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.

 

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How Will You Be Remembered?

“How Will You Be Remembered?”

October 29, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Deuteronomy 34:1-12         1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                  Matthew 22:34-46

 

 

The story is told that while Calvin Coolidge was sometimes referred to by his opponents as the “Do nothing” president, he was still popular with many Americans.  When a reporter once asked how both of these things could be true, he responded by saying simply, “America wanted nothing done… so I done it.”  Calvin Coolidge was okay with being known as the “do nothing” president because, in his view, that is what he was elected to do.

 

But here’s a different thought.  How many of you have ever been to a funeral or visited a cemetery?

 

In both cases, we encounter the names of the deceased but when we do, that information is almost always associated with two additional pieces of information, the date of that person’s birth, and the date of their death.  Quite often there is also a dash or some other typographical marking that stands between these two dates.  As we walk through a cemetery, we generally find that we don’t know any, or at least few, of the people who have been buried there.  All that we know of them are those bits of information on their tombstone.

 

But what about that dash?

 

For those of us who are strangers, it conveys no additional information.  We don’t know what they did, who they were, what they were like, or who their friends were.  But to their friends and to their relatives, and perhaps to a few genealogists of historians, that dash means something else entirely.  For the people who knew them, or to those who studied them, that dash is a remembrance, it gives us a snippet of time in which we remember.  We remember who they were, how they lived, what they meant to us, and how they made us feel.

 

Poet Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

 

And as we bring in new members this week and as we prepare to celebrate All Saints Day next week that brings us to a question that all of us need to consider: How will you be remembered?  What is it that you want people to remember about you when the time comes to carve that dash in your tombstone?  This is important because choosing how we want to be remembered will have an enormous impact on how we choose to live our lives, it will have a significant effect on decisions that we make every single day, and it will change how we treat the people around us.

 

We begin this morning in Deuteronomy 34:1-12 where we meet Moses at the very end of his life and as we witness his death and burial, and as we watch Joshua assume leadership over the nation of Israel.


34:1 
Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said.He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spirit of wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

 

On the surface this is a story about the death of Moses and Joshua’s succession to the leadership of Israel, but a significant part of this passage is about Moses’ dash and describes for us what the people of Israel remembered about Moses after his death.  They remembered that Moses was a “servant of the Lord.”  We are told that he remained intellectually and physically vital in his old age because “his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.”  Moses was a man “whom the Lord knew face to face,” who did “signs and wonders” as an agent of God in Egypt, and who was responsible for the freedom of the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt.  Moses was remembered for being the only person, ever, to display the kind of power that he did, or perform the awesome deeds that he did, or have the kind of relationship with God that he did, and he did it all in front of an entire nation.

 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8 we see something similar.  In this case it isn’t about death, but as Paul reminds the church about his visit with them, he doesn’t talk about fundraising, or politics, or disagreements that they had, he focuses on the dash, on the things that he wants them to remember about him, about his ministry, and about themselves.
2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results.We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

 

Paul says that he and his companions had been treated outrageously and their ministry faced strong opposition.  But even so, their motives were pure, they didn’t use flattery to manipulate people, they weren’t greedy, their ministry wasn’t about ego or power, but instead they were innocent like children.  They cared for the church, they loved the people, and they shared not only the gospel of Jesus Christ, but they shared their lives together.

 

Paul wants the people to remember the importance of the gospel message, but he also wants them to remember that the message was delivered with compassion, tenderness, integrity, love, and lives shared with one another.  The facts were important, the gospel message was important, but so was the dash; the way that they remembered the delivery of that message and how they felt were also vitally important.

 

And finally, in Matthew 22:34-46, we encounter a story where the religious leaders of Jesus’ time once again sought to embarrass, discredit, and humiliate him.  But once again, their attempt doesn’t quite turn out the way that they expected.

 

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

 

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

 

In the time of Jesus, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were dueling political parties and each held power in a different way.  The Sadducees believed only in the oldest books of scripture and had power sharing agreements with the Roman government.  The Pharisees believed in the whole of scripture, as well as the importance of the writings of learned Rabbis and scholars.  These two groups often opposed one another both publically and privately. In our story, the Sadducees try to make Jesus look foolish, and when they fail the Pharisees, being competitive, decide that they should take a swing at it.  If they succeed where their opposition had failed, they would look good to the people and shame their opponents at the same time.

