Why Doesn’t God Answer Prayer?

 

Many of us find ourselves asking if prayer is real.  We pray for healing, or for new jobs, or for other things, and God doesn’t seem to do anything at all.  But then again, God isn’t a genie in a lamp from whom we can demand wishes.  Although this is just a short clip, I think that it answers, at least in part, a question that a lot of us ask.

‘Go’ for Launch

‘Go’ for Launch

March 25, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Mark 11:1-11                         Zechariah 9:9-10

 

How many of you have ever watched the launch of a Saturn V rocket from the Apollo program, or a Space Shuttle, an Atlas, a SpaceX Falcon 9 or any other rocket? The entire countdown can take days, and that doesn’t include all of the construction and preparation that happened before the rocket ever made it to the launch pad.  But near the end, just before the final countdown, the Launch Director takes a poll of all the stations that are monitoring the launch.  And as you listen, you can hear him name every single position, and before the launch can proceed, each of them must answer that they are ‘Go’ for launch.  If even one of them fails to answer in the affirmative, then the launch cannot proceed.  Everything must be ready.  Every detail must be exactly as it should be.

 

We understand that.  Once, during the Space Shuttle program, one station operator reported that they were not “Go” for launch and the Launch Director chose to proceed anyway.  That station operator was reporting that the temperatures at the launch pad were below the required operating temperatures of the spacecraft.  And when the launch director followed the instructions of his superiors and ignored the “No Go” from that station operator, he doomed the entire crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger.

 

Rockets are powerful and dangerous.  Millions, even billions of dollars of investment and years, sometimes decades of work are on the line.  If even one thing goes wrong, everything the teams have worked for could be ruined.  There is no room for error.

 

But that is exactly what we witness as we read the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem in

Mark 11:1-11.  God has been preparing humanity for this moment for thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of years.  Lives, governments, nations, and even empires had been pulled, prodded, guided, lifted up, brought down, created, and destroyed, to bring everything into readiness for what we now call Holy Week.  And in this passage of scripture, we can see Jesus checking off the last boxes of the launch poll.

 

11:1 As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage and Bethany at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and just as you enter it, you will find a colt tied there, which no one has ever ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here shortly.’”

They went and found a colt outside in the street, tied at a doorway. As they untied it, some people standing there asked, “What are you doing, untying that colt?” They answered as Jesus had told them to, and the people let them go. When they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks over it, he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others spread branches they had cut in the fields. Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted,

“Hosanna!” [Hosanna means “save us”]

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

10 “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and went into the temple courts. He looked around at everything, but since it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the Twelve.

 

Jesus sends two disciples ahead to acquire a donkey with which to ride upon during his entrance into the holy city of Jerusalem and tells them that if anyone asks why they are taking it, to simply tell them that “the Lord needs it” and will return it shortly.  That phrase, “The Lord needs it” can also be translated as “The master has need of it” but in either case we are left with only two options.  Either Jesus had somehow, made arrangements in advance for that donkey to be there and the disciples simply needed to arrive and confirm that they were picking it up for him, or Jesus knew that the donkey was there, and that this answer would satisfy those witnesses, all while he was still miles away from that place.  But whichever possibility you think is true, it enables Jesus to arrive in the city in the same manner that the kings of Israel had done throughout history and also allows him to check off another item on that pre-launch checklist.  We know that many of the things that Jesus did were a fulfillment of the prophecies contained in the Old Testament, and this is no exception.  I think that you will find that this passage from Zechariah 9:9-10 will sound remarkably similar to the story of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem

 

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!  Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.  10 I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the warhorses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.

 

The people along the road knew who Jesus was.  They had heard of the things that he had done.  They had witnessed his miracles.  They had listened to him preach.  But they were expecting a military and a political leader.  They were looking for a government that would save them instead of a God who loved them.  Today they praised him, but within the week, as they realized that Jesus had no intention of taking over the government, they would turn on him, betray him, and hand him over to the chief priests and the Roman army.

 

As Jesus enters into the city of Jerusalem, and as he, and his disciples, draw closer to the climax of the story next week at Easter, Jesus will continually fulfill the promises of God and the prophecies of the Old Testament.

 

The impossible becomes possible.

 

What was seen in visions and dreams becomes reality.

