Because… God.

“Because… God.”

July 08, 2018*

By John Partridge

 

 

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10              2 Corinthians 12:2-10                       Mark 6:1-13

 

What is it that makes a human being weak or strong?

 

Weak people tend to be forgotten by history so let’s think about people in history that we would describe as strong.  Abraham Lincoln was often attacked from both sides as he guided our wounded nation through the Civil War.  Winston Churchill held the British Empire together during the darkest days of the blitz.  George Patton demanded nothing less than excellence from every person under his command and they rose to his expectations and did things that many believed to be impossible.  Often, the parents that watch over a sick child demonstrate an incredible strength.  Athletes can demonstrate incredible strength of will.

 

We say that these people are different because they have character, or strength of will, or unusual determination, or stubbornness applied in the right direction.

 

But what about the people who have done great things for the kingdom of God?

 

What is it that makes the heroes of scripture notable?  Why was David a great king and Saul a bad one?  Why was Paul great after he meet Jesus on the Damascus road but evil and misguided before that?  And why was Jesus reliably wonderful everywhere, but nearly unable to do anything at all when he visited Nazareth?

 

Let’s take these examples in historical order and begin with David.  We begin this morning with 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 where we hear a simple summary of his coronation and his life:

5:1 All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood. In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns. And the Lord said to you, ‘You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.’”

When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel.

David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

David then took up residence in the fortress and called it the City of David. He built up the area around it, from the terraces inward. 10 And he became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

First, David was a shepherd. Then he was anointed by God’s prophet as the king of Israel, but it took many years before God’s anointing could be recognized.  In the meantime, he was a musician to the king, a warrior, a soldier, a military leader, and then he was on the run from the king, even when he was keeping the borders of Israel safe with his own militia.  Finally, David was made king over the tribes of Judah, and even later, united the twelve tribes when he was also anointed as king over the tribes of Israel.  During all that time, he remained faithful to God and grew in power.  But our scripture is clear in saying that David “became more and more powerful, because the Lord God Almighty was with him.

David didn’t become powerful because he was handsome, or virtuous, or a great warrior, or personable, or likeable, or charismatic, or determined, or stubborn, although I am certain that he was all those things.  Scripture tells us that David became powerful and did the things that he did because God was with him.

Last week we were reminded that it is God who does the doing, and we see that same theme in these scriptures today.  David wasn’t great because of chance, and David wasn’t great because of David.  David was great because… God was with him.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.” But sometimes we feel paralyzed by the situations in which we find ourselves.  Other times, we allow our fear to be an excuse for our inaction.  In “The English Wife”, author Lauren Willig, says, “I don’t believe anything’s really inevitable until it happens. We just call it inevitable to make ourselves feel better about it, to excuse ourselves for not having done anything.” And Mehmet Murat ildan distills that idea further by saying, “Inaction is the worst action of human beings.”

But when we read the story of Mark 6:1-13, sorting out who is doing what, and who is doing nothing is not at all what we expect.

6:1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.

“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Then Jesus went around teaching from village to village. Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.

These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. 10 Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. 11 And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

12 They went out and preached that people should repent. 13 They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.

Although Jesus had been going throughout Israel healing the sick and performing great miracles, when he arrives in his hometown of Nazareth, he really doesn’t do much of anything.  But the reason that Jesus doesn’t do much is that the people have no faith.  They have fallen for the great lit.  They have fallen for the lie that “people like me can’t.”  That lie is just as common today as it was then.  They were thinking this way: “Since we know Jesus’ parents, and his siblings, since we watched him grow up, since we watched him learn his trade, since we grew up with him, since he is like us, and we know that people like me can’t, people like me can’t be great, then we know that he can’t be the Messiah.”  So deeply have they bought into this lie, that they were offended at him and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith.

But that didn’t stop Jesus.  It didn’t even slow him down.  He continued to preach from village to village and then he also sends out his disciples, two by two, and they go from village to village teaching, and preaching, and healing, and casting out demons.  When Jesus is faced with the lie that “people like me can’t” he turns the lie on it’s head and sends out even more ordinary people, even more “people like me,” to do the extraordinary work that he was doing.

Why?

Not because these guys were well bred, or because they had a great education from an ivy league school, and not because they had mad skills.  They didn’t have any of those things.

So, why could they do what they did?

It’s simple.

Because God… was with them.

