Passing the Test

We find ourselves in the first chapter of Job. When we last left him, Job had a good life. He was rich in resources and relationships. His good life begins to change in our reading for today, which is a conversation between God and Satan. According to the text, angels came to present themselves before God. Along with them came Satan himself. God inquires where Satan has been. The Dark One answers freely; he has been roaming the earth. It is God who highlights Job. He is the model for all human life. He is blameless and upright; he fears God and shuns evil. Satan scoffs at God’s observation. Satan basically says, “Why shouldn’t Job do everything you require? After all, you have given him everything he desires.” So to speak, Satan calls out God. He challenges the Almighty. Satan believes Job’s pious ways will stop the moment his good life is interrupted by hardship. God gives Satan permission to test Job. Let me say this clearly:

Satan asks to test Job for one reason. It is the same reason Satan tests us. His greatest desire is to damage our relationship with God. Satan tests us regularly. That is why the news outlets are filled with painful, sad stories. Can I be honest with you? When I compiled the following stories, I found myself becoming emotional.

In the fall of 1984, I received a phone call that tested my faith. My Uncle Bob, who had flown his private plane for years safely, decided to take his extended family up. It was his normal custom. I remember, he took me up once. On that day, he took up his daughter-in-law and her two brothers. The fun ended quickly when his engine stalled during take-off. There were no survivors. It was unbelievable, and for a short time we lived in denial. Just think about it. My Aunt Phyllis lost the love of her life. She has never remarried. Uncle Bob’s daughter-in-law left behind an infant daughter, who does remember her. A mother and father lost their three children in a matter of seconds.  There is no happy ending to this story. You can blame my Uncle Bob, or you can blame his mechanic, but that doesn’t take away the shock.  Our world has a surplus of suffering.

In March of 2002, my wife was driving a Youngstown State University van. The group was returning from a Habitat trip to Florida. The weather was bad, and I was worried. The good news is, they arrived home safely. That wasn’t the story for a van from Bowling Green State University. They were driving home from Florida too. Everyone was having a great time until they got twenty-five miles south of Cincinnati. The rain was heavy, and the driver was driving too fast. The van began to hydroplane and slammed into a truck. Everyone was taken to the hospital, but only the driver survived. How do you live the rest of your life knowing you are responsible for the death of six friends? There is no happy ending to this story. You can blame the driver, but it doesn’t take away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith.

In 2007, teenage sisters were in Pompano Beach, Florida on vacation. They thought it would be fun to go parasailing. They did, and they did have fun, until it happened. The rigging broke loose from the boat. The girls drifted into a nearby building. On impact, the girl sitting on the inside seat died. The girl sitting on the outside seat lived. There are no words, only questions. How do you live the rest of your life without your sister? There is no happy ending to this story. It is easy to blame the parasail operator, but it doesn’t take away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith.

On July 5 of this year, the Salt Lake City Police Department announced they had found the body of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck. Her remains were found in Logan Canyon, 90 miles north of Salt Lake City. She was a student at the University of Utah and had been missing for several weeks. A 31-year-old man, Ayoola Ajayi, was taken into custody and charged with murder. According to her cell phone records, he was her last call at 3:00 AM. You can blame Mackenzie. Nothing good happens at 3:00 AM. You can blame Ajayi. However, that doesn’t take away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith.

Earlier this week, the news came out. A one-and-a-half-year-old girl from Indiana fell to her death on a cruise ship. It is every grandfather’s nightmare. The extended family was taking a cruise together. Everyone was having a great time until the family went to dinner on the eleventh floor. The maternal grandfather, Salvatore Anello, was watching the little girl. For some unknown reason, he sat her on an open window, when he lost his grip. The little girl fell to her death. How do you live the rest of your life, knowing you let your granddaughter fall to her death? It is easy to blame the grandfather, but that doesn’t the away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith. Let me give you one more example.

For the past decade, every major mainline Protestant denomination has wrestled with the issue of sexuality. The United Methodist Church is no exception. I have no clue how much time and money has been spent on the topic. Some have called it the slavery issue of our time. It is a topic we will never agree upon. Did you know that 4.2% of our population falls into the LGBTQ category? (That figure may be high.) Did you know 80% of the world’s population lives on ten dollars a day or less? Not a single word has been uttered on their behalf. That is not just wrong; it is a sin. If you want to experience true suffering in this world, then look at those who are living in true poverty. How much money do you spend in a single day? Our world has a surplus of suffering. Our inactivity tests my faith.

At home, we have been debating the topic of suffering. It has stretched me. Do you believe Satan creates all the suffering in the world? Or do you believe Satan uses the suffering in the world, and bad things just happen? Honestly, I’m just not sure, but I do know all the suffering in our world tests our faith. The question is, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, are you going to pass the test? I can’t eliminate all the hardship and suffering in your life, but I can give you three pieces of pastoral advice. The next time you feel your faith tested, remember these three things:

  1. God is with you! I have said it a million times. There has never been a moment in your life when you have been orphaned. Do you remember the Great Commission? Jesus is speaking to the disciples for the last time. He tells them to go out and make more disciples, and he makes a great promise. It is a promise that is still in effect today. The Master said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:10). Never forget it. God is with you!
  • God believes in you! First Corinthians 10:13 says, And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  That Bible verse is loaded. God must really believe in us, because we are forced to endure so much. Never forget it. God believes in you!
  • God loves you! 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love God the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.”  God loves you so much, he found a way to spend eternity with us. If you have ever questioned God’s love for you, then look at Jesus hanging on the cross. Never forget it. God loves you!

