Mankind Is Our Business

We find ourselves in the Gospel of Luke. You may remember Luke’s background. Luke was born into a Gentile family, but he was educated in the Greek classics. When his formal education was completed, he was a doctor. However, the church will always remember him as a companion of Paul during his second missionary journey. That is the reason many consider Luke to be Paul’s Gospel. The first four verses of Luke are vital because they set the stage for the rest of the book.

In the opening four verses, Luke admits his work is not original. There have been other books that have tried to summarize the life of Jesus Christ. His book is different for one reason. Luke, himself, can be trusted. His accounts have come from eyewitnesses and fellow believers. Luke investigated those stories. The false ones have been eliminated. The true ones have been included. He does all this work for one reason. He wants this body of believers, personified in this person, Theophilus, to know the truth. This is the truth. Jesus Christ was the Messiah, the only son of God and our holy hope of salvation. Jesus came for one reason, to be the bridge between mankind and God. Marley may have said it after his death, but Jesus demonstrated it in his life; MANKIND WAS HIS BUSINESS! That simple understanding takes us to Dicken’s A Christmas Carol.

You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Ebenezer Scrooge lived for one thing, money! Nothing else really mattered to him. Day in and day out, he sat at his place of business making more money. The problem was, his money wasn’t making him happier, it was making him miserable. If you don’t believe me then ask the people in his life. You could ask his clerk, Bob Cratchit. Working in the cold, he barely made enough for his family to survive. He not only feared Scrooge, but he pitied him. He knew Scrooge was miserable. You could ask his nephew, Fred. He was Scrooge’s sister’s only child. She died in childbirth. Annually, he went to his Uncle Ebenezer’s office to invite him to Christmas dinner. Every year Fred was turned down, but he always went back. He knew his uncle was miserable. You could ask those two nameless chaps who came to his office to collect for the poor. They were shocked by his treatment, but they knew the truth. Scrooge was miserable. Without the miraculous, Scrooge would have died miserable, but the miraculous came in the form of his deceased business partner, Jacob Marley.

You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Scrooge is locked safety in the security of his own home when the most unusual things begin to happen. It begins innocently enough. The doorknocker is transformed. The lion’s face turns in to Jacob’s face. The wind blows without warning. The clocks strike out of time. Scrooge locks his bedroom doors for extra security, but it doesn’t matter. Without an invitation, Marley enters the room. He is visiting Scrooge for one reason, transformation! He must change his ways or face a horrible fate. Scrooge is like many in our time; he doesn’t like change. He appeals to Marley’s practical side and reminds him of their days in business. He was a good businessman. They made a great deal money together. There is only one problem. Money-making was not their business. Scrooge was blind to what Marley knows. Marley says it clearly: MANKIND IS OUR BUSINESS! In other words, we are not just responsible for ourselves in this world, but we are responsible for others. We are responsible for the less fortunate. If you believe Christmas is just about getting gifts, then you have missed the point. Do you remember how Marley planned to transform Scrooge?

You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Jacob Marley arranges three visitors to visit Scrooge. The first is the ghost of Christmases past. The second is the ghost of Christmas present. The third is the ghost of Christmases yet to come or the future. That is the one Scrooge fears the most. How do you feel about your future? You can consider this message an overview of the next three weeks. I will unpack each one in the weeks to come. You know the story. Everybody knows the story. Jesus came for transformation too. Jesus came to transform you!

The first ghost that came to Scrooge was the Ghost of Christmas Past. You remember the story. His past is filled with some wonderful experiences and some not-so-great experiences. There was the Christmas that he spent partying with Fezziwig, and the Christmas he spent at the school alone. Scrooge’s past was filled with both the good and bad. Can anyone relate to that statement? Christmas memories are not all the same. How many wonderful Christmas memories do you hold near your heart? How many Christmas memories do you have that will make you cry? For many, Christmas isn’t merry.

In the past few years, the church has begun to recognize those who struggle during Christmas. We call it a Blue Christmas service. It is for those people who struggle with the blues during the month of December. They struggle with their broken dreams or disappointments. The passing of a loved one. The one true love who never came. The adult child who never achieved independence. The job that was lost. The money that was wasted. The health that failed. I have preached at those services, and I remind people of three things:

  1. Life is hard!
  2. Sometimes we need others!
  3. We always need God!

That is why we come to church. It is nice to see our friends, but what we really want is God. Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 28? The Master said, “I am with you always until the very end of time.” If you are thankful that God has always been with you, say, “Amen!” The first Ghost was the ghost of Christmas Past.

The second ghost that came to Scrooge was the Ghost of Christmas Present. You remember the story. Scrooge’s world was filled with poverty. The embodiment of that poverty was his clerk, Bob Cratchit. He was enslaved in Scrooge’s lifeless office for slave wages. Out of that small income, he was to provide for his family. Scrooge is so consumed with himself that he doesn’t know a single thing about Cratchit’s family.

It is the Ghost of Christmas Present who introduces him. The saddest member in the family is Bob’s crippled son, Tiny Tim. Once Scrooge meets him, everything begins to change. Charity is when you collect for strangers. Missions is when you get personally involved with human need. How would your perspective change about the poor if you knew one?

Matthew 25 is one of the great chapters in the Bible. You know it because we have visited it so many times. In that chapter we hear the parable of the sheep and the goats. The sheep and the goats are separated. The sheep go to heaven, but the goats go to hell. The distinction is simple. The sheep responded to human need, but the goats failed. Jesus said it clearly. When you did it for the least of these, you did it for me. That verse always troubles me. There is no shortage of human need in our world this Christmas. Jesus expects us to help them. What are you doing to help the needy this year? The first ghost was the Ghost of Christmas Past. The second ghost was the Ghost of Christmas Present.

