A Difference Making Difference

A Difference Making Difference

May 31, 2020*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

John 20:19-22        Acts 2:1-21      1 Corinthians 12:4-13

 Whether we hear it from retiring Baby Boomers or job-changing Gen-Xers, Millennials, or GenY or GenZ workers looking for better, or more fulfilling work, one of the phrases that we often hear is “I want to make a difference.”  I have known Baby Boomers to walked away from six figure jobs to go back to their roots and do basic research, or to take jobs at non-profits so that they could focus on doing what they loved, or on making the world a better place rather than just trying to make as much money as they could.  Many of us either won’t have that opportunity, or we can’t afford to make those kinds of decisions, but many of us do find the time to volunteer in our free time in food pantries, to ring bells for the Salvation Army, or train lifeguards for the Red Cross, teach CPR, or volunteer for other charities so that we can help others and give back to our communities.

There is something in us that wants to be a part of something outside of ourselves, to give of ourselves for something other than our own pleasure or profit, and to make life better for someone else.  But sometimes we just aren’t sure how to do that or, we are trapped by the inertia of our lives, or by indecision, and we just get carried along with the flow of life and we get stuck. 

But we are meant to spend our lives stuck in a rut.

Remember that after Jesus’ resurrection, he came to his disciples and told them about a gift.  You might remember that we read the story of John 20:19-22 a few weeks ago:

19 On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.

Remember that in both Greek and Hebrew, the words for breath, wind, and spirit are the same word.  And so, Jesus breathed on them and told them about the holy breath, the holy wind, and the holy Spirit.  And then in Acts 1: 4-5, just before Jesus left the earth and ascended into heaven, he told them not to leave town until his gift would finally arrive.

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 with water, but in a few days, you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”

And so, the disciples, and the followers of Jesus, stayed in Jerusalem, praying, and worshipping, and sharing stories about what they had done, and what they had learned from Jesus.  And they kept doing that… until the Day of Pentecost.  And we read that story in Acts 2:1-21.

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

 14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

Although we read this passage every year, we must resist the temptation to think that this is ordinary.  The gift of the Spirit of God was nothing short of transformational in every way.  Everyone changed.  Everyone was empowered.  Everyone was used by God, and everyone used their gifts for the Kingdom of God.  We can see that when they received the gift of the Spirit they immediately went out into the streets and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with people who had come to Jerusalem, from across the known world, to celebrate the Jewish holiday.  But Peter’s transformation was the most exceptional of all.  Peter, the disciple who denied he knew Jesus three times, the follower who went home to Galilee after the crucifixion, the one who, with the other disciples, would only meet after the resurrection in a house with the windows closed and the doors locked.  Peter was a man who feared being arrested and crucified for following Jesus and he allowed his fear to drive him to deny Jesus, to run away, and to hide behind locked doors. 

But all that changed at Pentecost.

In recent weeks we have seen that after Jesus’ resurrection Peter had begun to change and was becoming increasingly bold and fearless.  And, with the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost, that transformation is complete.  With the other followers who were gathered in that room, Peter goes out into the streets of Jerusalem, addresses the entire crowd who had gathered around them, and he proclaims that this is the fulfillment of scripture, that the last days foretold by the prophets had arrived and that the Spirit of God had come and was now living in, and among, the people of God.

But impressive as that is, what difference does it make to us?

It certainly might be interesting and exciting to read about the transformation of Peter, the disciples, and the other followers of Jesus in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago, but what does that have to do with us here in the twenty-first century?

And the answer, again, is everything.

In in letter to church in Corinth, more than two decades after Pentecost, Paul explains it this way:(1 Corinthians 12:4-13)

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, 10 to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines.

 12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.

Remember that Paul is writing to a church in Greece, almost two thousand miles from Jerusalem, and more than twenty years after Pentecost.  But he still speaks about the gift of the Spirit of God being distributed to the followers of Jesus Christ and, he says, “it is the same Spirit” that distributes them.  The story of the disciples at Pentecost cannot be disconnected from our story, nor can we discount the story of Pentecost because it was far away and long ago.  As the followers of Jesus Christ, the Spirit that came to rest upon the disciples at Pentecost, is the same Spirit that comes to us today. 