One of the great names in America today is Ted Turner (born 1938). We have looked at him in the past. He is an American media mogul and philanthropist. He owns CNN and the Atlanta Braves, among other things. His personal past is interesting. He was raised in a strict Christian home and jokes that he was saved several times. That faith was tested early in his life when his sister contracted a fatal disease. Ted admits he prayed to save his sister, but she died. Ted Turner reacted like many have reacted. He was mad at God and decided there wasn’t a God. The happiest person on that day was Satan. He had damaged Ted Turner’s relationship with God to the point that Ted Turner didn’t believe there was a God. Financially, Ted Turner is a success. His net worth is $2.2 billion. Spiritually, Ted Turner is bankrupt. He failed the test and is a self-proclaimed atheist. Today, Ted Turner is eighty years old and believes in absolutely nothing. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) once said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

I am assuming you are passing the test. There is no vaccine against pain and hardship. Sooner or later, they will enter our lives and when they do, we will run to God. Because, either you have God in your life, or you have nothing at all. Chuck Swindoll (born 1934) is a Christian evangelical pastor, educator and radio preacher. He founded Insight for Living, which airs on 2,000 radio stations in 15 different countries around the world.He once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. How do you respond to the pain and suffering in this world?

The Good Life

This is how the Book of Job begins. According to the first verse of the first chapter, Job lived in the land of Uz. That information is important for one reason. Uz was a large piece of land to the east of the Jordan River. That means, Job lived outside of Israel, so the story of Job was not just written for Israelites. The story of Job was written for everyone’s benefit. Yet, there is more to his story than location. The same verse also tells us he was blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil. Don’t misunderstand those words. Job was a good man, but Job was a sinner, like us, at heart. Job was a good man with a good life. Verse two tells us he had seven sons, the perfect number. Plus, he had three daughters. Verse three tells us he has seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and numerous servants. What all that means is that Job was rich. Verse three tells us Job was the greatest man of all the people in the East. However, Job wasn’t just rich in resources, he was rich in relationships. He maintained and valued all the relationships in his life. Job was a good man and Job had a good life. Never forget the next line. We are good people and we have good lives too.

This is a historic day in the life of this congregation. Last week, I completed my twenty-fifth year of service here at Western Reserve. That means, today I begin my twenty-sixth year. This church has changed a great deal over the years. Some have asked why I didn’t move on. Some wish I had moved on. When I first came here, I came for my parents. They lived in Warren and I wanted to be close to them. When my parents died, I stayed for my children. This is a great community in which to raise your family. When my children moved out, I stayed for me. I had become part of this community. The truth be told, I had opportunities to move on to other more exciting churches, where I would have made more money, but I refused. I shunned those attempts to be moved by the United Methodist hierarchy, because this is where God wants me to be. That is fine with me, because you are good people and we have good lives. I like to think I lost nothing by not moving and gained a great deal by staying. Those of us who have lived our lives here in the Mahoning Valley are hard on ourselves. We don’t say it very often, but we, like Job, have good lives. Just think about it for a moment.

You have a good life because you have your health! Did you know, according to Medicare and Medicaid sources, 52% of people turning 65 will need long term care in their lives. Long term care means five years or longer. Did you know, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 4.2% of Americans live in nursing homes at any given time. Those figures do not surprise me. I can fill my calendar with visiting the institutionalized. Those are exhausting visits.

The picture is always the same. The resident is always in bed and the television is on in the background. No one is is watching. A tray with half-eaten food is on the side. The words are awkward, as I look for common ground. We visit the past for a couple of minutes, and I end with a prayer. When the prayer is over, the resident looks at me and says, “Russ, I wish I could come back to church one more time.”  You have a good life because you are here today. You have a good life because you have your health!

You have a good life because people are a big part of your life! Sometimes those people are family members. Sometimes those people are friends. Regardless, the people in your life bring you happiness. A recent Harvard study tells us, having strong relationships in our lives promotes brain heath. Friends help us relieve stress, make better choices, and recover from health problems. Can I ask you a question? How many friends do you have? How many friends do you have at this church? Those friendships are extremely valuable because you share the same core values. You have a good life because you have friends!

You have a good life because you live in a true community! Community has nothing to do with economic opportunity or growth. Community has nothing to do with weather. Community has everything to do with a sense of belonging. Webster defines a community as a group of people who live in the same place or have a certain thing in common. We live in a great community because we care about one another. How many fundraisers have you attended for someone who was injured in an accident, or struck with a disease? How many silent auctions have you entered? It would be nice to win the basket, but it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that really matters is that you helped someone in this community. You have a good life because you live in a true community!

You have a good life because you live in the United States of America! Did you know, according to the United Nations, there are 196 countries in the world today. 194 of those countries are members of the United Nations. (The two countries who are not members of the UN are the Vatican City and Palestine.) The UN exists to tackle global issues. According to US News and World Report, the world considers Germany the greatest country in the world to live in, followed by Canada and Great Britain. The United States is number four. Did you know, according to the Pew Research Group, 85% of Americans believe America is the greatest country in the world? It is hard to disagree with that fact. I love visiting other countries, but I am always ready to come home. You have a good life because you live in the United States of America!

You have a good life because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ! This is the sad truth: On the day you die, your American citizenship is revoked. You have a good life because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. When you die, your American citizenship ends, but your citizenship in the Kingdom of God continues. Your time in heaven is eternal. Never forget it: You are not saved by your good works. You are saved by grace, and by grace alone!

If only we could end the story of Job after the fifth verse of the first chapter, it would be a good thing. The problem is, the story of Job continues. Next week, we discover the source of all human suffering. Let me give you a teaser, it isn’t God. The problem is, the story of Job does continue and all the good things in his life are taken from him. Yet, Job prevails in the faith and he continues to worship God. If it is true of Job, then it is true of us. When hardship comes to your life, how will you respond? Will you prevail in the faith, or will you walk away and curse God? It is a question you must answer for yourself. Chuck Swindoll is an evangelical Christian. He is an author, preacher and radio host. He founded Insight for Living, which is now broadcasted on over 2000 station in fifteen different countries around the world. He once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  Let me end with this daily scene from my home.

