sacrificed to do what was right, we are called to lead sacrificially as he did.  We must do what is right, and good, for those under us, and those around us, even when doing what is right costs us something.  We are called to be loving, …and giving, …and caring, even when doing so costs us something. 

 

Because, in the end, Jesus says that there are only two kinds of leaders… shepherds… and thieves.

 

We are surrounded by examples.  As we open our newspapers and watch the evening news it often isn’t difficult to find people in positions of leadership that seem to use their authority to enrich themselves and get what they want regardless of who gets hurt.  But occasionally, we see people who stand out in stark contrast to that kind of leader.  Occasionally, we see people who are willing to take a stand for what’s right.  To stand up for the people that work for them or for the people they represent.  Unfortunately, that kind of selfless leadership shouldn’t be so unusual.  It’s something that every follower of Jesus Christ has been called to do.

 

We each get to choose for ourselves, every day, what kind of leader we will be.

 

Will we be shepherds? 

 

Or will we be thieves?

 

It shouldn’t be that hard, but I pray that we will all choose wisely.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/zVDiugvyzu4


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.

Cutting the Baby in Half

solomon

When two women argued over the custody of a baby, King Solomon famously threatened to cut the baby in two and give half of the corpse to each woman.  In that story, the biological mother of the living baby offers to give the baby away if only the king will spare its life.  In this way, the true parent was revealed, custody was granted, and the baby’s life was saved.  But as I watch the ongoing dispute within the United Methodist Church, it seems that factions on both sides seem ready to cut the baby (church) in half.

While many seem to think that cutting the baby in half will simply result in two (or more) smaller babies, I suspect that the result of dividing the church will be more akin to the result of cutting a living baby in pieces.  That opinion won’t make me popular but let me explain my thinking.

As I watched the balloting to elect delegates from our East Ohio Conference for the upcoming United Methodist General Conference in 2020, I was struck by how evenly we were divided.  Both laity and clergy were so nearly divided, that it was difficult for us to find the required majority in order to elect our delegation.  In the end, the clergy ballot slightly favored the progressive delegates while the laity ballot favored conservative delegates.  The tension felt during that balloting reminded me that the division within our denomination, at least in the United States, is not a division between states, but is a division that flows deeply through the Annual Conferences, districts, and into each local church. And that is why I wonder, as we prepare for the 2020 General Conference, if we are watching the death of the United Methodist Church.

First, I want to be clear about what I am not saying.  I am not saying that one faction will “win” or “lose” the right to call themselves United Methodist.  Although that scenario seems likely, what I mean, is that no matter who “wins” or who “loses” the church will, quite likely, cease to exist, at least in its present form, because the actions of the General Conference will almost certainly set off an unavoidable cascade of unintended consequences.  While it is possible for a solution to arise that avoids the end of our denomination, this outcome, as much as it worries me, is what I see as the likely result.

From the reports that I have seen, several proposals will be presented at General Conference to broker the disagreements within the denomination over issues of sexuality, specifically, the ordination of LGBTQ+ persons.  All these proposals, in one form or another, ultimately ask Annual Conferences, districts, and/or local churches to vote on which new denomination they wish to belong.  In a perfect world, the church would then divide 50/50, or 60/40, and two, or three, new denominations would be born out of the ashes of the old one.

But we don’t live in a perfect world.

Real life is messier than that, and this division will be no exception.

In conferences like East Ohio, a 50/50 split will mean that our entire organizational structure will collapse.  We will no longer have enough churches in each of the new denominational conferences to sustain a conference office or the people that staff it.  We hope that new conferences will arise within the new denominations, perhaps representing a larger geographic area, that will employ similar staffs and provide similar services.

And that might be a reasonable expectation… if we weren’t so deeply divided.

Because the membership of each local church is often just as divided as our Annual Conference, any “vote” by the local church to join one of the new denominations means that the membership will not be 100 percent in favor of any of the options.  That, in turn, means that some percentage of the membership will be unhappy with the results of the vote.  What happens to a congregation that is divided 50/50?  Or even 60/40?  Or, for that matter, 80/20?  By requiring a congregational vote of any kind, we are requiring that churches deliberately declare that some of their friends are unwelcome.  Intentional or not, that in turn will mean that within nearly every local church, some percentage of the membership will feel disaffected, choose to leave the church, or more likely, simply choose to stop attending.

