Stop Complaining!

We find ourselves today in the sixteenth chapter of Exodus. (Exodus 16:1-8) The Hebrews should have been happy. They got everything they wanted. They prayed to God because their lives were hard and God sent them a liberator, Moses. It was Moses who confronted the Pharaoh. It was Moses who directed the plagues. It was Moses who led the people out of Egypt and into the wilderness. It was Moses who raised his hands as God parted the Red Sea. It was Moses who gave the people hope for a bright future. The people should have been happy, but they were unhappy. Verse two says the community stood united. They were not united in their appreciation of Moses and all he had done. They were united against Moses, and Aaron, in their dissatisfaction. In a short time, the people had forgotten about their hard lives in Egypt, and they longed for the good old days in that foreign land. It is one of those things that links one generation to the next. Every generation has their complement of complainers. We have our share of complainers. If it were not so sad, it would be funny. I love this story.

A monk joined a monastery and took a vow of silence. After the first 10 years his superior called him in and asked, “Do you have anything to say?” The monk replied, “Food bad.” After another 10 years the monk again had opportunity to voice his thoughts. He said, “Bed hard.” Another 10 years went by and again he was called in before his superior. When asked if he had anything to say, he responded, “I quit.” His superior responded, “It doesn’t surprise me a bit. You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here.”

Complaining is what makes church work so exhausting. The hardest part of my job is not preaching or leading worship. I love to preach, and I love to worship in any form. The hardest part of my job is not pastoral care. It is a privilege to work with people during the most sacred times in their lives. I am qualified to make this next statement because I have worked within the life of the church for forty years. The most challenging part of church work is dealing with all the complainers. People complain about everything: the temperature in the sanctuary, the content on the Facebook page, the style of worship we offer weekly, the state of the parking lot, the font size in the bulletin, and performance of the church staff. I could go on, but I will not because you get the point.

Sometimes, our complaints reveal arrogance. Not caring about anyone’s feelings opinions, they proclaim, “I just do not like it! I will leave if you do not make me happy. I will not give if you do not make me happy.” (We will try to get by without you!) Sometimes we try to hide our complaints by hiding behind an unknown person.

 “I will not tell you who, but others do not like it. Certainly not me. I just thought you needed to know.” (We know it is you!”) Sometimes our complaints take the form of concerns. “I am concerned you are doing it all wrong.” (I hear. Why don’t you do it my way?) When I was young, I thought the key word in the life of the church was Jesus. Now, I understand the key words in the life of the church are power and control. I do not what to shock you, but church work takes some skill, not just opinion. That is why we are required to have so much education and attend so many continuing education events. Listen to the next line clearly. The church is not a business, you can not apply business principles. What worked at your place of employment will not work here. If we ran this church like a business, it would be gone in five years.

Complainers are exhausting because church work is so personal. One of the great preachers of the twentieth century was Fred Craddock (1928-2015). He said we go into church work because we are willing to give our lives to God. We are willing to die for God in a blaze of glory. However, that never happens. We give our lives away one nickel at a time. Complainers make church work exhausting. This is equally true. Complainers frustrate the mission of the church and put a smile of Satan’s face. I must ask you these questions. Do the people in your life consider you a complainer? Do the people in your life consider you a whiner? I could have called this message Stop Whining.

The question is not if people complain. They complain! The question is why do people complain? Will Bowden (born 1971) is a pastor and motivational speaker in the northwest. He also authored a book called Complaint Free World. He says there are five reasons why people complain. Those five reasons spell out the word G.R.I.P.E. Here are the five:

Get attention – everyone wants to be acknowledged. When you complain, you get noticed.

Remove responsibility – people complain about a situation or task to remove themselves from taking responsibility to improve it.

Inspire envy – this type of complaining can be called bragging. You say, “The minister is dumb,” is another way of saying, “I am smarter than the minister.” (Chances are you are smarter than me.)

Power – you are trying to recruit others to your side of the argument. In other words, people are looking for support.

Excuse poor performance – people explain why they failed. For example, I would have caught the ball, but the sun was in my eyes.

I do not like that list because I found myself in it several times. Will Bowen said,“Complaining is like bad breath, you notice it when it comes out of somebody else’s mouth, but not your own.” I do not know why the Hebrews complained, but they complained. God had given them everything they wanted, yet they still complained. Perhaps, they were victims of human nature. It is true throughout time. It is true of our generation. We glorify the past and we only saw what we want, blind to what they have.

On November 4, 2010, Eunice Sanborn (1896-2010) became the world’s oldest living person. She celebrated her 114th birthday on July 20, 2010, at her church, the First Baptist, in Jacksonville, Texas. Eunice says that she not only loves everything about her life, but she also has “no complaints.” If she had wanted to complain, she would have had many things accumulate throughout her 114 years to complain of. Yet, this lady has demonstrated that complaining is a choice. Did you hear what I said? We choose to complain! It is not a requirement, and I cannot speak for you. I can only speak for myself. I am going to do my best to stop complaining. Here’s why…

I have just finished the most challenging year of my life. It all began about a year ago. In October, I thought I had a sinus infection. I was wrong! I had the coronavirus. I did not lose my sense of taste, but I had all the other symptoms. I spent five days in the hospital, and I missed five weeks of work. I should have stayed home another work because I was so fatigued. One of the saints in this church placed a stool behind the pulpit, but I was too weak to climb on it. In January, my wife, Kathryn, had heart surgery. I am thankful to say they did it robotically. She did great and only has three small incisions. In April, my daughter, Anna, got married. It was the week after Easter, so it was a busy time. It was an exciting time. Her wedding day was perfect. The weather was perfect. (How many 80-degree April days do you remember in Ohio?) The ceremony was perfect. The church reception was perfect. The evening reception was perfect. The gathering of family and friends was great. I would not change a single thing about that day. Two days later, Kathryn and I flew to Chicago to escape the post wedding blues. We had set an agenda to see the Windy City, but we did not see a thing on the list. Shortly after I arrived in Chicago, I was having emergency surgery for an intestinal blockage. It was during that surgery they nicked my bowel. I spent a week in the hospital in Chicago. I struggled when I got home, so I spent a few days in a local hospital. They sent me to the Cleveland Clinic, where I spent about ten days. I was home by my birthday on May 9th. I was released by my infectious disease doctor on my anniversary May 27th. I was released by my surgeon, who never operated on me, in Cleveland on July 27th. I preached on Easter, April 4, and did not preach again until July 11th. Most of that time I laid on my couch, where my wife cared for me. Without her, I would have ended up in a nursing home. I will always be grateful. People ask me how I am doing? I respond, I am not dead yet. Part of that is funny, part of that is true. I am happy to report I have not felt this good in a year.

I am telling you this again because my horrible year changed me. I learned three things during that horrible year. I knew them in the past so you could call them reminders. First, I learned life is short. Every day is a gift and not a single day should be wasted. I will be the first one to admit it. I have a good life. I do not know why I have such a good life. Second, I learned to never take your health for granted. It is true. If you have your health, then you have it all. Third, I learned to be less critical of others and more optimistic about life. I am going to do my best to stop being so negative and stop complaining about things that do not matter. What is going to matter to you in one hundred years? The only thing that is going to matter to you in one hundred years is Jesus! Complaining is a choice, so stop complaining.

In 1842, the great English writer Charles Dickens (1812-1870) came to America for the first time. He was treated like a celebrity and was impressed by our country. However, he found Americans to be curious. He felt that Americans took for granted the greatness of their country. He thought Americans had it backwards. He thought we had Thanksgiving Day all wrong. He thought Americans should take 364 days a year and thank God for all he given us, and one day a year to complain.

Do you remember the quote from Will Bowen? He said, “Complaining is like bad breath, you notice it when it comes out of somebody else’s mouth, but not your own.” Moses must have said it to the Hebrews, and I am going to tell you, stop complaining. God has been good to us!

God’s Top Ten

Did you know there are more than 30,000 federal laws have been created in the history of the United States? The “An Act to Regulate the Time and Manner of Administering Certain Oaths” was the first law passed by the United States Congress after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. It was signed by President George Washington (1732-1799) on June 1, 1789. Parts of that law are still used today. Did you know the United States has more laws than any other country in the world? It has been said, the United States is held together by a series of laws.

We find ourselves today in the twentieth chapter of Exodus. Much has already happened. We covered some of this last time and you remember the movie. Moses was born a Hebrew, but he was raised in the palace of the Egyptian Pharaoh. However, his Hebrew blood would not permit him to ignore the harsh lives of his own people. One day, in a fit of rage, he kills an Egyptian soldier in defense of his own people and flees the authorities. For the next forty years, Moses builds a new life. He marries a woman named Zipporah and worked for his father-in-law, Jethro. Moses had no plans of returning to Egypt, but God had a different plan for Moses. God heard the cries of the enslaved Hebrews and sent Moses to liberate them.

