In The Beginning God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get A Job!

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

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

1. They have a bad attitude toward work

2. They are only motivated by money

3. They dream of quitting their jobs

4. They only do what is required at work

5. They feel overworked and underappreciated at work

6. They lack any commitment to their employer

7. They lack fulfillment at work

8. They hope their children take another career path

9. They take no pride in their work

10. They are bored and unchallenged

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

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

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

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

Consider these four things with me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never Give Up!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible Is…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Cheap Is Your Grace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Children of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Satisfied Are You?

One of the great names in American literature is Earnest Hemingway (1899-1961). He is remembered as a novelist, shirt-story writer, journalist, and sportsman. His style of writing influenced many writers in the 20th century. Most of his writings were created during the mid-1920’s thru the mid-1950’s. He wrote seven novels, six short-story collections, and two nonfiction works. His writings included: The Old Man and the Sea, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, A Farewell to Arms, To Have and to Have Not, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, and many other classics. For his labors he won the Pulitzer Prize in 1953 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954. His personal life was complex and larger than life. He was married four times, known to be a heavy drinker and large game hunting. He owned homes in Key West, Cuba, and Idaho. He seemed to have it all. That is why is suicide was so shocking. He used his own shotgun. When he died in 1961, Hemingway was worth $4 million. Today, that $4 million would be worth $35 million. He seemed to have it all. That is why his suicide was so shocking. Let me state the obvious. Something was missing in Hemingway’s life. Let me ask you this question.

What do these famous people have in common?

          Robin Williams

          Kate Spade

          Prince Alfred of Edinburgh

Mark Anthony

Cleopatra

Kurt Cobain

Marilyn Monroe

Erwin Rommel

Inger Stevens

Virginia Woolf

The answer is each one of these rich and famous people took their own life. I am not sure Rommel should be on the list. Rommel was forced to commit suicide in 1944 for getting involved in a plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler (1889-1945). Let me state the obvious. Something was missing. I am aware suicide is a complex topic, but it is safe to say none of these people were satisfied with their life. Here is the question you must answer: how satisfied are you? That takes us to the scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves today in the Gospel of John. It was written by the apostle, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” approximately the year 85 AD. Prior to our reading in the sixth chapter, Jesus had fed the five thousand, with five barley loaves and two small fish. It is one of the great miracles in the Bible. How great was the miracle? The story is found in all four Gospels. We looked at it last week. There is no way of overstating Jesus’s popularity. The crowd was wild about Jesus, and they followed him to the other side of the sea. Their question for Jesus was how he got there, but Jesus saw the real issue. The crowd was consumed with the issue of food. There is only one problem with food. Food, and the feeling of fullness, does not last long. Have you ever eaten a big meal and pushed yourself away from table proclaiming, “I will never eat again!”, only to find yourself hours later standing in front of your refrigerator looking for a snack? Jesus has nothing against food, but he knows there is more to life than food. The crowd wanted more loaves and fish, but Jesus offers himself, the bread of life. There is more than this temporary world; there is the eternal. Do not miss the next line. In many ways we play the part of the crowd. Many pursue fullness, not satisfaction. The things of this world may fill us up, but they will not satisfy. Only the things of God will satisfy. How many people do you know who are pursuing fullness?

In the fifth century, a man named Arenius was determined to live a holy life. So, he abandoned the comforts of Egyptian society to follow an austere lifestyle in the desert. Yet, whenever he visited the great city of Alexandria, he spent time wandering through its bazaars. Asked why, he explained that his heart rejoiced at the sight of all the things he did not need. There are many in our society who need to ponder those words. Many are preoccupied with the things of this world.

