What Will You Do With Freedom?

“What Will You Do With Freedom?”

February 04, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:21-31                              Mark 1:29-39                         1 Corinthians 9:16-23

 

 

Have you ever heard of a man named Blanche Bruce?

 

Bruce was born in 1841 to Polly Bruce, a domestic slave, and her master Pettis Perkinson, a white plantation laborer.  As a slave, Blanche Bruce’s upbringing was comparatively privileged.  His father raised him alongside his legitimate half-brother and allowed him to be educated with him by their private tutor.  As he reached adulthood, his father legally freed him so that he could pursue an apprenticeship, but when the Civil War broke out many freed slaves were being returned to slavery and Bruce fled to Kansas.

 

At this point in our story, it’s worth noting that Blanche Bruce wasn’t the only slave, or freed slave, to escape from slavery.  Many people did.  But what makes Blanche Bruce worth remembering isn’t that he was a freed slave or an escaped slave, but what he did with his freedom once he had it.

 

In Kansas, he worked as a school teacher, and when he later moved to Mississippi he arrived there with only 75 cents to his name.  Even so, it only took a few years before he was successful as both a land speculator and as a planter.  His intellect, personality, and charisma also made him a rising star in the Mississippi Republican Party and as such, he became a sheriff, a tax collector, and the superintendent of education in his county.  In 1874 he was elected to the United States Senate by the Mississippi legislature and he became the second black senator in U.S. history and the first to serve an entire six-year term.  As senator, he defended black Civil War veterans, fought segregation, and spoke out for the rights of Chinese immigrants and Native Americans.  After his term as senator, Bruce later served as the register of the US Treasury and thus the first African American to have his signature appear on our nation’s paper currency.

 

While that’s all very impressive, the reason that I’m telling you the story of Blanche Bruce is that, as we read the lessons of scripture, we find that we need to be asking ourselves one of the same questions that he did.  We begin this morning with these words from the prophet Isaiah contained in Isaiah 40:21-31.

 

21 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood since the earth was founded?
22 He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers.
He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in.
23 He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing.
24 No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown,
no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither,
and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff.

25 “To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

 

There are two key points that Isaiah emphasizes in this passage and those same two points underlie everything that we do as followers of God, as Christians, and as a church.  First, God is uniquely powerful.  Our God is the creator of the universe and everything that exists and there is none like him or even remotely close to him.  Second, God is with us.  Our God chooses to care about, and to care for his followers.  Moreover, God chooses to work through his followers for the benefit of the entire world in a way that no other idol, god, or religion does.  We can choose to live our lives without God, but we are strongest with him when we choose to follow him and when we invite God to work with us and through us.

 

But what does that look like?

 

In Mark 1:29-39, we see Jesus ministering in Peter’s hometown, but even at the height of his popularity and when the demand for his ministry was at its highest, he left.

 

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. 30 Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they immediately told Jesus about her. 31 So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them.

32 That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33 The whole town gathered at the door, 34 and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

 

35 Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. 36 Simon and his companions went to look for him, 37 and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!”

38 Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” 39 So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

 

Jesus heals Peter’s mother-in-law, and then the entire town gathered at the door of the house and Jesus healed diseases, and cast out demons from the people who had come.  But early the next morning, even though more people were coming and everyone was looking for him, Jesus slips out of town to pray and doesn’t go back.

 

But why?

 

I made this point a week or two ago and I need to make it again today.  Jesus was the Son of God, a member of the Trinity, and he literally had the freedom to do anything that he wanted to do.  But the question that he asked himself was the same as the one that Blanche Bruce must have asked himself after he escaped to Kansas.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Jesus explains to his disciples that he had been sent by God, not to minister only to one town, but to travel from town to town and carry the message of God to as many people as possible in all of Galilee and in all of Israel.  Jesus had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, but with that freedom, he chose to do what God had called him to do.

 

Paul wrestled with this question as well and talks about it at some length in 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 where he says:

 

16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel.

 

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

 

Paul had a number of things to say and all of them are worth noting as we search for answers.  First, Paul explains that he really can’t boast, or even take much credit, for the things that he does because he is compelled, by God to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.  But more than that, Paul says that he would suffer if he did not do what God had called him to do.  Second, Paul makes sure that his readers understand that he is a citizen of Rome, and as such, is absolutely free to do whatever he wants to do that is permissible under the law.  He is a slave to no one and in addition, Paul knows that he has been made free from sin through the sacrifice and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  But, with this freedom, he has chosen to do whatever he can to win souls for the kingdom of God.  Paul is free to do as he pleases, but he will go anywhere, and do almost anything, to rescue the lost.  He is fully committed to the goal of winning souls for Jesus Christ.  And finally,  Paul reminds the people of the church that no matter how committed we are, and no matter how devoted we are, or how much effort we expend, we won’t win every time or every person, but by doing all that we can, we will win some.

 

And this is where we return to Blanche Bruce.

