Pray for Jon Steingard

Pray for Jon Steingard. I will be the first one to admit it. I never heard of him until recently. He is not a close friend. I would not recognize him, if he walked into the room. However, I have found myself praying for him because he has made the greatest mistake in his life. He has announced to the world he is an atheist. He should have known better. He was raised in a Christian home in Canada. To make matters worse, he was a pastor’s kid. Until recently, he was the lead vocalist and guitarist for the Christian pop-punk band Hawk Nelson. I do not know why he walked away. Perhaps, he was near sighted or angry at God. He saw all the ugliness of this world and decided God could not exist. He would not be the first one. Perhaps, he walked away because he only heard about Jesus and never experienced Jesus firsthand. There is a world of difference. Regardless, I feel sorry for him. So, let me ask you again. Pray for Jon Steingard. He will regret his decision to leave the faith. How do you walk away from the greatest life that ever lived? That takes us to our scripture reading for today, Micah 5:1-4.

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “He who is like God,” but we just call him Micah. Truly little is known about him outside of this book. However, we do know he lived in southern Judah approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ. At that time, Judah was struggling. Both their present and their future seemed bleak. We can relate to them because the negativity at this time in history is suffocating. However, for the people of God there is always hope. It is still true today.

The scripture reading may so familiar because it is read every Christmas Eve. The great prophesy is read surrounded by decorated trees and poinsettias on that sacred night to big crowds. The key verse in the reading is verse two, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Ephrathah was the region in which Bethlehem was located, like Youngstown is in Ohio. Bethlehem is approximately eleven miles south of Jerusalem. The people of that small community must have been proud, but the promised ruler would not come in their lifetime. You know the truth. God transcends time. In other words, God does not grow old, so God takes his time. It took 700 years for God to act.

The long-awaited ruler was born to a common couple. They named him Jesus. His name means Savior. His biological mother was Mary. His biological father was God, Himself. That means Joseph had the awful job of being the stepfather to the son of God. How do you discipline the son of God? Seven-hundred years is a long time to wait, but it was worth every second. Let me state it clearly. Jesus was the greatest life that ever lived. Jesus would change the world and our lives. You would not recognize our world if Jesus had never been born. H. G. Wells (1866-1946) was an English writer. He said it best, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of human history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.” That is a great quote. If you can agree Jesus had a positive influence on our world say, “Amen!”

Allendale Baptist Church is in Allendale, Michigan. It is a community of approximately 18,000 people and is less than 400 miles from here. The associate pastor at that church is a man named Tim Arndt. He claims to be the world’s tallest Filipino. However, he did not give his height. I read one of his blogs recently. He says Jesus changed our world for the better in five profound ways. I cannot disagree with one. They are listed in no particular order.

Jesus influenced education! Matthew 22:37 quotes Jesus, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and will all your soul and with all your mind.” Jesus was interested in the mind. Jesus is saying we are to love God with our whole being. History tells us the Bible was the first textbook for many young children. In 1860, there were 108 colleges and universities in America. 106 of the 108 was started by Christians. That list includes Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Dartmouth, and Brown. It is ironic the world has tried to portray the faith as ignorant when the faith has done more than any other group to educate the masses. Have you ever stopped to consider how the Christian faith has influenced your education? Do you know anyone who cannot read? Jesus influenced education! How would our world look today if Jesus had never been born?

Jesus influenced women’s rights! It is impossible to read the gospels and not notice the major role woman played in Jesus’s ministry. That was unique and shocking in his time. Prior to Jesus, the world did not care less about women. In the Roman world, women were property. Jesus saw woman differently. He saw woman for what they were, made in the very image of God. Jesus treated women with dignity and respect. It happened during his earthly ministry. Jesus’ friends and ministry partners were women. It happened during his after his resurrection. It was woman who made the great discovery, Jesus had been raised from the dead! It was women who were untrusted with the message which would change the world. The early church was so saturated with women that it was often criticized as “a woman’s religion.” This church and many other churches would be crippled without the work of women. Jesus values all people. That means Jesus values you. How large of a part have women played in your spiritual development? Jesus influenced education and women’s rights! How would our world look today if Jesus had never been born?

Jesus influenced human rights! Matthew 5:44 says, “But I say to you, love your enemy, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Matthew 22:39 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Loving and caring for others is at the very heart of Jesus’s teachings. That is why the church has always been involved in human rights. The church was a major forced in the ending of slavery in the 1860’s and the church was a major force during the civil rights of the 1960’s. The church will be a major force of the human rights issues we are facing today. If we ignore or belittle the human rights issues of today, then we are ignoring the words of Jesus, himself, love your enemy as yourself. Today, in America basic human rights are common sense. But that was not always the case. Prior to Christianity, basic human rights were rare. How are you advancing human rights? Our society is far from perfect. Jesus influenced education, women’s rights, and human rights! How would our world look today if Jesus had never been born?

Jesus influenced humanitarian aid! In Matthew 25, we find the parable of the sheep and goats. It is a judgement parable. According to the parable, on judgement day we will be separated by God like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be permitted to enter heaven because they responded to human needs. They fed the hungry. The gave drink to the thirty. They welcomed strangers. They gave clothes to the naked. They cared for the sick and the incarcerated. The goats did none of the above and were sent to hell. The parable ends with a zinger. Jesus said, when you cared for the down and out you were really caring for him. This is the point. We are responsible for the world’s basic needs. Did you know every seven seconds someone dies of starvation? What are you doing to help them? Have you ever needed some help? Jesus influenced education, women’s rights, human rights, and humanitarian aid! How would our world look today if Jesus had never been born? How would our world look today if Jesus had never been born?

Jesus influenced medicine! The miracles of Jesushave fascinated the generations. It is true in Jesus’s generation and it is still true today. Jesus got the lame to walk. Jesus got the blind to see. Jesus made the demonic whole and resurrected the dead. Those miracles are important because they proved he was the long-awaited Messiah. However, they were also important because Jesus did not want to see people suffer. He wanted them to live full lives. For this reason, many hospitals were started in the name of Jesus. The government has been involved in the medical system for the past 80 years. (How do you think they are doing?) Prior to the government, churches were involved in starting and funding hospitals. Still today, there are 726 faith-based hospitals. When was the last time you required some medical care? Jesus influenced education, women’s rights, human rights, humanitarian rights, and medicine! How would our world look today if Jesus had never been born?

Micah may have lived 700 years before the birth of Jesus, but he was right! The most influential life that would ever live was Jesus. Two-thousand years after his birth we see the influence he has had. Jesus offered us hope. Without Jesus our world is a dark hopeless place. Perhaps, H. G. Wells said it best. He once said, “I am an historian, I am not a believer, but I confess as an historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of human history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.”

God’s Heartless Prophet

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “Dove,” but we just call him Jonah. He lived in the eighth century BC. There is no other way to say it. Jonah is a curious Old Testament book because it has a New Testament feel. Let me give you some strange coincidences. First, the meaning of Jonah’s name, dove, is the symbol of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. Remember the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism like a dove. (Luke 3:22) Second, Jonah is saved not saved by a whale, but he is saved by a great fish, the symbol of the faith, itself, in the early church. The church exists to save people. Third, as Jesus rose from the dead after three days, Jonah sat in the belly of the great fish for three days. Fourth, Jonah’s call to the Ninevites, Gentiles, non-Jews, is a New Testament theme. Jonah must have been Paul’s favorite Minor Prophet. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. It is how I started last week’s message. I just cut and pasted last week’s beginning on to this week’s manuscript. Do you remember what happened last week?

God called Jonah to go to the great city of Nineveh because her sins were great. Jonah understands God’s commands but refuses to go. Instead, he goes to the port city of Joppa and buys a ticket for Tarshish. Today, we would say he sailed from Israel to Spain. That 2,200-hundred-mile journey would happen on a slow-moving wooden ship. Somewhere on the journey a great storm hits the Mediterranean Sea. The sailors blame Jonah for the storm and cast him into the sea. He would have died, if not for the great fish. He swallows Jonah and for three days Jonah sat in his stomach. When the prophet is liberated, he heads to Nineveh and delivers his message of repentance. Here is the good news for today. The people of the great city of Nineveh did repent. Everyone should be happy but not everyone is. Jonah is unhappy because his ministry is successful. It does not make sense, but it happened. We find Jonah today sitting alone and pouting.

He is not just pouting, he is mad. He is mad God had compassion on an enemy of Israel. He wanted God’s compassion to be shown only to Israel, not on Gentiles and certainly not on the Ninevites. They were notorious for their sinning and did not deserve God’s grace. Yet, God showed them grace and Jonah is mad. He lashed out at God in prayer and complains. He tells God death is a better option for him than living in a world where the Ninevites are forgiven. We can relate to Jonah because each one of us has been upset with God from time to time. Sometimes we get mad at God because we do not know all that facts. Sometimes we get mad at God because we blame God for the misdeeds of others.

Sometimes we get mad at God because we do not get what we want. On Tuesday afternoon, Kathryn and I received a group text from our daughter Anna. She and her fiancé, Jeff, have decided to postpone their wedding again because of the pandemic. They are supposed to be married by now. They were originally going to get married on May 30 but postponed because of the coronavirus. They rescheduled for September 19. It is not going to happen because of the coronavirus. They have decided to reschedule their wedding. Their new date is April 10. We are all hoping the coronavirus has passed by next spring. Can someone tell me if that will happen? Everything is so difficult right now. I will admit it. I was mad at God. If any couple deserves the wedding of their dreams it is Anna and Jeff. They are good people, who have worked hard for a bright future, but they must wait to get married because of this invisible enemy. I stayed up late on Tuesday and got up early on Wednesday because I was mad at God. Sometimes we get mad at God because we do not get what we want.

