Sources of Suffering

Sources of Suffering

October 02, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Lamentations 1:1-6               Luke 17:5-10             2 Timothy 1:1-14

On January 1, 1970, George V. Higgins, while he was still employed as Assistant US Attorney, but who would eventually be described as the grand master of crime fiction, published his first crime novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle.”  In that story, gun runner Jackie Brown famously said, “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  That quote has often been misattributed to John Wayne, but there is no record of John Wayne, nor any of his movie characters, ever saying such a thing.  In any case, many of us have found this to be true.  “This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid.”  Few, if any of us, have managed to always make good decisions, and while we have learned valuable lessons from them, those bad decisions often made our lives much more difficult and painful than they needed to be.  But, at the same time, sometimes life is hard because we made good decisions.  Changing careers, working as a student pastor, with a student pastor’s salary, going to school full-time, while raising three children was hard, despite being a good choice.  And many of you could describe similar choices and similar struggles.

But despite our experiences, and our past struggles, many people ask the question, “Why is there suffering?” Or “Why am I suffering?”  And while I don’t have the definitive answer that applies to all people for all time, this morning we’re going to read several stories which illustrate several kinds of sadness, sorrow, and suffering and maybe, along the way, we will find some of the answers to our questions about suffering. We begin this morning, in a place where we don’t often go, to the book of Lamentations.  A lamentation is defined as a “passionate expression of grief or sorrow” and so this book of scripture is the place where we find the mournful prayers of the people of Israel who have lost the war with the Babylonian army, been ripped from their homes, watched as their city and their temple were destroyed, enslaved, and dragged into Babylon to make a new life in captivity.  Not surprisingly, tears were shed, and God’s people asked why this had happened to them.  “Why are we here?”  “When will we go home?”  Will we ever go home?”  “Why did God allow this to happen?”  And “Why has God allowed us to suffer?”  We begin in Lamentations 1:1-6, where we hear these words:

1:1 How deserted lies the city,once so full of people!
How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations!
She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.

2 Bitterly she weeps at night,tears are on her cheeks.
Among all her lovers there is no one to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.

3 After affliction and harsh labor,Judah has gone into exile.
She dwells among the nations; she finds no resting place.
All who pursue her have overtaken her in the midst of her distress.

4 The roads to Zion mourn,for no one comes to her appointed festivals.
All her gateways are desolate, her priests groan,
her young women grieve, and she is in bitter anguish.

5 Her foes have become her masters;her enemies are at ease.
The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.
Her children have gone into exile, captive before the foe.

6 All the splendor has departed from Daughter Zion.
Her princes are like deer that find no pasture;
in weakness they have fled before the pursuer.

Not everyone was taken into captivity because farmers and laborers were needed tend the land, harvest crops, and send taxes and tribute to the nation of Babylon.  It was not in Babylon’s best interests to take everyone, and so, much like the takeover of the communists in China, they took, or killed, the king, the royalty, the leaders of the military, the government, the church, and anyone else who might lead and rally people together in rebellion.  To borrow an expression from our nation’s experience in Vietnam, what Babylon wanted was a pacified Israel that would obey the orders of Babylon’s king and pay their taxes.

The people who were left behind may have been almost as miserable as those who have been taken into captivity.  Every day they remembered.  They remembered what their cities had once been, they remembered how beautiful their temple had been, how busy the roads had been, how peaceful it was to go to the synagogue and hear the words of God read from the Torah scroll.  But now that was all gone.  The roads mourn in their emptiness, the city gates are broken and desolate.  The people are gone.  Their friends and allies abandoned them in their time of need.

But there is recognition of why this had happened to them.  Jeremiah might not have been popular when he came to Jerusalem to proclaim the words, warnings, and condemnation of God, but the people remembered what he, and other prophets had said.  They knew that their grief and their suffering had come about because they loved their sin and had turned their backs on God.  And now life was harder, infinitely more difficult, and filled with weeping, sadness, mourning, suffering, and pain because of the bad choices that they had made.

But we often twist the question and, rather than ask “why are we suffering?” we ask, “why isn’t God blessing us?” and essentially ask why God is shortchanging us for doing good or assume that we aren’t getting what we want, or aren’t getting the expected result of God’s blessing, because we don’t have enough faith.  That’s the question that the disciples are asking Jesus in Luke 17:5-10 when Jesus is telling them about the consequences of sin and the need for his followers to forgive others.

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.

“Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Jesus says that you don’t need a lot of faith because even a little bit of faith is a powerful thing.  The problem isn’t that we don’t have enough faith, the problem is that we expect God to bless us every time we do what we’re supposed to do.  We don’t expect our employer, or our boss, to thank us every time that we show up for work in the morning.  Rather than expecting God to pour out blessings on us for every little thing, our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do.

Let me say that again.

Our expectations should be, at minimum, that we will do the things that God has commanded us to do just as our employer expects that we will show up for work on time and do the job that we’ve been hired to do.  Doing the minimum doesn’t give us the right to expect bonuses and an abundance of praise and thanksgiving.  We shouldn’t expect God to bless us because we did half of what was expected. Doing the minimum is the least of what God expects from us.  Jesus said that servants are expected to do what servants do and at the end of the day simply acknowledge that “we have only done our duty.”

I’m sure that’s not the most encouraging thing that I’ve ever preached, nor is it the most encouraging thing that you’ve ever heard in church. 

But it gets worse.

In his second letter to his friend Timothy, the Apostle Paul explains that while God will empower us, and give us the tools, and the strength that we need to do what he has called us to do, even making the right choices, and doing the right thing, in the right way, for the right reasons, may still result in suffering.  In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, we hear Paul say this:

1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my dear son:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God. He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald, an apostle, and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

Paul breaks down the ideas of faith and works for Timothy by saying at he knows Timothy has faith. Because he has faith, he knows that he has received the gift of the Spirit of God.  Because the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline, then Timothy should not be afraid, ashamed, or embarrassed to tell the people around him about Jesus Christ or about Paul’s     imprisonment.  Instead of being embarrassed, Paul says that Timothy should join with him in suffering for the sake of the gospel message, which is, in Paul’s view, suffering by the power of God.  Paul says that God did not call us because we deserved it, or because we had great qualifications, or because we had any qualifications at all, God called us because we fit into his plan, for his own purposes, and God called us because he chose to pour out his grace into our lives.

In the end, we are like Paul.  We have been called to be the heralds, proclaimers, apostles, town criers, and the announcers of the gospel message and the good news of Jesus Christ.  But suffering has always been and, until the day of judgement, always will be a part of the human experience.  Sometimes life is hard, and we suffer because we’re stupid and we made poor choices.  Sometimes we suffer because we get so selfish and self-focused that we put God in second, or third, place.  And sometimes we suffer for all the right reasons.  We made the right choices, did the right things, the right way, for the right reasons, and suffered anyway.  The odds are good that most of us here have endured through some hard times and in this life, the odds are good that we’re not done.  Suffering is just a part of the human experience.  But, if we’re going to suffer, let it be because we’ve made the right choices, done the right things, the right way, and for the right reasons.  Let it be so, that when we suffer, we suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ and for his kingdom.  Let us busy ourselves answering his call, and doing his work, so that when the day comes, we cannot be accused of only doing half of what we were called to do but can instead proclaim that ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”


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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.

