Are You Making Any Progress?

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

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

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

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

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

Jesus Listened

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

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

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

 Jesus Questioned 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Simple Rules

Her name was Susanna Wesley (1669-1742), the mother of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791). She knew a thing or two about motherhood. She set the standard high for the generations of mothers to come. She was born in 1669, the youngest of twenty-five children. At the age of nineteen, she married Samuel Wesley (1663-1735). They had nineteen children. However, nine died during infancy. She was no stranger to personal problems. There was never enough money and their family home burned twice. Yet, despite all of this, she is remembered as an outstanding mother. Each one of her children, both boys and girls, were home-schooled. Their education began on the day after their fifth birthday. Each one of them was required to know the complete alphabet after the first day. Once their education was complete, each one of her children knew both Greek and Latin, along with the classics. All this was done within the framework of sixteen house rules. They still speak to our world today. These are her sixteen rules for parenting:

  1. Eating between meals is not allowed.
  2. Children are to be in bed by 8 p.m.
  3. Children are required to take medicine without complaining.
  4. Subdue self-will in a child to save the child’s soul.
  5. Teach a child to pray as soon as he can speak.
  6. Require all to be still during Family Worship.
  7. Give them nothing that they cry for, and only that when asked for politely.
  8. To prevent lying, punish no fault which is first confessed and repented of.
  9. Never allow a sinful act to go unpunished.
  10.  Never punish a child twice for a single offense.
  11.  Reward good behavior.
  12.  Any attempt to please, even if poorly performed, should be commended.
  13.  Preserve property rights, even in smallest matters.
  14.  Strictly observe all promises.
  15.  Require no daughter to work before she can read well.
  16.  Teach children to fear the rod. 

That list is available upon request. I like those rules. They demonstrate that Susanna Wesley knew something about raising children. However, this is the Good News for today: This message does not have sixteen points. This message only has three. They are found in our Gospel reading for today.

We find ourselves in the second chapter of John. This story is only found in the gospel of John. The scene is a wedding reception. Couples didn’t honeymoon in those days. No one traveled to Mexico or the Caribbean.  However, they did hold receptions that lasted approximately a week. Jesus was invited because he was a respected rabbi. Over the generations, certain general rules of hospitality have remained intact. Running out of food or drink has always been a serious matter. In verse three, we discover that the wine had run out. Everyone looks for the guilty party, but Mary looks to Jesus.

She knew Jesus had the power to save the day. She believed in Jesus, when Jesus didn’t believe in himself. In verse four, we find Jesus making an excuse for his inactivity, “My time has not yet come.”  Mary does not listen. Instead, she instructs servants to bring him water. By the end of the scene, the party has resumed. Everyone had enough wine. Verse ten tells us it was the good wine. What does that mean? It means the wine Jesus produced had a kick. What grabs our attention today is not the quality of the wine, it is the relationship between Mary and Jesus.

Time is important in this story. The nativity was decades earlier. Jesus is no longer a newborn and Mary is no longer a young mother. In this story, Jesus is thirty years old and Mary is a veteran mother. Mary illustrates for us how relationships must change. You can’t treat your thirty-year-old child like a newborn. That will destroy any relationship. Mary illustrates for us three simple rules parents must follow when dealing with their adult children.

Rule #1: Know your children

This is rule #1: Know your children. There is no doubt about it: Mary knew Jesus. She was at the wedding reception with Jesus and this was not unusual. Mary spent most days with Jesus. Mary knew Jesus was different from the very beginning. She must have remembered many things. She must have recalled that visit from the angel years earlier, who told her that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Son of God. She must have remembered Jesus’ birth. She remembered the visitors, the shepherds and the Magi. She must have remembered how Jesus wandered off at the age of twelve and was found in the temple. Mary remembered it all because she was part of Jesus’ life for thirty years. She knew Jesus better than Jesus knew himself. How well do you know your children?

When my daughter, Anna, was young, she went to a babysitter several hours each week. Her babysitter’s name was Carol Bartlett. I have talked about Mrs. Bartlett in the past. She was a family friend, who watched children in her home. One of the children she watched was a little boy by the name of Bobby. He spent most of every day with Mrs. Bartlett. When his parents went away for the weekend, he stayed with Mrs. Bartlett. Bobby was always at Mrs. Bartlett’s. One day, I arrived to pick up Anna as Bobby’s mother came to pick up him. The adults were all talking, when Bobby suddenly fell and began to cry. With his mother standing there, Bobby got up and ran to Mrs. Bartlett to be comforted, not his own mother. I will never forget the uncomfortable look on Mrs. Bartlett’s face. All the adults in the room knew the truth. Bobby was spending too much time with Mrs. Bartlett and not enough time with his mother. How much real time do you spend with your children? How well do you know your children? Perhaps, this is a better question: How well do your children know you? Can you name three of your children’s friends? Rule #1 says, know your children.

Rule #2: Encourage your children

History tells us that Abraham Lincoln carried an old newspaper article with him regularly. Those who were closest to him say he read it daily. He couldn’t believe the words. The article said Lincoln was a great leader. The article was correct. He is remembered as being a great leader, one of our greatest presidents. However, Lincoln didn’t see himself that way. He was crippled with self-doubt. Lincoln illustrates for us a simple point. It doesn’t really matter what others think of you. The only thing that matters is how you feel about yourself. How do you feel about yourself?