Sometimes we get mad at God because we get something we did not expect. Sitting in my wife’s office is a prayer card from a funeral we attended about eighteen months ago. The one who died was my college roommate, Jim Humphrey. I do not know why it is on display, because it upsets me. Jim was simply great and there was no one I respected and enjoyed more. Jim was killed in a traffic accident and it seemed so unfair or cruel. He had been in the ministry for decades and had just retired. He had settled in this area and we dreamed of the fun we were going to have together. Now he is gone, and I still cannot answer the question, why? I will be honest with you. When I look at his picture on that prayer card, I am not just sad. I am mad. Sometimes we get mad at God because we get something we did not expect.

Sometimes we get mad at God because we think God owes us something. We have been extra good, so we deserve an extra blessing. That was Jonah’s story. He was raised to believe he was special. He was one of God’s Chosen People. That meant all the good things in life would be showered on him and his people. That meant all the good things were withheld from everyone else, including and especially the Ninevites. They did not deserve any goodness, but they received God’s grace. It is hard to feel special when you are treated like everyone else. Sometimes we get mad at God because we think God owes us something. Yet, this story is not about being mad at God. We all get mad at God occasionally. There is no sign in the story God is upset with Jonah because he was mad. It is fine to get mad at God occasionally and shake your little fist at him. God wants to have an honest relationship with us. God wants to have an honest relationship with you. The story is about something much deeper than human emotions. Look at the text with me one more time.

Jonah, the pouting prophet, goes to the east end of the city to observe the happenings. He was still hoping Nineveh would be destroyed. He builds himself a little shelter to protect himself from the sun and the heat. The structure is incomplete, so God has a plant grow around Jonah. The Bible says it was a leafy plant, vine, so ample shade was given to the prophet. For the first time in the story Jonah is happy, but his happiness does not last long. God also provided a worm and the worm damaged the leafy plant. In time, the plant died, and Jonah is upset about the plant’s demise. Once again, Jonah complains and requests to die. The scene exposes the real issue. Jonah is more upset over the death of a plant than he was the death of people. How can you be more concerned about a thing than a person? The scripture seems to go out of the way to tell us there are one-hundred and twenty thousand people and each one had a soul. Each one was loved by God. God is shocked by Jonah’s heartlessness. Here is a question you must answer. How heartless are you?

When I was in seminary, I took a class called Basic Christian Theology. It was a required class for all first-year students. It was taught by a man by the name of William Arnett. He was a veteran professor who was close to retiring. Every class was about the same. He would lecture on a certain block of material and close the class by answering questions. The topic on one day was heaven. When the lecture ended the questions began. One of the students in my class raised her hand and asked the question, “Dr. Arnett, when I get to heaven, will my dog be waiting for me?” We were not surprised by the question because her dog accompanied her to class every day. The dog and the young woman were inseparable. Today, we would call that dog a therapy dog. Dr. Arnett took his glasses off and answered the question clearly, “No! Dogs do not go to heaven because dogs do not have a soul. Dogs only have a spirit.” The young woman got emotional and fired back, “If my dog is not going to be in heaven, then I don’t want to go to heaven.” The veteran educator came back with the line, “You only have two choices. If you do not want to go to heaven, then you are going to hell. You may want to reconsider. Hell is not a pleasant place.”

Do dogs go to heaven? I have been asked that question during my time here. Years ago, a teenager asked me that question. I remembered my Basic Christian Theology class. I answered with a no. All the teenagers got mad at me, and they looked for some proof I was wrong. They contacted a former youth director here at the church, who was then surviving as a missionary in Romania, and asked her the question, do dogs go to heaven? She said I was right. Dogs do not go to heaven because dogs do not have a soul, only a spirit.

You may not like the answer, but it is part of classic protestant theology. However, the classic Roman Catholic answer to the question, do dogs go to heaven, is yes. That means if you want to see your dog in heaven, then you are more catholic than you think. Can I be honest with you? I hope Dr. Arnett was wrong. I hope dogs go to heaven because I want to spend eternity with all the dogs I have ever owned, including the world’s best dog, Macy. Billy Graham gives us dog lovers hope. He said dogs will be in heaven if they are required for our happiness. It is a big question in the minds of many. Do dogs go to heaven? Here is a bigger question to God.

Why are we more concerned about getting dogs into heaven and so unconcerned about getting more people into heaven? In other words, why are we so heartless? In other words, we are sitting under a vine preoccupied with the salvation of our family pets and ignoring the spiritual deficiency of people. Please do not misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with plants. There is nothing wrong with dogs and cats. They make our lives complete and give us much needed unconditional love. However, through the eyes of God, people are much more valuable. How concerned are you about the salvation of the people in your life?

On September 19, 2019, the Washington Monument was reopened after a $10.7 million renovation. The work took three years. The work was needed after an earthquake struck the area. During the work, graffiti from the 1800’s was discovered. It is not like graffiti today. The discovered graffiti read:

Whoever is the human instrument under God in the conversion of one soul, erects a monument to his own memory more lofty and enduing than this.

It is signed BFB. No one knows who that was, but he is right. Why are we so heartless?

How Small is Your God?

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “Dove,” but we just call him Jonah. He lived in the eighth century BC. There is no other way to say it. Jonah is a curious Old Testament book because it has a New Testament feel. Let me give you some strange coincidences. First, Jonah’s name dove is the symbol of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.  Second, Jonah is saved not saved by a whale, but he is saved by a great fish, the symbol of the church in the early church. The church exists to save people. Third, Jonah’s call to the Ninevites, Gentiles, non-Jews, is a New Testament theme. Jonah must have been Paul’s favorite minor prophet. If you do not know the story of Jonah, then ask any Sunday school child and they will enlighten you. I do not want to sound critical, but the story reveals Jonah’s ignorance about God. Jonah’s understanding of God was too small. He failed to recognize the vastness of God. So, let me ask you the question of the day, how small is your God? Jonah’s understanding of God was deficient in several ways.

First, Jonah did not understand the presence of God. In the Christian faith, we understand God to be omnipresent, all present. That means God can be in all places all the time. God’s presence encompasses the whole universe.

The word of God came to Jonah. The Almighty directs him to go to the great city of Nineveh. The problem is he does not want to go. Instead of going to Nineveh, he goes to port city of Joppa. It is there he buys a ticket to Tarshish. Geography is important in this story. Joppa is on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea and Tarshish is on the western shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Today, we call Joppa Jaffa, a suburb of Tel Aviv, Israel. Today, we call Tarshish Spain. What is Jonah trying to do? He is trying to run away from his divine task by running away from God. The prophet should have known better. You know what Jonah did not understand. There is no where you can go to escape God. There has never been a moment in your life when you have been orphaned. God is with us right now. God is all present! How small is your God?

Second, Jonah did not understand the power of God. In the Christian faith, we understand God to be omnipotent, all powerful. God is not limited by natural law. God has power over wind, water, gravity, physics, and the rest. God’s power is unlimited.

With his ticket in hand, Jonah entered the ship and headed to Tarshish. That is about a 2200-mile trip. I have no clue how long that would take on a wooden ship. It must have been a long time and the best they could hope for was good sailing weather. It did not happen. The ship was involved in a great storm. The sailors looked for the person responsible. They draw lots and the lot fell on Jonah. They throw him into the water and the water instantly calms. The prophet would have died if not for the great fish, who swallows Jonah whole.

It has been said, a coincidence is a little miracle where God wants to remain anonymous. Do you think it was just a coincidence there was a great storm? Do you think it was just a coincidence the lot fell on Jonah? Do you think it was a coincidence the storm calmed once Jonah hit the water? Do you think it was just a coincidence a great fish just happened to be in the area? Do you think it was just a coincidence Jonah was swallowed whole? The fish could have just as easily bit down. As Jonah sat in the belly of the great fish, he must have had a new insight about God. God is all powerful. God is all present! God is all powerful! How small is your God?

Third, Jonah did not understand the knowledge of God. In the Christian faith, we understand God to be omniscience, all knowing. God is aware of what is happening in the past, present, and future. That means it is impossible to keep a secret from God.

Jonah’s escape to Tarshish was supposed to be a big secret. There is no sign in the text he told anyone. There was no going away party. He acted alone because he wanted to slip away and be forgotten. The Bible does not encourage secrets. They damage relationships and ruin community. That is exactly what happened in the story of Moses. The great lawgiver was raised by the Pharaoh’s daughter in the palace. For many years, she kept the secret he was not her biological son. To make matters worse, Moses was a Hebrew. When it is finally revealed it caused a great stir. You can hide the truth from people for a long period of time, but you cannot fool God. Psalm 44:21 says, “God knows the secret of the heart.” Jonah learned the hard way. God is all knowing. God is all present! God is all powerful! God is all knowing! How small is your God?