The Apostle Paul was an amazing preacher. And Paul did come from the right kind of family, and he did have all the right connections, and he did go to all the right schools.  But when God decided to use him, God left some imperfection in him that haunted him for his entire life.

Reading from 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, we hear these words:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul was that blue-blood, ivy league, know the right people, kind of guy.  But when God called him, he made sure that Paul would always remember that it wasn’t any of those things, and it wasn’t Paul, that made Paul great.  Even though a lot of ink has been spilled by theologians arguing about it, we don’t know what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was.  But what we do know, is that it was enough.  Paul’s thorn in the flesh was, for him, a constant reminder that he had been sent by God, was being empowered by God, and all his success had to be attributed to God.  Whatever Paul accomplished through his own strength was pointless, but everything that he accomplished because of his weakness pointed to God.

God relishes our weaknesses because it is in our weakness that his strength becomes obvious and the world can see Jesus most clearly.  That’s why Paul said, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”  God seems to delight in using fishermen, and carpenters, and farmers.  He uses demon possessed people, and prostitutes, tax collectors, enemy collaborators, foreigners, lepers, and yes, God has even been known to use dead people from time to time.

Don’t ever believe the lie that people like us can’t.  Or that God can’t use people like us.

David was a shepherd.  Jesus was a Carpenter.  Paul had a thorn in the flesh.  And all of them remembered that the things they did weren’t because of them but because… God was with them.

The truth is, God delights in using people like us.  People like me.  People like you.

All we need to do, is to have faith.

Remember, people don’t do great things because they’re great.  People do great things for God’s kingdom because…

…God is with them.

We are called by God.  This church is called by God.  And every one of us needs to remember that we can do great things for the kingdom of God because…

…God is with us.

 

 

 

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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at 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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Struggle

“Struggle”

August 06, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Genesis 32:22-31                                Romans 9:1-5                                     Matthew 14:13-21

 

 

 Have you ever just sat and watched a butterfly?

 

At home we have a butterfly bush that is a favorite of humming birds and butterflies and at certain times of the year it can be crowded with flying things.  Once, at one of the zoos that we visited, we got to go through a greenhouse that was filled with butterflies.  It was an amazing experience.  Many of us have had science teachers who brought in a chrysalis and set it in an aquarium where we could watch it.  And if we were lucky, we were in school when the time came for the butterfly or moth to open the chrysalis, struggle greatly for an hour or more, climb out, and begin its new life.  But it is here when the butterfly is in the most danger, both from nature and from kindhearted humans.  While the butterfly is attempting to climb out of the chrysalis and while its wings are drying, it is nearly defenseless and utterly vulnerable to predators.  But it is also in great danger from human beings who want to be helpful because while its climb out of the chrysalis into the world is filled with struggle, if a helpful human being opens the chrysalis and lays the creature on a branch, that creature will never be a butterfly.  Its wings will never form properly, and its body will always be bloated and misshapen.  In this case, kindness has robbed the butterfly of the struggle that would have forced fluids out of its swollen body and into its wings.  Those fluids needed to come out of its body and expand its wings into their final form and the only way that they could move from one place to the other was through the struggle to squeeze out of the chrysalis and climb out into the world.  It is the struggle that completes the transformation from caterpillar to butterfly, and without the struggle that miraculous transformation never happens.

 

In today’s scriptures we are reminded that much of our life, and much of our spiritual life, is filled with struggle.  But, as unpleasant as that struggle can be, it is often the vehicle that carries us from one side of transformation to the other.  We begin in Genesis 32:22-31, where we find Jacob preparing to meet his estranged brother Esau.  When they had last seen one another, Jacob had swindled Esau out of his birthright, out of his father’s blessings, and out of a third of his father’s estate and so, Jacob was afraid of what might happen at their meeting.  With that in mind we hear this:

 

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

 

As Jacob prepares to meet his brother Esau, he is sending his herds, his servants, and even his family ahead of him in waves, each carrying greetings and gifts in the hope that Esau will be persuaded not to kill him or take revenge in some other way.  And on this last night before their meeting, in that place, during the night, he meets… and wrestles with, God.  Jacob demands a blessing from God before they part, but in the process wrenches his hip and acquires a limp that he will carry with him for the rest of his life.  Jacob names that places, Penial, which means “face of God” because he knew that he had met God face to face, and God gives Jacob the name Israel, which in this context likely means “struggles with God.”  On the evening before he meets his brother, a meeting which might literally become a life or death fight between brothers, Jacob meets, struggles with, and is blessed by God.  For the rest of his life he limped because of this struggle, and with every step he remembered that it was this same struggle that brought him God’s blessing.

