Watching the Impossible

“Watching the Impossible”

July 01, 2018

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 30:9-14                       Jeremiah 18:1-6

 

Have you ever been asked to do the impossible?

 

For those of us who study history, or for those who are old enough to remember it, it is worth noting that the Polish Army has been ridiculed because at the beginning of World War Two, they attacked German tanks with cavalry.  Men on horseback would seem to be a remnant of a bygone era. While this seems ludicrous, the truth is that the Polish army had some of the best tanks and anti-tank weapons in all of Europe, including those brought to the field by Germany. But while it seems odd that Poland had mounted cavalry units in the field, we forget that every other nation involved in that great conflict did as well, including the United States who used cavalry units in the Philippines.  Poland’s cavalry were skilled infantry soldiers who each carried a rifle, a saber, and the single best anti-tank weapon available in that day. For the Poles, horses were simply a means of moving an infantry force with greater speed and flexibility.

 

From our perspective, asking soldiers on horseback to fight against tanks was asking the impossible, but the bravery and training of the Polish troops may have achieved the impossible. Although the German Army had rolled through the contested lands between Germany and Czechoslovakia without opposition, the war for Poland lasted for thirty-six days. In a single battle, between a Polish Cavalry Brigade and Germany’s 4th Panzer Division, Germany lost over 100 armored fighting vehicles and at least 50 tanks. Ultimately, the superior size of the German military overcame the resistance of the Polish army, but their defense was of major significance. The advance of the German army was slowed enough to allow the evacuation of much of the Polish army and, as a result, Polish military units fought their way from the beaches of Normandy, across Europe, into Germany, and to the surrender of her port cities.

 

Although people laugh at the ridiculousness of attacking tanks with cavalry, the reality is that the Polish Army did the impossible.

 

Today, the question I would like to ask is this: Has God ever asked you to do the impossible? What is it that God has put on your heart? How many times have you thought or felt that you ought to do something, or even that God might be leading you to do something and yet rejected the idea because it was too hard or even seemed to be impossible? I think that at one time or another, this has probably happened to all of us, but our scripture for today promises something different. (Deuteronomy 30:9-14)

 

9Then the LORD your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The LORD will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as he delighted in your fathers, 10 if you obey the LORD your God and keep his commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

 

In this passage, we are reminded that it is God that does the doing. It is God that commands, it is God that rejoices in our obedience and it is God that orchestrates our success. We are taught that God will bring success when we are obedient and faithful. What’s more, we are told that what we have been asked to do is not out of our reach simply because God has given us everything that we need in order to be obedient.

 

In September of 2001, along with you, I watched in horror as two commercial airliners were flown into the World Trade Center, a building that I had visited only a few years earlier. Perhaps in part because of these disturbing images, I began to reconsider the meaning of my work and of my life. Only two or three years earlier I had changed jobs in order to find work that was more tangible. With a degree in electrical engineering, I had been working at a Laboratory in Cleveland, testing gas appliances for compliance with national safety standards. There, I often felt as if we were just spinning our wheels, always doing the same thing and generating tons of paper doing it. In my new job in North Canton, we were building machines and equipment for the steel industry. It was satisfying that once every few months we could go out to the loading dock and see the end result of our work as it was shipped to its destination. Occasionally, we would also have the opportunity to travel and help with the installation. I felt challenged by my work and I was happy with what I was doing but there began to be a nagging afterthought.  I began to wonder what good I was doing. I realized that much of the equipment we were building was replacing machines that had been designed and built by engineers (like me) twenty or thirty years earlier and I came to the realization that in another twenty or thirty years all of our work would likewise be torn out, melted down, and replaced.

 

Less than six months later, I was called into my supervisor’s office and informed that my services were no longer required. There was no warning, there were no memos outlining my failures, just an abrupt termination. I really struggled with that. The way in which I was let go, and my resulting unemployment, was difficult for me but also for my family. Not only did they have to deal with our lack of income, but also with my depression, moodiness and underlying anger. I was unemployed for two years. In an economy that was good, and with a degree and a work history that was solid, I should have had no trouble finding work, but instead it seemed like I couldn’t even buy an interview. During this time, I questioned God’s will for me. I started by crying and yelling and eventually began to pray and study. I devoured books and study materials that my pastor thought might be helpful and finally began to consider the unthinkable. I grew up in the home of a United Methodist pastor. I moved three times and attended school in four school districts. For forty years, I swore that there was no way on God’s green earth that I would ever even consider being a pastor.