In the church of the twenty-first century, the Spirit of God still brings gifts to the followers of Jesus and, while those gifts might not be the gifts of speaking in tongues (though they might), we are assured that the gifts of God, to each one of us, are given to us for the common good.  We are given gifts that are to be used for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God.  Those gifts might be any of the examples that Paul gave, such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miraculous powers, prophecy, discernment, as well as gifts of service and work.  Those broad categories allow for us to receive gifts that Paul could have never understood.  We might receive gifts of facility with computers or social media, gifts of healing through the use of modern medicine, gifts of auto repair, or any other kind of work or service to others.  But regardless of what gifts they might be, we can be certain that the Spirit of God is still in the business of giving these gifts to all the followers of Jesus Christ.

On the Day of Pentecost, these gifts were transformational.  Once they received the gifts of the Spirit, the followers of Jesus were transformed and changed.  The Spirit made a difference in their lives, and that difference allowed them to make a difference in the world around them.  Two thousand years later, we haven’t simply inherited the gifts that the disciples received, the Spirit of God has carefully selected gifts for each person, and gives those gifts to the followers of Jesus for the common good of the church, for the common good of our communities, and for the common good of the Kingdom of God. 

So, what difference does it make?

The Spirit of God is the difference that makes a difference.

The Spirit makes a difference in each one of us, so that we can make a difference in the world around us.

So many people are saying, “I want to make a difference.”  Some quit their jobs, or change jobs, or work on their time off, but many are confused or frustrated because they don’t know how.  The answer is simple.  God has given you gifts.  Take the time to discover the gifts that you have been given.  And then ask God to show you how you can use them for the common good.

You can make a difference.

God intends for you to make a difference.

God’s Spirit has already equipped you to make a difference.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.

 

Let’s get busy.

 

 

 

Have a great week everybody.

 

 

 


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

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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.

You Are What You Eat

You Are What You Eat

November 24, 2019*

(Thanksgiving)

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But then what?

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

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

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

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

…We are what we eat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…you are what you eat.

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

 

 


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

I Love You, But…

I Love You, But…

June 30, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14                Luke 9:51-62              Galatians 5:1, 13-25

 

Have you ever watched those Christmas movies on the Hallmark channel?  Or even old westerns, or some of the romanticized war movies?  In a great many of those movies, there is a scene where the two romantic leads go their separate ways, and there is always a conversation that runs along the lines of, “I love you honey, but this thing is bigger than two of us.”  It’s a phrase that’s been around for so long, and used in so many books and movies, that no one can even guess where it was used first.  It’s a cliché in movies, but it has obvious, and tragic, uses in “real life” too. 

Whether it has been said out loud or not, how many times have relationships ended because one person was more in love with their independence than they were with the other person?  Or their commitment to another person, or an addiction, or any number of things was greater than their commitment to the other romantic lead.  In these cases, the phrase “I love you, but…” can just as easily be replaced with, I don’t love you enough to be what you need, or what you want.  Or maybe it’s too harsh to boil that down to just, “I don’t love you enough.”

Those kinds of break-up stories aren’t limited to romantic relationships.  We leave jobs for many of the same reasons and tell our employers that our families, or our checkbooks, or our feeling of self-fulfillment is more important to us than they are.  And unfortunately, our relationships with God are often much the same.  Too often, we tell God, through our actions, if not our words, that other things are more important to us than God is.

But before we talk about abandonment, let’s begin this morning with a story that illustrates true commitment and dedication.  We begin this morning with one of the greatest stories of transition and succession in all of history.  As the great prophet Elijah, advanced in age and near death, comes to the end of his career, he is followed and assisted in everything that he does by his protégé, Elisha.  And, as God calls Elijah home, we hear this story in 2 Kings 2:1-14.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.

Elisha declares that he will never leave his mentor Elijah even though they both knew that this was the day that God would take Elijah from the earth.  And, as they travel, they discover that all the other prophets of Israel know that as well.  Each time they pass by one of the places where God’s prophets gather, the prophets in that place already know what’s going on.  And when the time finally comes, and God sends a chariot of fire to carry Elijah away, it was necessary for the horses of the chariot to separate them because Elisha stayed true to his word and refused to leave his mentor’s side.  And even then, he tears his garment in a sign of mourning that they have been separated. 