 

As he fled Virginia and travelled toward Kansas, he knew that he could safely live there as a free man.  But remember the question that he had to ask himself along the way.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

Today we must each ask ourselves that same question.  Isaiah reminds us that God is not only uniquely powerful, but that our God chooses to care about us.  God is free to do as he pleases, but chooses to work through his people to rescue the lost and to save the world.  Jesus made that same choice.  As a member of the Trinity, Jesus was free to do whatever he wanted, but he chose to do only the will of God.  Paul emphasizes that, as a Roman citizen he had a lot of rights under the law.  He was free to do whatever he wanted within the law.  Paul chose to answer the call of God and to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ with everything that he had at his disposal.  He would go anywhere, do anything, and become whatever he needed to become in order to save as many souls as he possibly could.  Paul understood that he wouldn’t win every single time, but that, with every effort, he would win sometimes.

 

And so, today we are faced with that same question.  We live in of one of the strongest nations on earth.  We are citizens of the greatest empire that has ever existed on the face of the earth.  Much of the world can only dream of things that most of us take completely for granted.  The poorest among us have things that more than half of the world will never have.  We have many basic rights that are guaranteed by the founding documents of our nation and we brag about the freedoms that we enjoy as a nation.

 

But the question we need to answer is the same as the one faced by Blanche Bruce, by the Apostle Paul, and by Jesus Christ.

 

What will I do with my freedom?

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)

“Jesus is NOT a Follower (and Neither Are You)”

January 28, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 18:15-20           1 Corinthians 8:1-13              Mark 1:21-28

Everywhere you go, there are leaders and followers.  In the military the division between leaders and followers can sometimes be painfully obvious and at others far less so.  Officers are the designated leaders, and enlisted soldiers are the designated followers, but even though their differences are obvious, this description is grossly oversimplified.  Every officer has another officer of higher rank over them, and the same is true among enlisted troops.  In the end, every leader is also a follower and every follower is also a leader.

The same is true in our local church.  We have a handful of people who chair the committees that help to run our church, but everyone who serves on those committees, even if they think of themselves as followers, are themselves leaders of our church.

But this morning, as we study scripture, we’re going to discover that leadership goes much farther down into the “ranks” of Jesus’ followers than we might expect.  We begin in Deuteronomy 18:15-20, where we hear this:

15 The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him. 16 For this is what you asked of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said, “Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God nor see this great fire anymore, or we will die.”

17 The Lord said to me: “What they say is good. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their fellow Israelites, and I will put my words in his mouth. He will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will call to account anyone who does not listen to my words that the prophet speaks in my name. 20 But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.”

In the time of Moses, The people of Israel were afraid to hear from God directly and so, God promised to send prophets that would speak for him and the people were expected to listen to the prophets and obey the instructions that God sent.  But, at the same time, the prophets were bound to only speak the words of God and not to add instructions or commands that God had not sent.

But then came Jesus.

After all of the prophets, and after all of the teachers, priests, and theologians that lived in Israel throughout the centuries, Jesus was different.  While Jesus honored the commands of God as God required, Jesus did more.  (Mark 1:21-28)

21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”

25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.

27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Jesus did things that only the greatest of God’s prophets had done… and more.

And Jesus interpreted the laws of God in ways that went far beyond what any of the teachers of the law had ever done.  Jesus taught, not as someone who was attempting to interpret what the prophets had said, but as someone who absolutely knew what God wanted and what God had intended.  Jesus wasn’t a follower of God, Jesus was God.  Jesus could do miracles because the Spirit of God lived within him.  For these reasons, Jesus taught with the authority of a true leader.  He was there when God gave instructions to the prophets and he knew what God meant.  And so, as Jesus taught, he wasn’t really interpreting what he thought God meant, but instead was simply explaining the truth and the facts that he knew.

Jesus was different.

Even the demons and evil spirits knew who he was and obeyed him.

Jesus had authority.  Jesus was a leader.

But what does that mean for all of us?

In 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, Paul says this…

8:1 Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. But whoever loves God is known by God.

So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.

But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. 10 For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? 11 So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. 12 When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. 13 Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall.

At first, this may not sound like it has anything to do with leadership, but stay with me for a minute.  Paul says that we cannot have any gods other that the one God, God the Father, and only one Lord, who is Jesus Christ who created all that is and who gives us life. But Paul also speaks of a dispute between strong believers, and weak believers in a particular issue of his time that related to eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols.  Stronger believers had taken hold of the understanding of our God being the only god and not simply the strongest among a selection of other gods that the people had always known.  Strong believers understood that food that had been sacrificed to idols was no different than ordinary food.  For them, there was nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols.

But other believers had not made all of these connections.  For them, food that had been sacrificed to idols was tainted.  For them, eating such food felt like they were worshipping someone other than God and by doing so they themselves were defiled and corrupted in the eyes of God.  Seeing the strong believers eating food that had been sacrificed to idols made them doubt their faith.  It made them wonder if it wasn’t okay to worship more than one god.  It made them wonder if the strong believers, the leaders perhaps of their church community, were worshipping more than one god.