The third and final ghost that came to Scrooge was the ghost of Christmases yet to come, or the Ghost of Christmas Future. You remember the story. Wearing that long black robe, the face of the ghost is never seen. The gender is never disclosed. The only thing that appears are those long boney fingers. They point to the home of the Cratchit family. There is a surplus of both love and hardship. In the future, Tiny Tim will pass. Those boney fingers point to a grave and Scrooge is faced with his own fate, his own death. As the ghost leaves, Scrooge is begging for one more chance. He will keep the spirit of Christmas in his heart 365 days a year! Scrooge did not want to die. I have never met a person who wanted to die. We all want to live for eternity. There is only one option for eternal life.

The Gospel of Luke was written for one reason. He wanted you to know the truth. He wanted you to know about the greatest life that ever lived. He wanted you to know that Jesus was the only son of God. He wanted you to know that Jesus was your only hope of salvation. It does not come out of the Gospel of Luke, but it comes out of the Gospel of John. However, Luke would agree. John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. That whoever believes in him my not perish but have eternal life.”

Everyone agrees!Charles Dickens was a literary genius. He was one the great talents in the history of British literature. He is remembered as a social critic, who created some of the world’s best known fictional characters. He is considered to the be the greatest novelist during the Victorian Era. His works include Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield, The Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and A Christmas Carol. There are more but I am limited by time. I remember reading some of them when I was in school. They were penned over one-hundred and fifty years ago and are considered classic. Charles Dickens was a literary genius, but he was not much of a theologian.

Dickens had Jacob Marley visit Ebenezer Scrooge for one reason, transformation! That is why the ghost of Christmases past came. That is why the ghost of Christmas present came. That is why the ghost of Christmas future came. This is the truth. It was a waste of time! All Scrooge needed was Jesus. Mankind was his business! When you have Jesus, you have peace with the past. When you have Jesus, you have purpose with the present. When you have Jesus, you have hope for the future. All Scrooge needed was Jesus and so do you.

What is Thanksgiving?

We find ourselves in the seventeenth chapter of Luke, verses eleven thru seventeen. According to the text, Jesus is traveling toward Jerusalem. Chronologically speaking, the end is near. This is chapter seventeen; Luke’s version of the Palm Sunday experience is recorded in chapter nineteen. The Master is traveling between the border of Samaria and Galilee. As he travels, he encounters various people.

In that list of people are the ten lepers. You may know their story. Leprosy was a highly contagious skin disease caused by a certain bacterium. The disease still exists in our world today. In the United States approximated 100 cases are reported annually. However, today it is treatable. In the days of Jesus, it was not. In Jesus’ day victims of leprosy were forced to live in isolation, away from family and friends, in leper colonies. This is the story of the ten men in the scripture lesson. They are living with leprosy without any hope of a cure. Then, they hear the news that gives them hope. Jesus is coming! They have heard of his healing power. They want to run to Jesus. However, they can’t. They are mandated by law to keep their distance. The best they can do is yell at Jesus as he passes. This is the good news. Jesus not only heard their desperate voices, but he heals them. As was required by law, Jesus instructs them to go to a priest for inspection. The priests had the authority to grant them permission to re-enter society. In the story ten men were healed but only one man returned to Jesus to say, “Thank-you!” One of the ten returned; the other nine just resumed their lives. That fact is disappointing, but it is not shocking. Ingratitude is still part of our world. William Arthur Ward once said, Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like unwrapping a present and not giving it.Never underestimate the power of gratitude!

There are many ways to express gratitude. I came up with a list of ten ways you can express gratitude. This list is not complete. You can express gratitude in other ways. However, you may have used one of these. You can:

          1. Write a thank-you note

          2. Buy a gift card

          3. Donate to a charity or a church

          4. Write a song or poem

          5. Donate food to a food bank

          6. Make and take a meal to a shut in

          7. Give a hug

          8. Do a random act of kindness

          9. Send flowers

          10. Pray for the person

How do you express gratitude? It really doesn’t matter how you express gratitude. The only things that matter is that you express gratitude. One of the nine ungrateful lepers could have written Jesus a poem, for example.

Thanksgiving is this Thursday! Our national theme for the next five days is gratitude. So, today I want to help you discover the true spirit of gratitude. I am going to do that by asking you the question, what is Thanksgiving? If you answer the question, what is Thanksgiving, by answering a meal, then you will be wrong. However, that does not mean the meal is not important. According to the National Retail Association, this year you can feed ten people a traditional Thanksgiving meal for $48.91. However, there is more to the day than a meal.  So, let us answer the question, what is Thanksgiving? What is Thanksgiving? It is a holiday.

Thanksgiving is a holiday. Did you know Thanksgiving did not become a national holiday until 1941? However, Americans have been observing a day of thanksgiving for generations. Historians tell us the first recorded thanksgiving took place in Jamestown, Virginia. The winter of 1610 was harsh at Jamestown. Many settlers died. The group that once totaled 409 had been reduced to 60. Tradition tells us the survivors prayed for help, without knowing when or how it might come. When help arrived, in the form of a ship filled with food and supplies from England, a prayer meeting was held to give thanks to God. There is no mention of a feast. Maybe that is why it is not the famous Thanksgiving?

The Thanksgiving we know happened in 1621. Do you remember the story? The Pilgrims left Southampton, England in 1620. They wanted religious freedom. There was trouble from the start. As they sailed around the south tip of the British Isles one of the ships, the Speedway, was ruled not seaworthy. The two ships stopped and some of the Pilgrims went home. However, some of the Speedway’s passengers boarded the second ship, the Mayflower. History tells us the trip took longer than the estimated 66 days. They had navigation problems Too. They wanted to go to Virginia, but they arrived in New England. It was November and the weather was growing harsh. There was no time to build permanent shelters, so they survived that first winter in North America in crude temporary housing. In time, disease came, and the death toll began to rise. Only 51 of the original 102 saw the spring. The dead were buried in unmarked graves so the local natives would not know how small their numbers had grown. When the spring came, they were forced to make a painful choice. The Mayflower was a rented ship and had to return to England. Would they stay in America or return to England? The decided to stay and their luck began to change. Friendly Native Americans helped them plant 30 acres of wheat and build permanent shelters. By the fall of 1621, their homes were built, and their crops were harvested. They decided to observe a day of thanksgiving to thank God for his blessings. The story doesn’t end there.