We live in a society flooded with goods and gadgets. Each one promises fullness. They are things we can live without, but we must have them. This is the problem: Very few can afford everything. That is one of the reasons credit card debt has become a national problem. How many credit cards do you own? How much credit card debt do you carry? Did you know the average American holds four credit cards? Did you know the average American is $6270 in credit debt? On average, Americans pay 19.62% in credit card interest. Americans owe a total of $14.9 trillion in credit card debt. (Those statistics came from Business Insider.) Do not expect it to get better. Our televisions, radios, mailboxes, newspapers, and internet are filled with advertisements or suggestions on what to buy. Each one promises to make you and your loved ones happier. Like the crowd in the Bible story, many buy to make themselves full. Can I ask you a question? How long does your purchase keep you happy? Just like the crowd in the Bible story, there is nothing wrong with buying things. But do not expect those things to make you satisfied. They are all temporary, not eternal. Our society is chasing fullness, not satisfaction.

So, what do the experts tell us is the source of true satisfaction or contentment? As I researched that question this week, I found a variety of lists. They were all different, but they were all the same. I decided to condense those lists into my own list. Here are four things personally satisfied people do:

Satisfied people keep investing. I am not talking about financial investing. I am talking about investing in relationships. Sometimes those relationships are family members. Sometimes those relationships are friends. Research tells us, if you have a friend from a different generation from yours, it is a bonus. Our friendships keep us mentally and physically strong. Our friendships help us weather the bad times in our lives. Our friends help us improve the quality of our lives. God never designed us to live in isolation. We are social animals. One of the great fears in our lives is loneliness, so go out and spend time with people. Satisfied people invest their lives in other people. If you have one good friend, then you are a rich person. I would encourage you to invest in a relationship with Jesus. Satisfied people invest in Jesus.

Satisfied people keep learning. What do you still want to learn? The day you stop learning something new is the day you become irrelevant. Lifelong learning helps you prepare for the unexpected and expands your profile. Lifelong learning boosts your confidence and generates new ideas. Lifelong learning will change your perspective and cultivate your leadership skills. The choice is yours. You can be part of the modern world, or you can be as relevant as the Amish. Satisfied people keep learning. What do you still want to learn? I would encourage you to learn everything about Jesus. Satisfied people are always learning about Jesus.

Satisfied people keep dreaming. What do you still want to do? God never intended us to live in the past. God never intended us to worship the past. God designed us for a purpose. God expects us to embrace today and dream of a better world tomorrow. Our dreams or goals build our self-confidence, hold us accountable, and help us live our lives to the fullest. Are you living, or are you just waiting to die? What do you still want to do?Satisfied people dream of spending eternity with Jesus.

Satisfied people keep trusting. How far do you trust Jesus? Go back to the scripture with me one more time. Jesus had just fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. It was a great miracle, and it was a great moment in the lives of the five thousand. When they had finished eating, they could not hold another bite. But a short time later they were hungry again. They looked to Jesus to feed them again. Jesus saw the problem. The crowd was preoccupied with earthly food, but Jesus was more interested in eternal food. The crowd wanted to be full again, but Jesus wanted them to be spiritually satisfied. Jesus tells the crowd and us, “I am the bread of life.” In a world that is running after fullness, we long for satisfaction. That is why we will never stop trusting in Jesus. Eternal satisfaction only comes from him.

Recently, a movie was released by the name of Roadrunner. It is a documentary about Anthony Bourdain (1956-2018). I will not watch it. I liked him too much. Bourdain had become part of my Sunday night routine. After a busy morning and a slow afternoon, I would turn my television on to CNN at about 10:00. Kathryn was down for the day, so I would watch alone. Regularly, I would watch Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Did you ever watch it? The show won ten Primetime Emmy Awards and one Peabody Award. It was a travel and food show, but it was more. Bourdain would slide in his own opinions on various human conditions around the world. I found Bourdain’s own story fascinating. He was as diverse as his show. The former cocaine, heroin, and LSD user graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. He was considered one of the most influential chefs in the world. Some of his shows were dark, but some of the shows sucked me in. I had been to some of the places he was visiting, and I longed to go to others. This is the truth: Bourdain was living the life I wanted. While I was spending most of my life in the shadows of Youngstown, Ohio, Bourdain was traveling around the world, eating wonderful food, drinking intriguing drinks, talking to bright, insightful people. Through my eyes, Anthony Bourdain seemed to have the perfect life; he had it all. That is why the news was so shocking. You remember. On June 8, 2018, at the age of 61, Anthony Bourdain committed suicide. He hung himself in France. I could not believe it. I still do not believe it. He left behind a young, pretty wife and his only child, a daughter. I was in shocked, and I think I am still in denial. When I tried to watch the reruns after he was gone, I found myself upset. Why would a guy who had everything in this world take his own life? His net worth was $16 million.