Even though Paul understands that there was absolutely nothing wrong with eating food that had been sacrificed to idols, he knew that doing so endangered the faith of newer, or weaker, believers.  And so Paul’s instructions were that the people who were stronger, or more knowledgeable, were to live their lives as an example to the weaker ones.  They were to deliberately live in such a way that supported and strengthened the faith of others in their community of faith even if that meant not exercising their rights to do things that they knew were permissible to do.

And that’s where we intersect with our lives today.  Paul understood that the people who were more knowledgeable, because of their knowledge, but also simply because of their membership in the church body, were leaders.  What one person in the church did or did not do was an example to other people in the church, and their actions could either strengthen, or weaken the faith of others.  But if that is true, then we can also understand that this applies to people in our families and in our communities, who are outside of the church and who might not have any faith at all.  The things that we do, and the things that we do not do, can either draw people toward faith in God and in Jesus Christ, or they can push people away.  Today, eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols is not an issue that we deal with, but there are other, more modern issues that do.  Our complaining, or our gossiping, or our use of alcohol, or our ownership of firearms, might all be reasons that other believers today might struggle with their faith as well as others.

Jesus was God in human flesh.  He was the ultimate leader.  He could easily have done a great many things that he chose not to do.  Instead he followed the rules that God had laid down for the prophets.  Jesus taught with authority, but he did not teach anything that contradicted earlier teachings of God.  Everything that Jesus did was intended to draw people toward God and toward faith in God.  Today, all of our leaders have this same calling.  As we follow God, we must live our lives, and perform our ministries in such a way that our faith, and our lives, does not damage the faith of fellow believers or push unbelievers farther away from faith.  But since all of us have knowledge of God, and knowledge of Jesus Christ, and since all of us have faith in him, then every one of us fall under Paul’s instructions because every one of us, regardless of how strong or how weak our faith might be, have a stronger faith than someone else inside, or outside, the church.

You see, in this way, all of us are leaders.

All of us are called to live our lives as an example to others so that their faith is strengthened and not weakened.  Even if that means we must voluntarily surrender rights that we know we have and stop doing things that we know are perfectly acceptable in the eyes of God.

You see, Jesus was not a follower.  But because we follow him, and because we too are filled by the Spirit of God, we are not just followers of Jesus.  All of us are the spiritual leaders of everyone who is less mature, or who has less knowledge than we do.

We are all followers.  But we are also all leaders.

And we need to live our lives as an example to others so that they will be drawn closer to Jesus and pushed farther away.

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of 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 or any of our other projects may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print 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.

 

A Bigger Baptism

“A Bigger Baptism”

January 21, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 1:1-5                         Mark 1:4-11                           Acts 19:1-7

 

 

As you probably know by now, I am a fan of science fiction and franchises like Star Wars and Star Trek.  In the Star Trek original series, as well as in the Next Generation, we would occasionally see a technologically advanced civilization with starships encounter a far more primitive one.  The Federation of Planets had rules about such encounters.  There were rules because if a primitive society would see Starfleet crew members using their technology they would attribute those abilities to magic or believe that the members of Star Fleet were gods.  Starfleet understood that just the act of seeing something could change the course of history forever.  Simply knowing that something was possible could change the direction of science and culture forever.

 

Now, imagine with me a world where fire fighters were stuck in the previous century.  No new technology has been developed for a hundred years.  There are no fire trucks, or hoses, or pressurized fire hydrants, or internal building sprinkling systems.  In this world, the world of firefighting is essentially one of prevention and rescue.  Buildings would have buckets of sand that could be used to fight fires and possibly some sort of bucket brigade, but the primary role of a firefighter in the event of a major fire was to try to rescue those unfortunate souls who were still inside the building or otherwise endangered by the fire.

 

This seems ridiculous to us because while fire prevention and rescue are important roles of a fire fighter, we understand that fighting the fire itself with water and whatever tools we can place at their disposal, is a critical and vital part of what firefighters do.  Firefighting is bigger than simply working at prevention and rescue.  With that in mind, we begin this morning by reading from Genesis 1:1-5, where we hear these words:
1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

 

While this passage is probably familiar to all of us, I want to point out that in it we see two persons of the Trinity.  In verse one, we hear “In the beginning God…” and in verse two, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Similarly, as we read the story of Jesus’ baptism at the Jordan River in Mark 1:4-11, we see in it all three persons of the Trinity.

 

And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

 

At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

 

As Jesus (who is the Son) comes up out of the water, the Spirit of God descends from heaven like a dove, and the voice of God the Father declares his love for Jesus and declares that he is pleased with his Son.  I know that understanding the Trinity can sometimes be difficult, but it is because of passages like these that we know that it is real and we are compelled to wrestle with it.

 

But then in Acts 19:1-7, the Apostle Paul meets some disciples of Jesus who knew about God, who knew about Jesus, and who knew about baptism, but were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.