 

But, God had other plans.

 

Sometimes during the course of our lives, the game changes. Where we find ourselves is not where God wants us to be, and he will use whatever tools necessary to move us from where we are to where he wants us to be.  Some faithful followers are so well attuned to God that they respond to his hints, nudges, suggestions, and whisper.  But others of us are stubborn.  In our stubbornness, God sometimes finds it necessary to hit us upside the head with a 2 x 4. You need to know that this change of heart wasn’t only a big deal for just me. When we were married, Patti told me that she was glad that I was an engineer because she never wanted to be married to a doctor or a pastor. During my unemployment, Patti was involved in a Bible study in local church other than our own. Somehow, in that study, God was working on Patti’s heart. I knew that God would never call me into ministry unless he called both of us.  And one day, before I had ever hinted to Patti what God might be doing, Patti came to me and said something shocking. Patti said that God had made it clear to her that I needed to do what God wanted me to do, even if that meant answering a call to pastoral ministry. You need to understand that several years earlier, during a church revival weekend, both Patti and I had felt that God might be calling us into some kind of full-time ministry. We both felt that whatever God was calling us toward was still in the future and, we both assumed, since we headed the church missions committee, that it might somehow involve missions.

 

And so now I was contemplating the impossible. I asked my pastor if, as an engineer, I had any possibility of being admitted into seminary. With a background in mathematics and physics, I wondered if I would meet any prerequisites at all. My pastor laughed. She laughed. We knew that our pastor had gifts, and two gifts that Pastor Linda Somerville had in abundance were a sensitivity to God’s will, and an amazing ability to read and understand people. When I asked Pastor Linda about seminary and about a potential call to ministry, she told me that she had known for over a year that God was calling us into ministry but was afraid that if she said anything to us, she would mess up whatever God was trying to do.

 

After that, things seemed to begin to fall into place. I was introduced to the Provost of Ashland University by a mutual friend, applied for admission at Ashland Seminary, was accepted, started classes, and then, finally found a part-time job. Six months later I was appointed as a student pastor in the Mid-Ohio District just south of Mansfield, Ohio. A condition of being a student pastor was that I had a half-time ministry and was to attend seminary on a full-time basis, and I did. After four years of seminary I graduated in 2008. During our time at Johnsville/Steam Corners, the financial health of the church had been changing. While we hadn’t grown much in attendance, financially we managed to grow, just a little, each year. It was expected that when I graduated, we would be moved and another student would come to take my place. But instead, Johnsville and Steam Corners decided that they were able to afford a full-time pastor and asked that we stay. As a result, instead of moving after only three or four years, as many students do and as many of Johnsville pastors had, we stayed for six.

 

We then moved to Barnesville and, although we expected to say longer, for a variety of reasons, we left after only two years.  One again, God had other plans and we moved to Trinity in Perry Heights between Massillon and Canton.  And after six years, although we thought we would be staying longer, we find ourselves here, in Alliance.  As always, we believe that God has been a part of this process.

 

Of course, there is more to our story but that’s enough for today. For us, God has done the impossible and has moved the immovable. To get us where we are today, God has done miracles and changed us in ways we never thought possible.

 

Before we close I would like to share a passage from Jeremiah 18.

 

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

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.

In the end, we are all like clay in the hands of the potter.  If you’ve ever watched a pot being formed you will sometimes see that a small defect, a grain of sand or a small pebble, come to the surface while the clay is spinning on the wheel.  When that happens, it scars and ruins the entire piece and the only choice left is for the potter to pick up the clay, smash it into a lump, plop it back onto the wheel and start over.  Our lives are like that.  It is never fun when we are squashed and plopped down on the wheel but through it all we can know that God is lovingly and carefully shaping us into the people that he has created us to be.

Today we stand as witnesses that God is able to accomplish whatever he has put in your heart to do. We are witness to God’s faithfulness and power. We know that it is God that does the doing. We know that God brings success when we are obedient and faithful. We know that it is God that commands, it is God that rejoices in our obedience and it is God that orchestrates our success.

 

Today, as we sit in church, the question I would like to ask is this: Has God ever asked you to do the impossible?

 

What is it that God has put on your heart?