 

But when they try, they fail as miserably as the Sadducees had.  Without hesitation, Jesus handles their hardest question without getting tangled in any of the potential political or religious arguments that might have been attached to it.  Jesus demonstrates clear and precise thinking, cuts to the heart of the question and provides a direct, solid, theologically correct, and definitive answer.  But, having answered their question, Jesus has a question of his own, regarding the identity of the Messiah.  Everyone knew that the father was always superior to his sons, and a king was always superior to his heirs, and so when Jesus asked how the Messiah could be both the son and heir of the great King David, and, at the same time worshipped and called Lord by that same King David… the Pharisees are stumped.  They have no idea. In all their theological training, and all of their scholarly study, none of them had understood that the messiah would be both the son of man and the son of God.  They totally missed the idea that the messiah was to be not only a human savior, but also divine, God in human flesh.

 

And so this also adds to the dash of Jesus.  The Pharisees and the Sadducees no longer dare to ask Jesus questions or to try to trick him into looking foolish because every time they try, Jesus answers their most difficult questions and instead embarrassed them in front of the people they were trying to impress.  Jesus, even among his opponents, becomes known as quick witted, intelligent, theologically learned, politically astute, wily, and both street smart and book smart.  To his friends and followers, Jesus is remembered as someone who makes them feel safe, protected, and loved, but to his opponents he is feared and respected for his intellect and his ability to make them look, and feel, foolish.

 

Calvin Coolidge was known as the “do nothing president” but also as a skillful and honest public servant.  Moses is remembered as the rescuer of Israel, the most powerful prophet ever, and the man who had the closest relationship with God.  Paul wanted the church to remember that he was honest, that he loved them, cared for them, and taught them the truth of the gospel message.  Jesus, even among his enemies is remembered as smart, thoughtful, theologically intelligent, and a force to be reckoned with.

 

For those of us who know and love Jesus, there is little doubt about the importance of the dash between his birth and his death.

 

But what about you?

 

The choices that you make today, the choices that you make this week, and the way that you treat the people around you, shapes your dash.

 

The message that you carry with you, either a message of hope or a message of despair, is up to you.

 

You can carry with you the compassion, mercy and love of Jesus Christ and the good news of his life, death, resurrection, and rescue of the entire world, or you can allow the people around you to stumble under the guilt, fear, and other burdens that they carry.

 

What choices will you make?  How will you live your life?  How will the people around you feel when you are with them?

 

How will you be remembered?

 

 

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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.

 

Dedication Determines Destination

“Dedication Determines Destination”

July 02, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 22:1-14                      Romans 6:12-23

 

 

On July 4th, 1776, fifty-six men from 13 colonies signed the American Declaration of Independence.  Of these, nine were immigrants, two were brothers, two were cousins, and one was an orphan. The average age of a signer was 45. Benjamin Franklin was the oldest delegate at 70. The youngest was Thomas Lynch Jr. of South Carolina at 27.

 

They were merchants, businessmen, farmers, doctors, lawyers, judges, legislators, one a clergyman, and while most all were Protestant, only one was Catholic.

 

What they signed was a list of grievances against the King of England that had not been resolved and, having complained, had been made worse.  At the end of this declaration was an oath in which they swore their “support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”

 

And they did.  And the cost, for many of them, was steep.

 

Seventeen signers fought in the American Revolution and the British captured five of them during the war. Richard Stockton never recovered from his incarceration at the hands of British Loyalists. He died in 1781.  Thomas McKean wrote to John Adams and said that he was “hunted like a fox by the enemy – compelled to remove my family five times in a few months.” Abraham Clark had two of his sons captured by the British during the war.  Eleven signers had their homes and property destroyed. Francis Lewis’s home was razed and his wife taken prisoner. John Hart’s farm and mills were destroyed when the British invaded New Jersey, and he died while fleeing capture. Carter Braxton and Thomas Nelson lent large sums of their personal fortunes to support the war effort but were never repaid.1 Thomas Lynch contracted swamp fever while fighting with the South Carolina militia and his illness left him sickly for the rest of his life. Seeking relief from his illness he and his wife sailed for the south of France and were lost at sea.  Joseph Hewes worked night and day and spent himself creating the new United States Navy.  His health failed and he died from overexertion.2

 

These men knew that signing the Declaration of Independence would mark them as an enemy of the king and all of England.  They didn’t make their choice of allegiance lightly.  They knew that the American colonies had chosen a destination that would carry them away from England, her king, and their empire.  But they also knew that reaching that destination would take incredible courage and dedication.  Without their dedication and sacrifice, our freedom would have been impossible.

 

This is the theme that we also see in today’s scripture readings.  We begin in Genesis 22:1-14, as we continue with the story of Abraham and Sarah.