Hope and Warning Signs

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Hope and Warning Signs

September 25, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15                     Luke 16:19-31                        1 Timothy 6:6-19

Depending on where you work, you might see a sign like this, or something similar, every day.  It is a sign that warns us not to block the fire exit and similar signs warn us not to park in a fire lane, not to open a fire door that has an alarm.  These and other cautionary warnings remind us that blocking or opening that door or parking in that place can result in a fine or other disciplinary action.  But those signs also give us hope.  When we see them, we know that the architects gave thought to how people would leave the building in an emergency, how the fire department and other emergency services would need gain access, and we know that there is a plan to get out of the building safely in the event of an emergency. 

And that image may give us some insight to the message that God sent to the people of Israel through his prophet Jeremiah.  Although God had sent many warnings that Jerusalem would fall and Israel would be captured, God also sent another message, an unusual message of hope, in Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 where we hear these words:

32:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of Zedekiah king of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar. The army of the king of Babylon was then besieging Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was confined in the courtyard of the guard in the royal palace of Judah.

Now Zedekiah king of Judah had imprisoned him there, saying, “Why do you prophesy as you do?

Jeremiah said, “The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of Shallum your uncle is going to come to you and say, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth, because as nearest relative it is your right and duty to buy it.’

“Then, just as the Lord had said, my cousin Hanamel came to me in the courtyard of the guard and said, ‘Buy my field at Anathoth in the territory of Benjamin. Since it is your right to redeem it and possess it, buy it for yourself.’

“I knew that this was the word of the Lord; so I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel and weighed out for him seventeen shekels of silver. 10 I signed and sealed the deed, had it witnessed, and weighed out the silver on the scales. 11 I took the deed of purchase—the sealed copy containing the terms and conditions, as well as the unsealed copy— 12 and I gave this deed to Baruch son of Neriah, the son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel and of the witnesses who had signed the deed and of all the Jews sitting in the courtyard of the guard.

13 “In their presence I gave Baruch these instructions: 14 ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Take these documents, both the sealed and unsealed copies of the deed of purchase, and put them in a clay jar so they will last a long time. 15 For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.’

Although God had sent warnings to Israel for some time, and although few had believed Jeremiah or the warnings that he carried, Jerusalem was now under siege, surrounded by the enemy, and facing shortages of foot, starvation, disease, and death. The situation seemed utterly hopeless.  If the siege didn’t kill them, certainly the enemy at the gates would.  And if the enemy didn’t kill them, it was almost certain that they would live the rest of their lives as slaves.  But in the middle of Israel’s hopelessness, God commands Jeremiah to buy his cousin’s farm field at a time when that field, outside the gates and walls of the city, would have been completely useless.  Even worse, what good would it be to hold the deed to property in Israel once they were killed or in captivity?  But, through this real estate transaction, and the care that Jeremiah took in preserving two copies of the deed, God sends a message of hope that his people would return, build houses, plant crops, harvest, and live their lives, once again, in Israel.  In the middle of their despair, God sends a message of hope.

We see a similar mixture of warning signs and hope in the parable of the rich man and the beggar, Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, where we hear Jesus say…

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

First off, even though there are plenty of preachers who will try to tell you that hell is only an allegory, in this parable it seems clear that Jesus believes that it is a real place.  And the warning is that living a life of selfishness can cause you to go to such a place.  In addition, the rich man in the story begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family so that they do not come to that place of torment at the end of their lives.  But Abraham’s reply is that they have already had lots of warning.  They have heard the warnings of Moses and all of God’s prophets, and if they didn’t listen to them, they wouldn’t listen even if Lazarus came back from the dead and warned them again.  Jesus’ message is that all of scripture is filled with warning signs.  God has sent a literal book full of warnings to show us the way that we should go and the way that leads to life rather than following the way that leads only to death. 

But the good news is that torment and suffering are avoidable.  All anyone needs to do is to heed the warnings that have been sent.  To hear the warnings of Moses, the prophets, and of Jesus, and to do the will of God that they all patiently explained to us.  The warning signs are many, but much like the signs around the fire escape, if we hear them, and obey them, we will live.

And finally, we hear an important message of warning and hope that Paul wrote to his friend Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:6-19 about how we should live our lives.

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you 14 to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which God will bring about in his own time—God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see. To him be honor and might forever. Amen.

17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 19 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

While our culture normally associates gain with climbing the social and corporate ladders and acquiring money and power, Paul describes something entirely different.  Rather than constantly pursuing more money, more land, bigger houses, bigger cars, more influence, more expensive clothing, and more toys, Paul says that great gain comes instead from godliness and contentment.  Instead of being one of our life’s goals, Paul warns that wealth is a temptation that traps people into pursuing foolish and harmful desires that lead to ruin and destruction.  While the cultures of the first century and the twenty first centuries, and virtually all of those in between, have all taught that money is the thing that will satisfy us, Paul says that it is the pursuit of, and the love of, money that plants seeds of all kinds of evil in our lives.

Instead of spending our years on earth in a never-ending pursuit of more, more, more, we should invest ourselves in a pursuit of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness.  These are the things that lead us to eternal life and away from death.  Instead of becoming arrogant, hoping that we have invested enough, and trusting in the bottom line of our retirement fund, especially in uncertain times with uncertain markets, let us instead put our hope in God, do good, be rich in good deeds, be generous, and be willing to share what we have with others.  These are the things that store up true riches in our eternal accounts for the life that come after this one.

In both the Old Testament and in the New Testament, from Genesis to Revelation, scripture is filled with both signs of warning and of hope.  For thousands of years people in the cultures that surround the followers of God have scoffed at the idea that there is a God, that there is a place of punishment, or that the values we espouse are foolish, backward, quaint, or outdated.  But just as the warning signs marking and protecting the location of the fire escape are there not only to warn us about the danger of fire, but to show us a way out, the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments and the writings of Moses, the Prophets, and stories of Jesus are there not only to warn us, but to give us hope, and to offer us a path to find rescue.

We have free will.  We can ignore the signs, block the fire doors, and park in the fire lane but ignoring the warnings doesn’t make the danger any less real.  The only way to save ourselves from danger is to heed the warnings, to do the things that they ask, and accept the offer of hope that they provide.  It makes so much sense when we’re talking about fire safety, but isn’t it worth our time to listen to the warnings about where we will spend eternity?  We ignore important warnings at our own peril.

Especially when those warnings offer us a path toward hope and rescue.


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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.

Broken Trust

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Broken Trust

September 18, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1               Luke 16:1-13              1 Timothy 2:1-7

When our children were just beginning elementary school, our school district had a problem.  They had too many elementary school-age children and not enough space to fit them all.  That is not a unique problem.  The problem was that they had an additional elementary school building that was in good repair, that they couldn’t use.  Immediately behind the district administration building was an empty elementary school whose steam plant was active and supplied heat to the administration building. The problem, and the reason that the school was empty, was asbestos. 