Every day, I wake between 6:00 and 7:00. The house is quiet because my children are gone, and Kathryn is still down. I start the coffee, check the weather, and log into my bank account to make sure everything is accountable. Then, I walk my dog and call a good friend. Then, I sit down and work on my sermon in the quiet. It is during those quiet times that I begin to worry about some minor details in my life. There seems to be an endless supply. My dog Macy, the world’s best dog, is getting older and that bothers me. My granddaughter is getting older and I worry I haven’t spent enough time with her. My daughters are transitioning and that worries me. There is only so much I can do for them. I worry about my Aunt Phyllis. She is eighty-six and the family matriarch. She is completely healthy, but I worry she won’t make it to the big family wedding next summer. I begin to worry about my refrigerator, because it is sixteen years old and is making a funny noise. I worry about my wife, and I worry about the strain she will be under when she leads the next mission trip to the former Soviet Union. I worry about myself. Maybe my allergies aren’t allergies. Maybe they are masking a more serious problem? Life is moving fast and there are so many things I still want to do. I am not saying my worries paralyze me, but I will admit they weigh me down. Then, I take a shower and go to work.

In my job, every day is different, yet every day is the same. Every day, I connect with all kinds of people. Some communication is by text. Some communication is done face to face. Some is done by phone or email. I have asked the question a million times: what is happening in your life? Usually, what is happening in your life is not good. People tell me they spend too much time going to funeral homes. People tell me they spend too much money at the doctor’s. People tell me about some major problem in their home. People tell me about the broken relationships in their lives, or in their children’s lives. I can field your problems easily, because they are your problems. However, it is my problems that stagger me. However, in all those discussions a transition takes place. Hearing everyone else’s problems minimalizes my problems. At the end of the day, I walk into my home, look at my wife, and say, “We have good lives.”  That is what I want to tell you. We have good lives. We are American Christians who worship together; how much more can you expect?

Fatherhood is Important

I love this old preaching story. In Spain, a father and son had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read:

Dear Paco,

Meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you.

Your Father.

On Saturday, 800 Paco’s showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. Don’t tell me the relationship between a father and their children isn’t important! With this story in mind, let us look at this morning’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the eighth chapter of Luke. Jesus and the disciples are in Galilee. That fact is important because the Master was extremely popular there. The crowds followed him everywhere. One of the people in the crowd on that day was a man by the name of Jairus. In his little corner of the world, he was a significant man. Luke tells us he was a ruler in the local synagogue. What does that mean? Not being a member of the clergy, his position was not liturgical in nature. He acted more as an administrator or trustee. Sometimes, the position was paid. Sometimes, it was volunteer. Regardless, the position was always held by a respected, good man in the congregation. Jairus was a good man, yet hardship does not discriminate. This good man was facing his greatest nightmare. His only daughter, twelve years old, was dying. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Jairus fights his way through the crowd to ask Jesus for a miracle. Jesus is his only hope.

I read verses 40-42 countless times this week. With every reading, I was more moved by the emotions of the father. It isn’t just Jairus’ nightmare. It is every parent’s nightmare: the death of their children. I do not know how you can read this story and not be moved. She was twelve years old and her life was just beginning. However, the story is not so much about death. In the end, the girl lives. It is a story about parenting. There is no other way to say it: This story reminds us that parenting is hard. If you want to be a good father, then you had better be prepared to give more than your sperm. You’d better be prepared to give your life. This story gives us three divine truths about fatherhood. They are as true today as they were in his day.

Important

There is an old story about a young man standing in front of a judge. He was about to hear his sentence. It was an awkward moment for the judge, because he had known the young man since childhood, for he was well acquainted with his father – a famous legal scholar and the author of an exhaustive study entitled, “The Law of Trusts.” “Do you remember your father?” asked the magistrate. “I remember him well, your honor,” came the reply. Then, trying to probe the offender’s conscience, the judge said, “As you are about to be sentenced and as you think of your wonderful dad, what do you remember most clearly about him?” There was a pause. Then the judge received an answer he had not expected. “I remember when I went to him for advice. He looked up at me from the book he was writing and said, ‘Run along, boy; I’m busy!’ When I went to him for companionship, he turned me away, saying “Run along, son; this book must be finished!’ Your honor, you remember him as a great lawyer. I remember him as a lost friend.” The magistrate muttered to himself, “Alas! Finished the book, but he lost the boy!”

First, fatherhood is important. In other words, your children must be the top priority in your life. Fathers do much more than pay the bills. Mothers may love their children unconditionally, but fathers add a sense of security and stability to the home. That is extremely important. A father’s presence makes a great difference in the life of a child. These statistics are a few years old, but they still ring true. They come from the U. S. Department of Justice.

  1. 43% of US children live in fatherless homes.
  2. 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  3. 80% of rapists come from fatherless homes.
  4. 71% of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes.
  5. 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes.

Don’t tell me fathers aren’t important. If you want to be a good father, then make your children your top priority. Do your children know they are your top priority? Fatherhood is important.

Challenging

Second, fatherhood is challenging. One of the most intimidating things in life is bringing a newborn home from the hospital. Babies don’t come with instruction books. The truth is, you just do the best you can. It isn’t just true of newborns; it is true at every age. Most of the time that is good enough. The truth is, just when you grow comfortable with newborns, they are no longer newborns. They are toddlers. Just when you get used to toddlers, they become preschoolers. Then, they go to school. Then they start taking all those classes and joining all those teams. Then comes middle school and high school. Then they try to figure out what they are going to do with their lives. Are they going to go to college or a trade school? Then, they get married and you have to learn how to be an in-law. Then, you must learn how to be a grandparent. All these changes make parenting very challenging. Do you know what I have observed? There are no instruction books for any of those stages of life. You just do the best you can. Can I tell you the truth? I always felt one stage behind.

In the Bible lesson for today, Jairus is trying to help his twelve-year old daughter. I have been the father of a twelve-year old daughter twice and it isn’t easy. Enjoy your children at the stage they are right now but be prepared. It is going to change soon. They will change, so your relationship with them must change. That is so challenging.Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging.