 

The Apostle Paul lived a life that was full of struggle but in Romans 9:1-5, he outlines one of his greatest frustrations saying…


9:1 I speak the truth in Christ—I am not lying, my conscience confirms it through the Holy Spirit— 2I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption to sonship; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises. 5Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.

 

Paul was born and raised as a Jew and he had always been proud if his heritage, his religion, and his God.  As he travelled on the road to Damascus to capture and punish those people whom he believed were perverting and damaging his faith, Paul met the risen Jesus.  Paul’s life was changed in an instant and he knew that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the rescuer of God’s people.  But the joy of that knowledge came with what he described as “great sorrow and unceasing anguish” in his heart because despite his love and respect for the heritage of Israel, despite the stories and the teaching of the patriarchs, despite the covenants of God, despite the construction of and the worship in the temple, and despite the ancestry of and the genealogy of Jesus, many Jews would be lost because they did not have faith in the messiah.  Paul’s great desire was to save Israel, and he wished that he could be cursed and trade places with his people so that they could be saved… but he could not.  Paul continually struggled with the difference between his compassion and love for his people and the reality that they did not know, trust, or believe in the Messiah Jesus.

 

But it was this struggle that drove him, constantly, throughout his entire life, to preach the good news, and to use whatever energy that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

And then in Matthew 14:13-21 we read the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and we discover that there are everyday struggles in the Christian life as we try to be obedient and faithful.  We join the story, just as Jesus learns that his friend, and his cousin, John the Baptist, has been beheaded.

 

13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”

17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.

18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.

 

Jesus is tired and he is grieving at the news he has just received.  And so he withdraws to a remote and quiet place so that he can be alone.  But the crowds follow him and as much as Jesus wants to rest, as much as he wants to grieve the loss of his friend and relative, he feels the needs of the people, has compassion on them, and cares for their needs instead of his own.  And as evening comes, the disciples realize that all these people, 5,000 men along with many of their wives and children, will need to eat and so they urge Jesus to send them away so that they can go home or buy food for themselves in nearby villages.  But instead of sending them away, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the hungry with the five small barley loaves and two fish that they found in the sack lunch of one small boy.  For the disciples this was an impossible problem.  In their eyes, they knew that one sack lunch was not nearly enough to feed a crowd of ten thousand or more people.  But Jesus sees the world differently.  Jesus never told the disciples that they should feed everyone a full meal but only that they should give the people… something.  And surprisingly, that is exactly what Jesus did.  He took what little they had, prayed over it, and shared.  Jesus shared what they had, God blessed it, and it was enough.  We are left to wonder what would have happened if the disciples had chosen to share what they had instead of complaining that they didn’t have enough.

 

The disciples of Jesus struggled with the difference between their compassion for the people in the crowd and the reality of one small sack lunch.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their generosity and the reality of their poverty.  The disciples struggled with the difference between their desire to be obedient and their willingness to trust Jesus with all that they had.  The disciples struggled because their faith was inadequate to overcome their understanding of reality.

 

As the followers of Jesus, we struggle with these same things today.  Jesus asks us to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the widows and the orphans, to speak for the voiceless, to be fathers to the fatherless, to love the unloved, to love mercy, and to have compassion for the people around us.  But we struggle because we don’t think we have enough.  We come to Jesus thinking that we need more, that we need more food, that we need more money, we need more time, we need to be a bigger church, we think that we simply don’t have enough.  But Jesus’ answer to our struggles is the same today as it always has been.

 

We don’t need more.

 

We just need to trust Jesus enough to share what we already have.

 

Jacob’s struggle brought him God’s blessing.

 

Paul’s struggle drove him to preach the good news, and to use all that he had to reach, and to save, the lost.

 

Our struggle is the same as that of the disciples.  Every day we struggle because we think that we don’t have enough faith, or enough money, or enough of something else.  But Jesus reminds us that we don’t need more.

 

What we need, is to trust Jesus with what we already have.

 

And we have faith that as we struggle, like the butterfly, day by day, we are being transformed, into the people God created us to be.

 

 

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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.

 

When There Are No Words

blue-christmas1“When There Are No Words”

Blue Christmas Service

December 18, 2016

By John Partridge*

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wondered why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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