This is rule #2: Encourage your children. I love this story because it shows the human side of Jesus. Jesus had an insecure side. Look at the story. The Master is at a wedding reception when the wine ran out. Jesus had the power to solve the problem, but he didn’t try because he was too insecure. It is his mother who gives him the nudge to try. Verse 3 says, “When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’”  In other words, Mary is telling Jesus to do something. She is encouraging him to do something. Has anyone here ever needed an encouraging word? The world reminds us regularly of what we can’t do. We need people in our lives to remind us of what we can do. It is not just true of the young. It is true of the not-so-young. We are often blind to our own abilities. It is impossible to receive too much encouragement. Rule #2 says, encourage your children.

Rule #3: Trust your children to God

This is rule #3: Trust your children to God. Mary knew Jesus and she encouraged Jesus. However, the third rule must have been the hardest one for her to apply. She knew God had something special planned for him. She remembered how she and Joseph took Jesus to the temple when he was only eight days old. On that day, they met an old man by the name of Simeon. He knew Jesus was destined for greatness. Do you remember his words? Mary did. Simeon said, “This child is destined for the raising and the falling of many in Israel” (Luke 2:34). Mary didn’t know what that really meant, but she must have asked the question a million times. Why does her son have to lead to the raising and the falling? Why not just the raising?

When she encourages Jesus to change the water into wine, she encourages Jesus to get on with his life. She was encouraging Jesus to fulfill his divine destiny. Jesus’ future was out of Mary’s control. She had done the best she could do. Now, she had to trust God with him. We only have our children at home for a short time. Most of their lives they are on their own. How far do you trust God with your children? This is rule #3, trust your children to God.

Several years ago, I watched Ken Burn’s documentary on World War II, The War. My father served during that war, so I felt some attachment. I found the interviews of the survivors interesting. That generation is dying quickly. In one episode, they interviewed a native-American soldier who was in the infantry. I will never forget it. I think about it every Mother’s Day. Years after the conflict, he cried about the day he took a German life with his own hands. Death did not come suddenly. The soldier died slowly. Before he passed, he called out. According to the man interviewed, he didn’t call out for a medic. He didn’t call out for his friends. He called out for his mother, twice. The man was a solider, but the man was a son.

Don’t tell me being a mother isn’t important. It is important to love your children when they are young, but it is equally important to love them today. Regardless of age, they will always be your children and you will always be their mother. Robert Browning (1812-1889) was an English poet and playwright. He was the most famous of the Victorian poets. He once said, “Love begins and ends with mothers.” He may be right.

Remembering Jesus’ Resurrection

We are in the ninth chapter of Acts, verses 36-43. According to verse 36, Peter is in the town of Joppa. That community still exists today. However, today it is called Jaffa and is considered a suburb of Tel Aviv. Like many communities in that part of the world, it has a rich history. Archaeological evidence shows it was inhabited generations before Christ. The reason for Joppa’s early inhabitance was her location. She is located along the coast.

When Peter arrives in Joppa, he is welcomed by long faces. One of the saints had just died, a woman by the name of Tabitha. Technology has changed the world, but human behavior remains the same. Just like today, the people were grieving because a loved one was lost. Tabitha’s death is so recent, her body has not yet been buried. It is upstairs, washed in accordance with the customs of the day. Verse 39 pierces my heart. It says the widows were crying as they told Peter about Tabitha. They knew the painful truth. They will never hear Tabitha’s voice again. They will never see Tabitha’s smile again. If death is nothing else, it is final. Any logical mind knows the truth. When you are dead, it is over. However, there is nothing logical about God. According to the text, Peter dismisses the grieving women. Alone, he gets on his knees and prays. A few seconds later, Tabitha is resurrected. In other words, just like Jesus on Easter morning, Tabitha has returned from the dead. Whenever I hear of a resurrection, I think of the resurrection of Jesus.Let’s dissect this story together.

There are three main characters in this story. The first character is Peter. He comes with a great deal of credibility. After all, he had spent all those years with Jesus. He is one of the great leaders of the early church. The second character is Tabitha. Her life’s testimony is impressive. She was always doing good and helping the poor. She was loved and respected by her peers. The third character in the story is the widows. The only thing we know about them is that they are grieving. However, that is enough. It is easy to relate to them in their broken state. I have walked in their shoes. This is the truth: you have walked in their shoes. I can’t relate to Peter, because he is so perfect. We can relate to the crying widows because they are so much like us. They were victims in a harsh world. Have you ever felt like a victim of this world?

Today, I want to transform you from feeling like a victim to a victor. After all, you are a child of God. Tabitha’s resurrection reminds me of Jesus’ resurrection. Jesus’ resurrection changed everything. Jesus’ resurrection is not just a point of theology reserved for scholars. Jesus’ resurrection is contemporary. Jesus’ resurrection is practical. Because of the resurrection, you should not feel like a victim; you should feel like a victor. Just think about it for a second. Jesus, the only son of God, died and was resurrected, for us, because God wants to spend eternity with you. How can you be a loser? How can you feel like a victim? How can you not feel like a victor?

One of the great frustrations in my life is my eyes. I am not exactly sure what to call it. It is a form of dyslexia. When I read, my eyes don’t focus on a single line. One eye focuses on the line above; one eye focuses on the line below. I have always struggled with this condition. I have painful memories of being in the fourth, fifth and sixth grade. When the teacher called on me to read my paragraph in reading class, I couldn’t do it. My classmates laughed at me and called me “dumb”. There were many days I felt like they were right.