Eternal

Third and finally, fatherhood is eternal. In the story, the twelve-year-old girl dies. Her life ended just as it was about to begin. Her life would have been over, if not for Jesus. He resurrects her. In other words, he brings her back to life. She is one of a select few in the Bible who were resurrected. Do you remember the others who were resurrected in the Bible? There were nine in all; 3 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New Testament. Except for Jesus, do you know what happened to the other eight? They all died again in time. However, their resurrections were just the foreshadowing of eternal life. The girl lived because her father introduced her to Jesus.

Fatherhood is not just paying the bills. Fatherhood is not just being a positive role model. Fatherhood is not just getting the person ready for life. Fatherhood is getting the person ready for eternity. Children have so many wonderful options today. They can take lessons and join teams. They can take advanced classes and go to camp. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. However, none of those things are preparing them for eternity. If you want your child to live for eternity, then be like Jairus. Introduce your children to Jesus. How could you enjoy heaven without them? Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging. Fatherhood is eternal.

Fred Craddock (1928-2015) taught homiletics at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. No one has influenced my preaching more than he has. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. No one can tell a story like him. This is one example.

One summer Fred and his wife decided to get away for a few days. They went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they found a quiet little restaurant and looked forward to a private meal—just the two of them. While they were waiting for their meal, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by his table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked amicably. “Georgia.” “Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?” “I teach homiletics at a seminary.” “Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you.” And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.

The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born, so I had a hard time. At the time, that was shocking. When I started school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply. What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my real father was.”  

“When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. Because of my past, I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast, I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door, I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. ‘Who are you, son? Whose boy, are you?’ I felt the old weight come down on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute,’ he said, ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God. You come from a great legacy. Go and claim it.’” The old man looked across the table at Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me. Those words changed my life.” With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends. It was at that moment Craddock remembered something. The good people of Tennessee had elected Ben Hooper, that illegitimate boy, to be their governor.

This is the point: You may have had the greatest dad in the world, or your dad may have been a complete loser. It doesn’t really matter, because you come from a great legacy. Never forget it. You are a child of God! George Herbert (1593-1633) was a Welsh-born poet, orator and priest in the Church of England. He once said, “One father is worth more than a hundred schoolmasters.”

Holy Spirit 101

The date was May 24, 1738. You may know the story. John Wesley (1703-1791) was born in Epworth, England. His father, Samuel, was an Anglican priest. His mother, Susannah, was a stay-at-home mother, who set the standard high for all parents. She taught John and his siblings how to survive in this world and be prepared for eternity. John Wesley had everything he needed to be successful, but he didn’t have a clue. Until he was thirty-five years old, he only knew failure. He failed as a pastor and he failed as a missionary. Tired of defeat, John Wesley went on a great spiritual quest. That quest ended on May 24, 1738 on Aldersgate Street. There is no other way to say it, John Wesley was touched by the Holy Spirit. We call it his sanctification experience. He was touched by God for a divine purpose. The only thing he ever wrote about that day was a simple phrase in his personal journal, I felt my heart strangely warmed. Those words are not impressive, but his life after that experience was. From that point on, he only knew success. He took the whole world on as his parish and changed history. When he died in 1791, he left behind 135,000 followers, plus another 541 itinerant preachers. Today, there are millions of people around the world who claim the title Methodist. If we could resurrect John Wesley, then he would tell you that the Holy Spirit changed everything! Let me state the obvious.

I was not in the ministry on May 24, 1738. However, I was in the ministry two hundred and fifty years later, on May 24, 1988. I remember that year, because it was the first year I was under a United Methodist appointment. I was serving in the old Morristown Charge in the old St. Clairsville District in the East Ohio Annual Conference; the congregations in Morristown, Lloydsville and Bannock. As May approached, I was looking forward to the anniversary of the great Aldersgate experience. I was disappointed. Except for a few men riding on horses and dressed like circuit riders, there was no celebration. That year at Annual Conference, I expressed my disappointment to my District Superintendent. He was a spiritually mature man by the name of Abraham Brandyberry. He felt as I did. I asked him why the famous date was overlooked. He simply said, “Russ, there was no celebration, because no one in our time understands Wesley’s sanctification, because no one in our time understands the Holy Spirit.” There was no debate, because I knew he was right. Many are ignorant of the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Can I ask you a spiritual question?

Do you understand the Holy Spirit? It is a fair question, but it is a hard question to answer. Just think about it for a moment. Our understanding of the Holy Spirit is a little thin. We are much more comfortable with the other members of the trinity. We believe in a triune God: God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the father is the creator. God created the entire world out of nothing. That is impressive. We seem to have a handle on God the Son. Jesus was the redeemer. Jesus died for the sins of the world. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. The Holy Spirit is different. God the Holy Spirit is much more elusive. It is hard to summarize everything the Holy Spirit does with a few words. So, let me ask you the question again. Do you understand the Holy Spirit?

On this Pentecost Sunday, I want to help you understand the Holy Spirit. Part of my job is to teach you theology. For this reason, don’t think of this message as a sermon. Think of this message as an academic lecture. It is not an advanced level course; It an entry level course. For this reason, I have called this message Holy Spirit 101. I have grouped my thoughts about the Holy Spirit around three questions. They are three questions you must be able to answer by the final exam.

This is question number one: Who is the Holy Spirit? The answer is simple. You can answer it with one word: God. The Holy Spirit is God. In order to completely understand that answer, that the Holy Spirit is God, consider this with me. The Holy Spirit was not created or revealed at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been present in this world from the very beginning. Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”  The key word in that verse is the word us. The us in that verse is the trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is timeless because the Holy Spirit is God.

The deity of the Holy Spirit is clearly seen in scripture. If you do not believe me, then look at the life of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was a big part of Jesus’s life. The Holy Spirit was in Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit was present when Jesus was conceived. The Holy Spirit was present when Jesus was born. The Holy Spirit was present when Jesus was baptized. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. You can’t tell me the Holy Spirit didn’t play a vital part in Jesus’s earthly ministry. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit became available to everyone.

The same great characteristics of God the father can be applied to God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of adoption, of truth, of liberty; the Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of might, of knowledge, of godliness, of the fear of God. This only begins to show how unlimited He is. Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is God! Answer the question,“Who is the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit is God!