 

What was foretold as the future becomes the present.

 

God’s promise is kept.

 

Israel’s hope becomes truth.

 

The hope of future generations unfolds like a flower opening in the spring.

 

The launch poll has been completed.  All is in readiness.  All systems are “Go.”

 

There is no room for error.

 

The rescue of all humanity is beginning in 10… 9… 8…7…

 

 

_________

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

 

Unmet Expectations

“Unmet Expectations”

September 24, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Exodus 16:1-15              Philippians 1:21-30                     Matthew 20:1-16

 

 

Have you ever made a choice and been disappointed with the way that things turned out?

 

Sure you have.

 

We’ve all bought something that turned out to be much less than was advertised, or that broke when it was almost new.  I have a belt clip that holds my cell phone.  After almost a year of good service, it broke.  The good news is that it was still under warranty and the company gave me a new one.  And that one broke only a week after I got it.

 

The Cleveland Browns seem to have a real knack for disappointing draft picks.  The Canton Repository recently ran an article whose title included the phrase “Seven straight years of broken first rounds” and if you enter “Browns” and “Draft Picks” in your internet search engine, you will find lists with titles like “12 worst first round draft picks” and “Brown’s long, sad history of failed draft picks.” As we have all experienced, sometimes life doesn’t turn out the way that we expected and sometimes our choices don’t lead us to the future that we thought they would, or our progress in that direction seems to be much slower than we expected it to be.

 

That is exactly where we find the people of Israel in the story of the Exodus as we rejoin them in Exodus 16:1-15.  Israel has escaped captivity, fled across the desert, been pursued by the Egyptian army, crossed the Red Sea on dry land, and watched some of Egypt’s most elite soldiers drown as God returned the sea to its place.  But then, boredom strikes.  The journey to the Promised Land was not a short one and to many people it was taking too long.  They were too hot.  They didn’t have as much food as they thought they would have.  Things weren’t going the way they expected, as fast as they had expected them to go.  And so, as people will do, they began to complain…

 

The whole Israelite community set out from Elim and came to the Desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had come out of Egypt. In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”

So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of Egypt, and in the morning you will see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we, that you should grumble against us?” Moses also said, “You will know that it was the Lord when he gives you meat to eat in the evening and all the bread you want in the morning, because he has heard your grumbling against him. Who are we? You are not grumbling against us, but against the Lord.”

Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”

10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.

11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.

Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat. 

 

In that passage, we hear the word “grumble,” “grumbled,” or “grumbling” at least seven times.  Since a Jewish month is either 29 or 30 days, depending on exactly when they started, we know that the people of Israel were traveling for between a month, to a month and a half.  And after all of that travelling, they found themselves in a desert.  Undoubtedly, people who were accustomed to herding sheep and goats for a living would be distressed at living in the wilderness and having a hard time finding food for their flocks.  Likewise, people who were accustomed to being fed by the Egyptians were painfully unfamiliar with having to forage for food and they probably didn’t care much for living in tents, if there were any, and sleeping out under the stars for more than a month.  But if you remember, the important point that we heard after the events at the Red Sea was that the people of Israel “put their trust in God.”

 

Clearly, the people of Israel have some unmet expectations.  Life isn’t turning out the way they thought it would.

 

But all of this impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.

 

And we see something very similar in a parable that Jesus told in Matthew 20:1-16.

 

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

“About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’

“‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered.

“He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’

“The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

13 “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

16 “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

 

It is helpful for us, some two thousand years later, to understand that a denarius was the accepted rate of pay for approximately one day’s worth of work.  Naturally, an employer could pay more or less than that based on his or her generosity or upon the skill and experience of the employee.  Today, our minimum wage is a bit over $8 per hour so for a full day of ten to twelve hours someone would make in the neighborhood of $100.  With that in mind, let’s think about the story.  The employer has a need for short-term employees to bring in his harvest and so, probably at dawn, he goes to the public square where people who want to work gather and where employees and employers often meet.  There, he hires everyone that he can find and agrees to pay them $100 for the day.  He does the same at 9 o’clock, again at noon, again at three, and still again, even at five when the day was nearly over.  As the sun begins to set everyone lines up behind the paymaster and expects to be paid but the land owner has them line up in reverse order of the way that they were hired to that the guys who only worked a few hours are at the head of the line.  These men, despite being hired at the end of the work day, are paid $100 and the guys that worked since sunrise begin to expect that they are going to be paid very well since they worked ten times as much, but when their turn comes they get… $100.