The answer is in our scripture lesson for this morning. The answer is everything in this world is not enough. We live in a world that is chasing after fullness. The problem is the state of being full is only a temporary situation. Only Jesus will satisfy you for eternity. Let me end with this question: How satisfied are you? Jesus said it best about himself. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Peace Be With You

Did you know, historians from England, Egypt, Germany, and India tell us, since the year 3600 BC, the world has only been free of war 292 years? During that period, there have been 14,352 wars, killing 3.7 billion people. The amount of property destroyed during those wars would pay for a golden belt large enough to surround the world, 98 miles wide and 33 feet thick. Did you know, that since 650 BC, there have been 1,656 arms races, and only 16 have not ended in war. Most countries involved in a war end up in economic collapse. Did you know, according to the Daily Mail, there are forty wars raging in our world today. Some of those conflicts have lasted more than seventy years. Can I state the obvious? Our time is not the only one. There has always been a shortage of peace in our world. However, this message is not about political peace. It is about spiritual peace.

In March of 2018, Gregory Bush was at a Kroger Grocery story in Jeffersonville, Kentucky. He did not take his shopping list. He took his gun. In time, Bush shot two, one inside the store, one in the parking lot. The victims were doing nothing wrong. Bush shot them for a simple reason. He did not care for their race. The authorities said, the crime was racially motivated, a hate crime. Bush received two life sentences, plus ten years. Taxpayers will be paying for him for decades. Gregory Bush is not alone there are others.

Our society is filled with various prejudices. There is racism, sexism, and ageism. There is classism, homophobia, and nationalism. There is xenophobia, and religious prejudices. There are others I will not mention because I do not have the time. However, each one of our prejudices falls into one of three categories:

  1. Cognitive Prejudices – Those prejudices are rooted in what we believe is true.
  2. Affective Prejudices – Those prejudices are rooted in what we like or dislike.
  3. Conative Prejudices – These prejudices are rooted in assumed behavior.

Let me state the obvious. All prejudices are ugly and have no place within the life of the church. Sociologists tell us our prejudices expose our fears. We are prejudice against the group, or individual, that intimidates us. Our prejudices lie to us. No, we are not always in control. Our prejudices are learned. That means, you are passing your prejudices on to someone else. Sociologists also tell us, each one of us carries a certain amount of prejudicial behavior.  However, this message is not about our prejudices. This message is about spiritual peace. And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” This will make you think. Did you know, according to the Pew Research Group, 12% of all Americans do not even like themselves. According to the same study, 24% of all Americans under 35 do not like themselves. All of this will take us to our scripture reading for today, Ephesians 2:11-22.

We find ourselves today in the Epistle to the Ephesians. The author of this literary piece is the Apostle Paul. It is considered a circular letter. In other words, it was written to the various Christian communities in the area surrounding Ephesus, at the time, the most important city in western Asia Minor (now Turkey). Paul is not writing them to address any problem. Paul is writing them to challenge them to expand their faith. That is what we hear in the second chapter. Paul tells us our past traditions are useless. Paul tells us our differences are not important. The only thing that matters is Jesus, who died on the cross and welcomed all equally into God’s family. That fact is hard for many to accept. However, that is exactly what Paul says in verses 13 and 14a:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one.

This message is about spiritual peace.