19:1 
While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

So Paul asked, “Then what baptism did you receive?”

“John’s baptism,” they replied.

Paul said, “John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.

 

The believers and disciples that Paul met in Ephesus had been baptized by John, but they had not heard the Good News of Jesus Christ or at least had not heard all of it.  Perhaps they had not heard the story about Jesus’ death and resurrection.  All they knew was what John had preached, that you had to repent of your sins.  They were missing a vital piece of the puzzle.  It was as if they were trying to fight fires without a knowledge of water, or without fire trucks, hoses, pumps, and pressurized water systems.  They had been baptized by John the Baptist as a symbol of their repentance from sin, but they had never been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ and they had never received the Holy Spirit.  Perhaps like a primitive society that had been exposed to advanced technology, simply knowing that things could be different, changed the course of their lives forever.  Knowing about Jesus, and knowing about a bigger baptism, they were filled with the Spirit, spoke in foreign languages they had never learned, and were given the gift of prophecy.

 

What these believers had known was true but their knowledge was missing a critical and vital component.  Yes, baptism is about repenting from our sins.  And yes, baptism is an outward sign that for us, takes the place of circumcision.  But while those things are both true, these things alone are missing a critical and vital component and that is the participation of the Spirit of God in our baptism.  Ever since the day of Pentecost, whenever we are baptized we invite the Holy Spirit to descend upon us, fill us, work within us and through us to do the work of Jesus Christ in our world.  John’s baptism was big, and it was important, but this is the bigger baptism.

 

Being filled with the Spirit of God is life changing.  It is such a powerful thing that simply knowing about it can change the lives and the futures of others.  And so, unlike the officers and crew of a starship in Star Trek, we must not hide ourselves from people who haven’t heard the good news of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit.  Instead, we must do all that we can to tell as many people as we can so that lives can be changed, people can hear the Good News of Jesus Christ, be baptized themselves, and receive the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.

 

You have it within your power to change the course of history forever.

 

All that you have to do is to trust God and share what you know with the people around you.

 

What you have within you is life altering, world changing stuff because it is fueled and powered by nothing less than the Spirit of the holy creator God.

 

We can’t hide out in the church.

 

We musts go out from this place… and change the world.

 

 

 

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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.

 

I Can’t

“I Can’t”

July 09, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67         Romans 7:15-25            Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

 

 

Have you ever felt like you were in too deep?

 

Have you ever felt like the things on your plate were too much for you?  There was too much work, the situation demanded more emotional energy than you felt like you had to offer, or in some other way, what was demanded of you was just… too much?

 

We’ve all been there.

 

We’ve been buried in schoolwork, been given too much work, taken on too much responsibility, overwhelmed with family situations, been faced with health problems that seemed to be insurmountable, and a host of other things.  At one time or another, we’ve all reached a point when we just throw up our hands, or collapse into a chair, and say to ourselves… I just can’t.

 

But for me, whenever I get to that place, one of the things that floats back in my memory, are the words of one of my mentors quite a few years ago.  These seven words are often able to put my problems back into the right perspective.

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

Say that with me.

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

In our first scripture this morning we meet Abraham’s servant, we aren’t given his name, but we are told that he is the most trusted servant that Abraham had, and the man who ran the entire household.  Abraham, by this time, was nearing the end of his life and he wants to insure that Isaac marries a woman from among his own people, and from his own faith, and not from among the Canaanite women.  And so Abraham sends his servant back to his homeland, to find a bride.

 

But here’s the thing: This servant had never been to Abraham’s homeland before.  He didn’t know anyone there.  He wasn’t exactly sure where to go.  He wasn’t exactly sure about the customs of the place or how they might have changed since Abraham left close to a hundred years earlier.  In a time long before radio, television, or even the Pony Express, there was no way to send a message ahead to tell someone that he was coming.  The mission that he had been given was almost completely impossible.  He only vaguely knows where he is going, and has almost no idea what he is going to do once he gets there.  But what follows is one of the most amazing stories of faith and answered prayer in all of scripture.  I hope that you will open your Bibles this week and read the entire story, but in the interests of time this morning we will begin after he has already met Rebekah, sits down to dinner with her family, and explains his mission to them.  (Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67)

34 So he said, “I am Abraham’s servant. 35 The Lord has blessed my master abundantly, and he has become wealthy. He has given him sheep and cattle, silver and gold, male and female servants, and camels and donkeys. 36 My master’s wife Sarah has borne him a son in her old age, and he has given him everything he owns. 37 And my master made me swear an oath, and said, ‘You must not get a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, in whose land I live, 38 but go to my father’s family and to my own clan, and get a wife for my son.’

 

42 “When I came to the spring today, I said, ‘Lord, God of my master Abraham, if you will, please grant success to the journey on which I have come. 43 See, I am standing beside this spring. If a young woman comes out to draw water and I say to her, “Please let me drink a little water from your jar,” 44 and if she says to me, “Drink, and I’ll draw water for your camels too,” let her be the one the Lord has chosen for my master’s son.’