Fourth, Jonah did not understand the love of God. In the Christian faith, we understand God to be all loving, omnibenevolent. This is the hardest aspect of God for Jonah to understand because love is so complex. This is the question that must be answered. Why did Jonah not want to go to Nineveh? There is a political side to that answer and a moral side to that answer. Nineveh was the capital of a foreign power, Assyria. Nineveh’s sins were well known. Another minor prophet, Nahum tells us Nineveh’s sins included plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plunder in war, prostitution, witchcraft, and commercial exploitation. If there was one place that did not deserve God’s grace, it was Nineveh. Yet, God sends Jonah to Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire because God loved them too. You cannot really blame Jonah. God’s love is not easy. Sometimes love forces us to sacrifice. Sometimes love forces us to change. Nether one comes naturally. No one is exempt.

William Gladstone (1809-1898) is one of the names in the history of Great Britain. Near the end of his life he reported the most difficult thing he had to do in service to his country was report the death of Princess Alice (1843-1878) to the House of Commons. She was thirty-five years old and the daughter of Queen Victoria (1819-1901). The story is tragic. The little daughter of the Princess was seriously ill with diphtheria. The doctors told the princess not to kiss her little daughter and endanger her life by breathing the child’s breath. That is exactly what happened. Once, when the child was struggling to breathe. It was more than Princess Alice could handle so, forgetting herself entirely, took the little one into her arms to keep her from choking to death. Rasping and struggling for her life, the child said, “Momma, kiss me!” Without thinking of herself the mother tenderly kissed her daughter. That kiss was the beginning of the end. Princess Alice got diphtheria and some days later died. That story illustrates an important point. Real love forgets self. Real love knows no danger. Real love does not count the cost. Real love is not afraid to sacrifice. However, real love also forces us to change.

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) was a Dutch Christian. During the Second World War she and her family helped many Jews escape the Nazis concentration camps. In time, they were caught and arrested. She was sent to Raven Bruck concentration camp. In her famous book, The Hiding Place, she told how she found hope in God while imprisoned. After the war she toured and lectured on the importance of forgiveness. At the end of one of those meetings a man approached her holding out his hand. She instantly recognized him as one of the wardens from the camp who had treated her and her family so badly. In that split second, she was faced with the reality of the choice to forgive. It is one thing to talk about forgiveness. It is another thing to forgive. She held out her hand and shook it as he quietly asked her forgiveness. She had to forgive him because God loved him too. Sometimes love forces us to change. Sometimes love forces us to sacrifice. Jonah had a hard time understanding God’s love. I hope that is not your story. Many still struggle with the depth of God’s love for us. If you do not believe me than look at the cross. How small is your God?

There is an old preaching story about a medieval monk. He announced he would be preaching next Sunday evening on “The Love of God.” As the shadows fell and the light ceased to come in through the cathedral windows, the congregation gathered. In the darkness of the altar, the monk lighted a candle and carried it to the crucifix. First, he illumined the crown of thorns, next, the two wounded hands, then the marks of the spear wound. In the hush that fell, he blew out the candle and left the chancel. There was nothing else to say. That story reminds us God did not count the cost of loving us. How can anyone question God’s love for us? Augustine (354-430) may have said it best. He once said, “God loves each of us as if there was one of us.”  God is all present! God is all powerful! God is all knowing! God is all loving! How small is your God?

Family Feud

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “servant of the Lord,” but we just call him Obadiah. He lived about 600 before the birth of Christ. His audience were the people of Judah, who were being attacked by the Babylonians. Even Jerusalem, The Golden City, was being attacked. However, the residents of Judah were not the only one receiving this judgement. The people of Edom were receiving the judgement too. God could not tolerate their arrogance and pride. The Edomites, living high in the mountains, did not just feel secure, but they felt superior. They did not just ignore the needs of Judah, they ransacked some of their cities too. The key to understanding this dark passage lays in answering this question.

Who are the Edomites? They are more than the citizens of the country on the southern border of Judah. It is more than politics. It is ancestry. Both the people of Judah and the people of Edom could trace their ancestry back to Abraham. Do you remember the story? God makes a great promise to Abram, later Abraham, that he will the father of a great nation. That promised lived on the day Abraham and Sarah, his wife, welcomed their first born into the world, Isaac. In time, Isaac and his wife, Rebecca, had two sons Jacob and Esau. To say the least, those two brothers had a tense relationship. Esau traded his valuable birthright for a bowl of stew. In more time, Jacob and Esau have their names changed to Israel and Edom. Their families take their names, the Israelites and the Edomites. That means, the Israelites and the Edomites are family. That means the story of Obadiah is a family feud. The Book of Obadiah resonates with us because our society is filled with family feuds. How many can you count?

America is experiencing a family feud politically. There has always been a tension between the two political parties. That was a good thing because the right thing to do was discovered in the compromise. Today, there is little compromise, so nothing is happening. Could it be America could save a great amount of money by holding the presidential election today? I am convinced most Americans know today who they will vote for in November. Are you going to vote for Donald Trump? Are you going to vote for Joe Biden? I am equally convinced the losing party will spend the next four years trying to get the winning candidate out of office. We have seen it with Donald Trump. We saw it with Barrack Obama. In the end nothing positive happens for the country because we are in the middle of a family feud politically. Sometimes, I forget we are all Americans.

America is experiencing a family feud racially. The death of George Floyd on May 26 has sent many in our country into a rage. The Black Lives Matter campaign is alive and well. It is the hot button topic across the country. The goal is to protect the African American community against police brutality. They are designed to be peaceful protests, but violence has been seen. Our country is divided over the issue across every demographic. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone thinks they are right. Could it be everyone is guilty? I do not want to make light of the situation, but we are in the middle of a great family feud racially. Sometimes, I forget we are all Americans. Closely related is the next issue.

America is experiencing a family feud historically. On June 19, protestors in San Francisco tore down the statue of Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the United States who led the Union Army to victory in the Civil War. It was all part of the Black Lives Matter campaign. The schools in California must not be particularly good. I was taught Grant help end slavery as general and did his best to help rebuild the south as president. Grant’s statue illustrates the point there are many who are trying to rewrite history. I understand we should not glorify our past sins or misdeeds. I also believe we should learn from the past, not worship the past. How do you feel about rewriting history? I am going to Mount Rushmore in September. I hope I get there before they sandblast it. Two of the four men on that statue owned slaves. We are in the middle of a great family feud historically. Sometimes, I forget we are all Americans.

America is experiencing a family feud over co-vid 19. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and everything is hard. Everyone who has ever driven by a hospital has an opinion. Some believe we are rushing back into the world too fast. This will cause another outbreak of the Coronavirus and more will suffer and die. This group is terrified. Others believe the whole Coronavirus issue is an election year stunt. It will be forgotten as soon as the election is over. This group is cynical. If you want to upset everyone bring up the topic of masks. Some believe they should be mandatory. Some believe they should be optional. Social distancing is enough. It is a family feud that is going to come to our church. Someday, we are going to return to our building. Do you want to let the terrified group set the rules? Do you want the cynical group to set the rules? I believe we let the governor and the Ohio Department of Health set the rules. We are in the middle of a great family feud over co-vid 19. Sometimes, I forget we are all Americans. Let me just give you one more.

The United Methodist Church is experiencing a family feud over sexually. It is the issue that just will not go away. One camp believes our denomination should swing the doors open wide to the LGBTQ community, including officiating at LGBTQ weddings and ordaining LGBTQ individuals. The other camp believes we should slam the door of the LGBTQ community, we will not officiate at their weddings nor ordain a LGBTQ individual. Both sides claim to be Biblical and both sides claim to be right. The whole thing is exhausting. I had a hard-enough time just liking girls. The United Methodist Church is in the middle of a great family feud sexually. Sometimes, I forget we are all Christians. I could go on, but I will not. Could it be 24/7 news is dividing America with their bias reporting? Many have stopped watching the news because they are tired of the family feuds. This is the point.

Somethings do not change. We are living in the middle of a family feud. Obadiah who lived 600 before the birth of Christ and was in the middle of a family feud. The Edomites became so preoccupied with the events of their day, Judah’s devastation at the hands of a foreign power, they forgot what was important to God. What was important to God was their shared common ancestry with the Israelites. Could it be we have become so preoccupied with the events of our day, politics, racism, history, co-vid 19, and sexuality, we have forgotten what is important to God? It is not that those issues are not important. It is that those things are not the most important thing to God. What is the most important thing to God in our time? Jesus!

Last Sunday morning, I was walking through the building on my way to the parking lot for worship. I thought the building was empty, so I was surprised to find a shadowy figure down one of the hallway ways. Since the person was walking into the District Office, I guessed it was our District Superintendent Abby Auman. I was right. It was the first time I had seen her in the building since the pandemic began in March. I called out, “How are you?” She responded, “I am good. I on my way to the Black Lives Matter rally in Canfield. We are going to stand in front of the Methodist Church, then we are going to welcome their new pastor, Ivy Smith.” She is the first black woman pastor in the history of that congregation.” I said, “I will pray for her.” I hope I did not sound cynical. I did not mean it that way. I have prayed for every pastor at Canfield since I have been here. On my way home, I drove by the rally. The local media reported sixty people attended. Someone told me everyone was white. It was peaceful. They were just holding signs and yelling at passing cars. It did not make much of an impression on me.