The Apostle Paul (5-65) understood the importance of today’s scripture reading because he experienced it firsthand. Let us be honest. There is not much to like about him at first. He made a horrible first impression. The first martyr in the history of the church was Stephen. He was stoned to death. The leader of that stoning mob was Saul. He was a devout Jew, who longed to crush Christianity. He was zealous in his work, and, in time, all the believers feared him. It is one of the great stories in the Bible.

One day, Saul is traveling down the Damascus Road, when he is confronted by Jesus, himself. For a short-time Saul is blinded, and he is converted to Christianity. His name is changed to Paul, which means small or humbled. However, not just his name changed. His priorities changed.  From that moment on he is determined to win the Gentiles world to Jesus. At first the church is uncomfortable accepting him, but our generation accepts the fact that Paul is the great missionary who has ever lived. We are the spiritual ancestors of Paul. If Paul, the onetime murderer, could be saved, then anyone could be saved by accepting Jesus. Even a sinner like you. Yet, not just you, all sinners, who are different from you. God does not see our differences. God sees what we have in common. All humanity is linked together in sin. God’s goal is to have all sinner redeemed by the precious blood of Jesus, so he can spend eternity with everyone because God loves everyone.

I love this story: Hank Aaron (1934-2021) was one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. I remember the night “Hammerin Hank” broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. He held that record for thirty-three years. When his 23-year baseball career ended, he was inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame and went to work for the Atlanta Braves. In my eyes, Hank Aaron was something special. Perhaps, that is why I love this story.

One night, he was checking into a hotel, but the desk clerk did not recognize him. She told him there were no rooms available. However, the owner of the hotel recognized Hank Aaron and pulled the clerk to the side. He said, “That is Hank Aaron. He is the one who broke Babe Ruth’s home run record. Tell him we will find him a room.” The clerk went back to the counter and said to Hank Aaron, “I am sorry, Mr. Aaron. I did not recognize you. Of course, we have a room for you. I did not know you were a somebody.” I love Hank Aaron’s response. He said, “Everybody is a somebody.” Hank Aaron was right! Everybody is a somebody. I am glad you think everyone is a somebody because many do not. Our world has a hard time accepting that divine truth. It is even true within our own ranks.

The dates you will want to circle on your calendar are August 29 – September 6, 2022. Those are the dates of the next General Conference of the United Methodist Church They are meeting in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Delegates from around the world will be attending. They will be deciding the fate of our denomination. Many believe, including myself, our church will divide. The issue is not preaching or evangelism. The issue is not world hunger or clean drinking water. The issue is sexuality. Traditionally, we have not ordained openly gay people or officiated at openly gay weddings. There are many who want to change that ruling. There is no compromise. It appears whatever is decided, a large block of our denomination will walk away. Many believe, those congregations who walk away will be given an opportunity to buy their building, which historically are held by the denomination. There will be a window of several years for this opportunity. There is no other way to say it. It is ugly. Those that are favor of the change are using the Bible to support their cause. Those that are against the change are using the Bible to support their cause. Both sides have an extra helping of arrogance and a shortage of humility. It is a tough call. Do you believe our church should ordain and marry openly gay people? Do you believe our church should not marry and ordain openly gay people? Do you believe our congregation should leave the United Methodist Church? Do you believe our congregation should stay within the United Methodist Church? Everyone, every church, must decide for themselves.

One day during my time away, I was visited by a colleague. No, I was visited by a friend. He stayed for approximately an hour. We covered a variety of topics. The topic of sexuality came up. In a moment of pure honesty, he dropped his head and shook it. He said, “Russ, we (The United Methodist Church) have forgotten our purpose.” I think he was right. People do not come to church to be entertained. People do not come to church because I am handsome. People do not come to church to hear my political views. People do not come to church to hear my take on the local news or hear my opinion on the state of professional sports. This is equally true. People do not come to church to hear about sexuality. People come to church one reason. People come to church to hear about Jesus. I have said this to colleagues many times. The ministry is not that hard. You just need to do two things. Talk about Jesus and care about your people. It is impossible to talk about Jesus too much. We are all sinners who are dependent on the sacrificial acts of Jesus. The only thing that matters in the life of the church is Jesus. And, when we have Jesus in our world, our society, and our church and denomination, we will have peace. The Apostle Paul said it best:

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one.