And that, is the death of the church.

I have heard it said, and I have witnessed in my own career, that many small membership churches are only “four funerals away” from closing their doors.  Meaning, if four regular donors suddenly stopped giving, because they died, or because of a denominational rift, those churches would no longer have enough funds to maintain their ministry.  But almost no church could afford to lose 50 percent of its members, and few, without an endowment, could lose 20 percent (or even 10) without becoming financially insolvent.

Maybe other Annual Conferences more uniformly favor one side, or the other, and maybe other local churches are not as divided as the ones with which I am familiar.  But what I anticipate, is that asking/requiring local churches to “vote” to join a new denomination, or choose between two denominational options, will not “split” the United Methodist Church, it will destroy it.

Granted, it probably won’t happen overnight.  But where we are currently closing four or five churches in our Annual Conference each year, I expect that number to be far greater, perhaps by an order of magnitude.  We might start by splitting 50/50, or 60/40, or even 80/20, but what will we do if, within five years (or even ten) of our split, fifty, or even eighty, percent of the divided churches are closed?  Not only will the services of our Annual Conference offices be compromised, but nearly all the General Conference offices, and their services, will similarly become unsupportable.

It’s like watching a train wreck in slow motion.  You know it isn’t going to end well, and you know there is nothing you can do to stop it.  But you can’t look away.

Still, once convened, General Conference can reject all these proposals and propose something entirely different.  And of course, we worship a God of miracles and anything can happen.

I hope that I’m wrong.

But I don’t think I am.

We seem to be prepared to cut the baby in half.  Just as they would be for a biological baby, the results, I think, are predictably bad.

Just how bad, remains to be seen.

Changing the World with Muddy Boots

It’s a good thing I brought my new boots. Yesterday, my old boots (comfortable friends with lots of miles and one National Jamboree) fell apart (again). Thankfully, I had recently purchased a new pair (with Patti Partridge ‘s help and a gift from my Mama) and broke them in over the last couple of weeks. So yesterday, even though it rained all day (with a few short breaks) and all night last night, my feet stayed dry throughout the chaos of welcoming 38 or so troops from around the world. Our subcamp staff is nothing short of amazing. Of the 24 of us, only five are American, four (I think) are from the UK, one from Australia, one from Canada, and the rest from non-English speaking countries from around the world. We were able to greet almost every troop in their own language. As well, the flexibility and patience exhibited by the troops, even after traveling great distances, and being on buses for sometimes eight to ten hours (or more) has been incredible. Today, all these young people are exploring, meeting one another, playing games together, and shaping a new world. Sure, it’s hot, wet, dirty work but maybe these young people can go home and tell others that the world *can* live together in peace. Yes, we’re all having a great time. But our hope is that we’re changing the world and moving us all toward a better future at the same time. Isn’t that worth a few muddy boots?    
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A Plumb Line

A Plumb Line

A Sunday meditation

July 21, 2019

By Pastor John Partridge

Amos 7:7-17              

 

Have you ever lived in a small town?

On at least three different times in my life I have lived in small towns.  But I want you to understand what I mean when I say, “small town.”  In these places parents often caution their children to behave while they are in the community just as well as they do when their parents are watching, and they do so because you can be quite certain that even though they are out of sight of their parents, someone that they know will see them, and their parents will hear about what they have done, often before they return home from doing it.

This kind of caution is just the message that God gives to the people of Israel through the prophet Amos.  God says that he will measure his people with a plumb line.  A plumb line is simply a metal weight that hangs at the end of a string but thanks to the predictability of gravity, that line is always dead straight. (Amos 7:7-17)

This is what he showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plumb, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord asked me, “What do you see, Amos?”

“A plumb line,” I replied.

Then the Lord said, “Look, I am setting a plumb line among my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.

“The high places of Isaac will be destroyed
    and the sanctuaries of Israel will be ruined;
    with my sword I will rise against the house of Jeroboam.”