The next morning, I received a text. This is what the text read: YESTERDAY, ABBY AUMAN, DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT OF THE MAHONING VALLEY DISTRICT OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, WAS SPOKESPERSON FOR CANFIELD’S UMW JOINING  IN WITH CANFIELD’S BLACK LIVES MATTER PROTEST, IN LIGHT OF WELCOMING THEIR FIRST BLACK, FEMALE REVEREND, DR. IVY SMITH. I THOUGHT CHURCHES WERE NOT SUPPOSED TO GET INVOLVED IN POLITICS. I responded: I’M NOT SURE HOW TO RESPOND. ABBY IS MY BOSS AND I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER HER. SHE WOULD CALL HER PROTEST SOCIAL JUSTICE, NOT POLITICAL. OBVIOUSLY, MANY PEOPLE IN OUR COUNTRY WANT CHANGE. That opened the door to some wonderful conversation. I ended the dialogue with this text: I LOOK FORWARD TO THE DAY JESUS IS OUR ONLY ISSUE. The response was: ME TOO. Are you looking forward to the day Jesus is our only issue? Can I ask you a question?

Why do you read this blog? It is a fair question. Did you read this blog to hear my political views? Did you read this blob to hear my opinions about racism? Did you read this blog to hear my opinions on historical statues? Did you read this blog to get my medical advice the Coronavirus? (I hope not because I have no medical training.) Did you read this blog to hear my opinion about LGBTQ? None of those important complex important issues are why you read this blog. Read read this blog because you want to hear about Jesus. That is a good thing because Jesus is the most important thing to God. Jesus said it best of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” (John 14:6)

What Dads Deserve

Today, we are in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. This story does not stand in isolation. It is just one in a series of stories about Abraham. Do you remember what has happened to Abraham to this point? When we are first introduced to him, his name is Abram. That name means “the father of many.” Of all the people on the face of the earth, Abram caught God’s eye. Not because of his sinless nature or his good looks. Instead, he caught God’s eye because of his character. In other words, he was a man who simply wanted to please God. In one of the great stories in the Bible, God promised Abram that he would someday be a father of a great nation. In time, his name is changed from Abram, the father of many, to Abraham, the father of the multitude. Everything sounds great except for one glaring fact.  It is as true today as it was then; God does things in God’s time. Abraham and his wife, Sarah, welcome their first-born into the world at the age of ninety-nine and ninety-eight. That birth not only ruined their retirement plans, but it demonstrated the power of God. They named their long-awaited son Isaac. All of this is necessary to understand this morning’s scripture lesson.

When Isaac was twelve years old, God decided to test Abraham. God must be number one in your life. The father-son team head off to make a sacrifice. Isaac does not know until the last second that he is the sacrifice. In the end, the life of a goat was taken, and the boy is spared. It is a cruel story in many ways. However, what I love about the story is it illustrates for us Abraham was a good father. It has been said, it is must easier to become a father, then to be a father. Let us look at three things dads deserve. Each one is illustrated in our story for today.

Dads deserve to be respected!

First, dads deserve to be respected. In the Genesis story, Isaac respected his father. He even let him tie him up and lay him on the altar. Let me say this clearly. Respect should never be given blindly. Respect must be earned. Fatherhood is not simply a biological act. Fatherhood is a relationship. What are you doing with your life to earn your children’s respect? Dads deserve to be respected. Do you, did you, respect your father?

Dads deserve to be trusted!

Second, dads deserve to be trusted. It really is quite a scene. Abraham and Isaac travel to a remote location. When the time comes for the sacrifice the father bounds the son. Abraham draws his knife to slay his son. At the last second God stops the killing. All these years later it is still shocking. Yet, there is no sign in the story Isaac stops trusting his father. Dads deserve to be trusted. Do you, did you, trust your father?

Dads deserve grace!

Third, dads deserve grace. Isaac must have needed some serious counseling after that day. He must have had a million questions and he must have had some sleepless nights. Yet, the relationship between Abraham and Isaac moved on. He forgave his father. I have never known a perfect father. However, I have known countless fathers who made mistakes and who needed to be forgiven. I have known fathers who have experienced grace. Maybe it is time you forgave your father? Dads deserve grace. Have you shown you father grace?If not, it is not too late.

My father, Ronald Adams, was born in Ashtabula, Ohio in 1920. His father, my grandfather, Roger Adams, had a variety of jobs during the Great Depression. Growing up I never heard the word poverty, but money was tight. My father was just a child during the depression, but the poverty of those years never left him. I have worked with many who lived through the Great Depression. They reacted to the Depression in one of two ways. Either, they rejected the poverty and became very generous. Or, they feared poverty and became very frugal. My sister, Susan, is a much kinder person than me. She says our father was frugal. I say our father was cheap. He would not even buy new socks. He held the old ones up with rubber bands. He never handled money easily. Saving money was one of his great preoccupations. Through my eyes he was cheap.

On December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese Empire. My father was twenty-one years old. He and his brother, my Uncle Carlisle, volunteered for military service. My father joined the Army. My uncle joined the Navy. My uncle went to the Pacific. My father was in the medical corps and started off in North Africa. In time, he moved up to the boot of Italy as the war progressed. He must have experienced some horrible things. He died with those tales. He never spoke of those experiences. When the war ended in Europe, he prepared to move to Manila. The day before they were to leave, the orders were canceled because the first of the atomic bombs was dropped. When the war itself ended, my father arranged to stay in Europe. He wanted to do some sightseeing. It seemed to be a wise choice. He was in his mid-twenties, single with a high school education, and unemployed. He saw many things that most only see in pictures. Those may have been the happiest days of his life.

When he returned home, he used his G.I. Bill to get an education. He was an interior decorator by trade. He first went to the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, then he went to the New York School of Interior Design. It was while he was in New York that he met my mother. They met at a social gathering at the Marble Collegiate Church. They were married at a Dutch Reformed Church in Brooklyn and had their wedding reception at my grandparent’s home around the corner. They spent their wedding night at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Staying in New York was never an option. He wanted always wanted to return to Ohio, his home.

In time, they would move to a magical place called Warren, Ohio. They bought their first home when my twin sisters, Susan, and Janet, were born. I was born seven years later. My mother was a dietitian who worked at Trumbull Memorial Hospital. My father was a buyer for Carlisle-Allen Department Store. As a child, I thought our home was boring. It was not until I became an adult, that I discovered it was exceptional. Our home was always stable, and my parents rarely fought. My parents went to church every Sunday and to work every day. In those days’ loyalty was a big deal. My father stayed with the store for over thirty years. On the day he retired, no one noticed, because no one cared. He gave his life to “the store,” and he deserved better. Yet, several years later when “the store” closed, he grieved.

On this Father’s Day, can I be honest with you? I never felt close to my father. I really do not know why. I like to think we were both good people. Everybody seemed to like him. He intimidated me. I do not want to sound critical. However, I want to be honest.

My father showed very little tolerance with me. I cannot remember a single time standing next to my father not feeling nervous. He never hit me, but I was always ready for his backhand. I was often the brunt of his jokes for his stand-up routine. I think, it is better to be yelled at and taken seriously, then laughed at and be dismissed. I yearned to have a relationship with my father, but it never came. My father died in 1996. I grieved when he died. However, I did not grieve for the relationship we had, because we had no relationship. I grieved for the relationship we never had and never will.

Several years ago, my sister’s mother-in-law died. Mrs. Naylor was 92 years old and she was part of my family’s life for decades. I attended the service and drove to the cemetery for the committal. It was not my first trip to that mausoleum. It is the same mausoleum that holds the remains of my parents. Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. Naylor are directly across from my parents.

As I stood by my parents’ names on the wall, three things struck me. First, time goes fast. My father died almost twenty-five years ago. How could it be almost twenty-five years? How fast will the next twenty-five years go? I wonder where I will be twenty-five years from now. I wonder if I will still be alive. Second, I have a good life. I can trace all the best things in my life back to my parents. My mother made sure our home was filled with love. There was always enough to eat and drink. Our clothes were clean. Our home was warm. My parents gave me what every child really wants and needs – stability. Third, the time has come for me to stop being critical of my father and start remembering him with grace. Time has taught me the best you can do is the best best you can do. Perfection is impossible. I like to think my father did his best with me. It is not easy being a father. It is not easy being a parent. I am doing the best I can with my children. I hope they do not look for perfection. They did not receive it in me. I hope they look at me with grace. I have heard it said, “It is much easier to become a father than to be one.”   Happy Father’s Day!

What Is Your Worship Worth?

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “strong” or “brave,” but we just call him Amos. His ministry lasted for ten years, between 750-760 BC. He was a blue-collar worker, a shepherd by trade. He lived six miles south of Bethlehem or eleven miles south of Jerusalem. He was sent to deliver a message of judgment against the northern kingdom (Israel). Yet, his message also resonated to the southern kingdom (Judah) too. For you see both kingdoms were going through of period of economic prosperity. That prosperity filled the people with spiritual smugness, which damaged their worship.

In our reading for today, Amos does not worry about hurting anyone’s feelings. It is not that they are not worshipping. They conducted worship regularly, not their worship had growth shallow. In other words, they are just going through the motions. If you take the time to tear down the writing for today, there are five deficiencies in their worship. This is the list:

  1. Their ceremonies were meaningless.
  2. Their offerings were not sacrificial.
  3. Their praise was insincere.
  4. Their idolatry was shameful.
  5. Their devotion was false.

This is the bottom line. Their worship was worthless. However, worship does not have to be worthless.

Several years ago, I was in Vladimir, Russia. It is about one-hundred and twenty miles east of Moscow. It was Orthodox Christmas Eve, January 6. The days of communism had past, and the church was full. In true Orthodox tradition, all the worshippers stood the entire service. Our little group from the United States stood in the back of the sanctuary and tried to blend in. We failed. The locals looked at us and wondered about us, foreigners. However, we did not ruin the worship. The white robed bearded priest walked through the crowd with his incense burning as the crowd chanted the ancient liturgy. The Holy Spirit washed over the crowd, including me. There is no other way to explain it. It was an incredible experience. It was an incredible spiritual experience. I do not know the orthodox tradition. I do not know the Russian language, but that service moved me. I experienced God that night.