That would not be an easy task because the Hebrews were the backbone of the Egyptian economy. Moses’s request to liberate the Hebrews fell on the death ears of the Pharaoh. To break the will of the arrogant leader, God sent the plagues. Count them with me:

  1. Water Into Blood
  2. Frogs
  3. Lice
  4. Flies
  5. Diseased Livestock
  6. Boils
  7. Hail and Fire
  8. Locust
  9. Darkness
  10. Death of Firstborn

That is the one that did it. The Pharaoh agrees to free the Hebrews, but a brief time later, he regrets that decision. He sends his troops after them, but they never return. His army drowned in the Red Sea. The entire country of Egypt must have mourned. However, for God’s Chosen People, it was a different story.

The Hebrews rejoiced because their future looked bright. God summons Moses to the top of Mount Sinai. It is there that God does something new. The Almighty gave to Moses what we call the Ten Commandments. Few question the significance of the Ten Commandments. Their ethical teachings are fundamental in both Christianity and Judaism. How many can you recite?

  1. You shall have no other Gods before me.
  2. You shall not worship false Gods.
  3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.
  4. You shall keep the sabbath day Holy.
  5. You shall honor your father and mother.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not bear false witness.
  10. You shall not covet.

Scholars consider the Ten Commandments a treaty between God and humankind. There is no give and take in this treaty. It is a matter of complete surrender. God expects complete submission, allegiance, and obedience from humankind in response to his mercies and powers. Ten Commandments may seem like a burden, but Jewish tradition tells is there were 613 laws in the Torah. You can call the commandments Moses received God’s Top Ten.

Periodically, we look at the story of the rich, young ruler. It is in both the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. On the surface, he has it all. He was rich so he can buy anything his heart desires. What would you buy if money was not an obstacle? He was young so his health is good. If you have your health, then you have it all. He was a ruler, so he is influential. He had everything, except one thing. His soul is restless, and he questioned his own salvation. For this reason, he searches out Jesus to find spiritual peace. When the two meet, he asked the Master the key question, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him if he had kept laws five, six, seven and eight? He answered, “Yes!” He had honored his father and mother. He had not taken a life. He had been faithful to his wife, and he had not stolen a single thing. The young man’s heart must have jumped for joy, but his bliss did not last long. Jesus tells him, he only lacked one thing. He must sell his possessions and give the money to the poor, The young ruler leaves broken hearted because he just cannot do it. The story tells us keeping the Ten Commandments is a good thing, but they cannot save your soul. However, that does not mean the Ten Commandments are not important.

The people at Crossway say there are four reasons why the Ten Commandments are important. First, the Ten Commandments identify us as God’s people. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “We are a chosen people, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of the darkness into the wonderful light.” The Ten Commandments identify us as God’s people. Second, the Ten Commandments reveals the very heart of God. They do not just tell us what God wants. They tell us who God is. The Ten Commandments tells us about God’s honor, worth, and majesty. They tell us what matters to God. The Ten Commandments reveals the very heart of God. Third, the Ten Commandments tells us God wants a personal relationship with us. God does not stand in the distance to observe us. God entered this world to become one of us. To experience all that we experience. The Ten Commandments tells us God wants a personal relationship with us. Fourth, the Ten Commandments liberate us to do what is right. 1 John 5:3 says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not a burden.” In other words, the Ten Commandments liberate us to do what is right. The ten Commandments are important, but they will not save your soul.

Recently, Ken Burns (born 1953) released his newest documentary. The subject is Muhammad Ali (1942-2016). I am not sure I am going to watch it because my father, Ronald Adams (1920-1996) is still influencing me. He did not like Ali, who then was named Cassius Clay. If I close my eyes and listen, I can still hear my father complaining about him. He considered, Ali an arrogant loudmouth. He considered him a coward and a draft dodger. My father called him something I will not repeat because the word he used then is considered politically incorrect now. Because of my father’s influence, I am uncomfortable with the rebranding of Muhammad Ali. Once hated, Ali is now being called a hero. Today, we are told Ali was more than a great boxer. He was also an activist, entertainer, poet, and philanthropist. The media is promoting the documentary by promoting Ali’s life. They have quoted Muhammad Ali many times. The quote I have heard several times is, “Service we pay to others is the rent we pay for our room in Heaven.” I have nothing against community service, but I have to say this. Ali may have considered himself the greatest, but he was a horrible Christian theologian. We are not saved by our good works. That is called works righteousness. We are not saved by the Ten Commandments. We are saved by grace, and by grace alone. You know the story.

Jesus was born in the ordinary way, but he lived an extraordinary life. He never committed a single sin, and he should have lived a long complete life. That did not happen. He was found guilty of loving everyone and had to die. On a Friday, he was executed Roman style on a cross between two criminals. When his body was taken down, they placed it in a tomb. It was sealed with a large stone, so the smell of his decaying body would not escape. Let me say it clearly. Jesus, the incarnation of God, was dead. Except for tears, nothing happened on Saturday because Jesus was dead. It was unlawful to touch a dead body on the Sabbath. His loved ones mourned, and they asked the question, “Why?” Nothing happened on Saturday, but things did happen on Sunday. A handful of women showed up at the tomb to treat his body and made the discovery that changed our world. Somehow Jesus had returned from the dead. I have never been able to explain the resurrection because I cannot explain a miracle. However, that miracle changed everything.

Your belief in the resurrection is not optional in the Christian faith. It is indispensable. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead you will be saved.” That quote does not come from Muhammad Ali. That quote came from the Apostle Paul (5 AD – 67 AD). It may have been the first creed in the history of the church. The question is not if you follow the Ten Commandments. They are only guidelines for holy living. The question, is do you believe in the resurrection?

Everything Changes!

We find ourselves today in the Book of Exodus. The word Exodus means to “exit.” Like Genesis, Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy, tradition tells us, it was written by Moses. Those five books make up the Pentateuch. Those books do not stand independently. They are related one to another. Exodus is a continuation of the storyline that began in Genesis. It is continued in Leviticus, Number, and Deuteronomy. Exodus was written between 1446-1406 BC. The Book of Exodus dominates the rest of the Old Testament. For it is in the Book of Exodus God reveals himself to the Hebrews and establishes a covenant with them.

It is in Exodus, we are introduced to the great lawgiver, Moses. Do you remember his story? You may remember it because you have seen the movie. He was born to a Hebrew couple, yet he was raised in the palace of the Pharaoh. His secret is well kept. He lives in the palace for forty years, but he never forgot his ancestry. That good life ended on the day he struck down an Egyptian soldier. He ran from the law and spent the next forty years building a new life. He married a woman named Zipporah and worked for his father-in-law, Jethro. He could have easily lived the rest of his life in that remote location, but God heard the cries of the Hebrews. God commands Moses to return to Egypt to liberate his own people. Moses illustrates the fact you cannot always run from your past. He confronts the Pharaoh, but the Egyptian ruler will have to be convinced.

Liberating the Jews would not be an easy task because they were the backbone of the Egyptian economy. Moses’s request to liberate the Hebrews fell on the death ears of the Pharaoh. To break the will of the arrogant leader, God sent the plagues. Count them with me:

  1. Water Into Blood
  2. Frogs
  3. Lice
  4. Flies
  5. Diseased Livestock
  6. Boils
  7. Hail and Fire
  8. Locust
  9. Darkness
  10. Death of Firstborn

That is the one that did it. The Pharaoh agrees to free the Hebrews. That takes us to our reading for today.

It must have been quite a scene in the Hebrew section of the city. The will of the Pharaoh had been broken and the freedom train had arrived. Everyone was excited about the future. The yoke of bondage had been broken and the dreams of a better life were about to become a reality. Let me state the obvious. They were hungry for change! We can relate to their story because many Americans are looking for change. Did you know, according to CBS News, 63% of Americans say our country needs to change. The problem is change can be a difficult thing. Change would be a difficult thing for the Hebrews. Just think about it for a moment. Everything in their lives was about to change. They had lived their lives within Egyptian cities. They were urbanities, but soon they would be living in the desert. City life and life in the desert are extremely different. As soon as the emotion of the day wore off, the reality of their changing world would take hold. Change is never easy. I remember reading years ago, 90% of Americans hate change. How do you feel about change? Our world is always changing.

How much has the world changed in your lifetime. How much has the world change in my lifetime. I was born in 1957. The world has changed a great deal in the last sixty-four years. Consider these numbers with me.

  1. the hourly minimum wage in 1957 was $1.00
  2. the average worker made $4550 in 1957
  3. the average price of a new home was $12,220 in 1957
  4. the average price of rent was $90 a month in 1957
  5. the price of gas was 24 cents a gallon in 1957
  6. the price of a dozen eggs was 28 cents in 1957

In 1957, Wham-O introduced a new toy, the Frisbee. In 1957, the USSR launched the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1. That event launch both the space age and the space race. In 1957, CBS aired the last episode of I Love Lucy. In 1957, the Asian Flu killed 150,000 people worldwide. In 1957, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States and Richard M. Nixon was Vice President. (Whatever happened to him?) Those are things that grabbed the headlines.