 

And again the word that we hear is “grumble”.

 

Clearly, they have unmet expectations.

 

Life didn’t turn out the way that they expected.  And they are angry.

 

But the owner explains that he paid them exactly the wage that they all agreed upon.  They worked for a day and got paid a day’s wages.  The landowner explains that if he chooses to be generous to the people who worked for less than a day, he has done nothing wrong and has still kept his word to the people who worked all day.

 

And so, before we finish, let’s take a look at Philippians 1:21-30, where Paul says…

 

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, 30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

 

What Paul is saying, is that as long as we live, we do so because God has a purpose for us and work for us to do.  But in all things, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to behave in a way that is worthy of the Gospel that we have been given.  We must strive to stay together, to stand together, and work together, without being frightened of those who oppose the mission of Jesus Christ and the work that we are doing on his behalf.  But along the way, Paul warns us that we are likely to suffer for the cause of Jesus Christ.  We are not immune from struggle and pain simply because we have chosen to follow Jesus.

 

Even though we follow Jesus, life might not turn out like we expect it to.  Life might be harder than we thought it would be.  We might have more pain, and more suffering, and more discomfort than we thought we would have.

 

We will most likely have some unmet expectations.

But impatience and complaining doesn’t look like trust.

 

And crowds of people grumbling about their God’s generosity don’t either.

 

Paul said, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

 

Even if life doesn’t turn out like we thought it would…

 

Even if we have unmet expectations

 

God still expects us to act as if we are grateful for the things that he has done for us.

 

God has given us everything that he promised that he would.  And even if we sometimes feel like we have the luck of a Cleveland Browns draft pick…

 

We are called to behave like people who are worthy of the gifts that we have been given.

 

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

 

Building for Builders that Build

blueprint hardhat“Building for Builders that Build”

May 21, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 7:55-60

John 14:1-14

1 Peter 2:2-10

 

 

Jesus rose from the dead and ascended into heaven.  But then what?

 

What has be been doing since then?

 

Have you ever planned a major event?

 

It could be anything from a backyard neighborhood barbeque, a wedding, a family vacation trip, or a great many other things.  If you have, you might begin to appreciate how much planning and preparation are required from the time you have an idea until you finish cleaning up after your big event.  Weeks, months, sometimes years of planning are required depending on the size of the event.  For example, the invasion of Europe on D-Day was anticipated much earlier than many of us appreciate.  Long before the invasion in 1944, the wheels had been set in motion to bring everything that was needed to that place and time so that it was ready when it was needed.  Consider for a moment how much planning went into the human beings that were there that day, how many months and years of recruiting, training, purchasing uniforms and other equipment went into preparing the soldiers, marines, sailors, aircrews, glider crews, and so on.

 

But let’s also take a moment to consider how they all got across the English Channel.  The ships that would be needed to invade Europe were conceived and designed as early as 1930, almost a decade and a half earlier, and construction began soon after.  By 1940 landing craft of various types were being manufactured in several countries.  In the United States alone these ships were being produced at a rate of over 1,000 ships per month.  At one point, very near the time of the invasion, the entire effort was postponed by a month or more because there were not yet enough landing craft to carry the troops needed for the invasion.

 

The planning and preparation for this one day began at least fourteen years in advance in order for all the needed people, skills, equipment, and supplies would be where they needed to be, when they needed to be there.  In that time, countless hours and untold billions of dollars were spent in factories, mines, office buildings, highways, and aboard ship by people around the world.  All that, planned and coordinated by only a handful of people and a truly global chain of command.  All that, to prepare for one war, on one continent, and especially for one day, June 6, 1944.

 

But as we consider all the planning and preparation that went into D-Day, what does that tell us about events that are even bigger?  How much did it take to build the Suez Canal?  We know that the construction of the Panama Canal was attempted at least once before the United States finally pulled it off and it still took fourteen years, in addition to the fourteen years that the French had worked on the project before that.  Between the French and the Americans, the Panama Canal cost in the neighborhood of $700 million, which if spent today, would be in the neighborhood of $17 billion.