However, what I remember most were the worshippers who attended. I studied their clothes and I looked at the lines in their faces. There was not a celebrity in the crowd. They were just people, like me. They came to church on Christmas Eve to worship and remember the birth of their savior. I wondered about their lives. I wondered about the homes in which they lived. I wondered about the problems they carried. There was much I did not know. However, there was one thing I did know. They came to church to experience God and they came to worship to experience some hope. It is not just true of an Orthodox congregation in Vladimir, Russians. We come to worship to experience God and be reminded there is hope.

William Temple was not wrong. He once said, “Worship is quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God.”  This is the question you must answer What is your worship worth? Worship is more than a collection of songs and responses. Worship is more than the readings and a message. True worship connects us with God and changes the way we live our daily lives. I can only speak for myself. My week is incomplete without worship. My soul is incomplete without God.

There is a website called Church Leaders. In February 2019, they posted an article written by Philip Wagner. He says there are five different reasons why worship is important. I cannot disagree with a signal one. This is his list:

  1. Worship involves surrender of our lives. Our daily lives are filled with what we want to do. Worship is not about us. Worship is about God and what God wants us to do. Romans 12:1 says, we are to be living sacrifices.
  • Worship is putting our focus on God. Worship is not about your personal preferences, what songs you like or dislike, what style of worship you like or dislike, for example. True worship makes God the priority, not you.
  • Worship involves ‘Getting Out of the Way.’ We must learn how to remove our worries, our opinions, and our questions. Worship is not about you. It is about God.
  • We must worship in the face of pain and suffering. You know the truth. Life is hard! There is nothing simple about life. It is filled with all kinds of challenges. When life is hard, draw near to God, not away from God.Worship can be extremely powerful when life is hard.
  • Worship is celebrating who God is and what He has done. God is not just an historical figure who created the world and sent Jesus. God is contemporary. That means God is with us today.

It is important that you note none of those points relate to church size. You can have quality worship in large membership congregations and small membership congregations. It does not matter if you are a mid-size church like this one. It is important that you note that you can have quality worship in any church tradition. It does not matter if the church is Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant, Orthodox, or Evangelical. It is important that you note denomination does not matter. Quality worship can happen in one of the branches of Methodism, Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, or Baptist. You can have quality worship regardless of theology, liberal or conservative. It does not matter if the style of worship is traditional, contemporary, or blended. God is not selective. The only thing that matters is the heart of the worshipper. What was the condition of your heart when you came to church today? What is your worship worth?

Years ago, I was involved in the local pulpit exchange. You know the pulpit exchange. All the local preachers exchange pulpits for one week. For preacher it is a working vacation. For lay people it is a way to meet someone new. Usually, it is the third Sunday in January, so the weather is horrible in Ohio, so nobody comes. That was the case on that particular year. Before I any further, I will not tell you the church I preached at that particular year to protect their identity.

When I arrived, everyone was practicing social distancing because no one had come. When I walked in the back door everyone ignored me. I walked up to a woman holding a handbag the size of a small car. She looked terrified and clutched her handbag against her bosom like I was going to steal it. I introduced myself, “I am Russ Adams from Western Reserve United Methodist and I am the guest preacher today.” She sized me up and down and coldly responded, “Follow me.” She led me to the front row of the sanctuary and said to me in a stern voice, “Sit here. Someone will be right with you.” I sat down because I was afraid to stand. About forty minutes later, a man walked up to me with a smile on his face and said, “So, you’re our preacher today? I guess, you will do.” It was about time for worship to start so we sat up front facing the crowd. There was a thirty. They were scattered through the sanctuary. The smiling man began the service by welcoming everyone and asked someone in the crowd if Pearl was feeling better. Then, someone responded with a cynical comment. Then, we stood, and the smiling man introduced the first hymn. The organ sounded like something at the local roller rink and the organist must have thought we were at a funeral, because the hymn sounded like a dirge. The smiling man then prayed using horrible English, read the Psalter lesson, asked for prayer requests, reminded them to come to the chili cook-off, and prayed one more time. Then it was my turn. The smiling man introduced me as Ross Adams the preacher from down to road. They must have heard about me because about ten of the thirty got up and left. I lied to them and thanked them for their hospitality and read the scripture. That was when things got bad.

About five minutes into my sermon one of the ten evacuees came back into the sanctuary. He had a frantic look on his face and spied the crowd for someone. He found him sitting near the back of the sanctuary. He whispered something in his ear, and he got a shocked look on his face. He turned to the woman on his right and whispered something in her ear. She got a shocked look on her face and the three of them ran out together. The woman returned a few moments later and told another woman. The woman with the handbag saw everyone leaving so see left too. She grabbed a man’s arm on the way out and motioned him to come. I kept preaching to the faithful few and then the original man came back in the sanctuary. Standing in the middle of the center aisle, he waved to the smiling man who was behind me. The smiling man jumped up and left me. As I preached, I wondered if something was wrong? Maybe someone had a heart-attack. Maybe someone fell and broke their hip. Maybe someone had a stroke. I preached on and listen for an ambulance. However, there was not a sound. Curiosity got the best of me. I cut the sermon short and told the crowd we were only going to sing two verses of the last hymn and said a hasty benediction.

I hustled to the back of the church into the narthex and looked for everyone. I wanted to help. I did not see anyone, but I heard some people talking. I followed the sound down a short hall and found everyone standing in the unisex bathroom. They had surrounded the toilet, which someone had clogged. It was a gross site, but they found it fascinating. The congregation was trying to figure out who was responsible. They said it was probably the teenagers, but everyone in the crowd was over seventy-five, so I did not think that was possible. I think it was the woman who I met with the handbag. I stepped into the hallway and slipped out the same door I entered a few hours earlier. This is the point.

On that day, a clogged toilet was more interesting than me. On that day, a clogged toilet was more important than God. What is more important to you than God today? In worship, there is nothing more important than God? Worship is not about us. Worship is about God. Let me ask you the question of the day one more time. What is your worship worth? Do you remember what William Temple said about worship? He said, “Worship is quickening the conscience by the holiness of God, feeding the mind with the truth of God, purging the imagination by the beauty of God, opening the heart to the love of God, and devoting the will to the purpose of God. What is your worship worth?

Relentless Love

Many years ago, before man walked on the moon, before a civil war threatened to divide America, or before Columbus discovered a New World, there was a man who spoke for God. His name meant “salvation,” but we just call him Hosea. He lived in the middle of the eighth century BC, shortly after Amos. Those were dark days for the Northern Kingdom of Israel. The Assyrians were coming and soon their independence would be gone. The history of Hosea is interesting, but Hosea’s literary style is perplexing. It goes against our moral standards. This is Hosea’s story. It is found in the first three chapters.

God tells Hosea to marry a promiscuous woman. Let me just say it clearly. God tells the prophet to marry a prostitute. I would not recommend that practice to any contemporary clergy. It is a strange request to our mortal ears. But Hosea does as God requests. Hosea marries a prostitute. Her name was Gomer. In time, the prophet and the prostitute have three children. Their names are both significant and odd. The first child is a boy named Jezreel, which means “God scatters.” The second child is a girl named Lo-Ruhamah, which means “not loved.” Then, they have a second boy named Lo-Ammi, which means “not my people.” You cannot help but pity the children. No one should be saddled with such horrible names. Then, the story takes a predictable turn. The unfaithful Gomer leaves Hosea with the children. She returns to her old vocation. Hosea has every reason to wash his hands of her, but he does not do it. Instead, according to our reading for today, he tries to reconcile with her. Hosea’s friends must have been disgusted with him, and they must have asked, why? There is only one answer. The faithful Hosea wants to reconcile with the unfaithful Gomer because he loves her. True love is relentless. So, why Hosea’s story important to you and me?

Hosea has been called a thinly veiled drama. It is not just a story about the faithful Hosea and the unfaithful Gomer. From an Old Testament perspective, it is the story about a faithful God and the unfaithful Northern Kingdom of Israel. God can simply not let Israel go. From a New Testament perspective, it is a story about a faithful God and an unfaithful church. The church is not perfect. We have all fallen short of the glory of God. However, one can also make the case, it is the story of a faithful God and his unfaithful disciples. No matter what angle you look, Hosea is story about God’s relentless love. It is a timeless story. God pursued the people in the eighth century BC and pursues us today. Never underestimate the power of God’s love. C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was a British writer and lay theologian. He taught English literature at both Oxford and Cambridge. He once said, “Though our feelings come and go, God love for us does not.” Never underestimate the power of God’s love.