How many changes have you been forced to endure personally? Just think about it for a moment. Our lives are always in a state of change. When you were young your greatest responsibility was getting a passing mark at school. You played on the playground and ran like the wind. Twelve years later, you graduated, and everyone was asking you what you were going to do with the rest of your life. It was, and is, a cruel question. You were forced to make the most important decision in your life when you had the least amount of experience. Were you going to go to college? If so, what college and what were you going to study. Were you going to trade school? Were you going to be an electrician or a plumber? Were you going to enter the work force? Then, you met someone special and had to decide if you wanted to marry. You did not want to live in your parent’s basement, so you had to decide if you were going to live in an apartment or house. You bought a starter house for the two of you, but soon it was not just the two of you, so you bought a bigger house to accommodate your growing family. Then, in what seems to be a matter of weeks, your children left, and you decided to downsize. Then, you woke up one day and discovered you were part of the older generation. Everyone older than you had died. Retired, you sit in your quiet house and think about how the world had changed from your youth, or you sit in your quiet house and think about how you have changed. There was a time when you could run like the wind but now you have a hard time standing up. Our lives are always in a state of change and that is why we can relate to the ancient Hebrews. Everything changes, except God, Himself. He is the one thing in our lives that does not change. He is our stability. Psalm 90:2 says, “Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  That is why me must be the foundation of your life.

One of the names also forgotten by history is George Tod (1773-1841). He was a farmer by trade and bought a piece of property on, what is today, Youngstown’s lower north side in 1801. He named that agricultural venture Brier Hill. The area was changed forever when coal was discovered in those hills. Thousands of immigrants came to work in those mines and settled in that neighborhood. Brier Hill is considered Youngstown’s oldest working-class neighborhood. In 1847, the Tod family opened the first iron furnace in the district, drawing more immigrants from Italy, Wales, Ireland, Germany, and African Americans. Brier Hill was known as “Little Italy.” The area thrived until the 1950’s. No area was hit harder than Brier Hill when the steel industry began to decline. Depopulated, the only thing that remains in that area now is an ITAM, an Italian American Veterans Club, and St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church. However, once a year a small section of Brier Hill springs to life. It is like a warm-up to the Canfield Fair, but it is better because we only go for a few hours.

My family has gone to the Brier Hill Festival for years. I remember taking my children when they were young. Do not be afraid, go! It is a good time. The food is great. The beverages are great. The music is loud and annoying, but my wife and I dance. This is the best part. Everyone is having fun. However, none of those reasons is the reason we go.

We go to the Brier Hill Festival because a good friend was raised in Brier Hill. Every year, we make him drive because he knows the old neighborhood. Every year, he drives us by his old family home. It was not built to impress. It was a conservative home. The house was so small, he slept in his parent’s bedroom until he was seventeen years old. (That fact explains a great deal about him. Yes, he has a younger sister.) The house has been declining for years. The first time I saw the house it was in good shape. A few years later, the detached garage was failing, then a few years later the garage was gone. At first, the house just needed painted. Then, a few years later the storm door in the front was missing. The next time the front door was gone. It did not matter because the windows were gone too. The last time, we drove by the house, it was missing and only the sidewalk remained. I never set foot in that house, but it was sad. My friend would tell me how it used to be back in the day. With a certain amount of emotion in his voice he said, “Everything changes!” Have you ever uttered those words, “Everything changes!”? 

I hate to say it, but my good friend is wrong! Most things do change, but one thing stays the same. God does not change. God is consistent. His love for us is constant. That is why God must be the foundation of your life. Do you remember the quote from the 90th Psalm? Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Why Abram?

We find ourselves in the twelfth chapter of Genesis. It is really the beginning of the story. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are prehistorical. They explain how certain things came to be. The twelfth chapter is the beginning of the history of God’s Chosen People, the Hebrews. According to the text it all began with a man named Abram. The name Abram means “exalted father.” It is impossible to completely understand the story of God’s Chosen People without a basic understanding of Abram. According to verse four, Abram was seventy-five years old when God spoke to him. I do not play the numbers game with the Bible. If the Bible says Abram was seventy-five years old, then Abram was seventy-five years old. The Lord tells the seventy-five-year-old Abram everything in his life is about to change. God commands him to relocate. God’s words to Abram should not be taken lightly. They are important words. If you examine those words closely, you discover it is a sevenfold promise. Count them with me:

  1. I will make you a great nation.
  2. I will bless you.
  3. I will make your name great.
  4. You will be a blessing.
  5. I will bless those who bless you.
  6. Whoever curses you I will curse.
  7. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.

Never forget, Jesus was a descendant of Abram. That fact is not wasted on the Jews.

God’s request to relocate was clear, but no destination was given. He is to leave Mesopotamia and settle in an unknown location. I guess, Abram was lucky. Without instructions, he settled in the land where God wanted him to be, Canaan. Abram traveled safely, but he did not travel alone. Along with his possessions and the people he had acquired, he traveled with his wife Sarai and his nephew Lot. To celebrate their arrival in Canaan, Abram built an altar to God. I do not want to complain, but this is the church. Someone must complain. Why not me?

I find the selection of Abram to be odd. Do not think of Abram as a saint. Think of Abram as a man. In basic terms, God choose an established elderly married gentleman to be the father of a new nation. It is important to note seventy-five years old Abram and Sarai had no children. God does not need my advice, but I am going to give it. Abram was an odd choice. If you are going to start something new, then you need someone young. Young people have new ideas. Young people have more energy. Young people like change. Young people like to move. Young people procreate to create a new generation and, in this case, a new nation. None of those things apply to Abram. I do not want to sound critical but many of the aged have a hard time thinking out of the box. The aged look forward to that afternoon nap. The aged love remembering the good old days. The aged celebrate their stability. The aged love their grandchildren because they go home at the end of the visit. Do I have to go on? Abram was an odd choice, but we should not be surprised because God has always selected the odd and imperfect to serve. We find that to be the case on the New Testament too.

It is the custom in many churches to look at the disciples during the season of Lent. We like to think of them as saints, but they had their imperfections too. Through human eyes, none of them would have been selected to start a new organization. Through critical eyes, each one was flawed. Many years ago, I came across a fictious letter written to Jesus by a consulting group regarding the disciples. You may remember it. It reads like this:

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given because of staff consultation and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education, and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

We should not be surprised God chose Abram because God has always chosen the imperfect. How faithful are you? Perfection is not important to God. The only thing that matters to God is faithfulness. There is no way you can question Abram’s faithfulness. Do you remember the story?

It is found in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. Abram’s name has been changed. Abram, exalted father, is now called Abraham, father of the multitude. The father of the multitude has one child, Isaac. Abraham was one-hundred years old when Isaac was born. Sarah was ninety. According to the story, Abraham is instructed by God to travel the region of Moriah. He traveled three days with two servants and his son Isaac. They have everything they needed for a burnt offering, wood, and fire. The only missing was the animal to be sacrificed. At some point, Isaac discovers he is the one to be sacrificed. Abraham pulls his knife and surrenders his son in his heart. At the last second, the boy is spared, and any question of Abraham’s faithfulness is erased. Only one question remains. How faithful are you?

As I wrote this message I thought about my own calling. As I look back on my life, I see my call clearly. I felt my call from a young age. However, from a young age, I tried to ignore it. When I was in high school, I was terrified of public speaking. I shook like a leaf in front of the smallest group. My dyslexic eyes made it hard to me to read the smallest part. I found myself memorizing longer parts. I graduated from college with a degree in Business Administration. It was a good degree for me, because I really did not know what to do with my life. I got a job at a local bank and worked there for over a year. Then, I sold ad space in a small independent newspaper on the shores of Lake Erie. I hated the bank job, but I liked the sales job, because I was not over supervised and built a weekly relationship with my customers. However, I knew that job was not going to be my career. I had two jobs in three years. I call those three years my wilderness experience. I was lost in many ways. Not really knowing what to do I decided to go to seminary and face my fears.

I started seminary in Indianapolis. I enrolled at Christian Theological Seminary, in the shadows of Butler University. I selected that school for some very local reasons. The logical has never worked for me. I knew, I had made a mistake from the first day. I stayed one long year and during that long year I was the Youth Director at the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Frankfort, Indiana. (Their mascot of the local high school was a hot dog because they were the frankfurters.) It was not a great situation. I was the world’s worst Youth Director, and the Senior Pastor of that church at that time was a fool. I preached my first sermon in that church at the early Easter service. It was horrible. Someone called the church office the next day to complain because I was so poor. That person was not wrong.