One hundred and sixty-two years after the Pilgrims, George Washington declared a Thanksgiving Day in 1783. The reason was simple. The Revolution was over.  Eighty years later, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November 1863, as “a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father.” Each year afterward, for 75 years, the President formally proclaimed that Thanksgiving Day should be celebrated on the last Thursday of November. But in 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt set it one week earlier. He wanted to help the struggling economy by lengthening the shopping season. In 1941, Congress declared the fourth Thursday of November a national holiday, Thanksgiving! What is Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a holiday! What is Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a holiday, but it is also an opportunity.

Thanksgiving is an opportunity. Go back to the scripture lesson. The one who came back to thank Jesus seized the opportunity. The other nine missed their opportunity. They may have returned later to thank Jesus, but he was gone. They missed their opportunity. On Thanksgiving Day, you will be surrounded by the most important people in your life. Don’t be a coward; be brave! Tell them how you really feel. Thanksgiving is an opportunity.

Do you remember the story of the rich young ruler? Matthew, Mark, and Luke have their own versions of the same story. If you put them together then you get the complete picture. He had it all! He was rich so he could buy what he wanted. He was young so he had his health and a future. He was a ruler, so he had influence. He had everything but he didn’t have the most important thing, salvation. So, he asked the Master, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him if he had kept all the commandments that have to do with relationships. Had he ever murdered, committed adultery, stolen, or offered false witness? Did he honor his parents? Did he love his neighbors? He kept those commandments. Then, Jesus commands him to do something he could not do. Jesus requested he sell his possessions and give the money to the poor. Why does Jesus’s request such a thing? He wants to discover the man’s priorities.

How you spend your money reveals your priorities. The man left feeling bad for two reasons. First, he had to admit God wasn’t his top priority. Second, he felt like he missed his one opportunity at salvation.

I hope you don’t miss your opportunity! On Thanksgiving seize the opportunity to tell the people in your life how you really feel. Tell the oldest people in your life you love them. Tell the youngest people in your life you are proud of them. Tell that difficult person in your life you are sorry. Build a relationship with them one more time. Seize the opportunity that Thanksgiving presents. Thanksgiving is an opportunity.What is Thanksgiving? Thanksgiving is a holiday and an opportunity, but it is also an attitude.

Thanksgiving is an attitude. The man in the story returned to Jesus in a spirit of gratitude. Verse 16 says he threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He demonstrated his appreciation. His attitude toward Jesus completes the story. Your attitude can make or broke any situation. Do you have anyone in your life who can ruin any happy gathering with a bad attitude?

Many of you remember my father-in-law, Vern. We had a good relationship. So, I feel comfortable saying this. He would admit, he had a bad attitude. He was a salty old guy, critical and negative. He could ruin any happy family gathering. During the last several years of his life, he lived at Copeland Oaks with my mother-in-law. It is a wonderful place, but Vern was always so negative. I regularly made those trips to visit them. Every visit was the same. Vern complained about everything; only the topic changed.

One day he started on Copeland Oaks. He complained about the noise in the hallways because everyone was deaf. Everyone had to yell. He complained about the food. Everything was tasteless and the deserts were too small. He complained about the gardening program. The residents were like slave labor. The residents grew the vegetables, but Copeland Oaks used the vegetables for their own purposes. He complained about the building. It was falling apart. The elevator broke the other day and group of old goats were trapped. They were trapped with one of the smelly ugly kitchen ladies wearing a hair net. That was Vern’s normal routine. He could ruin any happy experience with his bad attitude. Annually, he tried to ruin Thanksgiving. However, that day was different. I really listened to him and began to wonder about Copeland Oaks. I have parishioner who live at Copeland Oaks; I have referred people to Copeland Oaks.

I decided to check Vern’s story out by visiting a family friend, who also lived at Copeland Oaks. I had known Earl for years; he worked with my father. When I got to his apartment, he greeted me with a big smile. He gave me a hug. I asked him, “How is life at Copeland Oaks?” He said, “It is great! I only regret not moving here sooner.” I said, “Do you find the hallways noisy?” He said, “No! I love to hear people laughing and enjoying themselves.” I asked, “How is the food?” He said, “Look at me; I am getting fat!” I said, “I hear some of the residents have a garden.” He said, “I am a gardener. It is great! We sell the crops and give the money to various missions.” He began to pick up steam and started to tell me all the wonderful things about Copeland Oaks. I looked at my watch. It was growing late, and I had to get back. I said, “Earl, it was great to see you, but I have to go. He said, “Russ, let me tell you one more thing. The other day I was in the elevator with some of the guys. It stopped between floors. We were squeezed into the elevator with one of young ladies, who work in the kitchen. She is quite a looker! Her name is Debbie. She was pressed up against me!” He said, “Russ, I haven’t been that close to a young hot woman in long time. It was great! I think my heart went out of rhyme. The only problem is they fixed the elevator too fast. I could have stood there with Debbie pressed up against me for a lot longer! I like the name Debbie!”

How can it be that two people can have the same experience and experience two different things? The answer is one word, attitude! Are you going to ruin your Thanksgiving with a bad attitude? Are you going to ruin someone else’s Thanksgiving with your bad attitude? This is a better question. Do the people in your life find you exhilarating or exhausting?

What Is Money?

We find ourselves today in the twenty-first chapter of Luke, Luke 21:1-14. It is important that you know it is late in Jesus’s earthly ministry. By this chapter, Jesus has already entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday and cleansed the temple. The only things that remain are the events of Thursday and Friday of Holy Week. In other words, Jesus’s time is running out. Every word counts and not even one can be wasted. Of all things Jesus could have mentioned, he mentions money.