Elisha was true to his word no matter what.

But the reverse is true for everyone who makes those same kinds of promises to Jesus in Luke 9:51-62.

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”

58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”

But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”

62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The Samaritans don’t want Jesus because they knew he was traveling to the temple in Jerusalem and not to their temple.  Their position was, “We love you, but only if you worship like us.”  The disciples wanted to destroy the Samaritans and it was as if they were saying, “We love you, but we were hoping you would destroy anyone who isn’t like us.”  The next man offers to follow Jesus, but Jesus knows that he won’t.  Jesus knows that what he’s really saying is, “I love you, but not if you’re homeless.”  The next two are willing, but essentially answer Jesus by saying, “I love you, but only when it’s convenient.”  But none of these answers rise to the level of Jesus’ expectation.  Jesus says that when you set out to plow a field, you focus on what is ahead and not on what is behind.  The focus of the farmer must be on farming and if it isn’t then he should probably be doing something else.

What God wants is the kind of dedication that Elisha had for Elijah, a single-minded determination that was focused exclusively on his love for his mentor.  For Elisha, “I will not leave you” meant exactly that and nothing else.  Only God himself could separate them.  And that’s what Jesus wants for us as his followers as well.  When we are called to be the followers of Jesus, we are called to love him with our whole heart, but that’s often harder than we expect it to be when put into practice.  In real life, we are easily distracted by the things that make us feel good.  In Galatians 5:1, 13-25, Paul explains it this way:

5:1 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

In Paul’s mind, because we have been set free from sin, then we ought to do everything we can to live lives separate from sin so that we do not become burdened and tied to the same sin from which we were once set free.  As Americans, we often talk about enjoying freedom, and many times that discussion involves talking about how we are free to do the things that scripture teaches us not to do.  But Paul’s idea is quite different.  Real freedom, he says, is not found in indulging ourselves and doing things that feel good, instead, real freedom is found in service to others, humility, love, and obedience to God.  The Spirit of God and the desires of our fleshly bodies often run contrary to one another.  Our freedom means that we should not do whatever we want to do because Jesus died so that we could be set free from sin, not set free for sin. 

But, just to be sure that we are getting his point, Paul lists some of the common things of the flesh that cause human beings to go astray, “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.”  When we pursue these things, we wander from the path of salvation and risk losing our inheritance altogether.  Instead, we are to seek to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.  When we are truly following the example of Jesus Christ, our neighbors and friends will see things like “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control” in our lives.

When we say “I love you” to God, it shouldn’t include exceptions that make it sound like “I love you, but…”  God wants us to love him without reservation, with all our heart, all our mind, and with all our soul.

If we want to follow Jesus, and become like Jesus, then we have to give one hundred percent.

If we want to bear spiritual fruit, “I love you, but…”

…is not going to get us where we want to go.

 

 

 

 

 


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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.

A New Fruit?

A New Fruit?

This week I was reading Paul’s list of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22. This has been repeated so often that many of us have it memorized.  But as I read this familiar passage in the New International Version, one of the fruits was different.  Where I expected to find ““love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control,” instead I found, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.”

Somehow I had never noticed that before.

Where I expected to see “patience,” I found “forbearance” instead.  I thought I understood what patience was, but what the heck is forbearance?  Was King James wrong all these years?  Is patience not a virtue?

Relax.

I looked up forbearance so that I could understand why the translators thought this was a better word than patience.

And I think I agree.

I rather like this definition better.

Forbearance is patience, but not only patience.  Forbearance is “patient self-control; restraint and tolerance.”  The example given was “Her unfailing courtesy and forbearance under provocation” along with a legal definition that I also thought was as meaningful as it was powerful: “The action of refraining from exercising a legal right, especially enforcing the payment of a debt.”

That means, forbearance is if someone hits you, and you have every legal right to hit them back, but you don’t, when you have been wronged and you have the legal right to sue, but you don’t, or when you have the legal right to collect a debt, or to do anything else, but you don’t.

I think this is a fuller, deeper, powerful, and more meaningful definition that not only included everything that “patience” did, but expands on “patience” and makes it richer and more understandable at the same time.

May we not only have patience, but also forbearance.