I urge you to attempt the difficult and consider the impossible… before God decides to use a 2×4 to get your attention.

 

 

 

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at Pastor@CUMCAlliance.org.   These messages can also be found online at hhttps://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.
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Why I am Not Posting

There haven’t been any updates here for a couple of weeks now and it’s not an accident.

But why?

Those of you who follow me on social media already know, but some folk might have missed it.

We’re moving.

Most of my post come from our regular Sunday worship services, or from funerals, weddings, hallway conversations, questions that I get asked or commentary on news events that intersect with the church or religion in some way.  But while my/our ministry is continuing, it is also changing locations.  I have been reassigned from Trinity church in Massillon, Ohio to Christ United Methodist Church in Alliance, Ohio.  We’ve already hauled five or six trailers full of stuff out of the house and into storage.  For the last week or two we’ve been attending our church’s Annual Conference at Lakeside near Sandusky, Ohio but for the last few months we’ve also been packing.  Within the next couple weeks the moving trucks will come, friends will volunteer, and everything we own will be transported to a new house, a new church, and a new community.

It’s a lot to take in.

And there are a ton of details to wade through.

So, in the meantime, I’m not spending a lot of time on my computer doing much of anything.  I will, however be preaching at Christ Church in Alliance on July first and that message will appear here.  As we get settled in, a more regular pace will be reestablished.

And possibly a few new surprises as well.

Stay tuned.

Transitions

change aheadChange.

As much as we sometimes say otherwise, most of us struggle with change.

And we know that in just a few weeks, we all have to figure out how to deal with some big changes.  My family is already packing boxes and donating other things as we prepare to move into a new house and prepare to attend a new church, find a new mechanic, a new grocery store, a new favorite gas station, and on and on it goes.  Thankfully, at least this time we don’t need to worry quite so much about changing school districts.

Here at Trinity, your changes will be somewhat less, but I know that there are a few of you who really struggle with far smaller changes.  More than one person has confided in me that they are uncertain about having a female pastor.  I understand that Trinity Church has never had a female pastor and that many of you haven’t either.  But I was in your shoes once and as folks have shared their concerns with me, that is the story that I’ve been telling them.  Since I’ve heard about those kinds of concerns more than once, I thought that I should share that story with all of you.

Back in the mid to late 1990’s Patti and I were still attending the church in South Akron where we met and where we were married.  This was the church where my father had been the pastor in the early 1980’s and that’s how I had begun my membership there.  After several more male pastors had succeeded by father, the bishop and the cabinet announced that our next pastor would be female.  There were many concerns expressed throughout the church.  It was nearly a shockwave of concern.  Some of the leading families in the church were known to be very conservative and at least one of the patriarchs of those families was rumored to be openly racist.  People thought at a woman simply would not be welcome as a leader of the church and many feared that her appointment would divide the church and that whole families would quit together.

But they were willing to give the new pastor a chance.

And, as far as I know, not one person left the church.  Because you see, although Pastor Linda was a woman (obviously), she was found to be more conservative in many things, than several of the male pastors that had been at our church.  She didn’t come to our church with an axe to grind or anything and more than that, she did something else.

She loved us.

Linda just loved on the entire congregation and many (okay, all) of the old curmudgeons that we worried wouldn’t like her, fell in love with Linda too.  In the end, Pastor Linda stayed at that church longer than any other pastor in the history of the church.

There were changes that we had to adapt to though.  Some because we had a female pastor, others because every pastor has their own unique personality, and still others because Pastor Linda’s husband, Pastor Mike, was appointed to a church across town.  Where we had grown accustomed to the pastor’s family attending our church, Linda’s didn’t.  Pastor Mike rarely ever came to our church.  I think I saw him two or three times in five or six years other than when we visited them in their home.  When Mike and Linda’s kids were in town, they most often attended Mike’s church, if at all.  It wasn’t what I expected.  It was different.

But different isn’t necessarily bad, it’s just different.

For many of the same reasons, you will find that things here at Trinity will be different.  Tina is going to be good at different things than I am, she might not be good at some of the things that I was, she’s going to like, and dislike, different things, she might run meetings differently, and I’m sure that there are a lot of other ways in which the two of us are different.  Only one of those things is our gender.  And after our experience with Pastor Linda, as well as seminary classmates, and other colleagues, I no longer even consider that to be an issue at all.