The Master is standing near the temple, as people gave their offering. Prior to the pandemic, we passed the plate to collect the offering. Now, the plate sits silently in the back. One thing has not changed. The envelopes are placed in the plate to hide the amount given. In Jesus’s day, the offering was more public. There were thirteen large coned shaped boxes to give your donation. It is assumed the rich gave the largest amounts. That assumption is often wrong. Sometimes the rich are rich because they spend or give reluctantly. Through human eyes, the biggest givers are the most generous. Through the eyes of God, the biggest givers, give it all. There is a world of difference between the two. That is the case of the women in the text. Through human eyes, she gave next to nothing, two copper coins. Those two coins will not pay any bills. However, through the eyes of God, she gave the most, because she sacrificed it all. In verse four, Jesus said she gave all she had. No one can question her devotion. That line fills me with shame. How does this nameless woman make you feel? I always save some for me.

There is no topic in the church today more sensitive than money. It is true of both the unchurched and the churched. Regularly, I read articles about why people do not go to church. They are all different, but they are all the same. AmericanPreachers.com has a list of why people do not go to church. It is typical. According to them, people do not go to church because:

  1. Church is negative
  2. Church is boring
  3. Church is exclusive
  4. Church is homophobic
  5. Church is organized religion
  6. Church is limiting
  7. Church is time consuming
  8. Churches are always asking for money

The unchurched do not want to hear about money! However, the churched, the people who do come to church, do not want to hear about money either. Experience has taught me why. Regular attenders do not want to hear about money because they like their church being poor. It is an excellent excuse for doing nothing. I know that sounds harsh, but it is true. Try to start a new ministry to help someone in need and everyone cries poor. There are countless questions. Try to raise money to buy something for ourselves, and the money suddenly appears. We care about the needy in our world, but not that much. Money is such a sensitive topic! Can I be honest with you?

As a pastor, I like talking about money within the life of the church. I do not really care about what the unchurched say. They will just find another excuse not to come. I do not really care what regular attenders say about money. I am not an activities director of a senior citizen’s center, where everyone must be happy. God has called me into the ministry, and I only care about what Jesus said. If Jesus talked about money, then I should talk about money. So, with that in mind, let us answer the question of the day, what is money?

Years ago, I found myself in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. I have heard about it for years, but it was my first visit. It is located about fifty miles south of Tulsa and is the headquarters of the Creek Indian Nation. It was my mother-in-law’s hometown as a child and where she wanted to be buried. We did that sad job on that visit. We took that opportunity to explore the town. We drove by the empty lot where the family home once stood. We drove by the park where the grandchildren once played. We walked around the town green and reminisced at the church. Everyone had a story. Some stories made us laugh and others made us cry. The saddest story was about the death of my mother-in-law’s father. He died in his early forties of pneumonia. The family thrived until that day. After his death, the family struggled financially. He was not a husband or a father; he was the bread winner. Someone said, his wife, my mother-in-law’s mother, never smiled again. She died in a sea of depression. What is money?

Money is important! Do not tell me money does not matter. Money does matter! Just try to live without money and see how your life changes. In homes where there is a lack of money or in homes where the money is mismanaged, everything is a struggle, and everyone is unhappy. Guess what? The same thing is true at church. Where there is a lack of money everyone is unhappy. Let me ask you this difficult question. If everyone gave the same amount as you, would this ministry expand or contract? What is money? Money is important, but money is limited.

What do these people have in common?

          Michael Jackson

          Kim Basinger

          Mike Tyson

          Nicolas Cage

          MC Hammer

          Toni Braxton

          Ulysses Grant

          Willie Nelson

          Larry King

          Thomas Jefferson

The answer is each one of these successful people struggled handling their money. Each one of them either died broke or were forced to declare bankruptcy at some point in their life. This is the point. It does not matter how much money you make in your life money is limited. If you don’t believe me then ask Mike Tyson. He made $400 million and declared bankruptcy. If you do not believe me then look at Michael Jackson. He was $400 million in debt at the time of his death.

I talk to young people about their futures. Everyone tells me how much money they will make. The real questions are, how much money are you going to spend? How much money are you going to save? How much money are you going to give away? It is important to manage your money wisely. You are only going to make so much money in your lifetime. Do you think your money is going to last your entire life? After all, money is limited! What is money? Money is important and limited, so money is revealing.

Recently, William Shatner (born 1931) became to oldest person to fly into space. He is ninety years old. If you have the opportunity, would you like to fly into space? According to the Pew Research Group, 42% of Americans say they would be interested in traveling into space. The world of commercial space travel is heating up and it is expensive. Jeff Bezos (born 1964) won a raffle and got a seat on the Blue Origin. He paid $28 million. Virgin Galactic said their seats into space start at $450,000. So let me ask you the question again. If you have the opportunity, would you like to fly into space? How important is space travel to you? We are all agree money is important and money is limited. It is equally true. Money is revealing. We only spend our money on things that are important to us. So, what is important to us?

According to the Washington Examiner, American spend annually:

$93 Billion on beer

$77 Billion on the lottery

$12 Billion on Pornography

$6.7 Billion on Taco Bell

$6.7 Billion on Snacks

$5.6 Billion on College Sports Merchandise

What are you going to spend your money on? Don’t forget money is important. It effects every corner of your life. Money is also limited. You are only to make a certain amount. That forces us to admit that money is revealing. We only spend money on things that are important to you. How important is Jesus to you? How important is this church to you? Andy Stanley (born 1958) once said, “Greed is not a financial issue. It’s heart issue.”

When I was in seminary, I was more than a poor seminary student. I was a destitute seminary student. Through my years in Kentucky, I had all kinds of jobs. For a while, I cleaned office buildings late at night. For a while, I worked at the local newspaper. For a while, I worked maintenance at the school. Through all those years, I served as the pastor of the Pleasant Grove Christian Church in Lancaster, Kentucky. The church was dominated by one family, the Sharps. They hired me to work on their tobacco farm.