I have spent my life compensating for this condition. I read and write in the morning when I am not tired. That is when my eyes work the best. I have someone else read the scripture because I struggle. I have others read the scripture on the screen at TOGGLE because I can’t see it. I have eliminated nearly all responsive readings because I cannot distinguish between your part and mine. I deliver sermons from memory for one reason. I cannot read them. I will be the first one to admit it: I have a great life! However, if I could change one thing in my life, it would be my eyes. However, our disappointments are often premature. In the end, God will prevail.

I interviewed to be the pastor of this church during the spring of 1994. I met with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee. They asked me many questions that evening. One question stood out: “When you preach, do you read from a manuscript?” I didn’t want to say that evening, “I can’t!” I wanted the job. Instead, I answered, “I can honestly say, ‘No.’” My first Sunday here was July 3, 1994. I remember walking out from behind the pulpit to show people I wasn’t reading to them. I couldn’t believe how people responded. Someone said, “When you left the pulpit you became one of us.” Some said, “By not reading your sermon you are more sincere.” “You preached from the heart, not a piece of paper.” I was humbled by those words because I can still hear those kids laughing at me in school. I am not Billy Graham, but I believe I am a better preacher because my eyes don’t work properly. My poor eyes made me a better preacher. Our disappointments are premature. In the end, God will prevail. What disappointments did you bring to church today?

In the scripture lesson for today, the widows had been on an emotional roller coaster. Death is the end of a long ride. I do not know if Tabitha’s death came at the end of a long illness. It may have come suddenly. The only thing we know for sure is that she was dead. She may have been in a better place, but her loved ones were left behind. Those who were closest to her felt the worst. So to say the least, they were disappointed. Without the resurrection, it is over. However, with the resurrection, the story continues. In the Christian faith, disappointments are always premature. You are a victor because the resurrection reminds us that our disappointments are premature. In the end, God wins!

Paul Allen (1953-2018) will always be remembered as the co-founder of Microsoft, along with Bill Gates. They had a complex relationship. Allen and Gates became rich. However, his net worth grabbed the attention of many. He was worth $21.7 billion at the time of his death. If he wanted it, he bought it. He owned two professional sports franchises, a yacht the length of a football field, a submarine and various properties around the world. However, there are some things money can’t buy. Money couldn’t buy health. Paul Allen battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma for 26 years. The disease took his life in 2018. Billionaire Paul Allen died alone. Money can’t buy love. Those closest to Paul Allen said one of his greatest disappointments in life was his loneliness. He regretted never marrying. Just think about it for a moment. He battled cancer alone. If you were battling for your life, what would you want? A person next to you, or a submarine?

Tabitha’s resurrection is great because the relationship between her and her friends continued. Jesus’ resurrection is better. It shows that God wants to have a relationship with you. The one thing that makes Christianity different from all the other world religions is the word ‘relationship’. The storyline of the Old Testament is God trying to have a relationship with his Chosen People, the Jews. The storyline of the New Testament is God entering the world in the person of Jesus to have a relationship with all people. Jesus died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice. Sin no longer stands between us and God. You are a winner because the resurrection reminds us that God wants to have a relationship with you! There has never been a moment in your life when you have been orphaned. God has been with you every step of the way!

You are a winner, because the resurrection reminds us that God wants to have a relationship with you for eternity. On that day, Tabitha was resurrected but she could not escape death forever. At some point down the road she died again. Jesus’ resurrection was God’s final answer to the problem of death. There was a mansion waiting for her in heaven. Let me say this clearly. There is a mansion waiting for you too. Never feel like a loser. Why? Because God wants to spend eternity with you! One of the perks of being a disciple of Jesus Christ is that you will never die. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, so that whoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life.”

I spent last week on Fort Myers Beach, in Florida. One afternoon, I sat at a bus stop waiting for a ride. Waiting with me and Kathryn were hotel maids. I tried to speak to them, but they spoke Creole, from the island of Haiti. I remembered my trip to Haiti and the desperate people I met. Haiti is a desperate nation. No, money can’t solve every problem. Haiti is a country of no’s. There is no postal system. There are no street addresses. There is no public-school system. There is no health care system. There is next to no electricity or clean drinking water. The Haitians themselves have no hope for a better future, and I have no clue how to fix the mess. Haiti is like a giant campground, where no one gets to go home. We, as Americans, take so much for granted. There was only one difference between me and the Haitian hotel maids. I was born in America and they were born in Haiti. If I won a cosmic lottery to be born here, then they were the losers. The Haitians are victims of life itself. Can I ask you a question?

Do you know any victims? You don’t have to go to Haiti to find them. They are right here. Their lives are hard. Sometimes, it is because they are forced to live with a poor decision. Sometimes, they have done nothing wrong. Something just happened. Could it be you feel like a victim today? You have a broken relationship in your life. You have bills that will never be paid. You have a past story that will never be forgotten. You are squeezed between your aging parents and your growing children. You are battling a disease and you will lose. Does anyone here feel like a victim? If so, then stop whining and accept the truth: You are a child of God! That fact changes everything. John Stott He once said, “We live and die. Christ died and lived.”