Different isn’t bad.  It’s just different.

In the last six years, our family has fallen in love with Trinity Church and many of the people in it.  You can be sure that I will be praying for all of you in the days ahead.

I hope that you will do what our church in Akron did.

Just give Tina a chance to be your pastor.

My bet is that you will fall in love with her too.

Blessings,

Pastor John

 

 

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‘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.

 

The Lesson of Grace

“The Lesson of Grace”

December 24, 2017

(Christmas Eve)

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 9:2-7                            Titus 2:11-14              Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

 

 

Reading #1 – Isaiah 9:2-5

 

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.

 

 

Reading #2 – Isaiah 9:6-7

 

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

 

Reading #3 – Luke 2:1-7

 

2:1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

 

 

 

Reading #4 – Luke 2:8-14

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to 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. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

 

 

Reading #5 – Luke 2:15-20

 

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

 

 

Meditation:

“The Lesson of Grace”

 

Isaiah announced to Israel that the coming messiah would bring light into a dark world.  The coming of the messiah would bring joy and peace not only to Israel, but to the entire world and his rule and reign would never end.

 

Luke tells us the story about how the messiah arrived on earth to fulfill the promises that God had made to his people through the prophets of the Old Testament.  This story tells us about “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” of the world, and not just for Israel or for the Jewish people.

 

Our last scripture reading for the evening comes from the book of Titus.  This is one of Paul’s short, pastoral letters that was written to his missionary assistant, Titus (obviously), whom he had sent to share the gospel of Jesus Christ on the island of Crete in the Mediterranean.  Here, Paul reflects on what the coming of the messiah, Jesus,  means to us today (Titus 2:11-14) saying…


11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

 

Paul describes Jesus as the grace of God in human flesh, God’s agent of salvation and rescue for all people everywhere and not just to the people who live within the nation of Israel or only to the descendants of Abraham.  But to everyone who chooses to follow Jesus and listens to his voice, we learn how to become better than we used to be.  Listening to Jesus and following his teaching draws us closer to God and allows us to put immorality behind us.  No, we aren’t likely to be perfect any time soon, but each day we learn to increase and improve our self-control so that we can become better and live in a way that honors God.  We are each a work in progress.  We are called to struggle every day to become more godly, more upright, and to have hope in the future because of Jesus.

 

We exchange gifts during this season of Christmas because we remember the gifts that the Magi brought from afar and gave to Jesus, but more importantly because we remember that Jesus gave his own life as a gift so that we could be rescued from wickedness.  It was Jesus’ sacrifice that made it possible for us to be better than we used to be and it is only through that same gift that we can have hope that we will be better tomorrow than we are today.  Because of Jesus, we look forward to the day when God will wash away all of our imperfections and we will become truly perfect, and truly pure, and walk through the gates into God’s house as adopted sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

 

We have done nothing to deserve God’s mercy.

 

We can never do anything to earn such an indescribable gift.

 

And that is why Paul describes Jesus as God’s grace in human flesh.

 

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

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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.

 

“Patience and the Promise Keeper”

“Patience and the Promise Keeper”

December 10, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 40:1-5                          2 Peter 3:8-15                         Mark 1:1-8

 

 

Have you ever received mail from a friend or relative that got lost by the post office somewhere along the way and arrived long after it had been sent?  Have you ever read stories about people who had been separated by World War Two and decades later received love letters or gifts that had been found in an attic by their grandchildren?  These sorts of things take us on journeys out of time, or displaced in time, in some way.  I also think about some of the older families in the east coast.  A friend of mine once told me a story about a friend of his who had been dating a girl in the DuPont family.  The DuPonts are the family that founded, and still own a majority share, of the international chemical conglomerate, but their family goes back to founding of our nation.  The story that I heard was that, while visiting his girlfriend, this young man was invited to help decorate the DuPont family Christmas tree, and while doing so was reminded to handle the decorations with care, because some of them had been handed down from generation to generation and dated back to the 1700’s.  As I heard it, the young man was nearly paralyzed with the fear that he might break something that was clearly irreplaceable.