 

So what’s the point of all this?

 

As we consider the planning and preparation of such historic endeavors, imagine for a moment what must go into preparing for the return of Jesus Christ, the judgement of the entire world, the arrival of the new Jerusalem, and the coordination and housing of billions of believers in the city of God.

 

But before we get to all of that, let’s lay out some background from Acts 7:55-60.

 

55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

 

After the resurrection of Jesus, Stephen is given a vision in which he sees Jesus, in heaven, standing beside the throne of God.  The announcement of this vision, as well as the speech that he had given immediately prior, so enraged the members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, that they dragged him outside and stoned him to death.  But from this, we confirm that after his departure from earth that Jesus is in heaven, and rules alongside Almighty God.

 

We also know, from his words recorded in John 14:1-14, that Jesus has work to do while he is there.

 

14:1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

 

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. 11 Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. 13 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

 

In the time of Jesus, homes were often built by the patriarch of the family and then, as children arrived, rooms were added onto the side of the house.  When the sons were old enough to get married, they too would build a room for themselves and their new wives, attached to the family house.  And then their sons did the same.  When we hear the story about the bride lighting a lamp as she awaited her bridegroom, this is the picture that people would have had in their minds.  The bridegroom had left, returned to his father’s house, and was building a room for his future family.  When he had completed the new room, the groom would return to collect his bride and the wedding went forward.  And so, when Jesus says that he is returning to his father’s house to prepare a place for us, this is almost certainly the mental picture that people would have had.

 

Now imagine the difficulty found in that simple statement.

 

Jesus has gone to prepare rooms, in his father’s house, for the untold millions of believers throughout history.  Granted, this is the creator of the universe, but also consider the preparation that is required here on earth.  It took thousands of years to prepare people, nations, and cultures for the moment of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, and the events surrounding his life, death, and resurrection.  So I can easily imagine that the same preparations for the end of the world and the second coming are no easy task that can be arranged in an instant of time.

 

But also note that Jesus says, “12 Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”

 

God empowered Jesus to do the work of building his Kingdom.  But as Jesus returns to heaven he assigns that work to each one of us.  Think about that.  Our assignment, our task, our job, is nothing less than the job that was given to Jesus.  Our job is to reach the wanderer, rescue the perishing, feed the hungry, heal the sick, clothe the naked, preach the Good News, make disciples of all nations, and build God’s kingdom.

 

Before we finish, I want to reinforce that point one more time.  In 1 Peter 2:2-10, Peter explains who we are and why we do what we do, one more time.

 

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says:

“See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”and,

“A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

Peter says that believers are like newborn babies that need to be fed so that they can grow.  In order to grow, they need to eat.  In order to eat, they need to be fed.  All of that seems simple, but it reminds us of several important truths.  First, we all start somewhere and where we start, we are like babies.  We’re immature, we get things wrong, we do things wrong even when we’re trying hard, and there are a lot of things that we can’t do for ourselves.  But those babies need to be fed and more mature believers are expected to help feed them while also taking responsibility to feed themselves.  A high school kid who still wants to sit on his momma’s lap and be fed with a bottle would be ridiculous, and the same is true of Christians.  Mature believers should be expected to make an effort to feed themselves and not need everything spoon-fed to them.  Each of us becomes responsible for our own maturity, and so each of us likewise becomes responsible for studying the scriptures, being fed spiritually, and continuing to grow.  Peter says that the expectation is that we would all grow up in our salvation.

 

As we come to Jesus, he takes us, as if we were living stones, and he is building us into a spiritual house.  He desires for us to be, and is building us into, a holy priesthood that can offer spiritual sacrifices to God.  Peter says that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession” but he doesn’t stop there.  Peter says that we “are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possessionso thatyou may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  We have been called to serve God and to declare to the world the praises of what he has done for us.  We are called to be witnesses, disciples, evangelists, so that we can build God’s kingdom.

 

So let’s review:

Let’s review.

 

Jesus was born in Bethlehem.

 

He learned a trade from his father Joseph and became a carpenter or a stonemason.

 

Jesus was a builder.

 

He was sent to earth by God to build God’s kingdom.