10 Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent a message to Jeroboam king of Israel: “Amos is raising a conspiracy against you in the very heart of Israel. The land cannot bear all his words. 11 For this is what Amos is saying:

“‘Jeroboam will die by the sword,
    and Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

12 Then Amaziah said to Amos, “Get out, you seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there and do your prophesying there. 13 Don’t prophesy anymore at Bethel, because this is the king’s sanctuary and the temple of the kingdom.”

14 Amos answered Amaziah, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but I was a shepherd, and I also took care of sycamore-fig trees. 15 But the Lord took me from tending the flock and said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’ 16 Now then, hear the word of the Lord. You say,

“‘Do not prophesy against Israel,
    and stop preaching against the descendants of Isaac.’

17 “Therefore this is what the Lord says:

“‘Your wife will become a prostitute in the city,
    and your sons and daughters will fall by the sword.
Your land will be measured and divided up,
    and you yourself will die in a pagan country.
And Israel will surely go into exile,
    away from their native land.’”

God tells his children that just because they didn’t see him, doesn’t mean that their father wasn’t watching.  And not only was he watching, but he intends to measure what they are building with their behavior.  His standard is dead straight and perfect.  Israel knew what the rules were, they knew God’s standards, they knew what he expected, but they didn’t follow his instructions so what they were building wasn’t straight. 

It didn’t conform.

It deviated from God’s standards.

But the rest of the story is also important.  When Amos arrives to declare God’s judgement, the king’s advisor, the priest Amaziah, declares Amos to be an enemy.  They don’t want to hear any bad news even if it comes from God.  Israel’s religious and political leaders would rather ignore God than repent and obey him. 

Not surprisingly, ignoring God and pretending that his judgement isn’t real does not prevent God from doing what he promised to do,  In fact, because Amaziah has refused to recognize Amos as God’s prophet, and refused to listen or respond to God’s judgement, Amos declares a personal curse upon Amaziah in addition to the punishment that God had intended for Israel all along.

But so, what?

What does that mean to us in the twenty-first century?

I see two important lessons for us as the church, as a people, and as a nation.

First, ignoring God and his instructions is does not prevent us from being measured by God’s standards. Every nation, secular, religious, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or otherwise will be measured by the plumb-line of God.  It doesn’t matter if the highest levels of the government or the highest levels of the church pretend that God is dead.  Pretending that judgement will never come will not stop God’s judgement from coming any more than pretending that a freight train is fluffy will stop it from crushing you if you stand on the crossing.

Second, the leaders of the church, and the leaders of the nations, will be held personally, and particularly, responsible for the way in which they lead their nations.

Even as citizens, how we choose to lead, and how we choose to vote for our leaders, and how we hold them accountable, is important.  It is important that we choose leaders who lead well, and who lead us in ways that do not ignore the instructions and commands of God. 

Just like a child living in a small town, even when our father seems to be invisible and out of sight, he knows what we are doing and is measuring what we are building with our behavior.

We are a kingdom of priests and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6).  We know the standards, instructions, and commands of God.

We need to act like it.

 

 


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Popular? Or Faithful?

Popular? Or Faithful?

June 23, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

1 Kings 18:20-39                   Luke 7:1-10                Galatians 1:1-12

 

Martin Luther had seen rampant abuse in the way that the church raised money and preached that both the church and the pope had claimed powers that were not to be found anywhere in scripture.  Threatened with excommunication and imprisonment, Luther was tried for heresy against the church for the things that he had written and preached regarding the corruption of the church and the powers wielded by the pope.  He stood trial and defended himself on April 16 – 17, 1521 and on the 17th famously concluded his arguments by saying, “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest evidence…I cannot and will not retract, for we must never act contrary to our conscience… Here I stand. God help me! Amen!”

In 1932, in a rigged election, key positions in the German Lutheran Church were won by Nazi supporters and, shortly afterwards, official church rules were changed in order to remove all pastors and church officials of Jewish descent.  As a result, many pastors left the church and joined together in opposition of the Nazified church in what would be known as the “Confessing Church” which was increasingly persecuted by the growing Nazi regime.  One of those Lutheran pastors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, stood with those in the confessing church because, having lived and taught alongside the poor in the Harlem neighborhood of New York, Bonhoeffer believed that the church, and its people, had to stand against social injustice.  Ultimately, Bonhoeffer’s participation in the Confessing Church and his opposition to the Nazis and the Hitler cult brought about his arrest, imprisonment, torture, and execution.