Before the school could be safely filled with children and teachers, the district would need to spend a half a million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  At the same time, they couldn’t tear it down because it provided heat to the administration building and because… it would cost a half million dollars to remediate the asbestos.  The obvious solution would have been to ask the taxpayers for a one-time, emergency, tax levy to raise the half million dollars that would be needed to remove the asbestos and return that school to its useful purpose.  But, because taxpayers have been lied to by politicians for so long, it was impossible to pass a temporary tax levy because no one trusts a politician when they say that a new tax would be temporary.

The trust between taxpayers and their government has been broken so repeatedly, that we now simply assume politicians are lying most of the time.  Frank Sonnenberg said that “Trust is like blood pressure. It’s silent, vital to good health, and if abused it can be deadly.” And Dr. Jane Greer had this to say about trust, “Broken trust forces us, first, to acknowledge a painful reality we may have chosen to ignore, then, to make some difficult decisions.” That’s exactly what the taxpayers of our school district did.  They made some difficult decisions, which caused more problems and more difficult decisions later.  It is this cycle of broken trust that has complicated the administration of our government, the operation and conduct of our churches, our schools, and it creeps into every facet of our lives.

And, as we read the words of Jeremiah 8:18 – 9:1, what we hear underneath the words of a nation mourning from its captivity in Babylon, is the pain of the trust that was broken between the people of Israel and their God.

18 You who are my Comforterin sorrow,
    my heart is faint within me.
19 Listen to the cry of my people
    from a land far away:
“Is the Lord not in Zion?
    Is her King no longer there?”

“Why have they aroused my anger with their images,
    with their worthless foreign idols?”

20 “The harvest is past,
    the summer has ended,
    and we are not saved.”

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?

9:1 Oh, that my head were a spring of water
    and my eyes a fountain of tears!
I would weep day and night
    for the slain of my people.

Jeremiah speaks for his people and says that they faint with sorrow over the loss of their nation and their God but, at the same time, he is angry that his people broke their trust with God and aroused his anger by abandoning him and worshiping the idols of another nation.  The people are saying that “the harvest is past, and the summer is ended, and we are not saved.”  The realization of reality is finally hitting them that God isn’t going to bail them out easily and quickly this time and that they are not going home any time soon.  Jeremiah says that with this realization, horror grips him and there is no comfort, no physician, and no healing to be found as they mourn what they have lost, come to grips with their new reality, and weep for all those who died because of their rebellion and broken trust.

And then in Luke 16:1-13, Jesus tells a story about an entirely different kind of broken trust but compliments the man who does wrong because of the lesson that the church should learn from him about how we can operate within a system that often struggles with trust issues.

16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

“‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.

“The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’

“Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’

“‘A thousand bushels[about thirty tons] of wheat,’ he replied.

“He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Jesus praises the dishonest man for his shrewdness in using the tools that he had available to him.  Despite being fired, he had time left, and tools at his disposal, to prepare for, and to secure resources for his future.  Clearly his actions amount to fraud and theft, and certainly Jesus expects that we will not do those things.  But, although we are held to a higher standard, and expected to be trustworthy and live up to our promises to our employers and the people around us, we are encouraged to use the tools that we have been given by our employers, by our community, our leaders, our governments, and by our Constitution, to further the cause of the kingdom of God.  We are to prove ourselves trustworthy with what we have been given here, so that we can demonstrate to God that he can trust us with real wealth and true riches in heaven.

But how do we connect that story with the heartbreak experienced by Jeremiah and the people of Israel during their captivity in Babylon?  We begin with the idea that the phrase “we cannot serve two masters,” can be about money, it can also be about other things that take the place of God.  In a letter to his young friend and protégé Timothy, Paul briefly describes the relationship that we should be cultivating with the powers that surround us. (1 Timothy 2:1-7)

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle—I am telling the truth; I am not lying—and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

Paul urges Timothy and the church to pray for kings and the people in authority in their governments even though, like now, those leaders had often broken trust with the people over whom they ruled.  Some had not only broken trust but had actively persecuted their citizens.  And yet, Paul’s encouragement isn’t to rebel, or to resist, but to pray for them, and to do whatever they could do to live peaceful and quiet lives of integrity and honesty that were both godly and holy.

Our goal is to peacefully coexist with our government, not to put our trust in the government and not to break our trust with God by putting our faith in money, power, or government officials.  Neither should we abdicate our responsibilities to God or entrust our government with do the work that God has commanded us to do.  Our calling is to shrewdly use the freedoms and the tools that we have been given, but to remain faithful to our God, to our integrity, honesty, and to the promises that we have made. 

The missionary journeys of Paul and the other disciples were made possible by the infrastructure and the safety and freedom to travel brought about by the Roman empire and its military.  In his letters, we sometimes see Paul use his Roman citizenship as a tool to accomplish his mission for Jesus Christ, but Paul never concedes that Caesar is lord, and he never puts his faith and trust in the Roman government.  For Paul, citizenship was a useful tool, but his loyalty was always firmly in Jesus Christ, and his faith and trust always belonged, without question, to the kingdom of God first.  We are similarly challenged.  Finding the balance that Paul had will be as challenging to us as it was for him.  But our calling is to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, to put our whole trust only in God, and to shrewdly use the rights, freedom, citizenship, money, and other tools at our disposal to further the interests of God’s kingdom wherever we can.  At the same time, we must live lives that are trustworthy, honest, filled with integrity, and remain faithful to the promises that we have made so that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.

If he were here, I am certain that Paul would confess that finding that balance, while living in a powerful military empire, was challenging, and doing so is likely to be similarly challenging for us in twenty-first century United States.  But one thing we can learn from Jeremiah is that getting that balance wrong can have devastating, and sometimes eternal, consequences.


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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.

Who *Are* the Lost Sheep?

Who Are the Lost Sheep?

Sunday Evening Vesper Service

Copeland Oaks, Sebring, Ohio

September 11, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

This morning at Christ Church I shared a message about welcoming sinners the way that Jesus welcomed sinners, and as a part of that discussion I read a passage from Luke 15 that most of us here are likely familiar.  In that passage, Luke 15:1-10, we hear these words:

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins [each worth a day’s wage] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

In our story, we know that the sinners that the Pharisees are talking about are the tax collectors, prostitutes, and other people who were generally excluded from polite society.  These were the people who didn’t come to the Temple or make an appearance at the synagogue although some, if not many, of them had likely grown up in good Jewish families, had gone to Jewish school, attended synagogue services, and had their bar mitsvah (or bat mitzvah).  Some of them, of course, were not.  These might have been Samaritans, or Roman soldiers, or others who had never been a part of the church but, for the most part, in the story, the vast majority were almost certainly ethnically Jewish. 

And that’s a kind of a weird problem.  These people that Jesus calls God’s “lost children” were family.  They literally shared DNA with the people who were critical of Jesus.  They had grown up in the church, but now they were outcasts and found it almost impossible to come back to the church even if they wanted to do so because of the stigma that they bore as, quote, “sinners.”

Obviously, those of us who have gone to church for any length of time, or who have read this story with us, know that Jesus, and God, were of a different opinion.  Although Jesus told them that they needed to stop sinning, he still went out of his way to find them where they were, to be friends with them, and to make them feel welcome.  Jesus wanted to be sure that they knew, and felt, that the door to rescue, reconciliation, and redemption was wide open to them.

But if we skip ahead twenty-one centuries, we find ourselves asking the same question…

Who are the lost sheep?