Do you remember what Augustine said? He said, “Our hearts are restless until we find our rest in God.”

My Story

April 10 was a perfect day! That day will live in the memory of my family for years to come, because that was my daughter’s wedding day. The weather was perfect. It was eighty degrees and sunny. (How many sunny eighty-degree April days do you remember in northeast Ohio?) The spring flowers were in full bloom. The flowering trees were breathtaking. The bride was stunning. The groom was handsome. The ushers and the bride maids were both well dressed and attractive. The music was outstanding. The ceremony went off without a hitch. The receptions, one at the church and one in the community, were perfect. It is safe to say everyone had fun. There is no other way to say it. It was a perfect day. This is also true.

April 12 was not perfect! The bride’s mother and I decided to go to Chicago to escape the post wedding blues. We decided to fly because it was cheaper to fly than park our car in the Windy City. I was at Cleveland Airport when I began to grow sick. That evening I knew I had a problem. The next day I found myself at an urgent care. They sent me to the Emergency Room at the Northwestern Medical Center. They told me I needed emergency surgery because I had an intestinal blockage. The next day, I woke up in pain with a long incision. The problem came from scare tissue from a surgery I had in 1958. I do not remember that surgery because I was only eighteen months old, but I do remember the pain from this surgery. I was told the surgery was successful, except they nicked my bowel during the procedure. Unable to fly home, a good friend came to Chicago to drive us home. I was not home for long.

Forty-eight hours after I got home, I had an intense pain like I had never had in my life. I found out later my bowel was working its way to the surface. I went to a local hospital, who sent me to their downtown location. It was there I met the surgeon. There were more tests and painkillers. In time, the surgeon returned and said to me, “Reverend Adams, you seem like a really good guy. You deserve the best care, and you are not going to get it here. I am sending you to the Cleveland Clinic. I have performed four surgeries that you need. They have done thousands.” That night I was sent to the Cleveland Clinic by ambulance. I was admitted in the middle of the night. In the end, I spent over a week in the Cleveland Clinic, but I never had a second surgery. It was decided my nicked bowel would have to heal on its own. I was warned it would take time and it would not be pleasant. Those words were not untrue. It did take time and it was unpleasant.

I spent my 64th birthday and Mother’s Day, May 9th, at home. It was great to be home, but I had souvenirs from the hospital. I had a port in my upper right chest for my three hours of antibiotics. I had three holes in my abdomen. One that needed to be packed daily. One was covered by a drainage bag. I was exhausted doing the simplest task. The visiting nurse came to twice a week. That means Kathryn and I were on our own for five days a week. I have said it a million times since April 13th, every family needs one medical person, not two, to do those messy medical things. My family has no medical people. I will always be thankful for two people. The first is my ex-neighbor Amy, who came five days a week to pack my wound. She is a practicing nurse. The second is my wife, Kathryn. She cared for me, flushing the port, and giving me those three hours of antibiotics daily. She was way out of her comfort zone. This is the truth. Without her, I would have been placed in a nursing home.

I am glad to report, things did get better. On our wedding anniversary, May 27th, I was released by the infectious disease doctor. The next day it was ruled I no longer needed the drainage bag. At some point, the antibiotics were stopped. My port was removed at a branch of the Cleveland Clinic, Akron General Hospital. In time, the three holes in my abdomen healed and the packing ceased. Today, my pain is gone, but my abdomen looks like a West Virginia Roadmap. The chills, caused by an infection, I was told, may have been the worst part, are no longer. I have no problem sleeping through the night or napping during the day. June 7th was another good day. I woke up and felt like a tired version of myself. I received no physical therapy, but I was encouraged to walk. I was told to eat my normal diet. I am not at 100% yet, but I am making progress. It has been a long four months. On my darkest days, I was thankful for two things. First, I was thankful I was in America. If this would have happened when I was in Slavic Eastern Europe, I would have died. Their medical care is archaic. Second, I am thankful for my hospitalization. Between Kathryn’s heart surgery and my abdominal surgery, we have spent more than $453,000 in medical care. I do not have that figure on hand.