This is question number two: What does the Holy Spirit do? You can answer that question with one word: change. The Holy Spirit brings godly change. It is as true today as it was on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit historically has made order out of disorder, clarity out of confusion. How many examples do you need?

Just look at the disciples. Prior to Pentecost, the twelve didn’t have a clue. I do not know how that was possible. They followed Jesus around for three years, but they didn’t have a clue. They were present for every miracle. They were there for every parable. They heard about the Kingdom of God from the Master himself. Peter, Andrew, James and John were even on the mountaintop when Moses and Elijah appeared, the great law giver and the greatest of the prophets. They heard their endorsement of Jesus, but they didn’t have a clue. Then, the Holy Spirit came into their lives and everything changed. The pre-Pentecost Peter who denied Christ three times was touched by the Holy Spirit and preached to the crowd. According to the text, 3,000 were saved that day. It wasn’t just Peter. The same thing is true of all the disciples. Each was changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit and went on to do great things for God. The disciples would tell you, the Holy Spirit changed everything! Historically, the Holy Spirit has made order out of disorder and clarity out of confusion. For this reason, the United Methodist Church needs a good dose of the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? It changes everything. Answer the question,“What does the Holy Spirit do?” This is the answer: The Holy Spirit brings godly change.

This is question number three: Why is the Holy Spirit important to us? You can answer that question with one word: revival. Sometime back the Associated Press carried this dispatch: “Glasgow, Ky.– Leslie Puckett, after struggling to start his car, lifted the hood and discovered that someone had stolen the motor.” That is the story of so many churches today! They own everything needed to be a church, but they lack one thing, the Holy Spirit. In other words, they don’t have a motor.

This is an incredible time to be in the ministry. I can honestly say it is not the same old thing. My job has changed completely in the last thirty-five years. Things are not getting easier. They are getting harder. The world has changed. We live in a post-Christian world. The church is no longer respected by society. How many local congregations are near the end? Every church seems to be looking for a quick fix, but there are no quick fixes. It isn’t just true of local congregations. It is true of entire denominations. It is certainly true in the United Methodist Church.

This is the first Pentecost since the special General Conference. You know the topic, sexuality. It is a debate with no winners. Some want the denomination to change their long-standing tradition of not officiating at gay weddings or ordaining openly gay individuals. After spending millions of dollars, nothing changed. In the months to follow, our denomination is struggling. It would be struggling if the vote had gone the other way. The unity of our denomination is in question. There are no simple answers to this problem. A special committee appointed by the Council of Bishops will not solve it. A slick advertising campaign will not solve it. A powerful sermon on love will not solve it. The only thing that will solve our disunity is a good dose of the Holy Spirit. Answer the question,“Why is the Holy Spirit important to us?” This is the answer: The Holy Spirit brings revival.

I want to end this message this morning not with a story, poem or quote. I end this message this morning with a challenge. I challenge you to go home and pray about the Holy Spirit. Pray that you not just understand the Holy Spirit with your mind, but that you experience the Holy Spirit with your heart. For once you do, everything will change. Never forget it, the Holy Spirit brings godly change. Billy Graham (1918-2018) was an American Baptist preacher and evangelist. He once said,“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”

What Frightens You?

I love this story. Did you know the White House was wired for electricity in 1891? However, it was not necessarily welcomed by the sitting President, Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901) or his wife, Caroline (1832-1892). They refused to touch the light switches because they were afraid of getting shocked. It was rumored they slept with the lights on when no one was around to turn the lights off. They preferred the old oil lantern system. (Because open flames are much safer than electricity 😉) Fear makes us do funny things. So let me ask you the question of the day: What frightens you?  

There is no shortage of fears in our society. Maybe you have one of these. This is a common list that is found on a variety of websites.

  1. Fear of flying
  2. Fear of public speaking
  3. Fear of heights
  4. Fear of the dark
  5. Fear of intimacy
  6. Fear of flowers
  7. Fear of driving
  8. Fear of snakes
  9. Fear of needles
  10. Fear of spiders
  11. Fear of dogs

How many of those things do you fear? Since we are speaking of fears, let me ask you this series of questions.

Do you fear aging? That is a common fear. My goal is to get older. So, why do people fear aging? According to the Huffington Post, people fear aging for five reasons. They are based on stereotypes.

  1. Old people always get sick and have chronic pain.
  2. Old people suffer from memory loss.
  3. Old people lose their attractiveness.
  4. Old people can’t learn new things.
  5. Old people are lonely and grumpy.

This is my opinion: Aging bothers us because it means we are closer to death. Aging is not one of my fears. Does anyone here fear aging? What frightens you?

Do you fear illness or disease? The other day, I did a funeral for a man who was a few years older than I. According to the family, he was completely healthy, until he fell and broke his hip. In the emergency room they noticed something funny. No one laughed, because when the test came back, it showed he was filled with cancer. Over a short six-month period, the man went from the life of the party to terminal. I hope that isn’t my story someday. I will admit it, medical issues frighten me. Have you ever wondered about your cause of death? Does anyone here fear illness or disease? What frightens you?

Do you fear the future? How many churches do you know that are afraid of the future? Perhaps it is a lack of faith or trust? How many people do you know fear the future? I believe, many fear the future because they fear change. Psychologists tell us, we fear the future because we feel a lack of control. I do not fear the future now, but I may in the future. Does anyone here fear the future? What frightens you?

Do you fear for their own security? On Friday night, I was out with friends. We were at a concert when I got the news about the shooting in Virginia Beach. A disgruntled employee opened fire at a municipal building. Now twelve families are mourning the loss of a loved one. I will be honest, when I got the news, I looked around to examine the audience. Everyone looked safe, but who really knows. We live in such a violent society. Does anyone here fear for their own security? What frightens you?