When we attend a Gentile church and few of us even know someone who is ethnically Jewish, it seems obvious that the lost children that we know aren’t Jews.  But we’ve learned that while Jesus’ mission on earth was to seek and to save the lost children of Israel, the mission that he left to his disciples, and to his church, is to seek and to save all of God’s lost children, that is, all of humanity.

With that in mind, let’s look again at the people that Jesus was criticized for hanging out with, talking to, and to whom he offered grace, mercy, and friendship.  The people that Jesus invited in, were the people who the church liked to discredit and write off.  They were the people that didn’t fit in, didn’t have enough status, had the wrong status, who chose the wrong side, had the wrong kind of job, or otherwise fell through the cracks in the society of New Testament Israel.

Many of the people on that list are the same people in our communities today.  Churches full of Democrats can find it hard to minister to Republicans, and vice versa.  We look askance at people who don’t dress like we do, or who don’t smell like we do, let alone prostitutes, drug dealers, drug users, gamblers, smokers, folks covered with tattoos and piercings, single mothers, teen mothers, fussy babies, bikers, the poor, and a bunch of other people who just don’t fit into our idea of church membership.  And let’s not forget the difficulty that we sometimes have welcoming people of color, the deaf, the blind, the mentally handicapped, the disabled, or people whose first language isn’t English.

But the parable that Jesus told says that “…there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”  And so as mixed up as we might get, or whatever it is that makes us think that we know who belongs and who doesn’t belong, at the end of the day Jesus says that everyone belongs.  And every one of those people that we might be tempted to discredit or write off are exactly the lost sheep that Jesus was talking about.  Every one of those people that frighten us a little, or anger us a little, or make us cringe when they come through the door, are exactly the people for whom we should drop everything, leave behind the ninety-nine, light a lamp and sweep the house, or whatever it is that we need to do to make them feel welcome, show them mercy and grace, so that they can hear the message of Jesus’ rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.

Jesus’ message of the lost sheep was never an easy one, and it isn’t easy now.  But our mission isn’t to make the ninety-nine sheep inside our church comfortable and well fed, our mission is to rescue the one that’s missing.


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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.

Sinners Welcome!

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Sinners Welcome!

September 11, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28                   Luke 15:1-10              1 Timothy 1:12-17

In 1781, famed preacher Jonathan Edwards presented a message to his congregation in Northampton, Massachusetts entitled Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  He preached that same sermon again in Enfield, Connecticut later that same year and, by many historical accounts, triggered the beginning of what is now considered to be the First Great Awakening which brought countless waves of people across the new United States and England to faith in Christ.  In that message, Edwards proclaimed the horrors of hell and forwarded the idea that it is only the grace and the powerful hand of God that holds back the demons of hell and allows sinners to remain in this world so that they will have an opportunity to repent.

Present day preachers tend not to preach with that kind of style or fire, though many of us would agree with much of Edward’s message.  What’s worse, however, is that somewhere along the line, our churches established a reputation as places where you needed to get right with God before you came in, or as places where sinners, the unclean, the tattooed, bikers, persons of color, the poor, the homeless, smokers, gamblers, and any other kind of outsiders aren’t welcome.  And, in many churches, that characterization is unfortunately true. 

But that isn’t the message that we find in scripture at all.  Yes, God does have a problem with some people, but God’s list almost never seems to overlap with the people that our churches like to exclude.  In Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28, we hear this:

11 At that time this people and Jerusalem will be told, “A scorching wind from the barren heights in the desert blows toward my people, but not to winnow or cleanse; 12 a wind too strong for that comes from me. Now I pronounce my judgments against them.”

22 “My people are fools;
    they do not know me.
They are senseless children;
    they have no understanding.
They are skilled in doing evil;
    they know not how to do good.”

23 I looked at the earth,
    and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
    and their light was gone.
24 I looked at the mountains,
    and they were quaking;
    all the hills were swaying.
25 I looked, and there were no people;
    every bird in the sky had flown away.
26 I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
    all its towns lay in ruins
    before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

27 This is what the Lord says:

“The whole land will be ruined,
    though I will not destroy it completely.
28 Therefore the earth will mourn
    and the heavens above grow dark,
because I have spoken and will not relent,
    I have decided and will not turn back.”

God condemns Israel not because of everyday, ordinary sin, but because of their conscious decision to act in ways that they knew were in opposition to God’s will.  They had known God… but forgot God and had become so desensitized to wrongdoing and injustice that they only did evil and entirely forgot how to do good.  God had created Israel to be a light to the nations but whatever light that they had… was gone.

God’s intent is better demonstrated to us in the actions and the teaching of Jesus such as we find in the story contained in Luke 15:1-10.

15:1 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Then Jesus told them this parable: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins[each worth a day’s wage] and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

The accusation against Jesus was that he must be a bad person because he welcomed “sinners” and shared the relationally intimate act of eating meals with them.  As I noted last week, during communion, a shared meal is an intimate act.  Only an exceedingly small number of people will be invited into our homes and in the even smaller inner circle that sits at our table and shares food with us.  Even in a group setting with larger numbers of people, there is still a decision-making process by which we choose who will be given access to that level of closeness.  The Pharisees and the teachers of the law would never do such a thing and they thought that doing so cast doubt on Jesus’ authority, credibility, and likability. 

But the parables that Jesus uses to craft his reply reveal that these are exactly the people that God wants to welcome.  When you have one hundred sheep, and lose one, you use all your time, talent, and resources to find the one that is lost, not to nurture the ninety-nine that stayed home.  And when you lose a coin that’s worth an entire day’s wages, you don’t just keep counting the nine that you have, you expend all the effort that you can to find the one that you lost.  The people who were in the Temple and who worshipped in the synagogues weren’t lost.  The lost people that God wanted back were the people that had left the church and had left God’s family in one way or another. 

And as the Apostle Paul writes to his friend Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:12-17, he writes from the perspective of a person who was once lost, but has been found, welcomed, and redeemed.  Paul says…

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Too often our churches are so laser-focused on the chaplaincy of our church, which is the mission of caring for the day to day needs of the congregation, that they completely ignore, and sometimes are downright unwelcoming, to the lost people that God wants to rescue.  How often do we hear stories or jokes about people who felt unwelcome because they visited a church and accidentally sat in the spot that Mrs. So-and-so had sat in for sixty-three years?  Or folks who were angrily stared at because they wore the wrong kind of clothes?  Or had the wrong color skin?  Or belonged to the wrong political party?  Or were shown the door because they were divorced or remarried?  Or were single parents?  Or drank too much, or smoked, or swore, or… well, you get the idea.

When God condemned Israel in the story we read from Jeremiah, his condemnation wasn’t for any of those things.  God’s condemnation was for the church people who forgot how to do good and couldn’t stop doing evil.  Instead, what Jesus is trying to teach us is that the people we need to spend our time, talent, and resources on, are those lost children that we so easily overlook or condemn because they don’t go to our church, or don’t look like us, or talk like us, or vote like us, or move in the same social circles as us.