The farm was owned by the father, Allen. The farm was run by his three sons, Horace, Fred and Lee. I know more about burley tobacco than anyone else here today. I have seeded tobacco beds, pulled tobacco plants, set tobacco plants, sprayed tobacco plants, cut tobacco plants, hung tobacco plants and stripped tobacco plants. Several times, I went to market to sell the tobacco. It was hard work. Prior to the Civil War, slaves did that work. In my time, poor destitute seminary students were hired to do the work. I learned a great deal about burley tobacco, but one thing still amazes me. All the money that it took to raise the tobacco for the next crop was borrowed. They hoped to pay it back once the crop was sold. On the Sharp farm, all that borrowed money was held in checking account with a green checkbook cover.

I worked hard but I was still destitute. One semester, I could not pay my bill. I think I still owed $300 from the past semester. If I did not pay it off, I could not register for the next semester. My personal life was complex at that time. I did not tell my family. I could not call anyone within the United Methodist Church because they had not accepted me yet. (They still do not want me.) There was no one, I was alone. To this day, I still do not know how the Sharps found out, I never said a word. One day after church, Horace stayed behind. I was locking the door of that ancient church, when Horace said, “We want to give you something, boy.” He pulled out that green checkbook and pulled out a check. He handed it to me and said, “Here.” It was made out to me for the exact amount I owed. I said, “I can’t take this, it is borrowed money.” He smiled and said, “Shut up you stupid Yankee. Take it, study hard and make us proud.” That check saved by future.

Do not tell me money is not important. Do not tell me money is not revealing. Do not tell me money does not talk. That check told me the Sharp’s believed in me and it gave me the courage to face another day. If this church has deemed anything positive from me, it is because of them. How you manage your money says a great deal about you. Andy Stanley was not wrong. He said, “Greed is not a financial issue. It’s a heart issue.”

A Great Multitude

Today, we find ourselves in the seventh chapter of Revelation, Revelation 7:9-17. There is nothing easy about these words. They are filled with Old Testament symbolism. John did his best to describe what he experienced in the vision, but the English language is unable to hold the full meaning of the experience. The best we can do is use our sanctified imagination. To fully understand the vision, you must go back to the beginning of the vision in chapter four. It all begins with John standing in front of an opened door. He is invited in to experience the glory of God. According to the text, God is seated on a throne surrounded by various beings. Some of them we understand, like angels. Some of the beings we do not understand. In chapter seven, we are told that 144,000 people are surrounding the throne. They are the various representatives of the tribes of Israel.

Surrounding the 144,000 is a greater group. Their number is so large that they cannot be counted. They come from every nation in the world and speak every tongue. Yet, despite their differences, they have one thing in common. Each one is wearing a white robe. It is white because it has been washed in the blood of the lamb, Jesus. That fact should not be surprising. As I have told you in the past, Jesus is our only hope of salvation. The scriptures do not say it, but it must be true. Every day, the great multitude grows larger because each day people leave this world. Today, we remember twenty-two in the great multitude. Someday, you and I are going to be in that multitude. I hope being in a crowd does not bother you!

One night, I stayed up late working on this message. I kept thinking about the great multitude. At first, I found it to be emotional. I know people who are in that great multitude now. My parents, Ron and Ruth Adams, are in that great multitude. My sister Janet is in the great multitude. My grandparents, Roger and Orbie Adams, are in that great multitude. My good friend, Jim Humphrey, is in that great multitude. People from this church, who I really enjoyed, are in that great multitude. How many people do you know are in the great multitude? As I thought about the people I know, I began to grieve again. Then, it all changed. In many ways those people are still with us. Their memories are altering the way I live and perceive today. The pagans believe that as long as their memory remains in this world, they remain in this world. Today, I want to talk about their influence.

Several years ago, I watched a documentary on Russian prisons. They interviewed a Russian prisoner, who had been sentenced for selling drugs. They walked through a normal day with him. We saw the food he ate. We saw where he slept. We saw his normal routine. Every day was identical. However, that day was different. It was visitor’s day. They only had visitors one day once every two months. He was excited because his father was coming to visit him. Through an English translator, he said the worst thing about being in a Russian prison was the loneliness. He didn’t trust any of the other prisoners, so he did not have any friends. He was alone and afraid. He said, “If I had one friend in here my experience would be completely different.” How would your life change if you had to live in complete isolation? The fear of loneliness is alive and well in our world.

That is why the great multitude is so important. They remind us that we are never alone. When we get to heaven, the people we have loved in this world will be waiting for us. The faith was never meant to be lived out in isolation. It was meant to be lived out in community. The church is filled with people who are running the race with you. In the perfect church we are all striving to be a little more like Jesus every day. On All Saints Day, we are reminded of the saints who have completed the race. The very presence of both the living and the saints comforts us as we run the race of life. 

Second, the great multitude reminds us of what is important. What are the most important things in your life? Who are the most important people in your life? How important is your church? How important is your relationship with Jesus Christ? You will be able to answer that question in a few weeks when you fill out your estimate of giving card toward next year’s budget.

You may remember this story from the past. It was Super Bowl Sunday, and the stadium was packed except for one seat. Surprised to see an empty seat, a diehard fan remarked about it to a woman sitting next to it. “It was my husband’s,” the woman explained, “But he died.” “I’m very sorry,” said the man. “Yet I’m really surprised that another relative, or friend, didn’t jump at the chance to take the seat reserved for him.” “Beats me,” she said. “They all insisted on going to his funeral.” It is a question of priority.

What are the most important things in your life? Who are the most important people in your life? How important is your church? How important is your relationship with Jesus Christ? I have said it a million times. The only things that really matter are those things that will matter in one hundred years. What matters in one hundred years? The answer is Jesus! The great multitude reminds us of what is important. They are wearing white robes because of Jesus.

Third and finally, the great multitude challenges us to finish the race of life. Let me ask you two questions. First, do you know any church drop-outs? They believe they can forge a relationship with Jesus on their own. Good luck! Once again, the faith was designed to be lived out in community. The second question is harder. Do you know of anyone who has resigned from the faith? Where does one go from church? Where does one go who has walked away from the faith? You know the answer. They go nowhere.