Do You Believe?

We find ourselves in the twenty-eighth chapter of Matthew. Much has already happened. Jesus was executed Roman style on Friday. He was crucified between two common criminals. The picture was not pretty, but in a certain way Jesus was lucky. First, Jesus died quickly. Second, it was not uncommon for the crucified to be taken down and thrown into a pile of lifeless corpses; their bodies would be eaten by buzzards or wild dogs. Not so with Jesus. Arrangements were made by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus that Jesus’ body would be taken down and placed in a new tomb. A large stone was rolled in front of the entrance to protect it from thieves. The Roman government was persuaded by Jesus’ enemies to place guards in front of the tomb to eliminate any future problems. This was all done by dark on Friday, because the law prohibited any burials on the Sabbath. Once this was completed, Jesus’ loved ones grieved because Jesus was dead! On Saturday, nothing happened because the law did not permit anyone to touch the dead on the Sabbath. There was just more grieving. That takes us to our reading for today.

According to our story, early Sunday morning, Jesus received his first visitors, two women with the same first name. There is Mary Magdalene and another Mary. They had no clue what was about to happen. The miraculous is woven into the story. Several miraculous things happened. The first is the great earthquake. Only Matthew mentions this earthquake, but this earthquake is worth mentioning because it reveals to us that God has done something truly special. The second miracle is that the giant stone has been rolled away. The third is the announcement of the resurrection. According to verse three, it is made by an angel, whose clothes were white as snow, symbolizing purity. The angel tells the women about the resurrection, but the women experience the resurrected Jesus for themselves in verse nine. In time, Jesus would appear to others. It is important that at some time in your life you have experienced the resurrected Jesus.

Jesus was not the only one to be resurrected in the Bible. There are stories in both the Old and the New Testaments about others being resurrected. There are no fewer than eight, Lazarus being the most noteworthy. However, Jesus’ resurrection is different. The others had human fathers. Jesus was the son of God. The baby in the manger at Christmas and the man on the cross on Good Friday are the same. Jesus was the incarnation of God, who not just became one of us, but died for us. He was the sacrificial lamb for your sins. How can you question God’s love for you? Never forget it! Your salvation can’t be earned. You are saved by grace.

Your belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is not optional, it is indispensable. Many believe Romans 10:9 was the first creed in the history of the church. Do you remember that verse? It 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.”  If that is true, then the opposite is also true. If you don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, then the fires of hell are waiting for you. The early church understood the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. They worshipped on Sunday morning because every Sunday morning is a little Easter, or resurrection day. (It would be much easier if Jesus had been resurrected on a Thursday afternoon.) This is the question you must answer: Do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ? Remember, your belief in the resurrection is not optional, it is indispensable. Consider these three things with me.

Because you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, your mistakes are forgiven! Without the resurrection of Jesus there is no hope for the forgiveness of sins. How many people do you know who are constantly reviewing their past mistakes? The resurrection liberates you from your past. Ephesians 1:7 says it clearly, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the richness of God’s grace.”  On the moment Jesus walked out of that tomb you had the opportunity to forget your past mistakes and have a relationship with God. Because you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, your mistakes are forgivenP

Because you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your life has purpose! The resurrection demonstrates God’s power and is the source of our own salvation. You are not saved by your good works. You are saved by grace. It is a gift, and with any gift you want to express appreciation. You express your appreciation to God by the life you live. The focal point is no longer yourself. It is others. Do you remember Philippians 3:13-14? It says, “But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind me and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  What are you doing today to express your appreciation to God? Because you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your life has purpose.F

Because you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your future is bright! Without the resurrection there is no hope of going to heaven. There would be no hope of a great reunion with loved ones who have passed away. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”  On the day I die, don’t cry for me. I am going to heaven, not because I am a good person. I am going to heaven because I worship and serve a perfect and resurrected Jesus.

Several years ago, I was visiting someone in the hospital. I had known this individual for almost twenty years. He was a person of integrity, and I respected him at every level. It still pains me to say it. His future in this world was not bright. He was fighting the brave fight, but the disease was winning. When I walked into his room, I was pleased he was awake. He spent most of his time sleeping. He was weak, so I prayed with him before he dozed off again. After I said, “Amen!,” he looked at me and said, “Russ, I have had enough. I am ready to go home.” In other words, he was ready to die. I looked at him and responded, “I am sure you are.” Without the resurrected Jesus, there is no journey home. Without the resurrected Jesus, there is no great reunion. Without the resurrected Jesus, there is no hope of heaven. Because you believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, your future is bright! Who is the first person you are going to look for when you get to heaven?

It was on Monday afternoon when we received the sad news. The great Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris was on fire. If you can mourn for a building, I did. At first, we feared the entire structure would be destroyed. I was fortunate to have been there two times. Once with my parents as a teenager, and once with my wife, Kathryn, on our anniversary. I am not the only one. They say on an average week 12,000 tourists visit Notre Dame daily. During Holy Week, that number swelled to 30,000. Notre Dame is a piece of history. Construction began in 1163 and took two hundred years to complete. It has been the backdrop of French history for generations. I was moved by the emotions of the crowds who gathered to watch the blaze, some praying, some singing, some crying. I know those damaged sections will be rebuilt, but it will never be the same again. I mourned for the building and the history, but not the faith.