 

He ascended into heaven where he is, even now, building a place for each one of us.

 

He has called each of us to take up the task on earth that he left behind.

 

We have become the builders.

 

We are now responsible for building God’s kingdom.

 

And so Jesus is a builder, who is building buildings for builders who build.

 

Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

 

And so, as we leave this place today I want us all to remember the task that Jesus has given to us.

 

Go out into the world, and build people, build them up, build up families, build up communities, help them to grow, help them to become mature spiritually and not just physically.  Tell people what God has done for you.  Tell people about the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 

Go.

 

Build God’s kingdom.

 

 

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

 

Immigration and the Church

Immigrants with Statue of LibertyWhat should we do with immigrants?

What is the right thing to do?

Does the Bible offer any help or insight into this problem at all?

With all the press and politics surrounding the issue of immigration, regardless of our personal feelings, we often wonder what the Bible can tell us about how the church ought to approach the subject.  We might also simply wonder if the Bible has anything to say about immigration at all.

It does. 

The position of the Bible is clear and consistent through both the Old and New Testaments.

Its teaching begins early.  In Deuteronomy 26:4-6, Abraham is described as a “Wandering Aramean” and the people of Israel were commanded to remember it whenever they brought a sacrifice to the Tabernacle.

The priest shall take the basket from your hands and set it down in front of the altar of the Lord your God. Then you shall declare before the Lord your God: “My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous. But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, subjecting us to harsh labor.

God’s instruction to his people included this instruction so that even generations later, long after they had settled and built houses and cities in the Promised Land, they would remember who they used to be.  God built this into their regular system of worship so that his people would remember that their forefather was an immigrant and they themselves used to be a nation of immigrants, nomads, and wanderers.

Thousands of years later, the writer of Hebrews echoes that same message saying, 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.

13 All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. 14 People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (Hebrews 11:12-14)

This reminds the people of God that all of us are only passing through this life and that we are fellow travelers as we pass between life and death.   This entire existence is only a temporary stopping point on grand journey through eternity.  Throughout scripture, we are reminded that in God’s eyes we are all foreigners and strangers.

In Hebrews 13:2, the instruction is even more specific saying, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”

But in Ephesians 2:18-20, Paul challenges us in another way with these words:

18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Here, Paul says that not only were all of us foreigners and strangers in the eyes of God, the thing that made us belong to each other wasn’t ever our citizenship in any particular nation.  Instead, what makes us citizens, what makes us belong, what gives us a home, regardless of where we were born, what language we speak, or where we live, is our faith in Jesus Christ.

When we grapple with scripture, we begin to understand the larger picture regarding immigration.  Certainly, there is room for differing opinions about the policies of the United States, or the State of Ohio.  But we realize that no matter what policies we support, those policies absolutely must include treating foreigners and strangers the way that we would hope to be treated if our positions were reversed.  We are called to remember that our forebearers, and all of us, were once wanderers, strangers, and foreigners.  As so, as we meet the people who carry those labels today, we are called, by God, to treat them with humility, hospitality, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and love.

 

 

 

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When There Are No Words

blue-christmas1“When There Are No Words”

Blue Christmas Service

December 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

This isn’t really a Christmas story.  But it is a story about how God met me at a time when I had no idea what to do next.

In 2001 I was working for Lectrotherm, a company near the Akron-Canton airport that manufactured, and remanufactured, induction melting equipment for the molten metals industry.  We made furnaces that melted steel for companies like Navistar, John Deere, and other companies in the Fortune 500 as well as tiny little places that you’ve never heard of.  I was an electrical engineer doing work that I liked and I thought I had a career that would keep me interested and well employed until retirement.  But one day I was called into the boss’s office where I met with him and with the director of Human Resources, and was given an hour to clean out my office and leave the building.  My termination was totally unexpected.  They attempted to say that it was performance related, but since I hadn’t had an employee review in over 18 months, and that one was more than satisfactory, they really didn’t have a reason at all.  Only much later did I find that I was only the first of many, as the company struggled with financial problems that would ultimately end in its bankruptcy.

I felt as if the rug had been pulled out from under me.  I had no idea what to do next.  I remember sitting on our front porch trying to pray and finding nothing to say.  I couldn’t form sentences.  There were no words.  And so I just sat on the steps and groaned and cried out to God.