After my year-long incarceration in Indiana, I transferred to Asbury Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. I went there with nothing, but in my soul, I knew I was in the right place for the first time. Looking for a job, I found a bulletin board with index cards. One of those index cards changed my life. There was a small membership church near Lancaster who was looking for a student pastor. No experience was required. That evening I called the number on the card and set up an interview. The voice on the other end of the line was kind. The committee that interviewed me was kind. When I preached my first horrible sermon there, the congregation was kind. I pastored that church for three years and I have nothing negative to say about them. I learned a great deal during my time with them. I learned how to be a better person. I learned how to be a better pastor. I learned how to be a better preacher. However, most of all, it was in that church my call was confirmed. If I have done anything positive in the ministry, it is because of that kind small membership church near Lancaster, Kentucky. That congregation has a special place in my heart.

I am a living example that God is not looking for perfect people. I have a surplus of imperfections. You can ask anyone who has ever worked with me. I could have called this message Why Russ? However, this is equally true. I do not worry about being perfect. I only worry about being faithful. I hope God sees me as being faithful. This is the question you must answer. How faithful are you? It is not just the story of professional clergy. It is the story of anyone who wants to serve God in this world. Forget perfection and worry about faithfulness. Your faithfulness is the only thing that matters to God. Founder of the Christian Men’s Network, Edwin Louis Cole (1922-2002) once said, “Your faithfulness makes you trustworthy to God.” How far can God trust you?

In The Beginning God

We find ourselves today in the first chapter of Genesis. It is one of the most familiar chapters in the Bible. We have been teaching it to children for generations. There is no background to offer because nothing happened prior to this chapter. In the beginning, there was nothing, yet God has always existed. However, do not worry because God had a plan. This is God’s plan:

According to the Bible, on the first day of the week God created light. You should not be surprised because light is a major theme in the Bible. Jesus called himself the light of the world (John 8:12) and Jesus tells us to let our light shine (Matthew 5:15-16). Without light, there is only darkness.

On the second day, God created the atmosphere and the firmament. In Biblical cosmology, the firmament was a solid dome that surrounded the earth, causing the dry ground to appear. Without the creations of the second day, life of any kind could not have existed. From the very beginning our world was designed to be full of life.

On the third day, the dry ground appeared along with plants. Each plant was suited to its climate. Caucus exist in the desert regions. Palm trees in the tropical regions. Pine tree in the northern regions.

On the fourth day, God put objects in the sky. There was suddenly the sun, the moon, and the stars. Each one of those objects plays a major role in the world we know today. The tide would not exist without the moon. Life, itself, would not last long without the sun.

On the fifth day, God created sea creatures to live in the water and birds to fly in the sky. We call them fish and birds. Whales are impressive. Parrots are beautiful.

On the sixth day, God created animals to walk on the dry ground. We seem to like the fuzzy cute ones and we have trouble with the dry scaley ones. Later that day, God created the crown jewel of his creation, humans. They are to rule over the rest of creation. According to Genesis 1:26, God created mankind in his own image or likeness. That means there is a part of God resting inside of you. That means everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, even the preachers. If you struggle with self-doubt, then read Genesis 1 every day. It was quite a week, but God was not done. God “separated” and “gathered” on the first three days. God “created” and “filled” on the next three days.

On the seventh day, God rested and created the Sabbath. It was not created to have a day to play football. It was created to help us rest physically and be recharged spiritually. Never forget, God longs to spend time us. God expects us to worship him. Worship is not an option to your spiritual development. It really is an amazing piece of scripture. God created this entire world out of nothing. I find that fact to be humbling. Did you know, according to the Pew Research Group, 40% of Americans believe God created the world 10,000 years ago? I will confess. I am part of the 40%.

While the entire creation story is impressive. It is the very first verse of the Bible that grabs our attention. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth.” That one short verse summarizes the entire story. That one short verse tells us three divine truths about God. Each one is significant and should never be forgotten. I do not want to plagiarize. These thoughts are not original. These thoughts came from Shawn Thomas, who has been the Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church in Angelton, Texas for 35 years. Here are the three.

First, Genesis 1:1 tells us of the centrality of God. “In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth.”The Bible teaches us from the very first verse; it is all about God. It is not about us. Our universe is what scientists call a “helio-centric” universe. Helio means sun. That means the sun is at the very center. That means everything revolves around the sun. The sun gives us light and without the sun nothing would be able to live. Many in our world believe we live in a “ego-centric” universe. Ego means self. That means many believe everything revolves around them. The very first verse of the Bible, “In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth.” reminds us that it is not all about us. It is all about God.

Second, Genesis 1:1 tells us God is a triune God. “In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth.” That verse tells us there is one God and He is the one true God. However, there is a plurality in God. The Hebrew word for God in that verse is plural. That is interesting but Genesis 1:26 states it clearly, “Let us make mankind in our image.” God is triune, three in one. The traditional benediction reminds us of our triune God. Now may God the father, God the son, God the Holy Spirit, be with you now and forever more. God the father is the creator. God the son is the redeemer. God the Holy Spirit is the life giver. Experience has taught me it is impossible to understand the trinity completely. It has been said, if you understood God completely then you would not have much of a God. The trinity is one of those things you must accept with faith. “In the beginning,God (plural) created the heavens and the earth.” 

Third, Genesis 1:1 tells us God is a creator God. “In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth.”  John 1:3 says, “All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being.” God created everything. The Hebrew word for created in Genesis 1:1 is bara, to initiate something new. It is interesting to note, bara is only used when God is the topic. It is never used when mankind is the topic. “In the beginning,God created the heavens and the earth.” 

One of my favorite places in the world is Aa, Estonia. You may know where Estonia is located. It is in Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia, and to the east by Russia. The history of Estonia can be traced back to the year 9,000 BC, but her national identity did not develop until the twentieth century. When I arrived in Estonia, I expected to find a Slavic influence, but I found a Nordic influence. The capital of Estonia is Tallinn.

Located on the northern border of Estonia, on the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland, is the town of Aa. According to the 2000 census, the population of Aa was 190. Most of those residents live in a state-run home for the elderly. However, Aa is also the home of Christian Camp Gideon. One of the disappointments of the last 18 months for Kathryn and I was not being about to return to Christian Camp Gideon. It is part of our travel itinerary for next year. The camp has an interesting history. During Soviet times it was a Pioneer Camp, where children learned about communism and atheism. When the Soviet Union disbanded in 1991, the camp was purchased by a United Methodist congregation in Tulsa, Oklahoma and given to the church in Estonia. Today, that camp teaches children about Jesus. Kathryn and I spent a few sacred days at Christian Camp Gideon two years ago. The children and the staff were wonderful.

Every day, Kathryn and I would go for a walk. Completely safe, we exited the campgrounds and headed south. As we walked the dirt road and absorbed the beautiful countryside. Our walk ended when we came to the end of the dirt road, where the dirt road ran into a blacktopped road, maintained by the government. At that intersection were a herd of sheep behind a wire fence. Near the goat pen were the remains of an old manor house. It was not just a single building. There was the main house and several outbuildings. At the heart of that property was a small pond with ducks. We sat on a bench overlooking the pond and watched ducks’ takeoff and land. It was just beautiful and relaxing. We were a million miles from our responsibilities. We just sat there and talked. We talked about how we met. We talked about how our lives had changed. We talked about what brought us the greatest joy and our greatest disappointments. We talked about where we had been and where we still wanted to go. We talked about our children and how the world had changed. We talked but most of the time we sat in silence. It happens every time.

Whenever, I sit in natural beauty, I think about creation and how God created it out of nothing. I thought about how God created the world out of nothing when I saw the Grand Canyon. I thought about how God created the world out of nothing when I saw the hot springs in Yellowstone. Something big is going on beneath the surface. I think about how God created the world out of absolutely nothing every time I look out the window of an airplane. I think about how God created the world out of nothing when I walk outside of clear cold winter’s night and look at the stars. I think how God created the world when it snows the first time every year. I think about how God created the world out of nothing every time I walk on a beach and listen to the surf. This is the best! I think about how God created the world out of nothing when the fall leaves are at their peak of color in the fall. I thought about how God created the world out of nothing as I sat next to the love of my life on an old bench looking a beautiful Estonian pond.

Do not just memorize the verse, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Think about it. Meditate on it and be prepared to be amazed. It is not all about us. It is all about God. When was the last time you thought about the greatness of God?

Get A Job!

Did you know, according to the Bureau of Statistics, in 2020, there were more than 123 million full-time employees in the United States? According to ABC, 80% of Americans dislike their job. That is approximately 98.4 million workers. The same study reported 16% of all American workers say they hate their jobs. That is approximately 19.7 million workers. That explains why the American dream is winning the lottery, so they can quit their jobs. Mavis Wanczyk is living the American dream. Several years ago, she won the $758.8 million Powerball. She announced to the world at her press conference, she was going to quit her job. She had worked at her local hospital for 32 years. If you won the lottery, would you quit your job?