I came across an article on-line this week. I do know the author, but I do know the title, God is love: 5 Implications of this Amazing Attribute of God. The five are important for us to remember today. This is the list:

  1. We can trust in God’s love. It is impossible for God not to love us. Loves is God’s very nature. Even in our sinfulness, God loves us. He is always patient and merciful with us. For example, after Adam and Eve sin, God expels them from the garden but not before providing clothes to cover their nakedness. You can trust God’s love!
  • Our salvation is an expression of God’s love. God did not send Jesus as a reward for the obedient, but rather a ransom for the defiant. Jesus displays his love throughout his ministry. God loves us so much, he sent Jesus so we could spend eternity with Him. Salvation is an expression of God’s love!
  • Our ability to love is enabled through God’s love. Jesus showed us how to love. When Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, he was telling them he loved them. He tells us to love our neighbors and enemies. It is through our love the world will know we belong to Christ. God showed us how to love!
  • We can rest in God’s love. That only happens when you discover and accept the fact that God’s love is unconditional. God knows our very nature is to sin, but He does not hold that against us. When we understand Christ is our advocate, we can rest in assurance of God’s love. We can rest in God’s love!
  • We can have confidence in God’s love. The scriptures tell us countless times of God’s love. He will vindicate his children and promote His Kingdom until his plan and purpose come to full fruition. We can have confidence in God’s love!

You cannot run from the truth. God loves you! God’s love is relentless. That is an important divine truth because we live in such complex times. Just think about it for a moment.

We are living in extraordinary times. The pandemic caused by the coronavirus has changed everything and has made everything difficult. Just think about it. It is a hard time graduate. We never thought twice about it. For years, we sat in crowded classroom. For years, we sat in large crowds and waited for our names to be called at commencement. We would walk across the stage and receive a hug from our teachers and friends. Now a honk from a car horn will have to suffice. It is a hard time to graduate. It is a hard time to die. For years, people stood in long lines to express their condolences. Everyone got a handshake, a hug, or a kiss. No one worried about social distancing. Now the crowd has been replaced by a few. Every funeral home has their own rules. Every funeral director has their own rules. Every cemetery has their own rules. Some cemeteries refuse the family to enter for the burial at all. It is a hard time. It is a hard time to married. For years, brides and grooms dreamed of their big day. Surrounded by family and friends, they would say those sacred vows. Their reception would be filled with food, dancing, and drinking. The cookie table would hold a countless number of calories. Now the crowd has been whittled down, the food must be consumed on paper plates using plastic silverware. There will be no dancing because you may be responsible for someone else’s death. It is a hard time to get married. It is a hard time to be hospitalized. The medical care has not changed but the experience has. The sick must lay there completely alone. No one is permitted to be surrounded by loved ones and no clergy can visit for a prayer. This is the saddest truth. People are dying alone. It is a hard time to be hospitalized. It is a hard time to have job. We have had to learn how to do everything in a new electronic way. It is a harder time not to have a job. It is a hard time to be a teacher or a student. That relationship is important, but it is now suddenly changed, if not permanently damaged. People are wondering about future of American education. I could continue, but I will not.

It is a hard time to do anything. The rules keep changing and everyone who has ever driven by a hospital is suddenly a medical expert. Please do not listen to my medical advice because I have no medical knowledge. The things we took for granted our entire lives are suddenly gone. People are not just worried about the coronavirus. Some are terrified of the coronavirus. Some are afraid of their groceries. Can I be honest we you? I am tired of being warned and threatened. I am tired of being told to keep my distance. I am tired being told to wash my hands. I am tired of being told to wear my mask. It makes me anxious and raises my already high blood pressure, which will lead to a heart attack, which will kill me faster than the coronavirus.  I am not dumb. I learned all those things in the first five minutes. Telling me for the thousandth time in a thousandth different way just frustrates me. I am tired of rich and famous celebrities telling us to stay healthy, when they do not even know I am alive. The whole thing is exhausting. I had a friend tell me recently if this is the new normal, then she wants to die. This is not living. I found myself agreeing with her. I wondered on that night how things could get worse, then they got worse.

The news can out of Minneapolis, Minnesota and sent a shock wave through our country. The story is ugly. The video is uglier. It is all more than we can handle. Forty-six years old, George Floyd died in a Minneapolis hospital. He was an African American. His death was senseless. A white police officer had his knee on his neck for nearly nine minutes. The Minneapolis Police Department said at first Floyd resisted arrest. Then video revealed the true story. With that knee on his neck, he was begging for his life. His words fell on deaf ears. Even other near-by police officers did nothing. The event has sent our country into a whirlwind. Once again, race riots have become part of the American story. Our area has not been excluded. Sarcastically, someone told me Mexicans are beginning to build their own wall to keep the problems north of the border. The medical world is upset because few of the rioters and looters are wearing masks or practicing social distancing. It is an ugly story but what can you and I do? Between race riots and the coronavirus our country is full of anxiety. It is more than one person can handle.

I received a text the other day that illustrated the desperateness of the situation. The text simply read: I TRIED TO DO MY DEVOTIONS THIS MORNING BUT I REALLY STRUGGLED. WHEN I PRAY, I LITERALLY DON’T KNOW WHAT TO PRAY ANYMORE. I DO NOT HAVE WORDS. OUR WORLD IS FALLING APART. WHERE IS GOD? I thought for several moments before I responded: I WILL PRAY FOR YOU. I regretted that response. It seemed feeble.

I wish I would have responded: READ HOSEA. It is the story of relentless love. If God hungered to reconcile with his unfaithful people of the eight century BC, then God stands with his victimized people in the present. Never forget it! God loves you! C. S. Lewis was not wrong. Do you remember his quote? He once said, “Though our feelings come and go, God love for us does not.”

600 Years Later

It was called Youth Jam. It was an evangelistic event sponsored by the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was a Christian conference held annually, rotating between Akron and Cleveland. Their target audience was teenagers. Their goal was to win souls and mature disciples for Jesus Christ. Their agenda included a series of Christian singers and speakers. For several years, this church sent youth to Youth Jam. I am glad we did.

One afternoon at Youth Jam, the Christian speaker was a former beauty pageant winner. No one in my family can remember her name, but everyone one agrees she was a powerful speaker. She told some stories about the pageant and she gave her witness. As she spoke the spirit in the auditorium began to change. By the time she was done speaking, the Holy Spirit was thick in the room and everyone knew God was going to do something special. It was at that moment she did it. She encouraged everyone to stand up and look to the back of the auditorium. Then she asked everyone to get on their knees, placing their hands on their seats. From that position, she led them in prayer and the Holy Spirit rolled over the crowd. Words cannot capture the experience. She closed that prayer with an invitation. All those young people would have to do, is raise their hands if they wanted to accept Jesus Christ. I do not know how many hands were raised on that day, but I do know one hand was raised. That hand belonged to my daughter. It was not an emotional response to the moment. It was a commitment that changed her life. Today, her faith is genuine and sincere. I am thankful the Holy Spirit attended Youth Jam that day. Heaven would not be the same for me if Anna were missing. Things happen when the Holy Spirit is in the house. Do you believe the Holy Spirit is with us today? Let us look at this morning’s scripture lesson.

We are in the second chapter of Acts. The first verse tells us it is the day of Pentecost, on the Hebrew calendar it was a festival to celebrate the harvest, based on Leviticus 23:16. The disciples had no clue what was about to happen. The twelve are all together, including Judas Iscariot’s replacement, Matthias. They are in Jerusalem because Jesus told them to stay in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4). For it is in the Golden City that they will be baptized by the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:5). According to the Bible, the baptism happened suddenly.

The author of this text, Luke, tells us the Holy Spirit was evident in two ways. First, there was a violent wind. The Holy Spirit was always symbolized by wind in the Bible. (Ezekiel 37:9, 14, John 3:8) Second, there seemed to be tongues of fires that separated and came to rest on each one of them. Verse four explains what had happened. It says, “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit…”  The word ALL is important because it was the first time the Holy Spirit was given to everyone. In the Old Testament it was limited to a select few. The manifestation of the spirit was that each one began to speak in different tongues. It was just as the prophet Joel had predicted six hundred years earlier. The Holy Spirit changed everything. The church was born and the world we never be the same again.

Pentecost is one of the great days in the history of the church. However, let us be completely honest. It does not stack up with the rest of the other church holidays. You know it is true. We all love Christmas. We love seeing the decorations and singing the carols. We love collecting a variety of things to ensure everyone has a Merry Christmas. I love the poinsettias and preaching to the crowd on Christmas Eve. I love preaching to the big crowds on Easter morning. I like the Easter flowers and remembering the various events of Holy Week. Those are great days in the life of the church, but let us be honest, Pentecost cannot hold a candle to Christmas and Easter. The best we can do is bring in a few geraniums. Even Mother’s Day generates more excitement than Pentecost. Yet, that does not mean Pentecost is not important. Pentecost is very important. Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) once said, “Without Pentecost, the Christ event -the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so we are Christs here and now.” In other words, Pentecost is important! So why is Pentecost important? So why is Pentecost important?

There are six reasons why Pentecost is still important. These thoughts are not original. They come from Christian blogger Daniel Threlfall.