Bear in mind that Jesus never told sinners that it was okay to keep on sinning.  But Jesus most certainly did say that sinners should always be made to feel welcome in his house so that they could hear… and feel, the message of love, rescue, and transformation that is contained in the gospel message.  Our mission isn’t to keep out the riffraff.  Our mission is to save the lost, to welcome the riffraff, the outsiders, and the outcasts so that we can be agents of rescue, restoration, and reconciliation.

But in order to accomplish our mission, in order for us to do what Jesus has called us to do, requires us to do what Jesus did.

And that… is to make sure that sinners are welcome.


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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.

Do You Need a “Do Over”?

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Do You Need a “Do Over”?

September 04, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 18:1-11                   Luke 14:25-33                        Philemon 1-21

Have you ever had a chance to have a “do over”?

In the 1991 movie “City Slickers” starring Billy Crystal (as Mitch), four friends decide to get away from the city, and get away from their problems for a few weeks by going out west and joining a cattle drive.  One of the four friends, Phil, has a crisis because he had been caught cheating on his wife and was, to his mind, about to lose everything that he valued and one evening Phil breaks down in tears by the campfire.  Mitch pats Phil’s back and attempts to comfort him saying:

“Hey Phil, come on Philly… It’s OK man, it’s not that bad…”

To which Phil replies, “My life is over! I’m almost 40 years old, and I’m at the end of my life!”

Mitch tries to get Phil’s attention saying, “Phil, hey.” And when Phil looks up, he continues with this:

“You remember when we were kids, and we were playing ball, and we hit the ball over the fence out of bounds, and we yelled, DO OVER? Your life is a do over. You’ve got a clean slate.”

Phil’s life was a do-over.  At 40 years old he was going to start over again and build a new life.  I’m certain that resonates with some of the people in this room, and certainly most of us have family or friends that have lived through divorce, or separation, the death of a spouse, the loss of parents, unemployment, and other situations that led to similar restarts, or do-overs in their lives.  But while naming this sort of situation as a “do-over” might be new, the idea of starting over due to a crisis certainly isn’t.  In Jeremiah 18:1-11 we hear these words:

18:1 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2“Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so, the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel. If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it.

11 “Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So, turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions.’

At the command of God, Jeremiah goes to the potter’s house and watches as he spins clay on his wheel and begins to form a pot.  But some imperfection marred that pot.  Sometimes a tiny pebble remains undiscovered in the clay and, as it spins on the potter’s wheel, the pebble rises to the surface, catches on the potter’s hands, and carves a groove in the clay, or worse.  But when that happened, the potter simply declares that the pot is a do-over, crushes it back into a shapeless lump, starts over, and begins to form something new.

And God says that this is what he intends to do with the nation of Israel.  Things are not going well.  God has warned them to repent of their evil and they have not, and so God is going to declare a do-over, he is going to allow disaster to befall them, to crush them back into a lump, start over, and build something new with the lives of each person and with Israel as a nation.  God intends to reshape his people into something new, something good, faithful, righteous, and beautiful.

Most often, do-overs are avoidable.  God had warned the nation of Israel more than once about the evil that they were doing and had commanded them to repent.  If they had listened to the warning of God and his prophets, if they had followed the commands of God that were contained in his scriptures, then the do-over, and all the pain that went with it, could have been avoided.  And that’s exactly the point of the illustrations that Jesus uses in the story of Luke 14:25-33 where we hear this story:

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 26“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. 27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it? 29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

The reason that Jesus’ illustrations in this story stand out for us today is because of how these stories stand out in contrast to what we just read in Jeremiah.  When we hear Jesus say that someone would consider the cost of building a tower before they started construction, we all think, “Well of course they would.”  And when he describes a king as considering the strength of his army in comparison to the strength of the army that opposes him, we think, “That seems natural and reasonable.”  But although the stakes were astronomically higher, what we saw in Jeremiah was that no one took the time to consider the cost before wandering away from God.  The stakes of their decision were a complete do-over, a total disaster, a complete destruction and restart of their nation, but no one was interested in considering the cost, or in hearing God’s warnings, before it came time to pay the price of their decision.

And Jesus is warning his listeners, and us, of the same thing.  There is a cost of following Jesus.  We might lose relationships with family members, or friends, or coworkers if we choose to follow Jesus.  But, at the same time, there is a cost to not following Jesus just as there was in the time of Jeremiah.

If we want to see an example or two of what it might cost to follow Jesus, we can find them in the letter that the Apostle Paul wrote to a man by the name of Philemon 1-21.  In that letter, Paul writes to Philemon, a man that he knew who had come to faith through the ministry of Paul and his associates and had grown in faith by attending worship in Paul’s house church.  And, as he writes, Paul very publicly, asks Philemon to do something surprising.

Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother,

To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker— also to Apphia our sister and Archippus our fellow soldier—and to the church that meets in your home:

Grace and peace to you[plural] from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, 5because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people.

Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, 9yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus— 10 that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. 11 Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.

12 I am sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. 13 I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. 14 But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary. 15 Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back forever— 16 no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a fellow man and as a brother in the Lord.

17 So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. 18 If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me. 19 I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back—not to mention that you owe me your very self. 20 I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. 21 Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask.

As you may have surmised, Onesimus was a slave that belonged to Philemon but, for whatever reasons, was not a good and obedient slave and eventually ran away.  While Onesimus was on the run, he encountered Paul and began to voluntarily work with, rather than serve, Paul and his team.  We don’t know whether Paul and Onesimus knew one another from the same time that Paul knew Philemon, but we know that Onesimus’ character changed because of the time that he spent working alongside Paul, studying the scriptures, and ministering to others.  In time, Onesimus was convicted by God to return to his master regardless of the consequences and so Paul writes to Philemon and asks him to do the right thing.

For Onesimus, honoring God and honoring the law of Rome, meant returning to his master and risking that Philemon would treat him fairly.  The risk that he took in doing so was that his master would be angry and could treat him harshly, beat him, or even kill him.

For Philemon, honoring God and honoring his mentor and pastor, Paul, meant losing money and risking the condemnation of his peers and his community for freeing his misbehaving, law breaking slave.  The Roman world ran on a culture of law, honor, and patronage.  Philemon would, understandably, lose the money that he had invested in purchasing Onesimus, but in addition to that, while freeing a slave was certainly legal, and not at all uncommon, his peers may not have appreciated the example and precedent that Philemon would be setting, and their displeasure, as well as the potential displeasure of Philemon’s patrons, might cost him a great deal of business.

Both Onesimus and Philemon had a chance at a do-over.  They both had a chance to start their relationship with one another over again.  But starting over carried risks and rewards for both men.  The risks we already mentioned, but the rewards were that their new relationship, outside of slavery, would be more amicable, less hostile, more productive, more profitable, and, most importantly, closer to the will of God.

There is a cost to following Jesus.  But there is also a cost to not following Jesus.

Is it time for a do-over in your life that will bring you closer to God?

There will undoubtedly be costs that must be considered.

But as we saw in the story of Israel that we read in Jeremiah, the danger of not starting over is that sometimes God will do it for you.


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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.

The 80-20 Rule

The 80-20 Rule

Some years ago, when we were serving First United Methodist Church in Barnesville, Ohio, there was a Radio Shack store, inside of a pharmacy, just a block or so away from my office.  I didn’t shop there often, but for some projects it was handy to pick up needed supplies.  But suddenly, there were “Going Out of Business Sale” signs across the front of the store, along with a schedule of weekly discounts that began at 20 percent and ended around 70 or 80 percent when the store would close. 