This is the question: Do you know someone who hates their job? You must know someone. Eighty percent of Americans are not thrilled with their jobs. According to a website called Salary.com, here are the signs of someone who hates their job:

1. They have a bad attitude toward work

2. They are only motivated by money

3. They dream of quitting their jobs

4. They only do what is required at work

5. They feel overworked and underappreciated at work

6. They lack any commitment to their employer

7. They lack fulfillment at work

8. They hope their children take another career path

9. They take no pride in their work

10. They are bored and unchallenged

I feel bad for people who hate their job. Something in their lives has gone horribly wrong. Today’s scripture lesson reminds us that our jobs are not a curse. Through the eyes of God, our jobs are a blessing. That takes us to our scripture lesson.

We find ourselves today in the Old Testament. To be more exact, we find ourselves in the book of Ecclesiastes. This piece of literature is found with the other pieces of Biblical wisdom literature: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and the Song of Songs. Tradition tells us, Ecclesiastes was written by Solomon, the wisest man in the Bible. He lived about 950 years before the birth of Christ. Ecclesiastes can be broken down into seven distinct sections. Our reading, Ecclesiastes 5:18-20, comes from the fourth section. Solomon wants to remind us, that life, itself, is a gift from God. The secret to enjoying life is keeping your eyes fixed on God. It is even true in the workplace. A life that is blind to God is lived out of balance and unhappy. That is a great piece of wisdom we often forget. God knows what we often forget: work is more than a way to pay your bills. My mother, Ruth Adams (1921-2002), quoted the old phrase regularly, “Have a job you like and never work a day in your life.” That is what I did. I have told my children the same thing.

Have you ever stopped to consider the fact that all the Biblical characters had an occupation? Did you know there are 5433 different occupations found in the Bible? There were builders, embroiders, weavers, stonemasons, tanners, blacksmiths, merchants, soldiers, fishermen, musicians, priests, shepherds, farmers, and doctors, just to name a few. There were even lawyers. Each one of those occupations was not seen as a curse. Each one was a blessing. Each was of those job was meeting a human need. Every legal job in our society is meeting a human need. Can I ask you a question? Do you see your job as a blessing or a curse?

Years ago, I was called by a local funeral home. The man who died was unchurched. As is my custom, I went to the funeral home the night before the service to meet the family. Everyone in the family was nice to me. The deceased’s brother took the lead. He began to tell me his brother’s story. He told me about their parents and their childhood home. He told me about his brother’s education and his job. He told me about his priorities and his hobbies. Everybody loved him and he loved everybody. He told me everything, except what he had done in retirement. He had been retired over twenty-five years. He did not say a word about his brother’s retirement years, so I asked, “What did your brother do in retirement?” The man’s expression completely changed. He said, “Well, on the first day of retirement, he slept in, turned on the television and opened a can of beer. That summarized his retirement. He did that every day for the rest of his life. We did not see him much and no one cared.” According to the deceased man’s brother, his brother’s retirement was a curse. On the day he retired, he not only lost his job. He lost his purpose. According to God, work should be viewed as blessing.

Consider these four things with me:

  1. Your job keeps you busy and challenges you to do more. Your job keeps you relevant. How long can you sit there and do nothing? Life is short. Do something positive!
  • Your job gives you a sense of pride and identity. It is hard to be proud of yourself when you are doing nothing. It is hard for your loved ones to be proud of you when you have done nothing. Are you proud of yourself? Are your loved ones proud of you?
  • Your job improves your social life. How many friends have you made at work? Working from home was a challenge to many because they felt isolated.

4. Your job provides for your family. How many bills could you pay if you had no income? How would your life change if you had no income? Let me ask you the question one more time: Do you see your job as a blessing or a curse?

Over the years, the constant question people have asked me has changed. When I was younger, people asked me, “When are you going to move?” In the world of United Methodism, you are encouraged to move, and you are discouraged to stay in one place too long. You are blackballed if you refuse to move. I did not care. Those words fell on my deaf ears. Someone told me once I had committed professional suicide by staying here so long. That was fine with me because I have never considered the ministry a career. It is a calling. I stay here still for one reason. I am not always sure why, but God wants me to be here. The question used to be, when are you going to move? The question has changed. This is my new constant question:

When are you going to retire? It is a good question. It is a fair question. I have asked myself that question. Earlier this summer, I celebrated my thirty-fourth year in the United Methodist pension program. I cannot believe how fast time has gone. I will be honest with you. I do think about it. I’ll give you three reasons why. First, I have the years in to retire and I have saved a few dollars along the way. I have not saved that money to not spend it. Second, I am sixty-four years old, and I am starting to feel like a dinosaur. I am having a hard time relating to my colleagues and church work has changed. It is not getting easier, and I have less patience. Third, my sister’s death, the death of a good friend and my personal health has changed the way I look at my life. Talking about cancer daily has changed the way I look at my life. I wonder when it will be my turn. Life is short and someday I would like a real weekend. I would like a real Saturday night, when I don’t have to go to bed early so, I am rested for Sunday morning.

Several years ago, I went to one of those retirement workshops. I went not because I am going to retire, but I went to learn about my pension. I want to make a wise choice when the time comes. There was a moment in the workshop when I had the opportunity to sit one-on-one with the presenter. She was a woman I did not know well, but I respected her work. She is the one who gave me the best advice so far. She drew near to me and asked me three questions. She asked, “Russ, do you consider yourself healthy?” At the time I said, “Yes!” I am thankful to say, I feel healthy again. Second, she asked, “Do you consider your wife healthy? I said, “Yes!” Finally, she asked me, “Do you enjoy your job?” I said, “Yes!” I have always enjoyed my job. Then, she said, “Russ, why would you retire? When one of those three things changes, retire. On the day your health grows bad, retire. On the day your wife’s health grows bad, retire. On the day your job stops being rewarding and starts being frustrating, retire. If you are healthy, your wife is healthy and your job is rewarding, keep working. Retirement leaves you a lot of empty days to fill. Retirement is not about what you get, it is about what you are giving up.” Her words changed the way I look at my job. Did you know our understanding of retirement is not found in the Bible? I left that workshop seeing my job differently. I left feeling blessed because I had a job. And if you have a job you enjoy, you are blessed too.

The time has come to stop looking at our jobs as a curse and start looking at our jobs as a blessing. Do you remember the quote from the opening words? Without labor nothing prospers.

Never Give Up!

We find ourselves today in the Epistle of James. The author of this letter was Jesus’ half-brother. They shared a common mother, Mary. James’ father was the carpenter, Joseph. Jesus’ father was the creator of the universe, God. James showed great leadership within the early church. According to Acts 15, he was the leader of the Christian community in Jerusalem. However, he did not write this letter just to that congregation. James wrote this letter to the twelve scattered tribes among the nations. Who were those people? They were members of the early church, who left Jerusalem. They didn’t leave the Golden City because they wanted to go. They left the Golden City because they had to go. You remember the story. After the stoning of Stephen (Acts 8:1), the rules changed. Their safety was no longer guaranteed. Their greatest fear was to end up like Stephen, dead. It is true of every generation. Everyone dreams of the perfection of heaven, but no one is in a hurry to go. They left for their own safety. Now let me state the obvious. This was not a time of advanced communication. There were no cell phones, texts, or e-mails. There was no social media. When you left, you were gone. James did not know what had happened to his people, so he expects the worst. That is why our reading for today speaks of trials. If they were going to remain in the faith, then they must persevere. I can not over stress the point.

Two thousand years ago, being a follower of Jesus Christ meant you were in the minority. The percentage of true believers was very small. They were a minority who were not welcomed by their world. Guess what? Two thousand years later, being a follower of Jesus Christ means you are still in the minority. I am not talking about being a church member. I am talking about being a true disciple of Jesus Christ. The word is discipleship. I am talking about having a relationship with God that is altering the way you live. It is altering the way you spend your time. It is altering the way you spend your money. It is altering your personal opinions or attitudes. This is the sad truth. It is also altering the way that other people look at you and relate to you. If Jesus Christ really is altering your life, then you truly are in the minority. The majority is always trying to tell the minority to compromise. In our case, the world is telling us to compromise the faith so we will conform. American writer Rita Mae Brown (born 1944) once said, “I think the reward of conformity is that everyone likes you except yourself.” As a disciple of Jesus Christ there are certain things you must never give up. This whole message revolves around verse 4, Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete.”

Craig James (born 1961) was a star running back at Southern Methodist University. In time, he ended up playing in the National Football League for the New England Patriots and in the United States Football League for the Washington Federals. After his playing days, he turned to broadcasting. At first, he worked for ESPN. Then, he worked for Fox Sports. His employment there did not last long. Shortly after he was hired someone found an old tape from 2012, when he was running for the US Senate. On the campaign trail he made comments that were politically incorrect about gay marriage. His story reminds us, the world is listening to what we are saying. If you are going to tell everyone Jesus is your only hope of salvation, then you are telling all the other religions they are wrong. In the world of political correctness, everyone is right, and no one is wrong. If you are going to promote Jesus, then you had better be prepared for the consequences.