  1. Pentecost reminds us of the Holy Spirit. Francis Chan (born 1967) has said,for some Christians, the Holy Spirit has become the forgotten God. We talk about God and we talk about Jesus, but the Holy Spirit is seldom mentioned. It maybe that we are afraid of the Holy Spirit or ignorant of the Holy Spirit. When we celebrate Pentecost, we must accept the existence of the Holy Spirit. Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit.
  • Pentecost reminds us of the power of the Holy Spirit. The one word that summarizes the events of Pentecost is power. There was the mighty wind, the strange appearance of flame, zealous evangelism, and the speaking in foreign tongues. They all happen because of the power of God. Things happen when the Holy Spirit is in the house. Pentecost is about power.
  • Pentecost reminds us of the importance of the Great Commission. There is a direct connection between the Great Commission (Matthew 28:1-10) and Pentecost. The Holy Spirit is not in our lives to entertain or amuse us. The Holy Spirit is part of our lives to help us make disciples for Jesus Christ. It is impossible to make disciples for Jesus Christ without the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit was part of your conversion. Pentecost is about the Great Commission.
  • Pentecost encourages us in our labor. The Book of Acts begins with a bang – the Holy Spirit arrives. The rest of the Book of Acts is a grind. Have you ever served on a church committee and you began to feel like your term would never end? Have you ever agreed to teach Sunday school for a year, and it turned into a decade? Have you ever spent hours writing a sermon and no one comes because the weather is too cool? (Wait, that is my story!) It is not just true of the disciples. It is true of you and me. Church work is a grind. In God’s church, disciple making is a never-ending task. It is our preoccupation. The Holy Spirit encourages us to keep going. Pentecost is about encouragement.
  • Pentecost gives us hope. The disciples hide out for ten days after Jesus’s ascension. That is a long time just to wait. Perhaps, they needed that ten days to rest. Perhaps, they needed to think? They knew their human limitation and they know their great challenge waiting for them. Prior to Pentecost, they were hopeless disciples. After Pentecost, they were hopeful Apostles. Our world has a shortage of hope. Pentecost is about hope.
  • Pentecost overwhelms us with awe. The Holy Spirit makes us hungry for God. The Holy Spirit reminds us there is more than just this world. The Holy Spirit reminds us this world is not big enough. Would you like to see the face of Jesus when you get to heaven? Pentecost overwhelms us with awe.

Pentecost is important because Pentecost is about the Holy Spirit. Let me end with this story.

I was not born into the United Methodist Church. My parents were members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). It had been my father’s family denomination for decades. I have very little negative to say about that denomination. It is not my place to judge them. I have known many fine people within their ranks. I left that denomination for a variety of reasons. One was social. Everyone I knew in college was going into the United Methodist ministry. One was practical. I found the guaranteed appointment appealing. I may move occasionally but I would always have a job. It did not work out that way. I am not the poster boy for itineracy. One was theological. My understanding of the Holy Spirit, based on my experiences, did not match that denomination’s understanding of the Holy Spirit. I find the Holy Spirit to be vital to my faith. Some within that denomination find the Holy Spirit optional. It was a hard decision, but I am glad I left. The United Methodist Church has been good to me. My final decision to leave the Disciples was based on something that came in the mail. This is the story.

When I in seminary, my mother would write me letters. There were no cell phones at that time. No email. She would write about things that were happening at home and sent newspaper clippings. There was always a twenty-dollar bill enclosed to encourage and help me. One day she sent me an article from a national magazine. It was quite impressive. It was in full color and well written. The article was about my childhood denomination. The author of the article had interviewed the national head of that denomination. It was interesting. He gave some history and was excited about their bright future. According to the article, that denomination is non-creedal. In other words, they did not have any creeds. I never recited any creeds, including the Apostle’s Creed, until I became a United Methodist. They have a famous line in that denomination, no creed but Christ, no book but the Bible. When I was younger, I found that line liberating. Then, I met people who abused that freedom. There are some within that denomination who are non-trinitarian. That means they believe in the existence of God, the creator of the universe, and they believe the historical Jesus, the redeemer. However, they do not believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit. I find that part of their theology to be repulsive. The Holy Spirit gives us life. The Holy Spirit makes us relevant. I have never been able to answer this question. How do you not believe in the Holy Spirit? When the Holy Spirit is in the house things happen. When the Holy Spirit is not in the house nothing happens.

Do you remember the quote from Henri Nouwen? He was correct. He once said, “Without Pentecost the Christ event -the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – remains imprisoned in history as something to remember, think about and reflect on. The Spirit of Jesus comes to dwell within us, so we are Christ’s here and now.” May we take this Pentecost and celebrate the difference he has made in our lives!

Remembering Dennis P. Buckley

They tell me 11,000 feet high in the Colorado Rocky Mountains there is a secret monument honoring war veterans. It is called “Soldierstone.” It sets high in the majestic peaks and is made of polished granite. It was the brainchild of Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Allen Beckley, who served in Vietnam for ten years. It was constructed in 1985, the same year Beckley died of cancer. He was in the Special Forces, a Green Beret. His unit would parachute behind enemy lines and train indigenous people to defeat their enemies, saving American lives. That monument stands in memory of those fallen indigenous soldiers. The monument is well hidden for a simple reason. Our government denied their existence for decades. When they died, they were soon forgotten. Beckley saw this as wrong. No one should ever be forgotten. He was right. Everyone who dies deserves to be remembered. That leads us to this morning’s scripture lesson.

We are in the fourth chapter of Joshua. After forty years in the wilderness, the people have just crossed the Jordan and entered the Promised Land. Moses is dead and the people are being led by their new warrior leader, Joshua. It must have been a great day. It was a day they had dreamed of for decades. They could have celebrated in countless ways, but do you remember what they did? No, they did not have a party. There were no fireworks. There were no long-winded addresses made by boring politicians. Instead, they built a memorial. God told Joshua to instruct the people to take twelve stones, one representing each tribe, from the middle of the Jordan (verse 2). The tribes do so, and God stops the water from flowing to make their task easier (verse 7). It is easy to stop a river after you have divided a sea. The stones are taken to dry ground and piled up. That pile of stones was to act as a memorial for future generations (verses 6-7). There was nothing unique about that memorial. It is just a pile of rocks, but it served the purpose. That memorial did three important things all memorials are designed to do.

First, memorials force us to look to the past! As future generations looked at that pile of rocks, they remembered the past. I do not just mean the day they crossed the Jordan. That day was just one page in the long history of the Hebrew people. They remembered everything that happened to their people to that point. How well do you remember your Old Testament? They remembered the four patriarchs. They remembered Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. They remembered how Joseph saved the people from the famine and led them into Egypt. They remembered how their favored status was evoked and slavery became a reality. They remembered how hard their lives were as slaves and their prayers for a liberator. They remembered the day they left Egypt and the parting of the sea. They remembered the day Moses came down from Sinai with the Ten Commandants and their wilderness experience. They remembered Joshua and the generation that seized their land. Memorials force us to look to the past!

Second, memorials force us to discover what is important! Joshua’s stone memorial did more than just remind them of historical events. It reminded them of the general theme of their race. It reminded them that God had always been with them and God always will. They had a special relationship with God. After all, they are God’s Chosen People. That was important to them. What is important to you? Memorials force us to discover what is important!

Third, memorials force us to consider the future! When Joshua looked at that memorial made from twelve rocks, he had to think about the future. He was challenged by the events of the past and his people’s special relationship with God. They were not just going to be like every other nation. They were going to be different. They were going to be better. They had a unique opportunity to be holy. When you look to the future what are your aspirations. Memorials force us to look to the future! Let me state the obvious.

Memorials are important! That is why our world is filled with all different kinds of memorials. I have never been to a country that did not have memorials. Consider this partial list me me. The Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Lenin’s Tomb is Russia, the Taj Mahal in India, and the Colosseum in Italy, the Eiffel Tower in France and the Great Wall in China, Christ the Redeemer in Brazil, are all memorials. Today, there are countless on-line memorials.

Memorials are important to Americans too. Did you know the National Park Service manages 30 national memorials? This is part of that list. There is Arlington House or The Robert E. Lee Memorial, Flight 93 Memorial, The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, The General Grant Memorial, The Korean War Veterans Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, The Lincoln Memorial, The Martin Luther King Memorial, The Jefferson Memorial, The Pearl Harbor Memorial, and Mount Rushmore. There are also memorials to the First and Second World Wars, as well as the Wright Brothers. Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial is the only national memorial in the state of Ohio. There cannot be too many memories because there is so much to remember. It is sad when something important or someone is forgotten. I know that is true because I have experienced that in my own life. This is the story.

It all began with a simple phone call in April of 2016. The voice on the other end of the line was a familiar one. It was a local funeral director asking if I was available to do a service on a certain date at a certain time. I glanced at the calendar on my phone and said, “Yes.” I was warned the deceased did not die recently. He died on June 30, 1951. His name was Dennis P. Buckley. He was only 23 years old. He lived in the Youngstown area as a youth and joined the Navy. When his hitch was up with the Navy he reenlisted in the Army. He was order to Korea to fight the spread of communism. He was sent to a dangerous region and was taken as a prisoner of war. Returning soldiers said he died as a POW in the Susan Camp. His remains had been returned now, because our government had signed a treaty with the North Korean government. His remains were only one of several. He was identified by DNA testing and dental records. I was humbled to be asked and play a small part in the ceremony.

When the day came, I went to the funeral home. There was no shortage of military. Every other person was in uniform. A guard was constantly posted beside his remains, which fit in a hat size box. An American flag and the blouse of an Army uniform were framed. I was introduced to Buckley’s only living relative, a niece, and I was introduced to the officer in charge. It was a strange introduction. There is always a tension between professional military and clergy. The two do not see the world in the same way. When the service began there was a stiffness in the air. I had read those words a million times, but this time it was different. The words seem to hit the floor in front of the lectern. There was no emotion, but a surplus of respect. When the remains were placed in the hearse by the military, I sat in the lead car next to the funeral director. We were heading to the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman. Arlington National Cemetery is filling up, so regional national cemeteries have been established. The closest one to us is in Rittman. If you have never been to a national cemetery, go. They are impressive. We did not travel alone. There was a military escort, along with random motorcycles. Everyone saw us coming and everyone seemed to know the story. Cars pulled to the side so not to impede our progress. Trucks pulled into the rest area and the drivers saluted as Buckley passed. When we arrived at the cemetery more military was waiting for us. There was no waiting. They escorted us to the designated spot, and everyone exited the cars. Everyone stood. The Honor Guards represented every branch of the military, Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard. Buckley’s remains were handled respectfully and I walked behind the cart. I was told where to stand and when to speak. I said the committal clearly, stood to the side and watched the military say their parting words. Their words were genuine. Once the flag was folded, it was presented to Buckley’s niece. Finally, taps were played. She was moved to tears. Then, as fast as it began, it was over.