I was a little sad that a store that I liked and found to be convenient, was going to close, even if I didn’t shop there as often as I might have liked.  But, in this case, I knew the owner.  And so, one day when I bumped into him, I asked him why he was closing the store and his answer was both sensible and simple.  He said that the Radio Shack part of the business consumed 80 percent of his time and effort but generated only 20 percent of his revenue.  Even worse, it occupied over 80 percent of the square footage of his store.  As a result, closing the Radio Shack and moving the pharmacy across the street to a smaller store, with lower rent, ended up saving him as much money as the Radio Shack franchise generated in income, while saving him 80 percent of his time and effort.

Of course, we aren’t running a pharmacy or a Radio Shack franchise, but there is a similar 80-20 rule that applies to churches and volunteer organizations everywhere.  That rule is that, in general, 80 percent of the work is done by 20 percent of the people.  Without doing the math, my feeling is that, at Christ Church, the percentage of our congregation that are “doing the work” is much higher than 20 percent, but our goal is always to do better.

This week our Staff Parish Relations Committee met to begin our Charge Conference paperwork, and our church committees have already begun discussing their budgets for next year as they also prepare for Charge Conference.  Soon, our Nominations and Leadership Development Committee will begin to meet, discuss, and nominate those who will lead and serve on the committees, missions, and ministries of Christ Church during 2023.  I hope that, even now, you will begin to think and pray about how you can be a part of what we are doing for the kingdom of God together.

Why?  Simply because we need you.  You have thoughts, ideas, skills, talents, knowledge, and abilities that no one else has.  Your suggestions, and your help, can and will take us places that we could not go without you.  If you aren’t one of those “20 percent” that are already doing six things, I hope that you will consider where you might “plug in” next year.  I hope, that as our nominating committee begins to meet, that you might consider saying “yes” to positions that they might ask you about, or be prepared to say “no, but” and suggest some other place that you feel is more suitable and better matches your skills.  I hope that you will not sit on the sidelines and wonder “Why doesn’t my church do that other thing?” when you might just be the first person to think about it, and your suggestion might just be the catalyst for launching something new that benefits our community or helps our church to grow.

Jesus didn’t call 20 percent of his disciples to do 80 percent of the work, and he doesn’t do that now either.  Jesus calls upon all of us are to do the work of the church and the work of God’s kingdom.  Certainly, he is not calling everyone to serve on a committee, but if not, I hope that you will think about, and pray about, where God might be calling you to serve.

Blessings,

Pastor John


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Trading Gold for Beans

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Trading Gold for Beans

August 28, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 2:4-13                     Luke 14:1, 7-14                      Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

In the story of Jack and the Beanstalk, the hero, a young boy named Jack is sent to the market, by his mother, to sell their cow that has stopped giving milk.  On the way to town, Jack is convinced to sell the family cow, not for gold, but for three magical beans.  On the surface, at least in the story, Jack has made a terrible bargain and has been fleeced and bamboozled by the bean dealer.  But again, in the story, it turns out that the beans really are magical and offer Jack a pathway to his adventure in the kingdom of the Giant and his golden goose.

But what happens in reality?  How often do hucksters and scoundrels convince our elderly to buy the modern equivalent of magic beans and rob them of their retirement funds?  How often do unscrupulous investment advisors line their pockets at the expense of unwise or overly trusting investors?  Or how often do we see internet pop-up ads selling products that just seem too good to be true?  It seems that too often, trusting people are hoodwinked into selling their gold in exchange for piles of worthless beans that aren’t even magical.

And curiously, that is what is at the root of God’s accusation against his people that we find in Jeremiah 2:4-13.  God says that his people have walked away from him and abandoned the gold that he had in exchange for worthless piles of beans.  Jeremiah said…

Hear the word of the Lord, you descendants of Jacob, all you clans of Israel.

This is what the Lord says:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me, that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt
and led us through the barren wilderness, through a land of deserts and ravines,
a land of drought and utter darkness, a land where no one travels and no one lives?’
I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce.
But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable.
The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me.
The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols.

“Therefore I bring charges against you again,” declares the Lord.
    “And I will bring charges against your children’s children.
10 Cross over to the coasts of Cyprus and look, send to Kedar and observe closely;
    see if there has ever been anything like this:
11 Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.)
But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols.
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me, the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

God wonders why his people started to drift.  The ancestors of Israel began to stray from God, followed worthless idols and never thought to ask what happened to the God and to the faith that led them across deserts and through the Red Sea.  God gave them an incredible inheritance that they could enjoy and pass on their children, but the people defiled the land and ruined it.  The priests never stopped to ask what happened to God, the theologians and the church leaders either didn’t know God at all or actively rebelled against him and the prophets of Israel sold out to what was popular and prophesied for Baal instead.

God tells his people that they are free to look anywhere they want and try to find another country that has abandoned their gods and they won’t find any even though the gods of other countries are no more than stone statues.  God is appalled and heaven in horrified.  God’s people have traded rivers of life-giving water for broken, leaking, clay pools of foul, stagnant, green water.

They traded piles of gold for a handful of ordinary beans.

In a similar lesson found in Luke 14:1, 7-14, Jesus shares a story that tells us how we tell the difference between gold and beans as we go about the busyness of our daily lives.  Luke says…

14:1 One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched.

When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Our lives are filled with opportunities to collect wealth for ourselves.  Some of those opportunities allow us to store up gold, and others cause us to expend our time and our energy and end the day with little more than a handful of beans.  Jesus says that you do not gain from what you take, you gain from what you are given, and by what you give.  Throwing a party and inviting a house full of influential friends, who will, later, invite you back, gains you nothing.  Money, power, and influence will evaporate before your casket closes.  But offering a banquet to the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and for those who are unable to care for themselves, that deposits gold into your account in God’s heavenly treasury.

Similarly, the writer of Hebrews offers us a list of things that we do in life that earn us gold rather than beans.  In Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16, he says:

13:1 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,

“Never will I leave you;
    never will I forsake you.”

So we say with confidence,

“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?”

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Without specifically calling out bankers, or businesspeople, or farmers, or anyone else who work to earn an income, the writer of Hebrews tell us that some activities are better, in the eyes of God, than others.  Loving the people around you, and not just family members, is a good thing.  Inviting strangers into your home because they need a place to stay, is a good thing.  Caring for people who are in prison and people who are mistreated, as if you were suffering alongside of them, is a good thing.  Honoring your marriage and staying true to that one person to whom you are married, is a good thing and so is insulating yourself from greed and envy simply by being content with what you already have.

And one of the best reasons we have, to be content with what we have, is that what we have… is a God who loves us, cares for us, and will never leave us or abandon us.  What we have is a loving God who is constantly beside us to give us strength, encouragement, patience, and comfort so that we can rest in his care and not worry about what our bosses, our bullies, or anyone else can do to us.