Sometimes we don’t have words.  And that’s okay because God understands our thoughts anyway.  In Exodus 2:23-24, we hear a story of how God heard the groans of his people:

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God.  God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.

And in Judges 2:18 we hear: Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord relented because of their groaning under those who oppressed and afflicted them.

God hears our prayers, even when all that comes out of our mouths are groans and weeping.

For me, what followed was two years of unemployment.  As I looked for a job in what was supposed to be a good economy and a solid job market, I had nothing.  Hardly a nibble and only one or two unsuccessful interviews.  But, at the same time, with the help of my pastor I was exploring something different.

I wondered why.

I was active in my church.  We gave.  We volunteered.  We had leadership positions in the church.  And still, nothing.  I wondered why I lost my job, why I was unemployed, why I couldn’t find work, why God had allowed this to happen.  And God didn’t give me any easy answers.  And so, I began to read scripture as I had never done before.  I read books that my pastor recommended, and I struggled to discover, not only why I was unemployed, but if, somewhere in my pain, God had a bigger plan.  I wondered if God had allowed this to happen because he wanted to tell me something, or because he wanted me to change directions, and if so, where, and to what.

The answers weren’t easy.  My prayers sometimes seemed to go nowhere.

Job once felt as if his prayer to heaven just bounced off.  In Job 37:17-19 we hear these words:

17 You who swelter in your clothes when the land lies hushed under the south wind,
18 can you join him in spreading out the skies, hard as a mirror of cast bronze?

19 “Tell us what we should say to him; we cannot draw up our case because of our darkness.

For Job it felt as if the skies were as hard as a mirror of cast bronze and his prayers just bounced off.  And even if they got through, he had no idea what he would say to God or how to make his case.

But we know that God heard him anyway, even when if felt like he didn’t.  We know that behind the scenes, God knew Job’s character, that God knew the future, and that God had a plan.  It took a long time, but eventually Job began to see a small part of God’s plan and, over time, God restored to Job all the things that had been taken from him.  For me, after a lot of time, and prayer, and pain, and confusion, and struggle, it began to seem as if God had a new plan for my life.  And as I began to explore that possibility, things began to get better; it seemed less and less like I was swimming upstream fighting the current and began to feel, more and more like I was going with the flow, and a part of God’s plan.  That exploration has led me here, as a pastor and no longer as an engineer.  I am certain that, for now, this is where God has led me, but I am still keenly aware that this might not be permanent.  At some point, should God have a new and different plan for my life, someday I could pivot and start doing something else.

My life has been nothing like Job’s, but I learned a lesson that was similar to something that Job saw.  Even when it seemed that God was far away, even when I had no words, even when everything seemed to be confused and senseless, even then God was a part of my life.  Even then God had a plan and a purpose and was taking me, leading me somewhere.

No matter where you are in your journey, I hope that you will hear me when I say that I am confident that the same is true for you.  Regardless of your pain and confusion, regardless of who, or what you wrote on your star today, God knows where you are.  God hears your groaning.  God has a plan.  God is working in you, on you, and through you to transform you into the person that he desires for you to become and he is leading you to a new place, and possibly to a new mission.

My prayer is that you will hold tight to Jesus, that you will trust him with your journey, even when the journey is hard and even when there are no words and your prayers are only groans.

 

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

Worth Waiting For

waiting“Worth Waiting For”

December 11, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Isaiah 35:1-10                    James 5:7-10                          Matthew 11:2-11

I know a lot of you go out to eat after church on Sunday.  And many of you will go home to a big traditional, home cooked, Sunday dinner.

So, before I make you all too hungry, imagine with me for a minute.

Imagine that you come home today, or home after work on a weekday.  Imagine that it’s later than usual or it’s a day that you forgot your lunch.  By the time you get home, you are seriously hungry, and your stomach is making all sorts of rude noises.  And as you come into the kitchen you are given two choices:

Hot dogs now… or grilled steak, baked potatoes and all the trimmings in an hour or so.

What do you do?

But what about after dinner?  After dinner you are given another choice.  Do you want a half a candy bar that you had leftover from your snack last night… or your favorite chocolate cake, or pie, later this evening?  Nothing has been made yet so you will have to wait for several hours while someone makes it.  But then you can have it while it is still warm from the oven.