In 1968, the Olympics were held in Mexico City. One of the featured events in any Olympics is the marathon. The winner of that year’s marathon was an Ethiopian, Mamo Waldi. The crowd cheered as he crossed the finish line. An hour later, the last marathon runner crossed the finish line. He wore the colors of his nation, Tanzania. His name was John Steven Aquari. He limped to the finish line and was assisted to a first aid station. His leg was bleeding and bandaged. He had taken a bad fall early in the race. Now, it was all he could do to limp his way around the track. The crowd stood and applauded as he completed that last lap. When he finally crossed the finish line, one man dared ask the question all were wondering. “You are badly injured. Why didn’t you quit? Why didn’t you give up?” Aquari, with quiet dignity said, “My country did not send me seven thousand miles to start this race. My country sent me to finish.”

It isn’t just true of marathon runners; it is true of us! Has anyone here ever fallen in the marathon of life? How many times have you fallen? Perhaps, you fell when your marriage failed? Perhaps, you fell when you lost your job? Perhaps, you fell when your medical tests revealed the unthinkable? Perhaps, you fell when your children messed up or your parents gave up? Perhaps, you fell when a loved one died? Do I have to go on? When was the last time you fell? At that moment in your life, did you get up or did you stay down? The great multitude won’t let you quit. They are saying, “Get up!”

It is not how you start the race that matters. The only thing that matters is, how you finish!

This is All Saints Day. May we praise God, we are not alone. We are surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses! May they never be forgotten because they comfort. We are not alone. They remind us of what is important. They challenge us to finish the race.

I love this story. An anonymous writer tells us about an American tourist’s visit to the 19th century Polish rabbi, Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933). He was astonished to see that the rabbi’s home was only a simple room. In that room were a table and bench, along with a variety of books. Perplexed, the tourist asked, “Rabbi, where are all your possessions? “Where are yours?” replied the rabbi. “Mine?” asked the puzzled American. “But I’m a visitor here. I’m only passing through.” “So am I,” replied the rabbi. Never forget, we are only visitors in this earth. Someday, we are all going to die and go home. Who are you missing on this All Saints Day?

Leading with Love

Several weeks ago, I was called by a local funeral home to officiate at a service for someone who was unchurch. I do those services not just for the money. I have met many people through the years in their time of need. Many consider me their pastor, but they have never entered this church building. It is not that the unchurched do not believe. It is that they do not believe in the institutional church. They believe there is a lack of love and a surplus of arrogance within the church. In other words, they do not want to be judged by church members. (That is a dangerous game because the faith was never meant to be lived out in isolation.) That was the story of this couple.

When I got the call, I was told the deceased was fifty-eight years old. That fact alone grabbed my attention. That is too young to die in our modern world. However, there was more to her story, then her age. When I got to the funeral home, I talked to the deceased’s sister. I had met her in the past at a similar occasion. She gave me a hug and told me the story. Her sister was fifty-eight years old. Her husband was eighty. There was a twenty-two-year age gap. I tried not to act surprised, but the sister said, “She had to marry an older more patient man because she was bipolar.” Her sister’s first husband walked out because he could not handle the instability. She said her eighty-year-old brother-in-law was good to her sister. He was patient and kind. He made sure she took all her medications. He made sure she made all her doctor’s appointments. He offered her a stable home and, most important, he made her happy. She was the happiest when it was just the two of them. I processed that information for several hours.

About fifteen minutes before the service, the deceased’s husband came up to me. He wanted a few minutes. We went off to a side room and he told me about his wife. She liked a good garage sale. She liked to play keno. She loved family activities and she made up excuses to get everyone together. Then, he reached deep into his heart and pulled out those painful words, “I am an alcoholic.” However, he had not had a drink in twenty years. She was the one who got him to stop drinking. She was the one who got him to go to meetings. She was the one who made him accountable and gave him respectability. He stopped drinking to help her. I processed that information for the next few minutes. Can I be honest with you? I am still processing the information.

I thought about how critical everyone must have been when they got together. There was a surplus of issues. There was the age issue. There was the mental health issue. There was the drinking issue. There was an abundance of issues, but they loved each other. Their marriage enhanced and improved both of their lives. They led with love. It is the story of Ruth. Two broken people trying to survive in this harsh world, desperate for love. Can I ask you a question? How broken are you? Occasionally our lives break, and we desperately need love. That takes us to this morning’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves today in the Old Testament Book of Ruth. (Ruth 1:6-18) Tradition tells us Ruth was written by Samuel. However, that authorship has been questioned. It is named after the main character. Ruth and Esther are the only two books in the Bible named after women. The events of Ruth occurred during the time of the judges, between 1000-1400 BC. That period is not remembered in a positive light. It was a time of both moral and spiritual decline, as well has national disunity. However, it was a time of political peace between Israel and Moab. Ruth reminds us of the power of love. That is what we find in our scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves today in the first chapter of Ruth. In the opening verses of that chapter, we find the old familiar theme, life is hard. A famine had come to the land, and many were forced to relocate to survive. One of those individuals leaving was a man named Elimelek. His name means “My God is King.” He is married to a woman named Naomi. They had two sons. The family relocated from Bethlehem in Canaan to Moab to survive. In time, their two sons grew up and married two Moabite women. (You know what they say about Moabite women!) Their wives’ names are Opah and Ruth. The future looks bright until the unthinkable happens. Elimelek and his two sons die. Unable to own property in their society, the three widows are forced to find a way to survive. There is no other way to say it. Life is hard.