Several years ago, I went to the suburbs of Cleveland to visit a parishioner. He was having heart surgery. Prior to the surgery, we talked for a while and then I prayed. After the prayer, he looked at me and asked, “Russ, have you ever been the one in need?” I that point, I answered, “No.” Today, I would answer differently. In the last nine months, I have struggled with the Coronavirus and had major surgery. Being in need is uncomfortable, but it positions you to learn about yourself. In the last four months, I have learned several things. Let me give you part of my list.

First, I learned I am not John Wayne.       In the weeks, I was at home I discovered something you know. We may get 200 television stations, but there is nothing to watch on TV. We watched a great deal of old westerns, especially old John Wayne movies. In one of his movies, he got shot in the back and the bullet was longed near his spine. A doctor pulled out the bullet on the open range. Being John Wayne, after being shot and having the bullet expelled, he jumped on his horse and road off. It really was impressive. Let me state the obvious. I am not John Wayne. He rode off on his horse, I laid in bed or on my couch feeling all the pain. I am not John Wayne.

Second, I learned I do not do painkillers well. After my surgery, I was in a great deal of pain. The painkiller I was offered was oxycontin. I am told many try to steal oxycontin. I do not know why. I did not handle it well. I imagined all kind of things. One night, I imagined the walls around me were melting. One night, I imagined I was at the Parish House at Saint Monica’s Church in Garfield Hts. (I have not been there for twenty-five years.) One night, I imagined I was at a Burger King and tried to order a Whooper from my nurse. She reminded me I was on a clear liquid diet. I asked to get off the oxycontin because I needed to think clearly. It was the beginning of my recovery. It was a good day when I got off all the painkillers. Let me state the obvious. I do not do painkillers well.

Third, I learned life is hard. On Saturday, I was dancing with the bride and hosting my world. It was a perfect day. On Tuesday, I was having emergency surgery in a foreign land. It was a horrible day. Most of the next four months were horrible. I could preach on this theme weekly, and it would never get old. You know it is true. It is one thing to hear about someone else’s hardship. It is a completely different thing to experience the hardship yourself. When was the last time you experienced hardship? Maya Angelou (1928-2014) once said, “You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.”

Forth, I have learned our society has a surplus of kind people. I am humbled by the kindness shown to me. I was in three hospitals during my saga. Everyone, from the housekeeping people to the surgeons, were kind to me. Fellow patients who heard my story, and they were kind to me. My neighbor mowed my lawn. My neighbors gave me food. One day, a stranger showed up with a casserole dish. I asked her the question, “Who are you?” She answered, “My friends and I were talking about your story, and I thought you may want to eat tonight.” Even my mailman, when he heard my story, said, and still says, “I am praying for you.” We have a surplus of kind people in our society because Christianity is part of national DNA. I have been to other parts of the world where kindness is rare. Let me take it one step farther.

We have a surplus of kind people within this church. The word spread fast about my emergency surgery. On the day after my surgery, I looked at my cell phone for the first time. I had 162 texts. Each one said, they were concerned about me and were praying for me. I received well over 100 cards. Some came from people who have moved out of the area. Some cards came from people who left the church because they were mad me. At one point, I lost 31 pounds, but you cannot be blamed. For weeks, food was delivered to my home. I cannot tell you how many people have offered to do something during my time of need. We have a surplus of kind people within our church.