 

22:1Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.”

Early the next morning Abraham got up and loaded his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, “Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you.”

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And the two of them went on together.

When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

“Here I am,” he replied.

12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

13 Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

 

God, knowing full well that Abraham and Sarah had sent Ishmael and his mother out into the desert to die, or at the very least, knowing that they would never return, God asks Abraham, to take Isaac, his only son, his most prized, most loved, the son through whom God had promised to produce nations and people more numerous than the stars, and the one thing Abraham held to be more valuable than any other, even more than his own life, and to sacrifice him as a burnt offering on the top of a mountain.  This was God’s test.  God knew that Abraham loved him.  God knew that Abraham trusted him, but God still wondered if Abraham was “All in.”  To be fair, Abraham also knew what God had promised.  He knew that God had promised that Isaac would be blessed and that God would make his family into a great nation.  Abraham knew that Isaac was only the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abraham’s children as numberless as the stars in the sky.  But now God wanted Abraham to take that promise to the top of a mountain and put a knife to Isaac’s neck.  We don’t know what Abraham was thinking.  Maybe he was thinking that God would relent and change his mind.  Maybe he was thinking that God would raise Isaac from the dead.  We don’t know.

 

What we know is, that in the end, Abraham did everything that God asked.  Abraham was fully prepared to end Isaac’s life if that was truly what God wanted.  Now God knew, without a shadow of a doubt that Abraham was “All in.”  There was nothing, not even this most prized, most loved, most cherished son, as well as the love of his wife (because I just don’t see Sarah being the same if Abraham had come home without Isaac), not even that would Abraham keep from God if that was what God desired.  This is the most extreme example, but this is what it looks like to give everything to God.  Especially after last week’s lesson, we know that Abraham was far from perfect.  But he was willing to give God everything that had any value to him.  God blessed Abraham, and Isaac, and their family and still does so today.

 

Abraham’s dedication determined his destination.

 

In Romans 6:12-23, Paul explains it this way:

 

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

 

15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

19 I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations. Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

 

Paul’s first argument is that we are each like an instrument offered to God.  Every part of us needs to be equally dedicated to God.  To withhold a part of our lives, and to offer God less than all of ourselves, produced a gift like a guitar with missing strings, or a trumpet with one valve stuck, or a piano with some of the keys missing.

 

Next, Paul again confronts what must have been a common argument to excuse sin.  The argument was that since the sacrifice of Jesus and the grace offered by God now supersedes the Law of the Old Testament, then sin is therefore permissible.  But Paul destroys that argument by saying that human beings, by nature, will enslave themselves to something.  We are enslaved by our desires, our lusts, our passions; we are enslaved by greed, sex, power, and a host of other things.  But the gift of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allows us a choice.  We can continue to be enslaved by our sin, or we can choose to give ourselves instead to a good, just, and merciful master who will set us free from sin and make us slaves to doing right.  What’s more, when we are enslaved by our desires, the direction of our lives will lead to death but if we are enslaved to righteousness, our lives lead to eternal life.

 

Our dedication determines our destination.

 

The signers of the American Declaration of Independence knew with absolute certainty that what they were doing was an act of treason and would make them enemies of the King, of England, and the empire.  They understood that liberty and freedom for the new American colonies would come at a price and they were prepared to dedicate their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor in pursuit of that goal.

 

And it was their dedication that determined the destination of our nation.

 

Abraham and Sarah spent their entire lives praying and waiting for God to fulfill his promise to give them a son, and when God gave them Isaac, he became the most treasured thing in their lives.  But when God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to demonstrate his devotion and dedication Abraham was prepared to hold nothing back and give everything, even his most precious son, back to God.

 

And his dedication determined his destination.

 

That same choice falls to each one of us in our spiritual life.  Just as you cannot make beautiful music on a guitar that is missing strings, or a piano with broken keys, neither can we withhold parts of ourselves from God.  We will, by nature, drift into slavery to something but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the grace of God allow us to choose whether we want to be slaves to our own desires, or slaves to God and slaves to doing what’s right.  When God asks us if we are “All in” he isn’t just asking if we are his fans, he is asking if we, like Abraham, are willing to give God absolutely everything that has value to us.  Your willingness to be “sold out” to God is literally a choice between life and death.

 

Your dedication, determines your destination.

 

Are you… “All in?”