The Christian faith can’t be contained to a building. The Christian faith lives in the hearts of men and women who believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That belief in the resurrection is not optional, it is indispensable. The resurrection of Jesus Christ changed everything. John Ortberg (born 1957) is a Christian author, speaker and pastor of Menlo Church in Menlo, California. He once said He once said, “At the very heart of the Christian faith is the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection.” The question is, do you believe?

What Do You Remember?

We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of Matthew. Like visiting an old friend, we find these words to be comforting. According to the text, a great crowd had gathered in the city of Jerusalem. The size of the crowd can’t be overemphasized. Matthew calls it a very large crowd (Matthew 21:8). Mark says many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from nearby fields. Some people followed Jesus; some people ran ahead of Jesus (Mark 11:8-9). Luke says the crowd was so great the religious leaders encouraged Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 19:39). John tells us a great crowd had gathered for the festival (John 12:12). You can’t question the size of the crowd. It was great.

They had all come to celebrate the Passover, a time to remember their proud past as God’s Chosen People. The law required the people to attend, but no legislation was necessary. Everyone wanted to be part of the great holiday. It was a time to do three things. First, they made their annual animal sacrifice at the temple. Second, they paid their annual taxes. Third, it was a time to reconnect with family and friends. It is for that reason everyone wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to 2,500,000 on that Passover, and the name on the lips of everyone was “Jesus”. What was on the mind of everyone was revolution.

They had grown tired of foreign domination. They had grown tired of Roman ways and laws. They longed for independence, and Jesus seemed to be the best person to lead a revolution. He seemed to have it all. He had the power to heal the sick. He had the power to control nature. He had the charisma to win over any crowd. The crowd seems to be trying to draft Jesus for this military position. Don’t ignore the next line. The crowd did political things. Just like for their ancestors who experienced military victories, they spread cloaks and palm branches on the ground. Others waved palm branches and yelled, “Hosanna to the son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” They did all they could do to enlist Jesus, but there is something wrong with the picture. Two thousand years later, we see the imperfection clearly. Jesus wasn’t interested in the political scene of that generation. Jesus was only interested in eternity. That is why Jesus rode in on a humble animal and not a mighty steed. That generation was nearsighted and missed the reason why that day was so important.

I hope you don’t miss the significance of that day. Palm Sunday is not just the Sunday before Easter. Palm Sunday is the beginning of Holy Week. During Holy Week we remember what Jesus did each day. It is a spiritual pilgrimage. If you just show up next week and celebrate the resurrection, then you have cheated yourself of an opportunity to draw near to Jesus. For this reason, I want to challenge you to take time out of your busy schedule and remember what Jesus did during the Holy Week. So let me ask you this question: what do you remember?

Do you remember what happened on Holy Monday? According to the Bible, two significant things happened on that day.  The first event of Holy Monday was the cleansing of the Temple. It had nothing to do with fundraising to help some good cause. It had everything to do with using the faith for personal gain. The Temple was a place of prayer, not profit. The church is a place of prayer, not profit. The second significant event of Holy Monday is the cursing of the fig tree. It was the only thing Jesus ever cursed. Like the bald eagle symbolizes America, the fig tree symbolized Israel. The cursing of the fig tree was an act of judgement upon Israel. God was doing something new.

Do you remember what happened on Holy Tuesday? According to the Bible, Jesus went back to the Temple, where he was challenged by the Pharisees and the Sadducees. It was also there he taught about the Kingdom of God. Two great stories came from that day. He taught about paying taxes to Caesar and he noticed a widow’s slim donation. He also told the parable of the two sons, the parable of the tenants and others. Then, he went to Bethany, near Jerusalem, where he was anointed. He was being prepared for death.

Do you remember what happened on Holy Wednesday? Some call it Spy Wednesday. It was on that day the plan to trap Jesus was conceived. One of his own, Judas Iscariot, betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. Some say, he did it because he was greedy. Some say, he did it because he he had grown tired of being an outsider. He was the only non-Galilean of the twelve. Some say, he did it to force Jesus’s hand. He never dreamed Jesus wouldn’t fight back. We don’t really know why he did it, but he did it. In the end, Judas Iscariot regretted his betrayal and committed suicide. There is nothing else to say.

Do you remember what happened on Holy Thursday? We call it Maundy Thursday. That was the day Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, showing true servant leadership. Then, they observed the Seder. It was a meal with a message. Everything they ate and everything they drank reminded them of their people’s past. After all, they were God’s Chosen. During the meal, Jesus changed the words and created a new memorial, Communion. The bread was his body and the wine was his blood. After the meal was completed, Jesus comforted the disciples and went to the garden to pray. It was in the garden Jesus was arrested.

Do you remember what happened on Holy Friday? We call it Good Friday. It was good for us, but bad for Jesus. He had two trials on that one day. The first trial was in front of his own people. It was a “kangaroo” court. Jesus never had a chance. He was found guilty. They wanted to execute Jesus, but they lacked the legal authority. For this reason, they sent him to the Roman Governor, Pilate. He knew Jesus was an innocent man, but he feared the mob. The order was given that Jesus must die. First came the whipping. Then came the crown of thorns. Finally came the cross, a Roman way to execute. Jesus was not tied to the cross; he was nailed to the cross. He hung between two common criminals. His death came quickly, and they put his body in a tomb. His family and friends cried, because he was dead, and their dreams were gone.