One day, I was texting someone about all the kindness I had been shown. Her response made me think. She texted: Of course, people are kind to you. What else can we really do? She was right! Kindness of not optional in the Christian faith. Kindness is demanded! It is required! It is dictated! Your kindness is a sign that your faith is sincere, and it has been that way from the very beginning. Do you remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Galatians all those years ago? Galatians 6:10-11 says:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

So today I am not going to reprimand you for some poor behavior or habit. Today, I am going to encourage you to keep doing what you have been doing. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ, and you know the truth. We are not saved by our good works. Even non-believers can be kind. You are saved by grace and by faith in Jesus. You are saved by the sacrificial death of Jesus. He died so we could live. Your kindness is a way of thanking God for saving your soul. How are you going thank God today?

God’s Suffering Servant

Many years ago, before mankind 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 means “The Lord is My Salvation,” but we simply call him Isaiah. He wrote approximately 700 years before the birth of Christ, so he is a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Micah. His audience was the people of Judah and Jerusalem. He warned them of their impending judgement.  His book is sixty-six chapter long, so many consider him the greatest writing prophet. Those chapters can be divided into two sections. Chapters one thru thirty-nine deal with judgment. Chapters forty thru sixty-six deal with comfort. Our reading comes from the second section. It is called God’s suffering servant. Twenty-seven hundred years later, we understand that suffering servant to be Jesus.

The scripture reads like a timeline of Jesus’ life. Verse two tells us he was born in the line of Jesse, the father of King David. That is confirmed in the first chapter of Matthew. Physically, there is nothing special about Jesus. Politically, there is nothing special about Jesus. It is spiritually that Jesus is different from the rest of us. Did you know, according to the United Nations, 385,000 babies are born a day in our world. I have no clue how many babies have been born in the history of this world. However, I do know the baby Jesus was different from the rest. He was the very incarnation of God. In other words, Jesus was God in human form. His biological mother was Mary. Joseph played the role of his earthly father, but he was only his stepfather. Jesus’ biological father was God. That uniqueness was not obvious at first. Only Anna and Simeon recognize his uniqueness. (Luke 2:22-40). Everyone loves a baby and Jesus did what all healthy babies do, he grew up.

According to the Gospel of Luke, when Jesus is twelve years-old he gets separated from Mary and Joseph. They had been to Jerusalem for the annual Passover. The time came for everyone to return home. Jesus is old enough to have some independence. They traveled in groups for companionship and protection. They had traveled some distance when it was discovered Jesus was missing. A first century “amber alert” went out, but no one had seen Jesus. The frantic parents return to Jerusalem. Three days later they found Jesus sitting in the temple listening to the teachers and asking questions. The scriptures say everyone was amazed at his understanding.

When Jesus is thirty years old, he goes out to the banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by John. The crowd is thick, because it was a sinner’s baptism, and everyone was a sinner. The baptizer recognized Jesus and his uniqueness. He is uncomfortable baptizing Jesus. After all, it was a sinner’s baptism and Jesus had not committed a single sin. Jesus encourages him to do it and God reminds the world Jesus is his son. Once completed, Jesus is taken to the wilderness where he is tempted by Satan. It is really no contest. Jesus wins, the angels attend to him, and his earthly ministry begins. (Matthew 4:1-11)

Jesus would have made a great United Methodist minister. His ministry lasted three years. However, the ministry does not end because Jesus was not effective. Jesus’ ministry ended because Jesus was too affective. He did nothing wrong. He loved everyone. He cared for the forgotten and treated everyone with dignity and respect. He healed the blind and the lame. He confronted and defeated demons. He taught people how to live and gave people hope, because they longed to hear about the Kingdom of God. The people responded to Jesus and great crowds followed him. That was the problem. The great crowds bothered the orthodox leaders of his day. They had too much to lose. Jesus had to die. You know the story.