We are also encouraged to remember the pastors and people of our past who taught us the word of God and modeled the Christian life for us.  Think about how their lives influenced others, how their faithfulness was a blessing to others, and how their every day lives made the lives of others easier, better, more fulfilling, and sometimes even made the difference in their survival.  Let us remember those people, imitate their faith, and thereby live a life that is pleasing to God and to Jesus Christ.  Don’t just give the occasional gift of cash, give sacrificially, not of cash, but give sacrificially of your praise to God.  Live your life in such a way that you do good for the people around you and share what you have with others rather than hoarding it all for yourself.  God knows that sometimes your giving is a sacrifice, but it is with these sacrifices that God is pleased.

Our culture constantly bombards us with offers to trade our gold for a handful of completely unremarkable, non-magical, ordinary beans.  Our culture worships money, power, greed, influence, sex, the accumulation of possessions, politics, and all sorts of other idols.  We are tempted to run for the front of the line, to grab the best seats, and inflate our own importance.  But in God’s equation, we gain not by what we take, but by what we give.  We gain when we care for those who have no one to care for them.  We gain when we share what we have with those who have less than we do, or who have none of what we have.  We gain when we do good for people who may never be able to do good to us in return and give to those who cannot afford to repay us.

Our culture urges us to keep what we have and to build bigger barns, and bigger houses, to store even more of our abundance.  But God says that we store up real treasure when we swim against the current of our culture, when we love one another, when we welcome the stranger, care for those in prison, soothe the wounds of the mistreated, remain faithful to our spouses, and insulate ourselves from greed and envy by remaining content with what we have.

Our culture surrounds us with voices that shout louder every day and encourage us to get with the program and trade our gold for worthless beans.

Don’t fall for it.

There are no magic beans.

There is no beanstalk and no giant.

There is no golden goose.

But there is a loving God who is waiting to reward us with the gold that we have stored up for ourselves in the vaults, storehouses, and the treasury of heaven.

Don’t let our culture steal your eternity.


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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 Rule Breaking God

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A Rule Breaking God

August 21, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Jeremiah 1:4-10                     Luke 13:10-17                        Hebrews 12:18-29

Several years ago, Drew Brees, the quarterback for the New Orleans Saints football franchise, appeared in a commercial for the Can Am Spyder, three wheeled motorcycle.  Because most football fans know that there is a standard rule in the contracts of NFL players that prohibits them from riding motorcycles, Brees, in the commercial, appears to be telling his agent that he has “found a loophole,” presumably because the Spyder has three wheels instead of two.  Unfortunately for him, his remark was only an act of marketing, because the NFL’s lawyers are better than that.  What appeared to be Drew Brees riding a Can Am Spyder in the commercial, is actually a stunt double.

Similarly, the NFL also has a rule that contracted players may not appear in beer commercials.  But recently, Patrick Mahomes, the quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs, found a way around that rule.  Mahomes appears in a commercial for Coors Light, but the commercial isn’t about beer, it’s for a flashlight that is shaped like a can of Coors Light.  The Coors company created a flashlight product that was sold, but is now sold out, and all the money was donated to charity.

Rules are funny things.  Sometimes we obey the written rules of the organizations that we work for, or participate in, other times we obey unwritten rules that everyone knows, but are not written down, sometimes we deliberately break rules that are stupid, and sometimes the people around us insist that we follow rules that aren’t even rules.  What do I mean by that?  I’ll explain in more detail shortly, but first, let’s look at the story of the prophet Jeremiah’s call from God found in Jeremiah 1:4-10.

The word of the Lord came to me, saying,

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
    before you were born, I set you apart;
    I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”

“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”

But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord.

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

God calls Jeremiah to carry his words to the people, the leaders, the power brokers, and even the king of Israel.  But calling Jeremiah to carry the words of God breaks all kinds of unwritten societal rules because although Jeremiah was born to a priestly family, he wasn’t a person of wealth, or power, or nobility, or influence.  In fact, Jeremiah wasn’t even a person of age, wisdom, or experience, because tradition and the language used to describe him holds that Jeremiah was as young as 12 years old and probably not older than twenty, he was only barely a legally recognized adult.  Jeremiah himself says that he is too young, that he is only a child, and he insists that he is unqualified because he doesn’t even know how to speak well. 

But God doesn’t accept any of Jeremiah’s excuses.

And God doesn’t follow any of the culture’s rules that say Jeremiah can’t, or shouldn’t, be his messenger.

You might have noticed that the difference between Drew Brees and Jeremiah is that while Mr. Brees was trying to find a way around well established, written, and contractual rules, the people of Israel had been busy writing rules about God that God never made.  God never said that he wouldn’t, or couldn’t, call a nobody to be his prophet.  God never said that you had to be at least 35 years old to be president, as our constitution does.  But although there are plenty of examples, other than Jeremiah, that God didn’t follow the rules that people like to make up about him, Israel and its leaders continue to make up rules about God, and about how to follow God, that God never made.  And, in Luke 13:10-17, we see Jesus run afoul of these same kinds of rules and rules-makers.

10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?”

17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.

For eighteen years the woman in the story had suffered from a crippling illness that was caused by a spirit.  She was bent and could not straighten herself in any way.  But when she met Jesus, he showed her mercy, healed her of her infirmity, and she walked out of the synagogue praising God, filled with joy, and upright for the first time in almost two decades.  But the rule makers, and the dedicated rule enforcers, declared that mercy, joy, thanksgiving, and glory to God were irrelevant and had to take second place to the rule that healing was defined, by them, as work and that work was prohibited on the sabbath.

Jesus… doesn’t care.  Rather than being repentant about breaking the rules of the synagogue leaders, Jesus attacks them for their hypocrisy.  They are willing to do the work of watering their animals on the sabbath, they are willing to do the work of letting their animals out of their barn stalls on the sabbath, but they condemn the rescue of a woman who has suffered for 18 years because that work is somehow different than their work.  The people who heard Jesus attack the synagogue leaders were delighted because they knew that sometimes the rules didn’t make any sense.  They knew that sometimes the rules didn’t match up with what they had learned about Israel’s loving God, and they were thrilled that they had finally met a teacher that made sense.

And any of us who have read the stories of the gospels know that Jesus was regularly accused by church leaders of breaking this rule, or that rule, or some other rule.  But Jesus never broke God’s rules.  Jesus was more than willing to break human rules that went too far, that overreached, that said things that God never said, and that put God in a box.  And that has been a battle that has been fought in the church in the Old Testament, in the stories of Jesus, and is still being fought today as we discern which of our church rules are rooted in God’s rules, and which rules have been made by well-meaning church people but do not reflect the heart, character, or will of God.

In a letter to a church of Jewish converts, the writer of Hebrews 12:18-29, reminds the people to remember what God is really like, to remember his character, his love, mercy, joy and to remember what our future life in his kingdom will be like.  He says:

18 You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; 19 to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, 20 because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” 21 The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

The writer of Hebrews says that God does not appear to us as the terrifying God that was seen by Moses, but instead as a God of joy, peace, and love whose kingdom is full of wonder, joy, and perfection.  And, although God is the judge of all humanity, because Jesus is the mediator of the new covenant, and because of his sacrifice and shed blood, we are already counted among the righteous and will one day be made perfect.  At the same time, we are warned not to turn away from Jesus Christ because he is the one who rescues us, and it is he who will shake both heaven and earth when he returns in judgement.  We must give thanks, and worship God because he is bringing a kingdom that cannot be upset, that cannot be overthrown, that cannot be disturbed, attacked, disrupted, and thrown into chaos, and that does not suffer from inflation, deflation, or divisive politics.