Do you fear loneliness?  On Memorial Day, Kathryn and I celebrated our thirty-first anniversary. We got married in a friend’s backyard. The next day, we went to a Cleveland Indians game, followed by a trip to Florida. It is hard to believe we have been married for thirty-one years. Time is moving fast. I will be the first to admit it: We have good lives. We have big lives. Do you know my greatest fear? My greatest fear in life is not my death. It is her death. I don’t want to live in this world without her. I don’t want to live in this world alone. Is there someone in your life you can’t live without? It would be a horrible thing to outlive your children. Does anyone here fear loneliness? I do. What frightens you?

Do you fear the loss of independence? I try to visit at least one person every day. The other day, I was out visiting. As I walked down the hall of a local nursing home, I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting in his room in a wheelchair with a large bandage on his nose. His eyes were glassy, and I could feel his broken spirit. The depression poured out of the room. One of the aides was helping him to the bathroom. There was no privacy. The door was wide open. I thought about that man with the large bandage on his nose the rest of the day. I hope that is not my future. I like my big independent life. Does anyone fear the loss of independence? What frightens you?That takes us today’s scripture lesson. Does anyone here fear death?

In our scripture lesson for this morning, the Israelites were afraid of the Moabite raiders. The scripture lesson is easier to memorize than it is to understand. It was springtime. We look forward to spring because we have grown tired of the harsh winter weather. In their time and place, they must have dreaded the spring. For it was during the spring that the Moabite raiders came. (The Moabites were mountainous people in that region of the world.) They did not come for a social visit; they came for military action. Their unannounced raids brought death and destruction. The Israelites were preoccupied every spring with these unwanted visitors.

That is what happened in the text. Someone had died and they were placing the body in the community tomb. Normally, the body was treated with respect. When the raiders suddenly appeared, the normal activity of treating the dead with respect was disrupted. According to verse 21, the frightened Israelites threw the corpse in the tomb, or cave, so the living could flee for safety. This is where the story takes an unusual turn. We do not know the identity of the deceased, but it is safe to say he was the luckiest person in the region. He was thrown into the same tomb that held the remains of Elisha. According to verse 20, Elisha had been gone for more than sixty years. There was nothing left of the old prophet but his bones. However, his bones were enough. When the corpse of the recently dead man hit the bones of Elisha, the man was resurrected. It is an odd story, but it does demonstrate for us the power of God. Listen to this next line. The Israelites were afraid, but God was with them the whole time. That is our story. We have our fears, but God is with us; so we really have nothing to fear.

Today, I would encourage you to do two things. First, admit your fears. They are part of the human experience. Second, I would encourage you to look for God. With God all things are possible. Every day, we play the part of the Israelites. We have grown blind to God, who is in our very midst. How much time do you spend looking for God? How much time do you spend examining your human limitations? How much time do you spend worrying about your human fears?

One of the great stories in the Bible is the rich young ruler. It is found in all three of the synoptic Gospels; Matthew, Mark and Luke. You know the story. I have referred to it many times over the years. It seemed like he had everything. He was rich, so he could buy what he desired. He was young, so he had a future. He was a ruler, so he had influence. The only thing he lacked was salvation. He went to Jesus to ask him a question that had been eating away at his soul, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” It is an excellent question. The Master answered, “Sell everything and give your money to the poor. Then, follow me.” The rich young ruler didn’t like the answer. He left upset because he couldn’t do it. Jesus says, money is more of a curse to your soul than a blessing. It is harder for a rich man to get into heaven then it is for a camel to get through the eye of a needle. Then, Jesus reminds us of the power of God. He said, “With God, all things are possible.” We have nothing to fear, because with God all things are possible. Then why are you afraid?

One of the great names in western civilization history is Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). As a French military and political leader, he dominated European affairs for nearly two decades. He feared nothing, except one thing: cats! He wasn’t alone. Hitler, Mussolini and Julius Caesar also feared cats! That leads us back to our question of the day: What frightens you? Do not be afraid. With God, all things are possible. George Patton George Patton (1885-1945) was a General in the United States Army during World War II.  He once said, I never take counsel from my fears.”  What frightens you?

Why Is Memorial Day Important?

We are in the fourth chapter of Joshua. After forty years in the wilderness, the people have just crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. It must have been a great day. It was a day they had dreamed of for decades. Do you remember the first thing they did in their new home? No, they didn’t have a party. Instead, they built a memorial. God told Joshua to instruct the people to take twelve stones, one representing each tribe, from the middle of the Jordan (verse 2). The tribes do so, and God stops the water from flowing to make their task easier (verse 7).  (It is easy to stop a river after you have divided a sea.) The stones are taken to dry ground and piled up. That pile of stones was to act as a memorial to future generations (verses 6-7). There was nothing unique about that memorial. It is just a pile of rocks, but it served the purpose. It forced the people to remember what God had done for his people. Let me state the obvious. Memorials are important.

Memorial Day is important for that reason. It forces us to remember what is important. Our past is filled with people and events who (and which) need to be remembered. The past has shaped our present and will influence our future. This is the question you must answer today: Why is Memorial Day important?

Spiritual Heritage

Memorial Day is important because it forces us to remember our spiritual heritage! The Bible is filled with memorials. Joshua’s memorial is just one. The New Testament holds the most famous memorial in the Bible. You know the scene. The end of Jesus’s earthly ministry is near. Judas Iscariot has already agreed to betray him for thirty pieces of silver. It is Thursday of Holy Week and there is only time left for one more meal with the disciples, the Seder. That meal itself was a memorial. Everything on the menu reminded them of something that happened in their nation’s history. Jesus takes that scripted meal and changes everything. You remember, Jesus picked up a piece of bread and gave it to the twelve. He said the bread was his body. Later, he picked up a glass of wine and shared it with them. He said, it was his blood. Do you remember the last words the Master spoke? He presented the bread and the cup with the same line, “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). It is impossible to come to the Communion table and not remember Jesus. Memorials are important. Biblical memorials remind us of how God wants to have a relationship with us. God wants to have a relationship with you! Because of the resurrection of Jesus, your relationship with God will never end. Our faith in Jesus makes us unique. Did you know 84% of our world has some find of faith? Did you know only 31.5% of our world is Christian? That means we are a minority. Your spiritual heritage is important. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ! If you are thankful for what Jesus has done for you, say, “Amen!”