A Fire in the Belly

A Fire in the Belly

June 06, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

Romans 8:14-17         Acts 2:1-21                

As you may already know, this coming Sunday is the celebration of Pentecost and so today’s responsive readings, prayers, and even our communion liturgy reflect back (or perhaps it reflects forward) to that celebration.  So, what is it that happened on Pentecost and why does it matter two thousand years later?  Luke’s story in the book of Acts tells us that fire came down from heaven and touched each of the disciples and followers of Jesus that had gathered for prayer.  But fire doesn’t begin to describe what really happened. 

If it had only been fire, that would have been an impressive sight and it would have made for a good story to tell around the campfire on a cool fall evening, or after a drink or two at the local watering hole.  But it wasn’t just fire.  On the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had promised would come after he returned to his father, came down from heaven and in that moment, the Spirit of God, which looked like fire, entered into each of those men and women who had gathered together for prayer.  If it had only been fire, it would have been a tale that was told among friends for a generation or two and then died, but what actually happened was not only a great story, but a story that had long-lasting, even eternal, implications and repercussions.

In the Old Testament we often heard stories about how the Holy Spirit came upon Sampson, or Gideon, Saul, or David and, empowered by the Spirit of God, they did great and amazing things that we still read about, and marvel at, two thousand years later.  But these encounters with the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament were a rarity that only happened once in a great while and seemed to be limited to people of great faith.  But no longer.

The story of Pentecost has power for us in the twenty first century because it was a transformational moment in history.  Pentecost was the moment when God no longer empowered the occasional hero. It was the moment when the work of the Holy Spirit stopped being a once-in-a-while agent of change.  Instead, as those tongues of fire entered into the followers of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit began working 24/7 empowering every single man, woman, and child that was baptized into the fellowship of believers and followers of Jesus.

It is because of the story of Pentecost that we have a divine confidence about the work that we are doing.  It wasn’t the human strength of Sampson that allowed him to kill a lion with his bare hands or pull down the temple on the heads of the Philistine idol worshipers.  It wasn’t just an active imagination that allowed King Saul to sit with God’s prophets and speak prophecy.  These were not the acts of moral humans but the acts of a powerful God working through fragile and finite followers.  As mortals, and as humans, we are well acquainted with our limitations and frailties, but as the followers of Jesus Christ, we must also remember that we are not alone.  We do not work alone.  We do not do our work through our own strength… alone.  We, each one of us, do the work of Jesus Christ, and the work of the Kingdom of God, empowered and strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives within us.  It is this same spirit that gives us a fire in the belly to do the work of Jesus even when people say that we are too young, or too old, or too sick, or too tired, or in mourning, or anything else.

Every year we repeat, and reread, and retell, the story of Pentecost, yes, even two thousand years later, not just because it’s a great story to tell around the campfire, but because it is utterly critical to our spiritual formation, and transformational to our behavior as the followers of Jesus Christ.

We must never forget that we are not alone.

We do not do the work of Jesus Christ alone.

The fire that we have in our bellies is the fire of the Spirit of God who lives within us and it is that same spirit that gives us the strength to be modern day heroes of the faith as we do the work of Jesus Christ.

Our mission is nothing less than to change the world. 

One life at a time.

Not through our own strength, but through the strength of the God that lives within us.

 

Scripture Readings

First Reading: Romans 8:14-17

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

 

Second Reading: Acts 2:1-21

2:1 When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” 12 Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

13 Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

14 Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. 15 These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! 16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

17 “‘In the last days, God says,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your young men will see visions,
    your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
    and they will prophesy.
19 I will show wonders in the heavens above
    and signs on the earth below,
    blood and fire and billows of smoke.
20 The sun will be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood
    before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.
21 And everyone who calls
    on the name of the Lord will be saved.’

 


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*You have been reading a message presented at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio 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.