If you use your sanctified imagination, you can see the three widows standing there. Each one had to decide for themself. The famine had eased, so Naomi had decided to return home. Her decision made logical sense. I have never met a person who did not want to go home when life was hard. Her home was Bethlehem. The problem is her young daughters-in-laws. Their home was Moab. The hardship of each death had forged a bond between the three, but time always moves forward. The women are crying, because they are desperate, and their futures were uncertain. The women are crying because the women will never be together again. The mother-in-law looks at her daughters-in-laws and encourages them to stay in Moab. It is their home, and they are still young. There is still time to start over and find a new husband. That is not Naomi’s story. She sees herself as old, unattractive, and barren. I do not want to sound critical of Opah, but she decides to stay in Moab. It was the logical thing to do, and no one has ever criticized her. However, her departure only emphasizes Ruth’s loyalty. Verse sixteen is one for the ages. Ruth says to mother-in-law, Naomi, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  It is an incredible piece of scripture. She stayed not just because she was loyal or faithful. She decided to stay because she loved her mother-in-law. She was led by love. Never underestimate the power of love. It is safe to say Ruth made the right choice because she would become the great-grandmother of King David and an ancestor of Jesus. You do not need to be a Biblical scholar to know the truth.

Love is one of the great themes in the Bible. We should not be surprised because First John 4:8 says, “God is love.” Jesus, the incarnation of God, said love is the most important commandment. Jesus said, we are to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. (Mark 12:30) Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” (Mark 12:31) Jesus said, love is the trademark of the Christian faith. (John 13:34b-35) Jesus said, love is full of mercy. (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus said, love is absolute perfection. (John 15:9-17) Jesus said, we must love our enemies. (Matthew 5:43-48) Jesus said, love unites us with God. (John 14:15-21) The Apostle Paul (5-67) in First Corinthians 13:8 says, “love never fails.” Love is not just found in the story of Ruth. It is one of the great themes in the Bible. However, it is not just found in the Bible.

Psychologists tells us love plays a major role in our society. Here are their reasons they say love is important:

  1. Love connects us to other people
  2. Love helps us understand ourselves
  3. Love motivates us
  4. Love reforms us
  5. Love is the greatest feeling
  6. Love offers us hope for the future

Love is important! Please do not misunderstand me. Love is not just accepting the person as they are. Love wants what is best for someone else in the long run. True love is honest and brave. Sometimes you must tell a loved one they are foolish or wrong. Have you ever been honest with a loved one?

During the 17th century Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658) was an English general and statesmen. He once sentenced a soldier to be shot for his crimes. The execution was to take place at the ringing of the evening curfew bell. However, the bell did not sound. The soldier’s fiancé had climbed into the belfry and clung to the great clapper of the bell to prevent it from striking. When she was summoned by Cromwell to account for her actions, she wept as she showed him her bruised and bleeding hands. Cromwell’s heart was touched, and he said, “Your lover shall live because of your sacrifice. Curfew shall not ring tonight!” It is not just true of ancient lovers. It is our story as well. Love has saved our lives. Take an inventory of your life to this point. Who helped you more? The person who loved and sacrificed for you or the person who criticized and reprimanded you? The answer is obvious.

Her name was Norma Marcum. Through the years, I have told you about her. She was a parishioner of mine in Kentucky, yet she was more. She led with love. I never question her love for me. She was important to me when I felt alone. I remember the day she saved my life. I was driving home from school overwhelmed by life. I was in debt. I was behind in my studies. There was only sickness at home. I was tired and hungry and felt completely defeated. I drove to Mrs. Marcum’s house to tell her I had decided to quit school. When I walked in her back door, she knew something was wrong. She listened to my tale of woo as she smoked another cigarette. (In Kentucky, at that time, you were required to consume tobacco in some form. They consider tobacco consumption a sign of a real American. It was their cash crop.) When I had finished talking, she simply shook her head and took another hit on her cigarette. She got up, made me a sandwich, and poured me a cup of coffee. She sat across the table from me and looked in my eyes. She stretched out her hands and held mine. She said, “I do not know how to help you, but listen to what I am about to say. Russ, someday you are going to be a great man. Go home and get some sleep. Tomorrow, get up and try again.” Then, she smiled and gave me a hug. I did as she requested. I do not tell you that story because I think I am a great man, you know better. I tell you that story to say Mrs. Marcus saved my life because she loved me. Love is powerful! Can I ask you two questions? How many times has loved saved you?

How many times have come to church broken? The Christian faith is all about love. We love because God loved us first. Jesus led with love, and we benefitted. We do not just come to church to see friends. We come to church to be reminded of God’s great love for us. Do you remember what David said in the thirty-sixth Psalm? “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God!” Never forget! God loves you!

You Decide

We find ourselves in the twenty-fourth chapter of Joshua. (Joshua 24:14-18) The people are entering the Promised land. Their emotions must have been running high. Everyone wanted to see the promise fulfilled, but Joshua saw the significance of the moment. For him it was not just the fulfillment of a promise, it was an opportunity establish something new. It was an opportunity to establish something better. It was an opportunity to do something great in the eyes of God, so he challenges the people to consider what they are about to do. Standing on top of a rock or camel, he challenges them. No one is excluded from the challenge. Each one had to decide for themselves. Where they going to be like every other nation or were they going to be unique. Where they going to be a nation preoccupied with their own wants and desires or were they going to be a nation who was preoccupied by God, Himself. It is interesting he does not pass a new national law. It all distilled down to an individual choice. It is the same choice we are still making today. Are you going to follow the ways of this world or are you going to follow the ways of God?

Former first ladyEleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) once said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words. It is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” Did you know the average person will make 27 decisions a day? That means the average person will make 773,618 decisions in their lifetime, regretting 143,262 of them. Making decisions in your life is not a requirement it is an expectation.

Former president Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) once had an aunt who took him to a cobbler for a pair of new shoes when he was a boy. The cobbler asked young Reagan, “Do you want square toes or round toes?” Unable to decide, Reagan did not answer, so the cobbler gave him a few days. Several days later the cobbler saw Reagan on the street and asked him again what kind of toes he wanted on his shoes. Reagan still couldn’t decide, so the shoemaker replied, “Well, come by in a couple of days. Your shoes will be ready.” When the future president did so, he found one square-toed shoe and one round-toed shoe! “This will teach you to never let people make decisions for you,” the cobbler said to his indecisive customer. “I learned right then and there,” Reagan said later, “if you do not make your own decisions, someone else will.” So, this the question you must answer. Are you going to follow the ways of this world or are you going to follow the ways of God?