It all began on Palm Sunday. Masses gather for the annual Passover. When Jesus arrived, the people were shoulder to shoulder. The number of people is not in question. The only question is why they cheered for Jesus. Some wanted Jesus to lead a political revolution. They had grown tired of foreign rule. Some wanted Jesus to heal a sick or maimed loved one. Some wanted to see Jesus was he was trending. Very few were there because they understood the eternal impact of Jesus. That crowd confirmed the orthodox leader’s fears. They were threatened by Jesus’ popularity. A lesser man would have retreated, but not Jesus. He attacked! He went to the temple court and disrupted their profitable business practices. He cursed the fig tree, the symbol of Israel. It was the only thing Jesus ever cursed. Jesus challenged the orthodox leaders of the faith and they retaliated. They looked for the weakest link and found him, Judas Iscariot. He betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and the dominos began to fall. Jesus was arrested after supper on Thursday evening. He was tried twice. First by his own people, who lacked the power to execute him. Second, he was tried before the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilot, who had the power to execute him. He used that power to send Jesus to the cross because he wanted to appease the crowd. Surrounded by two common criminals, one on his right and the other his left, Jesus died on a Roman instrument of execution, a cross. His death is hard to imagine because his death was hard to watch. There is no other way to say it.

Jesus, the incarnation of God, was dead. The life that began in the manger thirty-three years earlier was over. Mary must have been staggered with emotions. She had to face that horrible hour alone. She must have missed Joseph, long gone. Now Jesus was gone too. The same eyes who saw the face of God in the manger saw the son of God die. Can I state the obvious? Parents should never outlive their child. It was hard for Mary to accept, but Jesus’s death was part of God’s plan of salvation for the world. Here is a question you must answer. Why did Jesus have to die? There are many reasons why Jesus had to die. However, let me give you just three for you to consider.

Jesus died to give eternal life to whoever believed in him. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not parish but have eternal life.” In the Christian faith, we believe Jesus is our only hope of salvation. If you do not believe in Jesus, then the fires of hell are waiting for you. If you have never accepted Jesus into your heart, then do not wait. Death is a heartbeat away. Jesus had to die!

Jesus died to save you from the curse of the law. Galatians 3:13 says, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming cursed for us.” If you believe your salvation can be earned, then you are a fool. Your only hope of salvation is Jesus. His sinlessness made him the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. His sinlessness made him the perfect sacrifice for your sins. Never forget, we are saved by grace and by grace alone. Jesus had to die!

Jesus died to end religion and bring us to a personal relation with God. Christianity is not a religion. It is a relationship with God. That is why the faith must live in your heart. None of the other world religions can make such a boast. Do you remember what the scriptures say? Jesus torn the veil at the temple from top to bottom, so we can have a personal relationship with God. Jesus had to die!

There is an old preaching story that has been circulating for years. I first heard it in the hills of the Bluegrass State. The story is about a young curious boy, who loved his father. Every day he asked his father if he could go to work with him. Every day, the father turned him down. Yet, every day he still asked his father, and, in time, the father agreed. The boy was thrilled, but the father warned him it was going to be long day for him, and he had to stay out of the way. The father was the bridge operator for the local railroad. The bridge remained up until the train came filled with passengers. When the train arrived, the father would pull the levers to lower the bridge. When the father and son, arrive at the bridge station, the son studied everything in detail. The father did his best to explain how everything worked. The father was right, it was a long day for the little boy. In time, the father got busy, and the little boy got bored. When the time came to lower the bridge, the train blew its whistle. The father grabbed the lever to lower the bridge and glanced back at his son. There was only one problem. The boy was not him the office! The father looked out the window and looked at the bridge. There in the cogs of the bridge was his son. The father was in a no-win situation. If he pulled the lever to lower the bridge, then he would kill his son. If he did not pull the lever to lower the bridge, then he would kill the passengers on the train. What would you do? Would you pull the lever to save the passengers, killing his son? Would you save the boy, killing the passengers? Let there be no doubt about it. God pulled the lever on Good Friday. Jesus died, so we could live. May we never question the depth of God’s love. The story ends with the father crying. He had just killed his son. With tears running down his face, he watched the passengers crossing the bridge. Most waved and smiled at him because they did know the sacrifice, he made for them. It has been said, we are not saved by what we do, we are saved by what Christ has done.