Do you remember what happened on Holy Saturday? Some call it Silent Saturday. Others call it Black Saturday or Easter Eve. There is nothing to remember about that day, because Jesus was dead. The people who loved Jesus, both family and friends, struggled with his death. Some of them were in shock. Some of them were in denial. Some of them cried. Their great dreams of a bright future were over. Jesus was dead! You know what happened on Sunday. It is the worst secret in the history of the world. It is also the very foundation of our faith.

One of the most beautiful places in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. Worshippers are welcomed by three magnificent doorways. Over the first one is carved a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, “All which pleases is just for a moment.” Over the second is a sculpted cross, and the words, “All that troubles is just for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” The message is clear. We should live for the permanent and the eternal. How much time do you spend worrying about the temporary? How much time do you spend worrying about the eternal? The only things that really matter are those things that will matter in 100 years. What matters in 100 years? The only thing that will matter in 100 years is Jesus. Do you remember the quote from Pope Benedict XVI? He once said, “But Palm Sunday tells us that… it is the cross that is the tree of life.”

I Am the Way, the Truth, and the Life

We find ourselves in the fourteenth chapter of John. The setting is crucial to your understanding. After three years, it was over. When it all began, the disciples didn’t know Jesus; now they loved Jesus. Can you blame them? They had experienced Jesus. They had traveled together. They had eaten together. They had dreamed together, and what dreams! Jesus had the power to do anything. He healed the sick. He brought sight to the blind. He made demoniacs whole. He taught lessons like no other teacher. Their wildest dreams seemed to be in reach, but now it is over. Jesus has just told the disciples, he is going to be leaving them. The disciples are upset, and Jesus tries to comfort them by making some mighty promises. He tells them that in his father’s house there are many mansions, or rooms. When he leaves them, he is going there to prepare a place for them, but he will return. Jesus assumes the disciples know where he is going and how they too will get there, but their understanding is limited. Thomas is the only one bold enough to be honest with Jesus. He said, “We do not know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”  Jesus’s response is memorable, yet confusing. The Master said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  What is Jesus saying?When Jesus says he is the way, he is saying, he is the path to God. When Jesus says he is the truth, he is saying he is the reality of God’s promises. When Jesus says he is the life, he is the source of true living, both in this world and in heaven. Those words are complicated enough, but Jesus continues and makes matters worse. Our reading for today ends with the words, No one comes to the father but by me. Your interpretation of that verse is extremely important. Many have interpreted that verse, No one comes to the father but by me, wrongly. I know that is true, because I have experienced it in my life.

When I was young, there used to be a man who drove around town in an old black sedan. He was African-American and he wore military fatigues.  Everyone knew him, because on top of his car was a sign made of long, thin pieces of wood. On each piece of wood, were hand-painted Bible verses. The sign sat about five feet tall. The Bible verses he selected to promote were not ones that spoke of God’s love and grace. They were Bible verses that promoted judgement and hell. We used to laugh at him, but at the same time we were afraid of him. We used to call him “Charles”. However, we didn’t know his name. Looking back, I don’t question Charles’s sincerity, but I do question his methods. How many people do you think Charles won for Jesus?

When I was a student at Warren G. Harding High School, there was a student by the name of Mike. He came from a large Greek family and played on the football team. He was popular amongst his peers. One day, he announced to the entire school, he had been saved. That experienced changed Mike. He quit the football team and never studied again. He had one topic of discussion, Jesus. He saw himself as a modern-day prophet and went around identifying everyone else’s sins. Mike’s friends grew tired of the new Mike quickly. I can still see him sitting in the school cafeteria alone. Looking back, I don’t question Mike’s sincerity, but I question his methods. How many people do you think Mike won for Jesus?

When I was a student at Mount Union College, there was a student by the name of Don. He was a big, muscular guy with flowing dirty-dishwater blond hair. (People often got us confused 😊) He ran a Bible study on campus called Little Flock. The Christian girls on campus were infatuated with him. I was impressed by his Biblical knowledge. If you gave him a chapter and verse in the Bible, he would quote it to you. It was common knowledge, he had the gift of tongues. In his own mind, that gift proved he was a true Christian. To him, if you didn’t have the gift of tongues, then you weren’t a Christian. He saw people like me as spiritual babes and looked down on us. Except for his groupies, everyone just wanted to stay away from him. Looking back, I don’t question Don’s sincerity, but I question his methods. How many people do you think Don won for Jesus?

When I served my first church, I had a parishioner by the name of Harry. He was at church every time the doors were unlocked. He wore a large metal cross around his neck and carried a large black King James Version Bible in his hand. He came to church alone, because his wife had died tragically years earlier. He had three sons in the area. They never came to church, and that drove Harry crazy. He told me every time he saw me, how he hounded them about going to church and reading the Bible. He told them that without the church and regular Bible reading, they were going to hell. You can imagine how that went over. Harry had no relationship with his sons. For that reason, Harry spent every holiday, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas, alone. However, the three brothers and their families got together. Looking back, I don’t question Harry’s sincerity, but I question his methods. How many people do you think Harry won for Jesus?