When we adopted our daughter, Lina, the process was agonizingly slow.  Appointments had to be made, fingerprints taken; there were background checks, and documents… so many documents.  There were literally dozens of forms and other documents that were required and each one had to be notarized by a local notary, then taken to Columbus so that the notary’s credentials on each document could be authenticated, and then, again, each one had to be apostilled, in which, the state authentication was, itself, authenticated.  So, with each document now having several pages of authentication stapled to it, the whole pile, weighing more than three pounds, was shipped to some governmental agency in China.  And then we waited.  For several more months.

Of course during all this time, everyone kept asking us how things were going, if we were excited, if we had heard anything.  And then, even after we were matched, we had to wait for an official invitation from the Chinese government, so that we could get travel visas, and then the scheduling, the ticketing, and the trip.  In the end, the whole process took almost exactly a year.  Not bad.  Some folks wait two, three, or even four years.  And the process that we endured two years later to bring home our sons, Noah and Jonah, was similar, although easier in some ways and harder in others.

But was it worth it?

Are you kidding me?  Our children are one of the greatest joys of our lives.

Whether it’s a great home-cooked meal, or a fantastic dessert, waiting through a pregnancy, or wading through the adoption process, or any number of other of life’s wonders, sometimes the end result is simply worth waiting for.

And this is the theme that we find winding its way through all of our scriptures today.  Sometimes, despite our frustration in waiting, the end result is something worth waiting for.

In Isaiah 35:1-10, we hear these words:

35:1 The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.

Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.

And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
10     and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.

The desert will be glad, the wilderness will burst into bloom, the feeble will be strengthened, the blind will see, the deaf will hear, the lame will walk, because God will come to rescue the redeemed.  And on that day they will enter the city with singing, and joy, and gladness, and all of their sorrow and tears will be no more.

Isaiah, of course, looks forward to the coming of the messiah and tells the people that although they are frustrated, their waiting will, in the end, all be worthwhile.

And then in Matthew 11:2-11, we hear the story of when even John the Baptist, the prophet of God that was called to prepare the way for the arrival of the messiah, grows frustrated by the waiting.

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces.Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written:

“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way before you.’

11 Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.

John sits in jail, knowing that he may not live much longer, and he has to know.  And so he sends some of his own followers to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, the one that they were expecting.  And Jesus practically quotes Isaiah.  He tells John’s disciples that they should go and tell him about the things that they have seen with their own eyes, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the dead live, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.  How could it be anyone else?  Has anyone else, in all of human history, done anything that even came close to satisfying the requirements laid out by Isaiah?  It must be Jesus.

Jesus is indeed the one on whom Israel has been waiting for hundreds upon hundreds of years.

But then, after the stories of the New Testament, we became the ones who are waiting.  Having heard the stories of Jesus, and believing that he is the Messiah, redeemer, and rescuer of all humanity, now we live our lives and wait for his return, the judgement, the end of this world, and the beginning of a new world in eternity and perfection.  But in waiting we grow tired.  We wait but we are impatient.  But our impatience isn’t new either.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus’ brother James wrote these words to encourage believers, and not much has changed since then (James 5:7-10).

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

10 Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. 

 

Seeds don’t grow into crops overnight.  The harvest takes time.  The rains will come in due time.  But while we wait, we must be patient.  We must wait knowing that God remains near to us and we must not allow our frustration in waiting to boil over into the lives of others.  We must wait, but we must also remain faithful.

The message of James is very much the same as the message of Isaiah and of Jesus.

Yes, we are celebrating another Christmas.

Yes, some of us have celebrated a lot of Christmases.

Yes, those who believe in Jesus Christ have been waiting for more than two thousand years.

But the message that we receive from Isaiah, and from Jesus, and from James, is the same as it always has been.

The thing for which we wait will be better than a bountiful harvest, or an abundant rain, or streams in the desert.  The thing for which we wait outshines anything we have ever had; better than a home cooked meal, or a steak dinner, or pecan pie, or even the arrival of children or grandchildren.

Just as it was before, and always has been, the coming of Jesus Christ is simply something that is…

…worth waiting for.

 

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