As I waited to leave, the local news team appeared. The same reporters I had seen on my television. They asked me to say a few words. I said, I was humbled. They asked, the funeral director to say a few words. He said he was honored. They asked Dennis Buckley’s niece to say a few words. She was out of her comfort zone. However, I think about her words every Memorial Day. She looked at the camera and thanked everyone for their kindness. They asked her about what she remembered about Dennis. She said, “To be honest, I think, I only met him once. I had forgotten about him.” The reporter tried not to look disappointed, but there was nothing else to say. How do you forget someone who gave so much?

How many people have you forgotten who have died serving our country? No one should be forgotten. How are you going to remember those who died in service to our country? George S. Patton (1885-1945) was an American general during the Second World War. He commanded the Seventh Army. He once said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God such men lived.” May they never be forgotten.

Good-bye For Now

When I was young, Americans played a sport called baseball. It was called our national past-time. It was so popular that professional baseball leagues were formed and the truly gifted at baseball were paid handsome sums. Perhaps, the most gifted of all the professional baseball players was a man named Babe Ruth (1895-1948). He played for the hated New York Yankees. He not only changed the game. Many believe he saved the game. In 1927, Babe Ruth became the first player to hit sixty home runs in a single season. He hit 714 home runs in his career and had a career batting average of .342. In 1923, he hit .393. He was one of the first five to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Time can be cruel.

By June 1948, the great Babe Ruth was only a shell of his younger self. He had terminal cancer. Everyone accepted the reality. He would never see Labor Day. He was 53 years old. It was the Yankee organization who decided to plan a Babe Ruth Day. It would be June 13, 1948 at “The House That Ruth Built, Yankee Stadium. Babe Ruth Day would give the fans one more opportunity to express their appreciation.  Goodbyes are never easy, especially when you will never see the person again. With that in mind, let us look at the scripture lesson together.

We find ourselves in the first chapter of Acts. The first three verses summarize the entire Gospel of Luke. Remember, Acts is the sequel of Luke. Both were written to Theophilus, one who loves God. Verse four is the beginning of something new. According to the text, Jesus had gathered the disciples around him. He tells them about the coming of the Holy Spirit. Soon, the divine helper will touch each one of them and enable them to be his witnesses throughout the world. The only thing they had to do to was wait in Jerusalem. This is the truth. The disciples do not have a clue. They expose their ignorance when they asked Jesus about the completion of the kingdom of Israel. Jesus redirects the discussion back to the Holy Spirit. Then something happens that no one expects. Verse nine says he was taken up. He levitated off the ground and raised so high that he was covered by a cloud. Not believing their own eyes, they were in awe. With squinting eyes and bent necks, they strain to get their last view of Jesus. It must have been one of those moments in life that they never forgot. Hoping for one more view of Jesus, two men dress in white had to nudge them back to reality.

The disciples must have been overwhelmed as they stood there. It was almost cruel to expect the disciples to accept so much in such a short amount of time. In short, they were in awe. They were awed by their past, present, and future.

First, they were awed by what they had experienced. Think of everything they had experienced with Jesus. Time is not always what is important. They had only been with Jesus for three years. How many relationships do you have that are older than three years? Just think about everything they had experienced during those three years! There is more to a relationship then time. There is significance.

Second, they were in awe of what they were experiencing. It really is an outrageous scene. The words in the scripture lesson are just shadows of what really happened. How do you describe a miracle? How do you describe ascension? When was the last time your words could not capture an experience?

     Third, the disciples were awed by what they would experience. They were pre-Pentecost disciples. They have just been told they are to go into the world and witness for about Jesus. I cannot think of one group less qualified for this task. They knew very little. They understood very little. They were unprepared and unequipped. You would be hard pressed to find a group that was more impotent. They were in awe because of the things they would experience in the future. However, this is equally true.

The disciples did not have the time to process the significance of that experience. Two thousand years later, we see it clearly. The ascension of Jesus was part of God’s plan of salvation for the world. God planned from the very beginning to enter this world. He did not come as a mighty warrior. He came as a tiny baby. We celebrate Christmas with full hearts because we recognize Jesus to be the very incarnation of God. At the age of thirty, Jesus started a three-year ministry. That is even a short appointment within the world of the United Methodist Church. Yet, during that three-year period, Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God in a powerful way. The crowds followed which made the orthodox leaders of his faith insecure. They decide Jesus must be eliminated, so they come up with a sinister plan. You know the plan. One of Jesus’s own, Judas Iscariot, betrays Jesus. While praying, he is arrested in the garden and is tried twice, once by his own people, once by the Roman governor Pilate. He is the one who ordered the execution. Jesus died on a Friday afternoon and the few who loved him grieved. He is placed in a new tomb. A massive stone was placed tightly at the opening of the cave so the smell of Jesus’s decaying body would not escape. Guards were posted in front of the tomb to eliminate any future problems. For Jesus’s enemies the problems were just beginning. After the Sabbath, on Sunday, women show up at the tomb of Jesus. They are the ones who make the great discovery. Miraculously, Jesus had returned to life and for the next forty days Jesus appeared to various believers proving his was a bodily resurrection. Sometimes the resurrected Jesus appeared to small groups and sometimes the resurrected Jesus appeared to large crowds.

That all leads us to today, Ascension Day. That is the day Jesus exited this world and entered heaven. The ascension of Jesus is important because it reminds of two things in the Christian faith. First, it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus. He is our only hope of salvation. Second, it reminds us of the existence of heaven, itself. On day Jesus did not just say, “Good-bye” to the disciples. That is the day Jesus said, “Good-bye for now,” to the disciples. The Master knew they would be reunited again in heaven in the future. Oswald Chambers (1874-1917) was an early-twentieth-century Scottish Baptist and Holiness Movement evangelist and teacher. He once said, “At His ascension our Lord entered heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter.” This is a fair question to ask you today?

Do you believe in the existence of heaven? In 2015, the Pew Research Group told us only 72% of all Americans believe heaven exists. That figure does not really surprise me. In a world that turns to science and technology to solve all our problems, heaven is a stretch. To that crowd the ascension is foolishness. Do you believe natural law was suspended enabling Jesus to ascend into heaven? Just think about it.

The understanding of the cosmos has changed. In Biblical times, the masses believed heaven was up there. So when Jesus ascended above the clouds, he was entering heaven, itself. In our time, modern aviation has permitted many to ascend above the clouds. I, myself, have looked down on the clouds and into lower level of the earth’s atmosphere. In 1969, mankind landed on the moon for the first time. From that distance the earth is beautiful but there is no scene of heaven. Voyager 1 reached interstellar space. From that distance the earth is nothing more than a light blue dot, but there is no sign of heaven. So let me ask you the question again. Do you believe heaven exists? Everyone must answer that question for themselves.

This is my answer – YES! I cannot give you scientific proof or a mathematical equation to prove the existence of heaven. I cannot give you a location or a dimension. The only thing I can give you a testimony. We have all heard the stories of people who have visited heaven and have returned home to report. Those stories are important because they give us hope. If you do not believe in heaven, then you are living without hope. If heaven does not exist, then there is no hope of a reunion with loved ones. When they die, we just say, “Good-bye,” because it is over. If heaven does exist, then there is hope of a reunion with loved ones. When they die, we say, “Good-bye for now,” because we believe we will see them again. That is something worth pondering. Let me end with this story.

When I was about ten years old, my family vacationed in the state of Maine. I have fond memories of that trip. The five of us climbed into our tiny family car and saw the sites. We went to Maine for one reason. It was the home state of my father’s stepmother, my Grandma Helen. She was the only grandmother I ever knew on that side. My biological grandmother had died eight years before I was born. One day on that trip, we connected with my grandparents in a place near Boothbay Harbor. It was on the Atlantic coast. We met at the small home owned my Grandma Helen’s cousins Mary and Marge. They hosted everyone for lunch. I do not remember the menu, but I do remember the scenery. Maine’s rocky coastline was impressive, and the air was brisk. I enjoyed the surf crashing against the rocks.

It must have been late in the afternoon when we started saying goodbye. I remember standing near my mother and sisters. My grandfather thanked the ladies for their hospitality and jumped into the car. My Grandma Helen lagged to say good-bye to her elderly cousins. At first, they were just talking. Then, they started hugging. Finally, they started crying. The emotions made an uncomfortable scene. One of my sisters asked our mother, “Why are they crying?” My mother answered, “When you are their age, you don’t know if you are going to see each other again. This may be their final goodbye.”

I hate to say this one week after Mother’s Day, but my mother was wrong! In the Christian faith there is no good-byes between believers. There are only good-byes for now. Someday we will be reunited again with departed loved ones in heaven. Do you remember what Oswald Chambers said? He was not wrong. He said, “At His ascension our Lord entered heaven, and he keeps the door open for humanity to enter.”Do you believe in the existence of heaven?