Past, Present, Future

BellsLast night I attended our youth group meeting and had the incredible opportunity to climb the bell tower and see some of the “behind the scenes” things that most people never see.  I posted pictures on Facebook of our bells, the view of the street through the wire mesh, and the incredible size of some of the beams that support the roof.  Those beams are huge, and every few inches is a rivet the size of a half dollar or a half of a golf ball.  Mike Greiner and I were marveling as we remembered what it must have took to put that all in place in 1896.  Fifty years before welding was invented, each of those rivets would have been hammered in by hand while still red-hot, and each of those mammoth beams had to be carefully raised into place three for four stories above the ground. img_20180923_222439_111

While we were in the tower, we also had the chance to jump over one of those beams, climb down a rickety looking ladder, climb the catwalk, maneuver around some other beams, and ultimately stand in the space above our sanctuary ceiling.  It is only in that space that you can see the original sanctuary ceiling which was covered up during a renovation in the 1930’s.  At that time, the ceiling was lowered, perhaps in an effort to add insulation and increase energy efficiency, but that effort also allowed the removal of the great sanctuary chandelier gas lights and install overhead electric lighting in the ceiling instead.

img_20180923_190423428I love being able to do things like that.  I had a great time, and I’m pretty sure that all our youth did too (Thanks Mike!).  But this experience got me thinking.  As our trustees and finance committees meet, I often thank God for the gifts that have been given to us by those giants of the faith who were here before us.  Since 1839, generations of men and women have labored together in this place and contributed their sweat, their time, their passion, their hearts, and their money to the ministry that goes on here still today.

But we also remember, that as impressive as it is, they didn’t do all of this so that we could take up space in an impressive building.  Buildings may be impressive, and they may be beautiful, but they don’t inspire, and they don’t accomplish the mission.  Those men and women who were here from 1839 until now left us a legacy of more than bricks and mortar.  Each of them worked to preach the message of the Gospel, to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to care for the widows and the orphans, to reach the lost with the good news of Jesus Christ, to offer light to a dark world, and rescue to people who were condemned by God.

And thinking about all of that brought me to this thought: What will we be remembered for?  Many of us, and many of those in our community, have a relationship with the risen Jesus Christ because generations of people in this place made sure that they passed on what they knew to the next generation.  We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Those men and women built a church, they carved out a community and a city in the middle of a wilderness, they constructed, and remodeled, a marvelous architectural work of art in which we worship, and they remained faithful to the mission and the vision of Jesus Christ. img_20180923_183536_854

But today, the responsibility for that mission and vision has fallen to us.  If we are to be remembered, then resting on the shoulders of those giants isn’t enough.  We must carry on, and move forward, with the same vision, passion and commitment as those who went before us.  It’s our turn to preach the Gospel, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and orphans, offer light to a dark world, and rescue the lost.

Make no mistake.  Our church building is incredible.  But as we admire its beauty we should ask ourselves:

How will we be remembered?

What legacy will we leave behind?

The Power of a Pure Heart

“The Power of a Pure Heart”

July 29, 2018*

By Pastor John Partridge

 

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

 

How many “church words” do you know?

You know what I mean.  If you’ve been around churches or church people for any length of time, you begin to pick up a new vocabulary of “church words” that mean special things to “church people.”  “Church words” leave unchurched people a little baffle when they hear us using them.  And sometimes even church people can be a little confused.  We hear these words, we know that the pastor uses them, and sometimes we might even use them ourselves, but if we’re honest, sometimes we aren’t completely sure what they mean.

I mention all of this because when we aren’t sure about the meanings of some of these words, we are also likely to misunderstand, or fail to understand, why those words are important.  This morning we’re going to talk about some of these common church words.  Specifically, we are going to talk about the words ‘spirit,’ ‘filled by the spirit,’ ‘heart,’ and ‘having Jesus in your heart.’  We hear these words all the time and we know that they’re supposed to be important, but at the end of the day sometimes we’re left wondering, “What difference does it make?”  But it *does* make a difference.  And I hope, after we work our way through today’s scriptures, that most of us will have a better understanding of these ‘church words’ and why they’re important.

We begin, once again, with the story of King David.  But today we join the story in 2 Samuel 11:1-15, where we find David making what is almost certainly the greatest mistake of his entire life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a difficult story for us because David is supposed to be a hero.  As we noted last week, David is referred to as “a man after God’s own heart.”  But the man in this story seems to be almost a completely different sort of fellow.  In this story, during the spring when kings went off to war, David dialed it in, he sent Joab to war while he stayed home in his cedar paneled palace.  When a naked woman took a bath across the street, David watched instead of looking away and then invited her over when he should have minded his own business. Then he slept with another man’s wife, tried to cover it up, and then, when he discovered that her husband, Uriah, was unfailingly loyal to his king, his country, and to his fellow soldiers, David rewarded his loyalty by betraying him and plotting his murder at the hands of the enemy.

