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.

Forgiven. Sent. Empowered.

Forgiven. Sent. Empowered.

May 27, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

John 3:1-17                Isaiah 6:1-8                Romans 8:12-17

 

Have you ever played a team sport?

 

I don’t necessarily mean that you played on an official team in high school or college.  What I mean is, have you ever played a game where the participation of every single person made a difference?  Have you ever been in a serious tug-of-war when one of your team members slipped in the mud?  Have you ever played baseball when one of your outfielders was caught sleeping and an easy pop-fly dropped right next to them?  Have you ever run a relay race when one of your runners dropped the baton?  Can you imagine how it would go if the Cleveland Cavaliers had to play their next game with only four players instead of five?  When you play as a team, whether it’s sports, or at work, or in the church, doing well requires that every member of the team be an active and involved participant.

 

This is not only a good example in the physical world; it works just as well in the spiritual world.  In Isaiah 6:1-8 the prophet Isaiah is recruited into God’s team in a way that he hadn’t considered before.

 

6:1In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

 

Here Isaiah sees God on his throne in heaven surrounded by angels who proclaimed his glory.  Isaiah assumed that any human being who saw God or who witnessed such wonders would die from the experience.  Isaiah knows that he is not pure enough to be in the presence of God and he believes that he isn’t good enough to serve God.  But then, one of the angels picks up a live coal from the fire at the altar of sacrifice, flies to Isaiah, and touches his lips with it saying that Isaiah’s guilt has been taken away and the price paid for his sins.  But after that, God asks, “Whom shall I send?  And who will go for us?”

 

Because Isaiah has been purified and forgiven, he is therefore sent out to carry the messages of God to the world.

 

But “I” is singular and “Us” is plural.  Is God using what we might describe as the “royal ‘we’”?  Is God referring to himself in the plural just because he can? Or is this a reference to the Trinity? Or is it because God is speaking for himself, all of the angels, and everyone on his team?

 

It’s hard to tell.  But in other scriptures we gain other insights.

 

In John 3:1-17, Jesus meets a Pharisee named Nicodemus at night and has something interesting to say about the nature of God.

 

3:1Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

 

“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10 “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

 

Jesus tells Nicodemus that there is more to following God than just following the rules.  The way that Jesus describes it, following God requires us to be reborn, through the Spirit, into an entirely new life.  Jesus also uses the language of reproduction again saying that “flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”  Since this is Trinity Sunday, it is also noteworthy that Jesus, the Son of God, is talking about both God the Father and God the Spirit.  He is deliberate in naming them differently, particularly when he says, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.” And so this passage is yet another where we can “see” all three members of the Trinity in the same passage.  But in all of this, what Jesus is saying is that Jesus has been sent into the world, by God the Father, in order to save the world, but the agent that brings you into the kingdom of God is the Spirit of God, and it is the Spirit of God that gives us the strength to live a new life in Christ Jesus.

 

In his letter to the church in Rome, Paul follows up on this idea by explaining what a new birth, and new life, through the Spirit of God would look like.  (Romans 8:12-17)

 

12 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. 13 For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

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.

 

Because we have received the Spirit of God, we now have an obligation to love according to the spirit.  When we are born of the spirit we must make every effort to put to death the desires of our fleshly body.  We have an obligation to be better than our desires.  This is why, at least in part, we are said to be born into a new life through the Spirit of God, because in that life, we begin to live differently, to act differently, to place our priorities in different places, to behave more courageously, because of, and through, the power of the spirit that lives within us.

 

Paul says that we are adopted children of God and our relationship is so close that we call God “Abba” or in English, “Papa” or “Daddy.”  And, because we are God’s children, we are heirs, with Jesus, to God’s kingdom, if we share in the sufferings of Jesus.  That is, if we do the work of the kingdom of God, completing the mission of Jesus Christ, through the Spirit of God that lives within us.  If we do that…, then we will share in the glory of God.

 

And so from the words of Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul, we find that we are forgiven by God the Father, sent by Jesus the Son of God, and empowered through the Spirit of God to purify ourselves, and to share in the mission, and in the suffering, of Jesus Christ so that together we can rescue the lost and save the world.

 

God said, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”

 

From the beginning, God wanted everyone to know that this was a team effort.  It takes every member of the Trinity, every angel, every follower of Jesus, and every one of us.

 

We can’t get caught sleeping in the outfield.

 

We cannot drop the baton.

 

There can be no bench-sitters.

 

Every member of the team must be an active and involved participant.

 

Even me.

 

Even you.

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect

May 20, 2018

(Pentecost)

By John Partridge*

 

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15                   Acts 2:1-21                 Romans 8:22-27

 

 

If you are old enough, you might remember Rube Goldberg, whose drawing of amazingly complicated machines would appear in the comic pages of newspapers across the country.  These machines amused us because, although complex, they performed a simple task that would have been easier done than the effort it took to build, or even to draw, the machine.  Goldberg became so famous for this, that now, many years after his death, machines like this have been named after him.  There is an entire genre of videos of these type machines on YouTube, including a popular series of videos by a band named OK Go.