First, we will never give up Jesus. This letter was not just written to anyone. It is written to that small group of people who really believed. Their names and stories differed, but somewhere in their lives they experienced Jesus. The question is not, how did you come to know Jesus? The question is, have you experienced Jesus? Once you experience Jesus, everything changes. Jesus was not just a good man. Jesus was not just a wise man. Jesus was not just an interesting man. Jesus was not just a motivational speaker. Jesus was not just an influential person from his. Jesus was one of a kind. Jesus was the incarnation of God, who was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. He is our only hope of salvation. If you are going to tell the world Jesus is our only hope of salvation, then you better be prepared for the consequences. How could you give up on Jesus?Jesus runs through the next two points.

One of my favorite Bible stories comes from the eighth chapter of Acts. You know the story. We have looked at it last week. The main character is Philip. He was directed by an angel to go to the road that runs between Gaza and Jerusalem. It covers about fifty miles. Philip does what he is told and meets a foreigner. The scriptures identify him as an Ethiopian eunuch. His life is complex for a variety of reasons. When Philip meets him, he is trying to untangle the mess. With nowhere else to go, he is reading the scriptures. The problem is, he did not understand what he was reading. Does anyone here have a hard time understanding the Bible? The good news is, Philip helped him understand what he was reading. He was reading from the suffering servant passage, Isaiah 53. It is about Jesus’ death on the cross.

The sixty-six books of the Bible are united by a common theme. Every word in the Bible is about Jesus. The Old Testament is about everything that happened before Jesus’ birth. The Gospels are about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The book of Acts is about the Holy Spirit and the creation of Jesus’ bride, the church. The rest of the Bible is filled with testimonies about the difference Jesus made in individual lives. Revelation is about how Jesus wins in the end. Never give up the Bible because it is all about Jesus, our Lord and Savior. How could you ever give up the Bible?

I have been serving in the United Methodist Church nearly 34 years ago. Time goes so quickly. When I was going through the ordination process, I was required to turn in a certain amount of paperwork. One of the papers I wrote was on Ecclesiology, the study of the church. I learned something while I was writing that paper that I have never forgotten. Paul and Peter viewed the church in two different ways. Paul believed the church was visible. In other words, he believed if your name was in the church directory then you were part of the true church. Peter believed the church is invisible. He believed your attendance is only one sign that you are part of the true church. He believed that only God knows who makes up the true church. In other words, you can be a member of a church and not be part of the true church. The opposite is also true. You cannot be part of a church and be part of the true church. I believe Peter is correct. There is more to the faith than church membership. There is more to the faith than supporting a religious organization. There is more to the faith than holding a fundraiser or serving on a committee. What do you believe? Let me go a few more steps down that road.

I believe man-made denominations mean very little to God. The only thing that really matters is your belief in the resurrection. That is Biblical. Romans 10:9 says, “… if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Many believe that verse is the very first creed in the church. Your belief and witness of the resurrection is everything. That is why I have very little problem crossing denominational lines. Baptists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans believe in the resurrection. Non-denominational churches believe in the resurrection. The Roman Catholic Church believes in the resurrection. The Orthodox Church believes in the resurrection. The traditions and customs of all these churches are different, but each one believes in the resurrection of Jesus. I am open to any group that believes in the resurrection of Jesus. I am uncomfortable with groups that reject the resurrection. Maybe the devil is in the details? Maybe instead of promoting our differences, we should promote what we have in common, the resurrection of Jesus! People promote differences. God promotes what we have in common.

Third and finally, we will never give up the church. The only thing that should really matter in the life of every Christian congregation is the resurrection of Jesus. Administrative structure really doesn’t matter. The number of small groups you have really doesn’t matter. The denominational name on the sign does not really matter. The only thing that really matters in the life of the church is the resurrection of Jesus. On the day we stop talking about the resurrection of Jesus, we will stop being the church that God intended. How could you ever give up on the church? Let me end with this story.

There was a time when Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was considered one of our greatest presidents. His boyhood friends remembered him in a different way. They thought of him being quite common. They knew of other men who had more talent, but who never succeeded. According to his childhood friends, Jackson only excessed at one thing, stubbornness. He just did not give up. How stubborn are you? We call that perseverance. I hope that is your story as a well.

Let there be no doubt about it. We are in the middle of a great spiritual battle. We are nothing more than soldiers. In our lives, we will experience both victory and defeat. However, in the end, God will win, and we will reap the benefits, so never give up.  Scottish naturalist Walter Elliot (1888-1958) once said, Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after the other.” 

The Bible Is…

We find ourselves today in the eighth chapter of Acts. We are told an angel of the Lord instructs Philip to go south to the road that runs between Jerusalem and Gaza. It is important to note that angel is mentioned four times in the Book of Acts. Let me list them for you. Stephen mentioned the angel at his trial in chapter seven. The angel is mentioned twice in chapter twelve. The angel liberates Peter and strikes down Herod. This time, the angel instructs Philip to go to the desert road that runs between Gaza and Jerusalem. The distance between those two locations is fifty miles. Somewhere on that road he finds a unique traveler, an Ethiopian eunuch.

To say the least, he is an interesting fellow. We know two things about him. First, we know his nationality. How good is your geography? Could you find Ethiopia on a map? In those days Ethiopia was considered the upper Nile region. We know his nationality. Second, we know his occupation. He was treasurer for the queen of Ethiopians, Candace. He is a eunuch because he works with the queen and fornication will not be tolerated. Gentlemen can I ask you a question. Would you trade places with him? He had a wonderful job, but his personal life was lacking. In other words, his life is complex. No wonder he is on the side of the road studying the ancient text. His life is filled with questions. This is where the text begins to speak to us. When Philip finds the Ethiopian, he is reading the scriptures, but he does not understand the scriptures. It is one thing to read the words. It is another thing to understand the words. When was the last time you played the part of the Ethiopian? When was the last time you read the Bible but didn’t completely understand the words? The good news is the Ethiopian had Philip to help him. The bad news you are stuck with me.

There was a time in our national history when the Bible was valued and treated with great respect. Consider these quotes with me:

          George Washington (1732-1799) once said, “It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”

Patrick Henry (1736-1799) once said, “The Bible is worth all the other books that have ever been printed.”

U.S. Grant (1822-1885) once said, “Hold fast to the Bible as the sheet-anchor of your liberties. Write its precepts in your hearts and practice them in your lives.”

Robert E. Lee (1807-1870) once said, “In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength.” 

Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) once said, “A thorough knowledge of the Bible is worth more than a college education.”

Those are some powerful quotes about the Bible. Do you believe America still holds the Bible in such esteem? After all, America has changed in many ways through the years. You know it is true. We have advanced in the areas of transportation, communication, and medicine. No one in this room will travel to Florida this winter by stagecoach. Very few do not have an email address, regardless of age. I have never had a parishioner, who requested heart surgery using 1920s methods. America is at her peak when it comes to transportation, communication, and medicine.

I do not want to sound negative, but America seems to be eroding away in other areas. The American family is dissolving in front of our eyes. The mainline American protestant church is in a rapid state of decline. Our federal government has stalled and is divided by increasing partisanship. You know it is true. Our national soul is changing. If you do not believe me then just look at the way our society views the Bible. The Bible was once viewed as the word of God! Now the Bible is viewed as a curious piece of historical literature, which has little to offer our modern world.

Famed scientist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) had one of the brightest minds in the history of the world. However, history tells us this genius struggled with some of life’s most basic functions. For example, one day he was taking the train home from work. He took the same train home every day. On one day he lost his ticket. As the porter approached to collect it, Einstein rummaged around in his coat, through his pockets, in his shirt, and everywhere else on his person. The porter saw him struggling and said, “That’s okay, Dr. Einstein. I know you ride this train every day. I can collect your ticket tomorrow.” “That’s fine for you, young man,” Einstein replied, “However, the problem is not my lost ticket. The problem is without my ticket I don’t know where to get off the train.”

Could that story about Albert Einstein be the story of the present-day church? We look like we know where we are going but we really do not have a clue. Many believe the mainline protestant church is filled with lost people. We are not lost because they are not nice people. We are not lost because they are not hard-working people. We are not lost because we are not devoted to their local church. We are lost for one reason. They are lost because so many people in the mainline protestant church are spiritual weaklings. They are more interested in proclaiming their opinions and beliefs then they are Biblical truth. How interested are you in Biblical truth? Actor Denzel Washington (born 1954) once said, “I read my Bible every day.” Do you read your Bible every day? How often do you read the Bible? Could it be you are spiritual weakling? Could it be we are nothing more than a collection of spiritual weaklings? I like to think the answer is no.    

Today, I want to make three quick statements about the Bible. Each one of these statements is obvious. Each one of these questions is designed to make you think. My goal is simple. I want you to have a greater appreciation of the Bible. Reading the Bible is not optional to your faith. Reading the Bible is vital. I do not want you to be a spiritual weakling. We need some spiritually mature Christians. So let us begin.