Today, the pressures that we face are not likely to be nearly so life threatening, but we struggle all the same.  Every day, the church and its people are tempted to agree with government policies, elected officials, and partisan party platforms that stand in opposition to the teaching of scripture.  And, as the followers of Jesus Christ, we are compelled to choose whether we want to risk disagreeing with our friends, family members, fellow union members, or with political parties that we have identified with for decades or if we will stand up for what we know to be right.

This is deep stuff so, before we dive into that dark water, let’s go back and look at some of our history.  Let’s begin in 1 Kings 18:20-39, where we find Elijah standing alone against the King of Israel, all the people, and four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal whose worship was officially encouraged (if not required), and which had become the predominant religion of Israel.

20 So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. 21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

22 Then Elijah said to them, “I am the only one of the Lord’s prophets left, but Baal has four hundred and fifty prophets. 23 Get two bulls for us. Let Baal’s prophets choose one for themselves, and let them cut it into pieces and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. I will prepare the other bull and put it on the wood but not set fire to it. 24 Then you call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of the Lord. The god who answers by fire—he is God.”

Then all the people said, “What you say is good.”

25 Elijah said to the prophets of Baal, “Choose one of the bulls and prepare it first, since there are so many of you. Call on the name of your god, but do not light the fire.” 26 So they took the bull given them and prepared it.

Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.

27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.

30 Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. 31 Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” 32 With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs [about 24 pounds] of seed. 33 He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

34 “Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. 35 The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

36 At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

King Ahab and his queen, Jezebel, were worshippers of the god Baal and they both encouraged, and enforced, Baal worship among the people of Israel.  Under their rule, the priests and prophets of the God of Israel were hunted down and killed.  Even Elijah had lived in hiding for many years in fear of the king and his armies.  But now was a time for a showdown.  And in that showdown, God demonstrates, in an inescapably obvious way, that there is only one God in Israel.  In answer to Elijah’s simple prayer, fire falls from the sky and consumes the sacrifice, the wood, twelve large jars full of water, the rocks, and even the dirt under the altar.

Clearly God wins.

But what about Elijah?  We remember this story not only because of the great power that God displayed on that day, but because of the courage that we witness in Elijah.  Not only was it unpopular to stand against Ahab and Jezebel, it was dangerous and positively life-threatening.  By this time, Elijah believes that he is the only prophet left in all of Israel (although we learn that God has hidden others as well), and he is afraid for his life, but he still stands up for his God, for his faith, and for what is right regardless of the risks.

And we see something similar, on both sides, in the story of a Roman centurion who had a sick servant in Luke 7:1-10.

7:1 When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” 10 Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

The elders of the Jews recommended that Jesus meet with the centurion because he had come to love Israel and had provided the funds to build a synagogue.  It seems that he had become sympathetic to the Jewish faith though I suspect that he did not become a convert to Judaism.  It was probably not popular for a Roman to be so friendly with the Jews.  It seems likely that his Roman countrymen would look down on this kind of fraternizing, and just being a Roman would make you unpopular among most Jews.  Jesus would have faced this same criticism among the Jews for meeting with a Roman, but he consents to go anyway.  Likewise, I’m sure that there was criticism for healing a Roman servant, but Jesus not only did so, he praises the centurion by saying that he had never seen anyone, in all of Israel, Jewish or not, that had such great faith.

Doing such things, and saying such things, did not make Jesus popular.

In Galatians 1:1-12, Paul explains it this way:

1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— and all the brothers and sisters with me,

To the churches in Galatia:

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

I completely understand why we do what we do.  We really aren’t that different than the Israelites in the time of Elijah and King Ahab.

We all want people to like us.  We want to be safe.

But being popular has never been the goal of a follower of God or a believer in Jesus Christ.

As Paul said, we aren’t trying to win the approval of human beings, we should be seeking the approval of God.

We must stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong even when it’s “our” political party, our friends, or our family that’s wrong. 

We must choose Jesus.  Even when it’s unpopular.  Even when it’s dangerous.  Even when it’s life-threatening.

Do what’s right.

Keep the faith.

Do the things that God has called us to do.

Always.

 

 

 


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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.