 

Have you ever watched Sesame Street?  Kermit the frog would periodically build Rube Goldberg machines on a spot that he called “What Happens Next.”  Except in the case of Kermit, these machines never worked quite right.  (We might just watch one of Kermit’s adventures during the Coffee House service.)

 

But watching these machines can remind us that actions have consequences.  The things that we do in the world do not happen in a vacuum.  What we do impacts the world, and the people, around us.  Each action has an effect, and sometimes, as we learned from Kermit the Frog, sometimes, the effects are not what we intended.

 

We begin this morning in the gospel of John where Jesus makes a promise.  And since we all know that Jesus always keeps his promises, this cause, will certainly have an effect later on.

(John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15)

15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me. 27 And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning.

16:4 I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. I did not tell you this from the beginning because I was with you, but now I am going to him who sent me. None of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ Rather, you are filled with grief because I have said these things. But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; 10 about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; 11 and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.

12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

Well before the crucifixion, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go away, but when he does, he will send the Spirit of God to be with them in his absence.

 

There is a cause, and an effect.

 

Jesus says that he will send the Spirit to testify to us about Jesus, but that in return we also must testify to the world about Jesus.  Jesus promises that when he departs, he will send the Spirit of God to us and the Spirit will guide us into all the truth.

 

And just a few short weeks later, after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, we read the story of Pentecost in Acts 2:1-21 where we see Jesus keeping his promise.

2:1When 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.’

Jesus promised that he would send the Spirit and he did.  And the spirit of God arrived in spectacular fashion and through the Spirit, God gave great gifts to all of the believers so that they, and the world around them had to sit up and take notice.  People were amazed that back country hicks from Galilee could possibly be speaking Parthian, Phrygian, Egyptian, Latin, Libyan, Arabic, and other languages of the far-flung Roman Empire.  Those who didn’t speak foreign languages simply thought they were drunk and babbling nonsense, but those who came from those places were amazed to hear people speaking the language of their home.  They had all heard the sound of a violent wind and had come to this place to investigate, and here they discover this amazing thing.  Surely, this must mean something.  But what?

 

And Peter steps up to explain.

 

Once again, remember that this is the same Peter that only a few weeks before had lied about even knowing Jesus.  And here, in the middle of Jerusalem, he stands up and tells everyone that, through Jesus Christ, God is at work changing the world.  Peter tells them that the Spirit of God would pour out his spirit on their sons, their daughters, the young, the old, and even on their servants so that they would receive gifts that would demonstrate to the world the power of a holy creator God so that the world might come to faith in him and be saved from sin and death.

 

But what does that mean today?

 

What does Pentecost mean a hundred generations after the people of the first century church?  And for that we find that Paul has some solid insight in his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 8:22-27) where he says:

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

Paul says that the world is not perfect, far from it, in fact.  The world is in such sad shape that all of creation groans over its condition.  But the gift of God’s spirit to his people is still having an effect on our daily lives.  Paul says that the gift of the spirit of God, and our faith in Jesus Christ doesn’t make our lives perfect.  We often find ourselves in pain or suffering from the circumstances in our lives and in the world around us, but the spirit of God helps us along the way.  Paul says that our spirits have already been redeemed, but our human bodies have not.  That wonderful pain-free existence that we dream of is something that will only come about when God redeems our bodies in heaven.  But Paul explains God’s spirit also gives us the gift of intercession.  Intercession means that when we find ourselves in such misery or confusion that we are unable to pray, or to even find words, when all that we can do is groan, the Spirit knows our hearts and carries the messages and the desires of our hearts directly to God on our behalf.

 

And so yes, two thousand years and over a hundred generations of humanity later, the Spirit of God is still alive and well in the people of Jesus Christ and in the world around us.  Like the cartoons that Rube Goldberg drew, and the silly machines that Kermit the Frog built, there really is a “what happens next.”  We really do feel an effect caused by the work and the mission of Jesus.

 

Jesus has sent the Spirit into the world and into each person that puts their faith in him.  As we wait for our final adoption and the redemption of our bodies, the spirit helps us in our weakness, prays for us, and intercedes for us in our pain, confusion, and hopelessness, guides us into all the truth, speaks the words of God to us, and yes, Jesus still sends us into the world to testify to the world about him so that others can be rescued from sin and death.

 

It’s all about cause and effect.

 

For over a hundred generations, the people of Jesus Christ have answered his call and told others the Good News so that they might have the hope of redemption and the power of God’s spirit.  Each of us is here because someone answered that call of God.

 

They were the cause.

 

We are the effect.

 

The spirit of Pentecost continues today just as it has for two thousand years.

 

Will you answer God’s call?

 

What effect will you have on the world, and on the people around you?

 

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, 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 may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.