45 “Before I finished praying in my heart, Rebekah came out, with her jar on her shoulder. She went down to the spring and drew water, and I said to her, ‘Please give me a drink.’

46 “She quickly lowered her jar from her shoulder and said, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too.’ So I drank, and she watered the camels also.

47 “I asked her, ‘Whose daughter are you?’

“She said, ‘The daughter of Bethuel son of Nahor, whom Milkah bore to him.’

“Then I put the ring in her nose and the bracelets on her arms, 48 and I bowed down and worshiped the Lord. I praised the Lord, the God of my master Abraham, who had led me on the right road to get the granddaughter of my master’s brother for his son. 49 Now if you will show kindness and faithfulness to my master, tell me; and if not, tell me, so I may know which way to turn.”

 

58 So they called Rebekah and asked her, “Will you go with this man?”

“I will go,” she said.

59 So they sent their sister Rebekah on her way, along with her nurse and Abraham’s servant and his men. 60 And they blessed Rebekah and said to her,

“Our sister, may you increase to thousands upon thousands;
may your offspring possess the cities of their enemies.”

61 Then Rebekah and her attendants got ready and mounted the camels and went back with the man. So the servant took Rebekah and left.

62 Now Isaac had come from Beer Lahai Roi, for he was living in the Negev. 63 He went out to the field one evening to meditate, and as he looked up, he saw camels approaching. 64 Rebekah also looked up and saw Isaac. She got down from her camel 65 and asked the servant, “Who is that man in the field coming to meet us?”

“He is my master,” the servant answered. So she took her veil and covered herself.

66 Then the servant told Isaac all he had done. 67 Isaac brought her into the tent of his mother Sarah, and he married Rebekah. So she became his wife, and he loved her; and Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.

 

Abraham’s servant finds the general area where he was supposed to go, stops for a break at the well, and while there, prays to a god that he doesn’t even worship.  Since he is on a mission for Abraham, he chooses to pray to Abraham’s God and asks that, if he is to be successful, that the woman he is seeking will come to him and will answer his questions in a specific and measurable way.

 

In essence, Abraham’s servant recognizes that he simply cannot do what he has been asked to do and in his prayer he says…

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

And everything that he prayed happens only moments after he prayed.  And so what we witness is not only God answering his prayer, but God was already in the process of answering before he even began to pray.  Step by step, item by item, Rebekah says and does exactly what Abraham’s servant prayed that she would do.  Even more than that, Rebekah’s family recognizes that God has made all of this happen and they give her the opportunity to choose for herself whether or not she wants to go.  Rebekah is being asked, at a moment’s notice, to leave everything that she has known, to leave her family, her friends, her culture, and her nation.  She is being asked to travel to a country she has never seen, to marry a man she has never met, and live with a family that she knows nothing about.  But, much like Abraham, amid the confusion of the moment, she hears the call of God and consents to leave immediately to go to a new place, and join a new people, in order to do the will of God.

 

Rebekah too seems to say these same words.

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

We also note that Paul struggled with his own humanity and his inability to be as good as God wants him to be. In Romans 7:15-25 he says this:

 

15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

 

Paul says that because his very nature is contaminated by sin, he is unable to do the good that he wants to do and often ends up doing the evil things he deliberately tried not to do.  He thought about doing good, he intended to do good, he planned to do good, but in the end he failed to do it.  At the same time he thought, intended, and planned not to do things that disappoint God, and yet, in the end, that’s exactly what he did.    Paul believes that God’s law is good, but his sin interferes with his ability to follow it. But when he cries out in his need to be rescued from himself it is God who delivers him through the sacrifice, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 

Paul uses longer sentences, but what he is saying is this…

 

I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

And finally, in Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30, Jesus say this:

 

16 “To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

17 “‘We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

 

18 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ 19 The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

 

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

Jesus says that Israel’s leaders behaved like children.  They make up their own games and they want us to play their games by the rules that they just made up.  According to the rules they made up, no one can be good enough.  John the Baptist refused to drink alcohol or to eat with the leaders of Israel and so they said he was possessed by a demon.  Jesus came and he ate and he drank and they criticized him for drinking, eating, and making friends with outcasts.  But Jesus tells us that he knows God, that he was sent by God, and that he has come to reveal God to everyone.  Jesus invites the weary and the burdened to come to him and find rest.  Jesus calls out to the people who are tired of falling short of the expectations of others, tired of falling short of their own goals, tired of trying to do good and failing, and tired of doing the very things they were trying so very hard not to do.  To all of us who are overwhelmed and who are tempted to call ourselves a failure because of the burdens that have consumed us, Jesus calls and says, Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 

God knew that human beings, infected by the corruption of sin, were incapable of being “perfect enough” or even “good enough” to make it on their own.  And so he sent his son Jesus to do all the heavy lifting for us.  Jesus has done all that needed to be done.  Jesus sacrificed his own life in order to pay the debt that we owed to God.  And Jesus invites us to surrender ourselves to him and allow him to be at work in our lives, transforming us into the people that God wants us to be.