 

With that in mind, now imagine that while you were unpacking such a box you found a letter from your four or five times great grand parents in which they promised an inheritance that would not only change your life, but would change the course of our nation, and lead to a world in which the leader of the United States would rule over the entire world.  That idea would be pretty hard to get your head around.  A thousand questions would swirl through your mind. How could they have known?  How would they ever be able to accomplish such a thing?  But let’s make it even harder.  Imagine that you were doing some historical research and found a letter with that same kind of bold promise, but the letter in question was so old that the English in it had to be translated before you could understand it.  Imagine that such a letter was written eight hundred years ago in the year 1217, a year in which the Crusades were being fought, Genghis Khan was conquering Persia, the Magna Carta had only just been written, and the Shogun still ruled over Japan.

 

We would think that such a promise was impossible to make or to keep and, after 800 years, had certainly been forgotten.  But that is exactly the sort of thing that we are talking about as we read the prophecies and the promises of God sent to the people of Israel through the prophet Isaiah.  Of course, there’s a big difference between the promises of a human being and the promises of God, but eight hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote these words to the people of Israel in Isaiah 40:1-5:


40:1 
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord;
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

 

And, far from being lost in some library somewhere, the people of Israel kept the words of Isaiah close to their hearts, taught them to their children, passed them down from generation to generation, and read them in their synagogues.  But, much like today, some people in positions of authority, and people who thought that they were “sophisticated” began to think that the words of Isaiah were no longer important or relevant while others took God at his word and had the faith to believe that, despite the long wait, God would keep his promises.  That’s why there were people like Mary and Joseph whose faith allowed them to believe that God was at work in their world and in them.  That’s why scholars from the east (perhaps in Babylon) noticed the birth of the messiah before Israel’s own scholars.  And that’s why the beginning of the book of Mark sounds so familiar to anyone who had ever heard the words of Isaiah. (Mark 1:1-8)

 

1:1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way”—
“a voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”

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.”

 

After 800 years of waiting, God was moving in Israel.  After generations of wondering when it would happen, God’s messenger had arrived to proclaim the arrival of the messiah, savior, and rescuer of Israel.

 

God was keeping his promise.

 

But that 800 year wait seems like a long time.  In fact, 800 year doesn’t “seem” like a long time, 800 years “is” an extraordinarily long time.  And as we notice that, we cannot help but notice that it’s been almost 2000 years since Jesus rose from the dead and promised to return.  So much is different. So much has changed.  Are we wrong?  Has God forgotten?  Is God slow to keep his promises?  Or is it something else?

 

These are not uncommon questions.  In fact, these are not new questions.  In a letter to the entire church and to believers everywhere, Jesus’ disciple and close friend Peter addresses some of these very questions.

(2 Peter 3:8-15)

 

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare.

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 15 Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him.

 

Peter reminds us that the God who spoke galaxies and stars and the entire universe into existence is not a creature that is a slave to time in the way that we are.  God sees time but experiences it, or at least thinks about it, in an entirely different way.  Perhaps simply being an immortal, eternal being makes him less constrained by, or less concerned with, the passage of time than human are.  But in any case, Peter explains that God is not slow in the way that we understand slowness.  God has made promises to his people, and God intends to keep those promises.  But since God is not only eternal and immortal, but also omniscient, or all-knowing, God has the ability to keep his promises in a way that benefits the most people.  God does not desire for anyone to die in their sin, but desires instead that everyone might repent and be saved.  Rather than rush to fulfill his promises, God chooses to be patient in order that more people might have the opportunity to be saved.

 

But Peter also reminds us that a day of destruction, the end of the world, and judgement is coming.  We therefore look forward to a new creation, a new heaven, and a new earth where the righteous will live forever.  But as we look forward, we are called to do all that we can, in Peter’s words, to “make every effort” to live righteous lives, to be as perfect as possible, so that we might “be found spotless, blameless, and at peace” with God.

 

And so, on this second Sunday of Advent, as we light the candle of Love, we remember that God is not slow to keep his promises, but instead is being patient with us.  God is taking his time to give us another chance to get it right.  God is being patient so that we might make another effort to be righteous, to be as perfect as we can be, to be more like Jesus than ever before, and to tell even more people about the Good News of Jesus so that everyone might repent and be saved.

 

It was 800 years from the time prophecies of Isaiah to their fulfillment in time of Jesus, and it’s been almost 2000 years since Jesus promised that he would return.

 

God is not slow.

 

God is giving us another chance to get it right.

 

Let’s not waste it.

 

 

 

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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.