 

 

 

 

 

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1Note: Information from Larry James • CelebrateLove.com These are his sources: Robert Lincoln, Lives of the Presidents of the United States, with Biographical Notices of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence(Brattleboro Typographical Company, 1839); John and Katherine Bakeless, Signers of the Declaration (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969); Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774-1989 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1989).
2 http://www.revolutionary-war-and-beyond.com/declaration-of-independence-signatures.html
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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.

Looking Back, Moving Forward

“Looking Back, Moving Forward”

October 16, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

Scripture: Jeremiah 31:27-34            Luke 18:1-8                2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5

There is a moment in time that comes before and after every natural disaster, war for independence, revolution, civil war, victory, defeat,                     battle, business plan, annual report, board meeting, and most Monday mornings.  That moment is the moment when we recognize that we are not trapped in the past and must now do what is necessary to move into the future.  It seems obvious, but many of us have met people, churches, government officials, and others who were so paralyzed by the fear of change that they were unable to move forward or participate in the present.  At the same time, moving forward does not require that we forget our past, regardless of how marvelous or how painful that our past might have been.

Each one of us as individuals, as well as all of us as a people and as a culture, has a history, and that history is what has formed us and shaped us into the people that we have become.  In order for us to be healthy, we need to be able to look behind us to see, understand, and learn from our past, to look ahead to the future, to make plans and steer around potential obstacles in our path, but we also need to act.  Planning for the future is of no use if we remain so stuck in the past or in the present that we cannot move our feet and begin taking steps to reach our objectives, goals, and dreams.

With all of this in mind, we begin this morning by reading Jeremiah 31:27-34, where, in the midst of the horror and depression brought about by the realization that Jerusalem was about to be conquered and her people taken away into captivity, God comes to his people once again, with a message of hope.

27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals.28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say,

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”

As the people begin to understand that Jeremiah is right and their king is wrong, that God really intends to bring about the fall of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem, they understandably become afraid.  And as they do, God points to better days.  A day is coming, God says, when I will make a new covenant with my people.  As good as I have been to the people of Israel under the covenant that I made with Moses, I intend to make an even better one.  Instead of writing the law on tablets, I will write it in their hearts.  God’s clear intention was to plant his people on Earth in the same way that human beings plant gardens, orchards, and farms.  God intended for Israel, Judah, and all of his people to grow in faith and in numbers so that their presence would fundamentally transform the entire world.

But how can God’s people, how can we, transform the world?

Scripturally, there are several ways that are discussed.  First of all, we are called to be agents of light in a dark world by sharing the Good News of the coming of Jesus Christ.  We are to be hope to the hopeless, to love the unlovable, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, show compassion, and to be agents of justice, forgiveness and reconciliation.

But scripture also tells us that we can’t do any of these things alone.

We can, however, do all of these things through the power of the Spirit of God that has lives within us.

In Luke 18:1-8, Jesus explains how we are to break through the injustice of human systems of selfishness, law, and government.

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

While we alone are quite powerless, together, with God, there is nothing that we cannot accomplish.  Where we most often fail, however, is in trying to do everything through our own strength, wit, and intelligence instead of regularly asking God for his help.

But assuming that we remember to do things in the right order, and we remember to ask God for his help, encouragement, empowerment, and guidance, then what?

Once we have assessed our past, made plans for the future, and have enlisted God’s guidance and help, then we can begin to move forward.  In 2 Timothy 3:14 – 4:5, Paul gives his protégé these instructions:

3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it,15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Paul says that reading and studying the scriptures makes us wise and, because God is the author, it is also the tool that we need to teach, rebuke, correct, and train others, and one another, as we follow the path toward righteousness.  God’s word to us in the scriptures is what equips us to do the work of the Kingdom of God.

And so, what does Paul say that we need to do in order to move forward?

Do the things that we have learned.

Preach the word.

Be prepared.

Carefully, and with great patience, correct, rebuke and encourage.

Keep your head.

Endure hardship.

And do all the things required by your ministry.

We are all a part of the body of Christ.

Each one of us has a part to play in building God’s kingdom and growing his church.  And as we attempt to understand what God is calling us to do, we can still be moving forward.

We must recognize that we are not trapped in the past and must now do what is necessary to move into the future.  We cannot be so paralyzed by the fear of change that they were unable to move forward or participate in the present.  But that doesn’t mean that we should forget our past.  We all have a culture and a history that has made us who we are. But while we must learn from our past, we look ahead, make plans, and steer around obstacles, but we also need to act.

A writer begins a book by writing.

A runner trains for a race by running.

And likewise, we must do the things that we have learned.

Look forward.

Pray.

And just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Its okay to look back, but we keep moving forward.

 

 

 

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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.