That sure doesn’t sound like a hero to me.  David’s behavior is nothing short of awful, even horrific.  But this story does tell us something about the hearts of human beings, even the hearts of people who are good.  We are reminded that even good people make mistakes.  Good people still fall, we still sin, we still behave in ways that are brutally selfish and that ignore the commands of God even when we absolutely know better.  When we read this story, we can’t help but be disappointed in David… and we should be.  I’m certain that God was disappointed as well (not surprised, but disappointed nonetheless).  And perhaps this allows us a taste, a sample, of how God must feel when we fail.

But before we dwell too much on sin, and selfishness, and disappointment, lets read an entirely different story about Jesus for comparison.  The focus on this story, naturally, is Jesus and the miracle that he performs with the feeding of the five thousand.  But as I read the story, today I want you to listen for the part of Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother because, although his part is small, his contribution changes the entire story from one of hopelessness, to one of victory, triumph, and faith. (John 6:1-15)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many of you were able to recognize the part that Andrew plays in the story?

It went by quickly, and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you missed it.

But when Jesus asks where they can buy bread for a crowd of ten of fifteen thousand people, Philip’s answer is hopeless.  Philip’s thinking runs basically in this direction, ‘We’re too far away from any town or from any bakery.  There’s no way that the bakery would have enough food to feed this many people.  And even if food could be found, there’s no way that we would have a fraction of the money that we would need to buy it.’

But Andrew is entirely different.  Andrew has no idea how so many people can be fed.  But rather than focusing on what they don’t have, Andrew focuses on the two things that they do have, the sack lunch that a loving mother packed for her son… and Jesus.

Andrew remembers that even when they didn’t have all the things they thought that they needed, what little they had, plus Jesus, had always been enough.  Andrew remembered that Jesus had sent them all out to preach with no money, no food, no change of clothes, but only what they wore on their backs and staff.  And with that they preached, and taught, and healed, and cast out demons, and the whole nation noticed.

Andrew reminds us all that even when it seems like we don’t have nearly enough, if we have faith, Jesus can use what we have, to accomplish far more than we ever imagined possible.

Little becomes much, when Jesus is in it.

So, as we think about the comparison of these two stories, and these two men, David and Andrew, let us also consider the words of the Apostle Paul from Ephesians 3:14-21 for some perspective.

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

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

Paul prays that God, from his storehouse of glorious riches, might strengthen the church with power through the Holy Spirit so that Jesus Christ might dwell in our hearts through faith. Paul prays that we might be rooted and grounded in love, and be given power, so that together with all of God’s people, we might begin to understand how much Jesus loves…  not just how much Jesus loves us, but how much Jesus loves everyone.  Paul also says that when we begin to understand how much Jesus loves, then we will know a love that is greater than knowledge, and only then will we be filled to overflowing, Paul says “filled to the measure of all the fullness, of God.”

These two stories give us a little insight into some of those ‘church words’ I mentioned earlier.  Although David was a man after God’s own heart, during the story of his encounter with Bathsheba, he was not acting in a godly way and we can see that he was not filled with the Spirit of God nor was he following the direction of the Spirit.  Quite the opposite, in fact.  Andrew, on the other hand, was listening and the Spirit within him prompted him to bring Jesus a sack lunch, even though he had no idea why, or how it could possibly be useful in feeding fifteen thousand people.

If you are ever tempted to ask, “What difference does it make?” to have Jesus in your heart, or to invite the Spirit of God to be at work within you, just remember these two men.  By listening to God’s Spirit, Andrew’s faith allowed Jesus to do the impossible, but by ignoring that same spirit, David suffered one of his greatest failures.

When we put our faith in Jesus and invite his Spirit to be at work in us, we are empowered by God to do great, even miraculous, things even when we don’t have much to offer by ourselves.  Remember that if one sack lunch can feed fifteen thousand people, God can do miracles with what you have to offer him too.  Because little is much, when we offer it to God through faith.

 

 

 

_________

_________

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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.