God didn’t follow the rules that humans thought he should follow when he called Jeremiah to be his messenger.  Jesus didn’t follow the rules that humans thought he should during his ministry because, although Jesus followed God’s rules, the leaders of his church, and human beings in general, kept trying to put God in a box and make rules about God that God never wanted.  We’re still doing that because sometimes it’s hard to discern exactly what God wants and what scripture means.  We’re doing the best we can, but we know that we’re not always going to get it right.  The good news is that God doesn’t judge us the way that humans judge one another.  God doesn’t follow the rules that humans think that he should follow.  Because we have chosen to follow Jesus Christ, God doesn’t condemn us because we involuntarily, accidentally, unknowingly, or unconsciously break his laws.  Instead, God paid our penalty with his own blood so that we could be made perfect and live with him in a kingdom that cannot be shaken.

Our God is a rule breaking God.

And that’s a good thing…

… for us.


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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.

What Grows in Your Garden?

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What Grows in Your Garden?

August 14, 2022*

By Pastor John Partridge

Isaiah 5:1-7                Luke 12:49-56                        Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2

Do any of you do any gardening?

If you attend here at Christ Church, you may know that we have a community garden on the other side of our parking lot.  Each Spring, with the help and support of our church trustees, we prepare our garden plots for planting and divide our various plots among those who are interested in using that space.  Sometimes, we are blessed to receive donated plants that we similarly divide amongst our gardeners. 

But if you’ve spent any time farming, growing vegetables, or flowers, you know that everything doesn’t always go according to plan.  Sometimes the free plants that we receive mature into something quite different than the label that arrived with them.  And buying your seed from trusted vendors does not always assure immunity from suffering from the same problem.  A year or two ago, Patti and I purchased seeds for spaghetti squash and while it was obvious that what grew was from that family of viny plants, those vines produced several different squash-like plants that mostly were not spaghetti squash.

Our gardeners also know that the row closest to the parking lot uses the same space used by the driveway of the house that once stood there.  That space is full of rocks and bricks, is almost impossible to rototill or dig, or plant and so we’ve covered it up with plastic and mulch rather than struggle to grow plants in soil that only wants to grow grass and weeds.

But our struggles in our community garden are not unique to us.  These kinds of problems have been shared from the time that human beings first began to cultivate crops.  And it is our familiarity with these sorts of problems that helps us to understand the illustration that God uses in his words to the nation of Israel in Isaiah 5:1-7.

5:1 I will sing for the one I love
    a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
    on a fertile hillside.
He dug it up and cleared it of stones
    and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
    and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
    but it yielded only bad fruit.

“Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
    judge between me and my vineyard.
What more could have been done for my vineyard
    than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
    why did it yield only bad?
Now I will tell you
    what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
    and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
    and it will be trampled.
I will make it a wasteland,
    neither pruned nor cultivated,
    and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
    not to rain on it.”

The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
    is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
    are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
    for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

The owner of the vineyard cleared the land, planted the best grape varieties available, cleared out all the stones, built walls to keep the vines from being trampled, added a watchtower so that a guard could oversee the entire area and, in anticipation of the crop that would one day come, he even carved a winepress out of stone to use at harvest time.  The owner of the vineyard worked hard in anticipation of a positive future result.  But regardless of his intent, his effort, his care, and his investment, the soil of his vineyard only produced terrible tasting grapes or grapes that were rotten, or moldy, or otherwise unusable.

And so, much like we covered the soil of our old driveway with plastic and mulch, God says that he is giving up on his vineyard.  He is going to tear down the walls, the watchtower, and the hedges and abandon the land and let it go wild and be used for local wildlife or not at all.  But the frightening part of the story is in hearing that the garden in Isaiah’s story is Israel and Judah.  God planted his people with care, effort, and investment but instead of growing a crop of justice and righteousness, harvested only violence, bloodshed, and distress and God says that he isn’t going to continue wasting his resources on bad fruit and poor soil.

But eight hundred years, and a lot of history later, God plants Jesus in that garden to shake things up and put things right.  And in Luke 12:49-56, Jesus says this:

49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! 50 But I have a baptism to undergo, and what constraint I am under until it is completed! 51 Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. 52 From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. 53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

54 He said to the crowd: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘It’s going to rain,’ and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, ‘It’s going to be hot,’ and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?

God plants Jesus as the Prince of Peace, but Jesus knows that his arrival will cause dissention and division, quarrels, separation, and violence.  People will not agree on who he is, or why he came, or how we ought to worship him.  But his coming, and the division that it causes, is a necessary part of repairing the damage to God’s vineyard so that it can grow a crop of justice and righteousness as he intended. 

Jesus continues by reminding the people that while they know how to read the signs of the weather, they know that a wind from the desert will bring warm air, and that a wind from the Mediterranean Sea will bring rain, they still pretend that they haven’t seen Jesus’ miracles or heard his teaching.  Jesus said things that no one else had said, and did things that no one else had done, and still people pretended that they couldn’t see the signs that God was showing to them. 

But what does all that mean to us?

What does God’s vineyard and Jesus’ lecture about reading the signs mean to this church, and this people, in this present time?

In Hebrews 11:29 – 12:2, Paul explains it this way:

29 By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.

30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the army had marched around them for seven days.

31 By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient.

32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35 Women received back their dead, raised to life again. There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. 36 Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted, and mistreated— 38 the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, 40 since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Paul reminds his churches that God has done all sorts of incredible miracles because of the faith of his people.  And not only were there extraordinary miracles, but there were also miracles that happened as a partnership between God and his faithful followers who fought enemies, decided court cases, were thrown into fires, fed to the lions, and all sorts of other things.  But there were others who were not rescued but were tortured to death, were beaten, flogged, ridiculed, imprisoned, and put to death in all sorts of terrible and ugly ways.  God’s people were sometimes poor and homeless despite their faithfulness. 

And regardless of whether God rescued them, or performed miracles for them, or if they were allowed to suffer, none of them, in this life, received the blessings that God had promised because what God has promised is a life that is better than anything imaginable on this earth.  One day all of us who have been followers of Jesus Christ and who have been faithful to God will, together with God, be a part of something better.  Every day, we are surrounded by those people of faith who came before us and they are watching us and cheering us onward so that we might throw off the sin that trips us up, remain faithful, and run this race with perseverance with our eyes locked only on Jesus.

In Luke’s story, we heard Jesus explain to us that not everyone is going to agree, or even like it, that we have chosen to follow him.  Following Jesus is a choice that will cause people to disagree and sever their relationships with us.  Following Jesus isn’t going to always bring peace and prosperity, but will sometimes make us unpopular, be tormented and ridiculed, get arrested, beaten, imprisoned, and worse.  But through it all, whatever life brings us, we must remain faithful and steadfast, with our eyes only on Jesus, and run our race with perseverance.

Because, at the end of the day, God is still planting a crop of justice and righteousness among his people and the question that God asks us is the same question he was asking the people of Israel in the time of Isaiah.

What’s growing in your garden?


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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.