I am comfortable saying that Charles, Mike, Don and Harry loved John 14:6, “No one comes to the father but by me.”  I am equally comfortable saying, Charles, Mike, Don and Harry misunderstood John 14:6. Jesus was not speaking at a conference where other world religions were represented. Jesus was not speaking to a group of Muslims. Jesus was not speaking to a group of Hindus. Jesus was not speaking to a group of Buddhists or atheists. Jesus was speaking to the disciples. He had spent three years with them, and he knew them. He cared for them, and they cared for him. Jesus is trying to comfort them. Their relationship was going to be interrupted, and they are upset. Here is the question you must answer:

Why did the disciples follow Jesus? Was it because Jesus threatened them? Was it because Jesus intimidated them? Was it because Jesus warned them about eternal judgement and the fires of hell? It is none of those things. You can make a case that they followed Jesus because they felt his powerful presence. However, that really didn’t happen until they first witnessed his miracles. I believe, they followed Jesus originally, because they admired him. He was a person of great integrity. They knew Jesus cared for them and wanted the best for them. There was something inside of him that they wanted inside of them. I know that is true, because that is my story. I was won to Christ as a teenage boy by a teenage girl. This is the truth: decades later, I still admire her. What is your story? Who led you to Jesus? Did that person intimidate you into the faith? Or, did that person welcome you into the faith? Who is your spiritual hero? There is a world of difference. Saint Francis (1182-1228) once said, “Preach the gospel at all times, and use words only if necessary.”  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a British writer and lay theologian. He held academic positions in English literature at both Oxford University and Cambridge University. This story about him has been circulating for many years. Once, he arrived at a gathering of Biblical scholars in London. He walked into the middle of a great debate. He inquired about the topic of the debate. Someone told him they were discussing the distinctiveness of Christianity among other world religions. Without much hesitation Lewis responded, “Oh, that’s easy.” The room quieted. It was an outrageous thing to say in a room filled with bright minds. Everyone looked at Lewis to hear his answer. In a clear voice, he said, “What makes Christianity distinct? It’s grace!” Forgiveness is found in other world religions. Compassion is found in other world religions. Love is found in other world religions. Christianity is the only world religion which leads with grace. Charles, Mike, Don and Harry forgot about grace. I hope you never forget about grace.

Do you remember the quote from Reinhart Bonnke? He once said, “It is not that the church hasn’t been trained in evangelism; it is not a lack of institution or information. The fact is, if you don’t love people through the eyes of Christ, the world will never be changed.”

I Am the Vine

We find ourselves today in the fifteenth chapter of John. It is important that you know, it is late in Jesus’s earthly ministry. Chapters fourteen, fifteen and sixteen have been called the “Farewell Discourses.” Jesus knew he would soon be crucified. He is preparing his followers for his absence, and what it would mean to them. It is a critical time for Jesus’s ministry. It must have been an emotional time for the disciples, so Jesus offers them some words of hope. Our generation does not hear the hope, but that generation heard the hope. Jesus said, “I am the vine.”  Those words grabbed their attention because, like a bald eagle represents America, so the vineyard represented Israel. The next words must have shaken that generation to its very core. They were nothing more than branches in the vineyard; it was God who was the gardener. They knew the truth. It was the gardener’s job to maximize the harvest of the vineyard. That means, God Himself was responsible to maximize the harvest. The best way to maximize the harvest was to cut off the unproductive branches. Those branches would be collected, burned and forgotten. Jesus challenges them, and us, to produce, or we too will be collected, burned and forgotten. The only way to produce is to remain in him. It is impossible to produce without Jesus. I believe that simple analogy speaks to our generation.

On the corner of Third Street and Lexington Avenue in Danville, Kentucky is a large brick church. I have spoken of it in the past. Years ago, I drove by it regularly. I always admired the structure. The brick was formidable. The doors were welcoming. The spire reached to the heavens, and the landscaping was flawless. Etched in the stone in the front of the church were the words: First Presbyterian Church. One day, I had a few extra minutes, so I decided to visit that church. My car sat alone in the massive parking lot in the middle of the week. I walked toward the back door and was surprised to see a sticker displaying the hours of operation. They were opened every day from 10:00 am until 9:00 pm, but they were closed on Sunday. Confused, I opened the door, and expected to enter the sanctuary. Instead, I entered the showroom. Couches filled the choir loft. Chairs and love seats sat where the pews once sat. Mattresses and box springs filled the chancel. Children’s furniture filled the narthex. A salesman asked me if I needed some help, but there was nothing he could do. The church was gone and only a furniture store remained. Later, I found out the First Presbyterian Church merged with another Presbyterian Church in the community. They vacated that location and went to the other building, which was more economically sensible for their sagging membership. That church, now a furniture store, taught me something I have never forgotten. Every church is one generation away from closing. If you don’t believe me, then ask the approximately 8,000 congregations that close in America annually. That leads us to the question that has haunted my generation of clergy our entire career.