 

Isn’t it time that we stopped beating ourselves up?

 

Isn’t it time that we stopped trying, and failing, to do it all on our own?

 

Isn’t it time that we realized that we can’t be perfect?

 

It’s time that we all said..

 

…I can’t.  God can.  I think… I’ll let him.

 

 

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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.

 

Finding Peace On Earth

earth-rise“Finding Peace On Earth”

December 24, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 9:2-7                        Titus 2:11-14                             Luke 2:1-20

READINGS:

Reading 1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

2 The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.

Reading 2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
 Reading 3 – Luke 2:1-7

2:1 
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

Reading 4 – Luke 2:8-14

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Reading 5 – Luke 2:15-20

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

MEDITATION:

Imagine with me the world to which the prophet Isaiah spoke.  Isaiah wrote from the land of Judah at a time when the Assyrian Empire was growing stronger by the day.  He watched as Judah’s King Ahaz, rather than stand together with Syria and the northern tribes of Israel, allied himself with the Assyrians instead.  Despite Isaiah’s warning to the contrary, Ahaz aided the Assyrians in conquering their neighbors and brothers in Israel.  Everyone could see the handwriting on the wall.  Everyone knew that, eventually, the Assyrians would come for them as well and, although it wouldn’t happen for more than a hundred years, Isaiah wrote about the eventual conquest of Judah, the captivity of both Israel and Judah in Babylon, the rise of power of Cyrus the Persian, and the return of the Jews to Israel and Judah after seventy years of captivity, as well as the Messiah that was to come.

Although these were dark days, Isaiah wrote about the light that was coming that would dispel the darkness.  Although the people were oppressed, Isaiah wrote about the freedom that would come.  Although they were surrounded by armies and warfare and bloodshed, Isaiah wrote about a child who would be the Prince of Peace.  Isaiah proclaimed that a day was coming when a rescuer would come from God who would have the authority to bring about endless peace and he would establish his kingdom not with force and oppression, but with justice and righteousness.

More than seven hundred years later, in a land occupied by foreign armies, and to a people who were also well acquainted with violence, oppression, warfare, and bloodshed,  angels appear in the skies over a band of shepherds and declare that the day prophecied by Isaiah had finally come.  “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Two thousand years later, we still remember that night and we celebrate the coming of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, the rescuer and redeemer of all humanity, and yet, much like the people in the time of Isaiah, and in the time of the shepherds, we too are a people who are all too familiar with violence, oppression, warfare and bloodshed.  And we still look forward to the day when the boots of our soldiers and all of their bloodstained uniforms will be thrown into the fire.  We look forward to the end of darkness, and oppression, and death.  We look forward to the day when there will be endless peace and Jesus Christ will rule over all the earth with justice and righteousness.

But while we wait, we must also remember the instructions contained in the words of the prophet Titus who said (Titus 2:11-14):

11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all,12 training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright, and godly,13 while we wait for the blessed hope and the manifestation of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 14 He it is who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.

While we wait for the return of Jesus we have work to do.  Amid the chaos of the world in which we live, we are to pursue purity, and live lives that are self-controlled, righteous, and godly.  Jesus came, and surrendered his life, so that we could be rescued from sin and death, and to be transformed into a people who are passionate about doing good.

And so, while we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, and while we look forward to the return of Jesus Christ, until that time, his work falls to us.  Until Jesus sits on the throne and brings peace and justice to the world, we are called by God to do whatever we can to bring godliness, justice, righteousness, purity, and yes, peace, into the world in which we live.

I admit it’s a big job.  It’s huge.  It’s enormous.

But it is possible.

With.        God’s.        Help.

 

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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.

Season Meets Reason

cow

“Season Meets Reason”

November 27, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

 

Scripture: Isaiah 2:1-5                        Romans 13:11-14                               Matthew 24:36-44

The other day, Patti and I were traveling along the freeway when traffic suddenly came to a complete stop.  We immediately wondered what had happened because normally, even in the worst of construction zones, traffic keeps moving at least a little.  But this time we stopped dead and we were there long enough that I put the car in park.  As we sat there, we guessed that it might have been an accident and, sure enough, once we started moving again we saw two cars, a tractor trailer, and a police car all blocking the right lane.  Thankfully, even though there was a baby seat in one of the cars, everyone seemed to be okay.

As simple as it was, this common experience reminds us of the ripple effects of human events.  Traffic backs up because there was an accident.  Railroad gates drop because there is, somewhere down the line, an oncoming train.  One event causes another, and sometimes those ripples cascade far into the future.  We live here in North America because men like Amerigo Vespucci, Leif Erikson, Christopher Columbus, Henry Hudson, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, Jacques Cartier, Hernando de Soto, John Cabot, and many others dared to cross the Atlantic and explore the New World.  What they did changed the world, and the ripples caused by their actions continue to impact our lives today.