National Heritage

Memorial Day is important because it forces us to remember our national heritage! You are a citizen of the United States of America. That makes you unique in our world. Did you know there are 30 national memorials owned and operated by the National Park Service? Five more are administered by other organizations but receive assistance from the NPS. The oldest national memorial is the Washington Memorial, built in 1884. The newest is the World War One Memorial, designed in 2014. National memorials are found in fourteen states and the District of Columbia. Nine national memorials commemorate U.S. Presidents, six commemorate historical figures, and five commemorate wars. The only national memorial in Ohio is at Put-in-Bay, the Perry Memorial. Don’t ignore those memorials. Did you know the population of the United States is approximately 325 million? Did you know the world population is approximately 7.7 billion? Do the math. That means Americans only make up 4.2% of the world’s population. Your American citizenship makes you unique. With all the challenges facing America today, only a fool would give up their American citizenship. We are still the land of opportunity. Your national heritage makes you different from the rest of the world.

Personal Heritage

Memorial Day is important because it is important to remember your personal heritage! One of my prized possessions is a copy of an old family photograph that sits on my dresser. I have told you about it in the past. The picture is faded, but I can still make out the images. I pick it up every day and look at it. My Aunt Phyllis, the matriarch of the family, told me it is a photograph of an Adams family reunion. The year must be about 1900. The picture is not unique. You may have one of your own family photographs. Everyone is sitting in front of a farmhouse. All the men have beards; all the women are wearing long dresses. The oldest are sitting on chairs in the middle. The youngest are sitting on the ground. There is a young boy sitting in front of the oldest man. That young boy is my grandfather, Roger Adams. He was the only one in that picture I ever met. Everyone else in that picture has been gone for years. However, I look at that old faded photograph every day because they are family. The blood that flowed in their veins is still flowing through my veins. Those strangers are my family.

I like to think the core values of the generation in that picture are my core values. Let me just speak the truth. Not a single Adams in that old photograph is extremely handsome or rich. Not a single Adams ever invented something that changed the world or wrote a book that made a single individual think. I came from a long line of hard- working farmers. However, that does not mean being an Adams is not important. Being an Adams means certain things. First, it means you are a good person. In other words, your word means something. Second, it means you are honest. Third, it means you are loyal – loyal to your spouse, children, friends and country. Fourth, it means you are a Christian. Adams’s have always been strong churchmen and believers. We understand Jesus is our only hope of salvation. We always have and I pray we always will. I am proud of my personal heritage, but that is not true for everyone. Sometimes our families inspire us, sometimes our families challenge us to do better. How will you be remembered when you are gone? Martial artist Bruce Lee (1940-1973) once said, “The key to immortality is living a life worth remembering.”  I don’t really have an opinion about Bruce Lee, but I do like that quote.

It must have been Memorial Day, 1970. It is the only Memorial Day that holds any memories for me. When I was thirteen years old, Memorial Day meant the beginning of the summer season. That meant the local swimming pools opened for the first time. I remember I was out at Willow Lake in Cortland, Ohio with a friend. We were excited because the school year was coming to an end and we were ready for an adventure. We decided to jump into the water and swim to the wooden raft in the middle of the lake. The wooden raft was more like an island. We could see others on that wooden raft enjoying the sun. On three, we jumped in and swam to our destination. We swam as fast as we could because the water was freezing. It was like it had just been melted off a glacier. After all, it was Memorial Day in Northeast Ohio. Only the air had warmed up, not the water. When we got to the raft, we jumped out of the water. We joined the others who were warming themselves in the sun. We swore we would never do that again. Then, it hit us. If we wanted to go home, we had to do it again. The only way back to the shore was to jump into the water again and swim. I must have, because I am here today. That is my only memory of Memorial Day. When I was thirteen years old Memorial Day meant one thing, summer! I am not thirteen anymore. Memorial Day means so much more. Memorial Day is about remembering the most important things in life, your national, spiritual, and family heritage. I am convinced Martin Luther King Jr. was right. The American Baptist preacher and activist once said, “In the end, we will not remember the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Are You Making Any Progress?

This story has a happy ending. It happened just the other day. On May 14, 2019, in Kentwood, Michigan, an amber alert was issued for four-year-old Faith Martinez. You know the amber alert system. It began in the United States in 1996, to ask the public to help the police locate abducted children. Faith had last been seen with her thirty-year-old mother, Pettra Yahya. It was Pettra’s mother who called the police. She reported her daughter had threatened to harm herself and her four children. The other three children were located safely, but Faith was missing. Within fifteen minutes of the alert being issued, a citizen called the police and reported the location of the family vehicle. When the police arrived, they found Pettra and Faith in a nearby residence, both safe. The amber alert was canceled. Did you know, according to the Department of Justice, 957 children have been saved by the amber alert system?

This story has a happy ending too. It happened about two thousand years ago near Jerusalem in Israel. You can find the story only in one place, the second chapter of Luke. According to the text, Jesus was twelve years old (2:42). That was a significant year in the life of a young Hebrew man. For it was during that year that he would begin his studies to take his place among the men of the faith. Perhaps, that is why Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem? Perhaps they went to Jerusalem every year for the Passover, as was required by the law. Or perhaps, they went to Jerusalem for the Passover to visit with family and friends. We really don’t know why they were in Jerusalem, but we do know they were returning home. The distance between Jerusalem and Nazareth was and is 63 miles as the crow flies. In reality, it is 68 miles, because no road is perfectly straight. You do the math. If you walk about 4 mph, then it would have taken 17 hours to get home. The journey was not done in isolation. The pilgrims returned home in large packs. They walked with family and friends, who filled the hours of traveling with various discussions. Jesus was twelve years old and twelve-year old boys are beginning to explore their independence. It would not have been natural for Jesus to travel with his parents. Mary and Joseph assumed their son was traveling with his friends. They assumed wrong. Jesus was missing. They sent out a first century amber alert. They asked everyone with ears the question, “Have you seen Jesus?” Everyone answered, “No!” With no other option, Mary and Joseph returned to the Golden City. (They had to go back! How do you tell God you have lost his son?) After three long days of searching, they found Jesus in the temple. They try to reprimand him, but their words seem to fall on deaf ears. They thought Jesus was lost, but he knew where he had been the entire time. He was in his father’s house. Listen to what I am about to say.