Why do churches close? This is not the first time we have looked at that question during my time here. Countless articles have been written to answer that question. There are many lists that look similar. Thom S. Rainer (born 1955) is an American Southern Baptist writer, researcher, speaker and former President of LifeWay Christian Resources. He released an article on September 14, 2016 called Five Reasons Why Churches are Dying and Declining Faster Today. These are his five reasons (I think he is right):

  1. Cultural Christianity is on the decline. In America, church membership is no longer seen as culturally, politically or economically advantageous. At one time, church membership was a social requirement. Now, it is an option. According to the Pew Research Group, only 37% of Americans worship regularly. Christianity is on the decline. Cultural Christianity is on the decline. That statement is true.
  • The exit of the “builder” generation. The world changed in 1946. If you were born prior to 1946, you are stereotypically loyal to organizations and institutions. It is not just true of churches. It is true of service clubs, Masonic organizations and bowling leagues. Every week, another 13,000 members of the builder generation die. Younger generations aren’t bad. Younger generations simply don’t have time to join organizations. They are too busy working and raising their children. The builder generation is exiting. That statement is true.
  • The American population base is shifting toward cities. In 1790, only 5% of Americans lived in cities. Today, 80% of Americans live in, or near, cities. Small-membership country churches are dying because no one lives in the country. My grandfather, Roger Adams, was the first family member to leave the farm. It is impossible to have a church without people. The population base has shifted. That statement is true.
  • American worshippers no longer respect the traditional barriers. Family traditions, denominational loyalty and loyalty to a specific congregation are no longer compelling factors. We experience that regularly. How many of you were not raised a United Methodist? I wasn’t. We no longer respect traditional barriers. People move from church to church. That statement is true.
  • Churches are slow to accept change. Our society is changing rapidly, but the church is slow to change. We used to say, the church was ten years behind the times. Today, it is more like the church is thirty to forty years behind the times. Group dynamics tell us we can only move as fast as the slowest person. How many slow people do you know? Churches are slow to change. That statement is true.

I cannot disagree with that list. However, I believe there is another reason why we are dying. Number six does not come from Thom S. Rainer. It comes from Russ Adams, and his thirty-five years in the ministry.

  • The American church is dying because we are easily distracted. What does the scripture lesson tell us today? It says that Jesus is the vine and we, the church, are supposed to stay connected to the vine. If we stay connected to the vine, we will bear fruit and make disciples for Jesus Christ. If we get disconnected from the vine, we won’t bear fruit and will die. This is the danger: In the life of the church, we can become consumed with good things, and forget about the best thing, Jesus! This has become one of my favorite themes.

How many distractions exist within the life of this church? Building maintenance can be a distraction. The budget can be a distraction. The landscaping of the church property can be a distraction. Fundraising can be a distraction. Music can be a distraction. Worship style can be a distraction. Church camp, Sunday school and mission trips can be a distraction. Don’t miss my point. I am not telling you to get rid of any of those things, because each one is important in its own way. I am telling you to be on guard. None of those things will produce fruit alone. We need Jesus. The church doesn’t have a future without Jesus, the vine. The church doesn’t have anything, if it doesn’t have Jesus! The moment we become disconnected from Jesus, the vine, we stop being the church God intended.

Perhaps the greatest distraction in the history of Methodism occurred in St. Louis several weeks ago. We have spent countless hours discussing the topic of sexuality. The issue was simple, and everyone was forced to choose a side. On one side, there were the traditionalists. Historically, we have never ordained openly gay people or married openly gay couples. They pointed to certain Bible verses and wore their heavy crosses. On the other side, there were the progressives. They said, it was time for a change. God loves everyone and sexuality isn’t a choice. They pointed to other Bible verses and wrapped themselves in rainbows. The stakes were high, and no one knew what would happen. The only thing guaranteed was that many would be mad. After spending millions of dollars to decide, nothing changed. Those who wanted change are now mad. Those who didn’t want change are smug. The losers are now threatening to leave the denomination they said they loved. It is a sad day in the history of our denomination because amid the battle we seemed to forget why we exist, Jesus! The only one who is truly happy is Satan, because in the debate, we used Jesus only to support our own opinions. Could it be our denomination is struggling because we have become disconnected from the vine? We need to stop talking about sexuality and start talking about Jesus again.

Several years ago, I was asked to officiate at a wedding for someone outside of this church. The bride was a friend of a church member. They did not want to get married in this building. They wanted to get married at Butler North. Do you know Butler North? It is part of the Butler Art Museum on Wick Avenue in downtown Youngstown. The Butler Art Museum is one of the bright lights in this community. I have nothing negative to say about it. Butler North is a relatively new addition to the museum. For years, the building was the home of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I looked forward to officiating at the wedding because the building, itself, is impressive. When I arrived at the former church, now part of the museum, I wasn’t disappointed. The museum had made some wonderful improvements, but the heart of the old sanctuary remained the same. There was a long center aisle for the bride. The pews were gone, but seats welcomed visitors. The chancel area remained intact, except for the missing pipe organ. It took no imagination to recognize it was once a church. When the moment came, the music was piped out through large speakers. The men walked in on cue and the women walked alone down the aisle. Everyone stood, as the bride and her father entered the one-time sanctuary. Everyone sat on my command. Everything was perfect. That was why I was so surprised. As I said the words that I had uttered countless times, I noticed something. This is the truth: When you speak in a church, the words come to life. It is like the words fly. Part of it is the surroundings, part of it is the group who has gathered. In other places, the words just hit the floor. On that day, the words hit the floor. I shouldn’t have been surprised. That building was once a church, but it wasn’t anymore. Everything was there to make it a church, but one thing was missing. Do you know what was missing? What was missing was Jesus. There is nothing wrong with being an art museum, but an art museum isn’t a church. On the day the church becomes disconnected from Jesus, it stops being the church. Ann Coulter once said, “I know that Jesus Christ died for my sins, and that is all I need to know.”