And so, as we celebrate Advent, and begin the season of Christmas, we often talk about Jesus being the “reason for the season.”  We recognize that a huge part of our entire world has set aside time, religious or not, to celebrate this particular season of the year and we know that a ripple that enduring has to have had a cause.  But what we often miss, is that the reason for Christmas started long before the birth of Jesus, and the ripples caused by those events continue into the future, and impact our lives, far more than we appreciate.

We begin this morning by reading the words of the prophet Isaiah who lived nearly eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus. (Isaiah 2:1-5)

2:1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:

In the last days

the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Generations before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah proclaims that a day will come when God himself will live in Jerusalem, rule over the earth, and judge disputes between nations.  In those days, weapons of war will be reshaped into instruments of agriculture, and the world will finally know peace.

Isaiah not only saw the coming of the Messiah that we celebrate at Christmas, but also the messiah’s ultimate rule and reign to which we still look forward.  The ripple in time that we celebrate at Christmas did not begin with Jesus, and in fact did not begin with Isaiah.  What we remember when we read Isaiah is that the birth of the Messiah was God’s plan from the beginning of time itself.  All of creation was leading up to that moment, and continues to look forward to the ultimate conclusion of God’s story.

We all know the Christmas story.  We will spend plenty of time in the coming weeks remembering the stories about angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph, and wise men from the East.  But while remembering the characters is important, we must also take time to remember that such a pivotal event in human history didn’t happen by accident.  The birth of Jesus, God’s Messiah, Savior, and rescuer of all humanity, happened for a reason.

In Matthew 24:36-44, Jesus tells the disciples about the day of his return.

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.

42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.

Jesus reminds his followers, that his birth, life, death and resurrection were just the beginning.  Just as God’s people had looked forward to the arrival of the Messiah for thousands of years, we now look forward to his ultimate return.  And as we look forward, Jesus warns us to be prepared, to “be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Jesus’ warning is two-fold.  First, we must keep watch for his coming and second, that we must be prepared for his arrival at all times because he will come when we do not expect him.  But what does it mean to “be prepared” for his arrival?  Honestly, it’s the same message that God has been telling his people since the very beginning.  In Romans 13:11-14, Paul puts it this way:


11 
And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Paul reminds us that “being ready” is all about the way that we live our lives every day.  If we believe that Jesus was born in a manger in Bethlehem, and we believe that his purpose for coming to earth was to live, die, and rise from the grave to pay the debt for our forgiveness, then our belief must not just be an abstract idea that we carry around in our heads, but a belief that is lived out every minute of every day.

The coming of Jesus was an event that sent ripples through time and that event was a part of God’s plan that began with creation itself.  While we celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, we love to decorate our houses, our churches, shopping centers, and office cubicles, but if we fail to decorate our lives by living the way that Jesus taught, then all the trees, all the presents, all the worship services, and all the other trappings of Christmas are no better than wrapping tinsel around a cow pie.

At Christmas, it is vital for us to remember the reason for our celebration.

Jesus did not come to earth so that we could buy presents and decorate trees.

Jesus came to earth to transform lives.

Jesus came to transform my life.

Jesus came to transform your life.

And so, the best way that we can “decorate” for Christmas is to live every day of the year as if Jesus was real, as if we knew for certain that he was coming back tomorrow.

The best gift of Christmas is for each of us to actually do the things that Jesus taught us to do.

God’s gift to the world at Christmas wasn’t just a baby in a manger.

God’s gift to the world is a world full of followers who live like Jesus everyday.

 

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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.

The World Stinks but…

protestor-shot-wilth-rubber-bullets“The World Stinks but…”

October 30, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4                 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12 Luke 19:1-10

 

It doesn’t take a genius to know that our world seems to be seriously messed up.

This week we continued to watch the train wreck that is our presidential election (and there really is no need to elaborate on that) but we also saw two dramatically different legal rulings that both seem to twist the meaning of the word “justice” in directions that seem difficult to understand.  First, a group of ranchers and other folks who, by force, took over and occupied a federal game preserve in Oregon, and then threatened federal law enforcement officers have been acquitted of nearly all charges that the government brought against them.  And second, on nearly the same day, the courts ruled against the American Indian tribes who are peacefully protesting a pipeline that will cross through sacred burial sites and under a river that provides all of their drinking water.  As a result, many of the protesters are being arrested, beaten, attacked by dogs, and even shot despite being on private property that lies on a reservation that is recognized by our government as a sovereign nation.  Almost every day it seems like we hear news stories about out justice system not working the way that it should or even in ways that seem unjust altogether.

And whenever we see and hear these things we pray that such misfortune will not fall upon us.

And as bad as things sometimes are here at home, we read stories about the inhumanity of ISIS, the persecution of Christians and other minorities in the Middle East and other places, and our conclusion is obvious.

Sometimes, the world stinks.