This is statement number one. The Bible is complex. Only a fool would think the Bible is simple. There is nothing easy about the Bible. You know it is true. Sometimes, it is hard to understand the divine truth found in the Bible. There are sixty-six books in the Bible, thirty-nine in the Old Testament and twenty-seven in the New Testament. Have you ever read the Bible cover to cover? Have you ever stopped to consider how many different types of literature are found in the Bible? Have you ever stopped to consider the age of each word found in the Bible? Have you ever studied the original languages of the Bible, Hebrew, and Greek, to expose some hidden meaning? The Bible is complex but what your mother told you is true. Anything worth having is worth working for. How hard are you working on your Bible skills? Spiritual weaklings do not even try to understand the Bible. They just surrender, saying it is too hard.

This is statement number two. The Bible is practical. Ronald Reagan once said, “Within the covers of the Bible are all the answers for all the problems man faces.” The Bible addresses a wide variety of practical topics. How would your life improve if you applied these Biblical models to your daily life? How many problems are you facing today would not exist if you would have followed the Biblical model from the very beginning? Are all your relationships healthy? Are your finances strong? Are you still worried about your salvation? The Bible covers these things because the Bible is practical. The Bible can help you with the biggest problems you are facing today!

This is statement number three. The Bible is eternal. The piece of scripture the Ethiopian is trying to understand is found in Isaiah 53, the suffering servant passage. Approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ, Isaiah was talking about Jesus. Martin Luther once said, “The Bible is the cradle wherein Christ is laid.” The great reformer understood the same real meaning of the Bible. The Bible is all about Jesus, our only hope of salvation.

In 1989, I was appointed to the Hathaway United Methodist Church in Garfield Heights. I have nothing negative to say about that congregation. They were good to me, and we grew together. When I first arrived, I did my best to get to know everyone. I did my best to discover what kind of activities they would support. In the first few months, I took a survey to learn more about them. On the survey were a wide range of questions. One of the questions was: do you think this church should hold a regular Bible study? Ninety-eight per cent of the people said, “Yes!” So, I planned a weekly Bible study and decided to use the biggest room in the church. After all, 98% of the people said the church should hold a weekly Bible study. On the night I held the first Bible study I learned two things. First, I did not need the biggest room in the church. Only a handful showed up. Second, I found out that evening I asked the wrong question. I should have asked: would you attend a weekly Bible study. The survey told me 98% of the people said there should be a weekly Bible study but less than 2% of the congregation came.

It has been a long time since my unsuccessful weekly Bible study. Do you know what happened to the Hathaway United Methodist Church? It pains me to say it. The church is now closed. They say it merged with other congregations, but a merger is really a closing. Hathaway did not close because the people were bad. Hathaway did not close because the people were lazy. Hathaway did not close because the people were not devoted to their church. Hathaway closed for spiritual reasons. Hathaway closed because the church was a spiritual weakling. Why would God lead people to a church that was spiritually compromised? If you want to find out if we are a spiritual weakling, then just find out how many people attend our weekly Bible study. If it can happen there, then it can happen here. How important is the Bible to you? Do you read your Bible every day? The answer to those questions is very revealing. The founder of the great Methodist movement John Wesley (1703-1791) once said, “I am a man of one book.” Wesley’s one book was the Bible.

How Cheap Is Your Grace?

We find ourselves in the sixth chapter of John. According to the text, Jesus is trying to find a place to be alone with the disciples. That is why they are on a mountainside on the far side of the Sea of Galilee. The problem was they were not alone. The crowd had followed them. That crowd can be broken down into two categories. We have covered this information in the past. Some in the crowd wanted Jesus to heal a sick, or limited, loved one in their life. There was a surplus of the blind and the lame. Some wanted Jesus to lead a political revolution. They had grown tired of Roman rules. To them, the miracles were a sign that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah. They were right, yet they were wrong. Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah, but he was, in their opinion, the wrong kind of Messiah. It is safe to say the crowd was near sighted. The crowd was more interested in the temporary. It is also safe to say, Jesus was more concerned with the eternal. The crowd wanted something from Jesus, but Jesus expected something from the crowd. For this reason, some in the crowd decide to leave.

Look at what the scripture does not say. The scripture does not say Jesus implored the crowd to stay. The scripture does not say Jesus blocked the exit. The scripture does not say Jesus preformed another miracle to get the crowd’s attention. The scripture does not say Jesus organized a fundraiser. The scripture does not say Jesus does say he formed a committee to study the problem. The scripture does say some left and Jesus really did not care. Jesus knew something we have forgotten in our time. If you expect nothing, then you get nothing. Jesus’ goal was not to establish a crowd; Jesus’ goal was to find the committed. Being committed is extremely important. The great evangelist Billy Graham once (1918-2018) said, “Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ, and seek to follow him every day. Do not be swayed by the false values and goals of this world of this world but put Christ and his will first in everything you do.” However, it is not just Billy Graham who understood the importance of commitment.

One of the great names from the twentieth century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945). I have spoken of him in the past, so you may remember his story. He was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian. He wrote a book called The Cost of Discipleship. In that book he defined Christianity’s role in the secular world. His thoughts were not just empty words. They defined his commitments. Those beliefs brought him in conflict with the Nazi Party from the very beginning. He went as far as to get involved in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler (1889-1945). When that plot failed in July of 1944, Bonhoeffer was arrested. He was executed on April 8, 1945, just two weeks before his camp was liberated. He died at the age of 39, but his theological legacy is alive and well. He believed there is a cost to discipleship. One just could not claim their salvation with no further thought. He believed what you did with your life revealed your appreciation. It is a matter of cheap grace versus costly grace. Cheap grace requires nothing. Costly grace requires everything. Listen to these words:

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.

I hate to say it. We live in a time of cheap grace. Bonheoffer believed the greatest threat facing the church was cheap grace. I have asked you the question many times, how is the Gospel influencing your life? It is a matter of commitment. If that makes you think say, “Amen!”

Today, I want to challenge your level of commitment. Are you part of the crowd who expects to get something for absolutely nothing? Or are you committed to Jesus, who expects everything? I am going to challenge you by asking three hard questions. Each one relates to a different area of your life. How you respond to these questions says a great deal about your commitment to Jesus. Remember, Jesus was not interested in assembling a great crowd. Jesus was interested in finding the committed. How cheap is your grace?

Would you walk away from Jesus if there were a time requirement? Would you walk away from Jesus if you were required to spend 10% of your time with him? You do the math, 10% of your time is 2.4 hours a day. That means you are going to have to spend 16.8 hours a week involved in the spiritual disciplines. (Reading the Bible, prayer, meditation and fasting) How much time do you spend with Jesus now? How much time are you willing to spend with Jesus? I have told you this story in the past.

In The Last Days Newsletter, Leonard Ravenhill (1907-1994) talks about a group of tourists visiting a picturesque village. They walked by an old man sitting beside a fence. In a rather patronizing way, one tourist asked, “Were any great men born in this village?” The old man replied, “Nope, only babies.” That frothy question brought a profound answer. Some things take time. One of those things is spiritual maturity. How much time are you giving God? If you were required to spend 16.8 hours a week with God, would you walk away from Jesus? How cheap is your grace?

Would you walk away from Jesus if there was a talent requirement? Would you walk away from Jesus if you were required to spend 10% of your talent serving other people? That means you would have to spend 2.4 hours a day serving someone else. That means you would have to spend 16.8 hours a week serving someone else. How much time do you spend serving other people? I am not talking about family members and loved ones. I mean serving strangers.

Did you know the great musician Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), willed his marvelous violin to Genoa — the city of his birth — but only on the condition that the instrument never is played upon? It was an unfortunate condition, for it is made of a peculiar wood that as long as it is used and handled, it shows little wear. As soon as it is discarded, it begins to decay. The exquisite, mellow-toned violin has become worm-eaten in its beautiful case, valueless except as a relic. The moldering instrument is a reminder that a life withdrawn from all service to others loses its meaning. How much time do you spend serving others? If you were required to spend 16.8 hours a week serving others, would you walk away from Jesus? Unhappy people only seem to worry about themselves and their loved one. Content people worry about others. How cheap is your grace?

Would you walk away from Jesus if there was a money requirement? According to the Pew Research Group, the average church member gives 2.5% of their income to their congregation. What if you were required to tithe 10% of your money and give it to the church? The finance committee would not know what to do with all the cash. Just think of the people we could help. What percentage of your income do you give to the church?

At the very beginning of the twenty-first chapter of Luke, we find Jesus in front of the temple. The rich are placing their large sums of money into the treasury. The finance committee loves them. They hate the poor widow who only drops in two copper coins. She is the face of the annual stewardship drive. Her offering is worth nothing, but it tells us about true stewardship. She teaches us that true stewardship is not the amount you give away. It is how much you keep for yourself? How much of your income do you spend on yourself and your loved ones? How much money do you give to the church? If you were required to give 10% of your income to the church, would you walk away from Jesus? How cheap is your grace? Let’s go back to the scripture one last time.