People who study such things say there four different kinds of decisions makers. Your personality will influence how you look at each decision. Within each decision there is a tension between ambiguity and structure and the technical and social. What kind of decision maker are you? Are you a:

          Analytical Decisions Maker     They enjoy solving problems. They are committed to finding the best answer and thrive on control. Time is not an issue. They will take as much time as possible to find the best option. Do you know of any analytical decision makers? I do. Are you an analytical decision maker?

          Conceptual Decision Maker They enjoy the creative. They enjoy creating new ideas. They love the question “what if?” They think about the future, and they consider how it will affect others. Do you know of any conceptual decision makers? I do. Are you a conceptual decision maker?

Directive Decision Maker They are driven by results. They have an aggressive nature and make decision independently. They are strong verbal communicators who make decisions quickly. Do you know of any directive decision makers? I do. Are you a directive decision maker?

          Behavioral Decision Maker Theyare great team players, but they can be persuaded. They are good communicators, and they look to others for advice. Do you know of any behavioral decision makers? I do. Are you a behavioral decision maker?

It is important to note that no one is 100% of any of those categories. It is equally important to note no one is void of any of those categories. We are a combination of the four and the combination will change depending on the decision we are making.That takes us back to the scripture lesson.

The people are about to enter the Promised land. They are in a hurry because they have been waiting for this day their entire lives. However, Joshua stops the parade and challenges the people. He tells them they must decide for themselves. Verse 15 quotes Joshua. He says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 

The analytical decision makers had to decide. The conceptual decision makers had to decide. The directive decision makers had to decide. The behavioral decision maker had to decide. Generations later you must decide. Let us be honest, the correct answer is implied, because there is only one correct answer. Joshua was an Old Testament character, so he answered in an Old Testament way. He must serve the Lord! His understanding of the Lord was Yehweh, the one true God. We are New Testament people so we must answer in a New Testament way. Our understanding of the Lord is Jesus. We must serve Jesus. Without Jesus, we have nothing at all.

Gregory the Theologian (329-390) was the Archbishop of Constantinople in the fourth century. He understood the significance of Jesus. He wrote these words for the ages:

He began His ministry by being hungry, yet He is the Bread of Life.

Jesus ended His earthly ministry by being thirsty, yet He is the Living Water.

Jesus was weary, yet He is our rest. Jesus paid tribute, yet He is the King.

Jesus was accused of having a demon, yet He cast out demons.

Jesus wept, yet He wipes away our tears.

Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver, yet He redeemed the world.

Jesus was brought as a lamb to the slaughter, yet He is the Good Shepherd.

Jesus died, yet by His death He destroyed the power of death.

We must serve the Lord because without Jesus we have nothing at all. You must decide. Who are you going to serve?

Several weeks ago, Kathryn, my sister, Susan, and I drove to Long Island for my Uncle Gary’s memorial service. He died sixteen months ago, but due to the pandemic, his memorial service was delayed. He was buried at the Calverton National Cemetery in Calverton, New York. He had quite a life. He lived to be nearly one-hundred years old. As a nineteen-year-old, he fought in the later stages of the Battle of the Bulge and remained in Europe until the conclusion of World War II. He was successful professionally and he was successful personally. He was fortunate because he married the love of his life, my Aunt Elaine. They met as teenagers and were married sixty-eight years.

They had four daughters, in birth order, Elaine, Alice, Nancy, and Roberta. That means they are my cousins. Each one is more annoying in their own way. The eldest is Elaine, who is married to Chuck, who is also annoying. He may be the most annoying. They live in Maryland which is a good thing because a rarely travel to the “Old Line State.” The next is Alice. She cared for her parents in their old age and sacrificed her happiness for them. The truth is she is not annoying at all. She has a good heart and I like her. The youngest is Roberta. She is married to Craig. They live in Maryland too. She is eleven years younger than her oldest sister. I wish, I knew her better.

The one closest to me in age is Nancy. She wins the prize for be the most annoying. She married her high school sweetheart, Hal. Personally, I like him, but when he appeared on the scene decades ago, he caused quite a stir. The problem was not him. The problem was his religion. Hal is Jewish and my cousins were raised Christian. They were active members of their local United Methodist Church. I remember attending Nancy and Hal’s wedding on the shores of the Hudson River. I do not remember any strong religious theme. It was more secular. My aunt and uncle never made a big deal out of their religious differences. They just wanted their daughter to be happy. However, it did become an issue, several years later when Nancy and Hal announced they were having a baby. Everyone on the bride’s side wanted the baby to be raised a Christian. Everyone on the groom’s side wanted the baby to be raised Jewish. Hal and Nancy thought they were disarming the situation when they announced the baby would be raised neither Christian nor Jewish. The baby, a beautiful little girl named Rachel, would decide for herself.  What do you think she decided? Would she be a Christian or would she do a Jewish? However, that is not the question you must answer. This is your question. Are you going to serve the ways of this world or are you going to serve the ways of God?

Do you remember the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt? She said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words. It is expressed in the choices one makes. In the long run, we shape our lives, and we shape ourselves. The process never ends until we die. And the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” The question you must answer is, what are you going to decide? It is the same question Joshua asked those ancient Hebrews centuries ago. Are you going to follow the ways of this world or are you going to follow the ways of God? There is only one correct answer. You must choose to follow Jesus. Without Jesus, we have nothing at all.

Stop Complaining!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God’s Top Ten

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everything Changes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Abram?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From: Jordan Management Consultants

Dear Sir:

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

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

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

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

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

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely,

Jordan Management Consultants

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

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

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

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

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

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