Not surprisingly, this situation isn’t new.  Sometime around 600 BC the prophet Habakkuk complained to God.  This was not just a private prayer, but probably an expression of the thoughts and feelings of many of God’s people in Judah.  The world seemed broken, unfair, and unjust and God seemed to be unconcerned and uncaring because he did nothing about it.  (Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4)

1:1 The prophecy that Habakkuk the prophet received.

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.


2:1 
I will stand at my watch
and station myself on the ramparts;
I will look to see what he will say to me,
and what answer I am to give to this complaint.

Then the Lord replied:

“Write down the revelation
and make it plain on tablets
so that a herald may run with it.
For the revelation awaits an appointed time;
it speaks of the end
and will not prove false.
Though it linger, wait for it;
it will certainly come
and will not delay.

“See, the enemy is puffed up;
his desires are not upright—
but the righteous person will live by his faithfulness.

Habakkuk cries out to God that the world is unfair but, at the same time, says that he will remain on his watch; he will stay at his post and be faithful, until he hears an answer from God.  And when God’s answer comes, God agrees that the world is messed up.  The enemy thinks a lot of himself and the desires of the enemy are unjust but relief is coming.  God is already planning his response to the injustice that Habakkuk and his people are complaining about.  But until God’s judgement arrives, the righteous are called to be patient and remain faithful.

And in 2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12, Paul reminds us, much like Habakkuk’s message, that God does not always rescue us from difficult circumstances.  But in those times when God does not rescue us right away, there are still things that we can learn.

Paul, Silas and Timothy,

To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing. Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring.

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may bring to fruition your every desire for goodness and your every deed prompted by faith.12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First of all, in both Habakkuk and in Thessalonians, we find that despite hard times, we should never give up talking to God.  Keep the lines of communication open.  Keep praying.  But, at the same time, as we struggle our way through the hard times, we can learn perseverance and strengthen our faith through the persecutions and trials that we endure.

But more than that, when we read Luke 19:1-10, we also begin to understand that our trials and suffering should probably teach us to be compassionate toward others as they experience their own.

19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.”So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Although nearly all of us are familiar with the story of Zacchaeus, we often don’t think of the story in terms of trials, empathy and compassion but that is a key part of Jesus’ message.  Just at the moment when people start to complain that Jesus, a respected teacher, has stooped to associate, and even eat, in the home of a tax collector and sinner, Jesus reminds them that as bad as he is, Zacchaeus is still a child of God and a part of God’s covenant with Israel.  Jesus concluded by reminding everyone that his mission on earth was to seek and to save the lost.

We really should wrestle with that more than we do.

Jesus is criticized for visiting in the home of a known scoundrel, cheat, and rip-off artist.  Tax collectors had a contract with Rome that authorized them to collect the taxes that Rome levied, and so that Rome didn’t have to pay salaries, they were allowed to collect extra to pay themselves.  How much extra, was often not defined.  They were essentially given a license to steal as much as the market would bear and their theft was enforced by the swords of Rome’s occupying army.  Tax collectors were outcasts from Jewish society because they were considered to be traitors to their people and to their nation.  But Jesus’s response to his critics is to remind them that he came to rescue the lost.

Think about that and consider the context, the time, and the place of what he said.

What Jesus is saying is that you can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.

By saying what he said, and by reframing the argument, Jesus argues that it should be obvious that he should do this.  It is like criticizing the Coast Guard for getting their boats wet and risking their lives by going out to sea in a storm.

Jesus essentially says:

You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out in the storm.

It seems so obvious when we understand it that in this context.  Jesus’ mission was to seek and to save the lost.  His compassion for their suffering and trials, past, present and future, without God, drove him to go to the places where the lost lived.  To invite himself into their homes, if necessary, so that he could pull them back into the boat and save them for eternity.  What’s challenging to us is that we have inherited Jesus’ calling.  The mission to seek and to save the lost became the mission of the church when Jesus ascended into heaven… his mission, is our mission.

But we are not just driven to obedience out of a sense of duty.

God understands that out world is broken.  God understands injustice, unfairness, suffering, struggle, persecution and trial.  But God’s message to us is twofold.  First, we must understand that our God is a god of justice.  Wrongs will be made right.  The guilty will be punished.  Injustice will be set right.  But although it will happen in God’s time, it might not happen right away.  Second, as we endure hardship and trial, God expects us to learn to have empathy and compassion for others as they experience similar circumstances.  Our trials should make us sensitive to the trials of others and compassionate for those who do not have the comfort and understanding that is to be found in our faith in Jesus Christ.

Because of that, we should be learning to be more like Jesus: To love others, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ, and to rescue the lost by whatever means necessary.  Jesus went into the homes of scoundrels and ate with them; he was widely criticized by people in his church for associating with sinners, rebels, fanatics, and prostitutes.  But that criticism never slowed him down because it was absolutely necessary to accomplish his mission.

You can’t catch fish if you don’t go to the lake.

You can’t save the drowning if you don’t go out into the storm.

We are called to be fishers of men and rescuers of the lost.

Each and every one of us should live our lives so that we are criticized for our compassion.

 

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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 athttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.