Jesus was trying to find some solitude with the disciples. It is for this reason they travel to the other side of the Sea of Galilea. The solitude Jesus hungers never happens. The crowd follows him. Everyone in that crowd wanted something from Jesus. However, some in that crowd started to leave once they discovered Jesus wanted something from them. The Master knew what we often forget. If you expect nothing, then you get nothing. Jesus was looking for complete commitment because he was expecting a great deal. How committed are you? How cheap is your grace?

History tells us when Julius Caesar (100 BC – 44 BC) landed on the shores of Britain with his Roman legions, he took a bold and decisive step to ensure the success of his military venture. Ordering his men to march to the edge of the Cliffs of Dover, he commanded them to look down at the water below. To their amazement, they saw every ship in which they had crossed the channel engulfed in flames. Caesar had deliberately cut off any possibility of retreat. Now that his soldiers were unable to return to the continent, there was nothing left for them to do but to advance and conquer! They had no choice but to be completely committed to their task.

Your commitments say a great deal about you. Where do your commitments lye? How cheap is your grace? Do you remember what Billy Graham once said? He said, “Make sure of your commitment to Jesus Christ, and seek to follow him every day. Do not be swayed by the false values and goals of this world of this world but put Christ and his will first in everything you do.” How committed are you to Jesus? How cheap is your grace?

Children of God

According to the Bureau of Standards in Washington, a dense fog covering seven city blocks at a depth of one hundred feet is composed of less than one glass of water. That amount of water is divided into about sixty billion tiny droplets. Yet when those small particles settle, they can almost blot out everything from your sight. Many Christians today live their lives in a fog. They allow a cupful of troubles to cloud their vision and dampen their spirit. I hope that is not your story. Founder of Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll (born 1936) once said, Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”  That leads us to today’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves today in the Epistle of First John. The author is John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, the son of Zebedee, the author of the Gospel of John and the Book of Revelation. He was the only disciple who died of natural causes. He was a fisherman by trade and along with Peter, Andrew, and James, was a member of Jesus’s inner circle. He wrote this letter approximately the year 90 AD, after he penned the Gospel of John, yet before the Book of Revelation. It is a general letter addressed to all believers. That means it was written to us too. It was written to encourage all believers to remain faithful, while many have walked away.

That is why our words for today are so hopeful. Verse two grabbed my attention for that reason, Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.” There is something warm and pastoral about that verse. John reminds us we are members of God’s family, not by human efforts. We are children of God because of grace. That family membership means we have been given an open relationship with God. That family membership does not vaccinate us against worldly problems. However, it does mean two things. First, the problems of this world are temporary, but our relationship with God is eternal. Second, you are not in this world alone because God is with you. God is with us today. That is important because life can be hard. Can I ask you a question?

Have you ever had a problem? Let me answer that question for you, “Yes!” I have never met a person who did not have a problem. I have problems. You have problems. The people sitting next to you have problems. The people in front of you and behind you have problems. It is sad but true. Problems are part of the human experience. If you take an inventory of your problems each one of your problems falls into one of four categories. These four categories come from CNBC. This is the list:

The Simple Problem With these problems the cause and effect is obvious. For example, if you are driving down the road and the low gas gage comes on, so you stop and by gas. There is a simple solution.

The Complicated Problem With these problems there is an element of the unknown. That is when you call in an expert for help. For example, you have a cough that will not go away, so you call your doctor. Your faucet keeps dripping, so you call in a plumber. The answer is simple to the expert, but it is not so simple to you.

The Complex Problem    With these problems you can only figure out what went wrong, so you can make sure it does not happen again. For example, you discovered you are allegoric eating shellfish, so you will never eat shellfish again. Only a fool would repeat the action.

The Chaotic Problem      With these problems there is elements that are out of your control. You can do your best to control them, but they are uncontrollable. For example, the weather can cause chaotic problems. Hurricanes, tornados, and tsunamis occur periodically. Meteorologists can explain why they happen. City planners can prepare for the next one, but no one can stop them. Many pray it will never happen again.

Take an inventory of your personal problems. How many simple problems are you facing right now? How many complicated problems are you facing right now? How many complex problems are you facing right now? How many chaotic problems are you facing right now? They all have one thing in common. They are all temporary. They will not matter in a hundred years. You are a child of God. The only thing that will matter in one hundred years is Jesus. The problems of this world are temporary, but your relationship with God is eternal.

People ask me, “What is the most difficult part of your job?” The answer is not preaching. I love to preach, and I look forward to those early mornings and late nights where I get to wrestle with the text. What does God want me to say this week? The answer is not administration. We have some wonderfully skilled people who handle it. The answer is not fundraising for the next mission trip. I have been humbled many times by your generosity. The answer is not meetings, because we have pared them down to a few and they do not last long. I find meetings to be self-destructive in the life of the church. The answer to that question is not constant phones, text, and emails. You can contact me anytime. I need to be needed. The answer to that question is not being criticized or being held accountable by everyone. It just means you are interested. The answer to the question, what is the most difficult part of your job, is pastoral care. I find it to be absolutely exhausting. It is not that I do not care about you. It means I care too much. I love being your pastor, and you have wormed your way into my heart. I think of you as you were when I came, twenty-seven years ago. It is hard to believe you and I are twenty-seven years older. Time goes fast and time is not always our friend. Time can be cruel. I could tell you countless stories, but I will tell you just one.

Her name was Ruth, some of you knew her. I always liked her. In her own way, she was fun. When I came, she and her husband lived alone. They had raised their family, two boys. In time, her husband died, and, in more time, she was placed in a local facility. The owners did their best to make it like home, but everyone who lived there wanted to go home. Ruth was fortunate because family visited her regularly. At one time she had a clear opinionated mind, but not on the day I visited. I did not recognize her sleeping in her chair. When I walked near her, she woke up. I was relieved when she called me by name. She said, “Russ!” I dominated the conversation for a few minutes and updated her on the church. She responded, “That’s nice.” Out of the blue she looked at me and said, “Do you know who I’m really mad it?” I was afraid, she was going to say, me. I said nothing. She said, “My father. Have you seen my father? I have been in this place all this time and my father has not come to visit me once.” On that day, Ruth was 87 years old. I scrambled for something to say, then she said, “Now that I think about it, my mother has not come to see me in a couple of weeks.” I was devastated. I emotionally limped to my car and called her daughter-in-law. We swapped stories and ended by talking about happier times. The hardest part of my job is pastoral care. Ruth is just one example. There are so many. You are such nice people, and your problems are so great. I do not know how you can have a smile on your face. It is obvious, you are child of God.

Years ago, Dr. Raymond Edman (1900-1967) wrote a little book called In Quietness and Confidence. He says every time a Christian faces trouble we must do two things. First, we must face the problem head-on. Second, we must remember four clear statements. These are the statements:

I am here by God’s appointment. In other words, God wants you in that situation for some reason. That statement is important because it reminds us that God has not forgotten us. I guarantee you that God has not forgotten you.

I am in God’s keeping. In other words, God will care for your needs. I did not say extravagant living, I said basic needs. Do you remember the story of Elijah? He drank from the brook and existed on sandwiches, bread, and meat. During my time at the church, we have never had a single church member die of starvation. Some could you lose a few pounds? God cares for our needs.

I am under God’s training. In other words, God has a plan for your life. Your troubles are molding your heart for something special. What sensitivity have you gained because of your hardship? How have your problems changed you? The lesson of humility is hard to accept.

God will show me the purpose in God’s time. I would like to say the purpose for your suffering will be revealed soon, but I do not want to lie to you. When I get to heaven, I have a list of questions for God and so do you. It is fine to question God. It is a sign of a growing faith. In God’s time, we will get our answers.

Do not let your problems just be a problem. Accept the fact that your problems are an opportunity to witness to your faith. Non-believers blame God and others. Believers turn to God. Let me end with this story.

In 1985, Bruce Goodrich (1967-1985) was training to be a cadet at Texas A&M University. One day, Bruce and the other newcomers were expected to run until they dropped. It seemed like an innocent hazing prank. The problem was, Bruce did, but he never got up. He died from heat stroke. He died before he went to his first class. Shortly after his funeral, Bruce’s father wrote a letter to the university. What kind of letter would you write if your child had just died in a senseless way? This is what Bruce’s father wrote:

I would like to thank the university for the kindness you showed my family during our time of need. I am pleased Bruce had a Christian witness on the campus. While we may not understand the events of the past few weeks, we know God does. God does not make mistakes. We know that Jesus is caring for Bruce now.

Can anyone here question that father’s faith? Can anyone question your faith? Your problems will fan your witness to its greatest and brightest potential. Do you remember the quote from Charles Swindoll? He said, “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power. Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”  What are you going to do the next time hardship visits your house? Never forget, you are a child of God!