The story of Jesus at twelve years old is really our story. We are lost and we don’t even know it. Spiritually, we think we are doing fine, but we are not. This is the question I must ask you this morning: Are you making any progress in the faith? You are not going to make any progress in the faith until you do what Jesus did in the story. What did Jesus do? We find out in verse 46. It says:

After three days they (Joseph and Mary) found him (Jesus) in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Did you hear what Jesus did to grow spiritually? First, Jesus listened. The Master didn’t talk, he listened. Second, Jesus asked questions. He didn’t ask sarcastic questions to criticize. He asked questions to expand his understanding. If we spent more time listening and more time asking probing questions, then we would grow spiritually too. That is the simple outline for this blog.

Jesus Listened

First, Jesus listened. Jesus is sitting in the temple with the teachers and he is listening to what they were saying. In other words, when Jesus was listening, Jesus was learning. You know it is true. We are not very good at listening. However, we are excellent at talking. Have you ever gone to church and tried to listen, but the person next to you won’t stop talking? There seems to be a national shortage of good listeners. If you don’t believe me then just google this question, “how can I become a better listener?” Everyone seems to have list a to help us. Even dumblittleman.com. This is their list of seven:

  1. Remove all distractions
  2. Be present
  3. Wait for the other person to stop talking
  4. Don’t assume anything
  5. Look at nonverbal communication
  6. Clarify
  7. Ask questions

Do the people in your life consider you a good listener? When you come to church, do you spend more time listening or talking? It is my job to communicate the divine Biblical truth in a clear way. It is your job to listen to the divine truth. American author Bryant H. McGill once said, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is to actually listen to what another has to say.”  How much do you respect the people in your life? How much do you respect me? How much do you respect God? I don’t want to shock you, but you don’t know everything. People don’t come to church to hear what you think. People come to church to hear what God has to say. You may want to stop talking and listen.

 Jesus Questioned 

Second, Jesus asked questions. When I was young, I lived in a home that was built in the 20’s. If you lived in a home built in the 20’s, you know they weren’t built like homes today. Homes built during that decade did not have air conditioning or decks. However, they did have front porches. We never sat on the front porch, except when the weather grew hot. I have fond memories of those hot evenings because the entire neighborhood sat on their front porches at the same time. That is how we got to know our neighbors.

When I was young, I would journey to our neighbor’s front porch. Her name was Mrs. Ortmyer. I thought she was as old as the hills. (She was probably about 62 😊). She served me the same snack regularly, ginger ale and soda crackers. Every night, I would ask a mountain of questions. Why is it so hot in the summer? Why is it so cold in the winter? Why is the grass green and the snow white? How can birds fly and fish swim? Every evening our discussion ended the same way. She would cup her hands over her ears and say, “Russell, go home! When you get older you will have all the answers you want.” I have to say it: Mrs. Ortmyer was wrong! I am older, but I still have a mountain of questions. Why are some born with so much and some so little? Why are all my friends fighting the battle of the bulge, yet someone dies in our world every seven seconds from a lack of food? How can you raise two children in the same house, and they end up so different? Have you ever asked those kinds of questions? When I get to heaven, I have a mountain of questions for God.How many questions do you have for God?

There is nothing wrong with asking questions. Jesus asked questions. Look at verse 46 again. It says, “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”  There is nothing wrong with a sincere question. Asking God a sarcastic question just shows your arrogance. Asking God a sincere question means you are simply trying to understand. Look at it this way. If you don’t ask questions, it means you don’t care enough to try to understand. Ask God all the questions you like. Don’t worry, He can handle it! Jesus grew spiritually because he listened and asked questions.

This is confirmation Sunday, and on this day, we will confirm eight wonderful people. They have been working hard. They began this process back in September. I have no clue how many hours they have spent together listening about Jesus in the classroom and on various trips. I have no clue how many questions they have asked. I have no clue how many hours they spent with their mentors. I have no clue how many times they helped in worship. However, I do know this: I am proud of each one of them. For this reason, I almost feel bad saying the next line. Today is not the completion of anything. It is only the beginning! We have only planted a seed that will grow for decades to come. In just a few minutes, they will become one of us, people who are always striving for an impossible goal, to be like Jesus! Are you becoming a little more like Jesus every day? Or, are you satisfied with your present state?

Let me end this message with an illustration that haunts me late at night. I have told it countless times, because I hope it haunts you too. I originally heard it years ago at Lakeside. It was told by Tom Tewell, who was the pastor of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. It happened during his ordination interview. He was interviewed by a small group of Presbyterian ministers who had to approve him for ordination. He said they covered the various areas of systematic theology and church history. They talked about his personal life and his holy habits. They talked about his future dreams. Everything was going well, and there came a point when is felt like he was going to be approved. One of the interviewers said, “Tom, we only have one more question.” It was asked by the oldest man on the interview team. (He was probably 62!) He said, “Mr. Tewell, are you making any progress in the faith?” Tom said he opened his mouth, but no words came out. He didn’t know how to answer. It is an excellent question. How do you answer the question?

Are you making any progress in the faith? If you don’t know how to answer that question, then do two things. They are the same two things Jesus did when he was twelve years old. First, start listening and learn the divine truth. It is my job to communicate it clearly. It is your job to listen. Second, ask questions to expand your understanding. Do you care enough to ask a sincere question? Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) was a German pastor and theologian. He died on April 7, 1945 in a Nazi concentration camp. He once wrote, “Salvation is free, but discipleship will cost you the rest of your life.”