 

In Him… You

“In Him… You”

December 03, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Isaiah 64:1-9              1 Corinthians 1:3-9                           Mark 13:24-37

 

Today we begin the season of Advent, a time of preparing ourselves, and most importantly, preparing our hearts, for the coming of the Messiah, the Prince of Peace.  Traditionally, our Advent scripture readings include passages from the prophet Isaiah because contained within his words, are prophecies that tell of the messiah that is to come.  But today, as we read Isaiah 64:1-9, we not only see the prophecies of Isaiah’s future, but also a record of the prayers of his people:

 

64:1 Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down,
that the mountains would tremble before you!
As when fire sets twigs ablaze
and causes water to boil,
come down to make your name known to your enemies
and cause the nations to quake before you!
For when you did awesome things that we did not expect,
you came down, and the mountains trembled before you.
Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived,
no eye has seen any God besides you,
who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
You come to the help of those who gladly do right,
who remember your ways.
But when we continued to sin against them,
you were angry.
How then can we be saved?
All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away.
No one calls on your name
or strives to lay hold of you;
for you have hidden your face from us
and have given us over to our sins.

Yet you, Lord, are our Father.
We are the clay, you are the potter;
we are all the work of your hand.
Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord;
do not remember our sins forever.
Oh, look on us, we pray,
for we are all your people.

 

Isaiah tells of the messiah that is to come by remembering the prayers of the past, prayers that God would come to earth once again as he did in the time of Moses, prayers that God would rescue his people from their sin, prayers that God could find a way to forgive them for all the ways that his people had offended him, and prayers that God might be able to shape them, as a potter shapes clay, into a people that were worthy of him.

 

What we might find to be interesting about this is the similarity between these words of Isaiah, and the words of Jesus that we find in Mark 13:24-37.  Here, rather than looking forward to the arrival of the baby Jesus, the messiah born in Bethlehem, we instead look forward to the second coming of Jesus, a day of judgement rather than a day of rescue and forgiveness.

 

24 “But in those days, following that distress,

“‘the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light;
25 the stars will fall from the sky,
and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’

26 “At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.

28 “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.

 

32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.

35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’”

 

Much like Isaiah, Jesus tells of the day that the messiah will come, but this time he describes the second coming instead of the first.  And in this prophecy, Jesus warns God’s people to be on guard, to keep watch, or to be ready.  Like Isaiah, Jesus warns the people of God that they must be worthy of the one who has called them.

 

This warning to keep watch, or to be ready, is critically important to us, not only as individuals as we face judgement, but to all of us as a church as we attempt to fulfill the mission of Jesus Christ from day-to-day.

 

Why?

 

In just a few words found in 1 Corinthians 1:3-9, Paul explains it this way:


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

 

I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge— God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

 

First, Paul reminds the church that the grace of God has been given to us in the name and in the person of Jesus Christ.  Second, it is in him that you have been blessed, or enriched, with all kinds of speech and with all kinds of knowledge.  There is no spiritual gift that we are missing as we wait for the return of Jesus Christ.  We have everything that we could possibly need in order to do the work that we have been called to do for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus himself lends us the strength that we need to stand firm so that we can stand before God on judgement day and be declared blameless.  We know these things because we know that God is faithful and has called us into fellowship with his Son, Jesus.

 

But there is something else.

 

Paul also says that in God, you have been enriched in every way, you have been blessed in every way, with all kinds of speech, and with all kinds of knowledge, and in this way God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  Let me repeat that.  In this way, through the use of our gifts, God confirms the message of Jesus Christ among us.  What Paul is saying is that through the faith of God’s people, and through the actions of God’s people, the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed and confirmed to the world around us.

 

That is the burden that we bear as the church and as the followers of Jesus Christ.  It is through our faith, and it is through our actions, every one of us, that the truth of the message of Jesus Christ is revealed to our family, our friends, our neighbors, and to the world.

 

That is the heart of what Paul means by “In him, you…”

 

And so, as we begin this season of Advent, let us take a long look at ourselves.  Let each of us ask, “Does my faith reveal the truth of the message of Jesus to my neighbors?”  “Do my actions reveal the truth of Jesus to the world?”

 

It is in asking, and in truthfully answering, these questions that we might keep watch, prepare ourselves, and be ready for the coming of the Prince of Peace.

 

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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.