Just Stop!

We find ourselves today in the thirteenth chapter of Job. Much has already happened. When our story began, Job had a good life. He was rich in resources and relationships. He feared God and shunned evil. He is the greatest man in the East. Even God is impressed with him. That is when everything seemed to go wrong. God may have been impressed with Job but not the Dark One. He is convinced his pious ways would pass once hardship entered his life. Sad but true, God grants Satan permission to test Job. The tests are not easy, they are hard. Over a short period of time, he loses everything. Job’s money is gone. His oxen, donkeys and lambs are taken by foreign raiders, who killed most of the servants. His relationships are gone. All ten of his children, seven sons and three daughters, are gone in an instant by a mighty wind from the wilderness, while partying at the eldest son’s home. Even his good looks are gone. He is covered with painful boils from head to toe. He loses everything, except for his charming wife. She adds nothing to his life. Too bad the raiders didn’t take her too. Thank goodness for his friends.

When we last left Job and his friends, they were sitting on the ground, not a single word was uttered. It is Job who broke the silence. They are not words of hope and praise. They are dark words. Chapter three begins by Job cursing the day is was born. His words are as close has he will get to curing God, but Job never curses God. However, Job’s words give his friends a license to speak themselves and speak they do. It takes nine chapters to contain all the words that Job’s friends spoke. In one form or another, Job’s friends deliver a single message. They believed Job’s suffering in this world is his own fault. It was a common belief in their time. Many believed, human suffering was a product of personal sin. The more you sin, the more suffering you must endure. That line of thought did not die with that generation. It was even found in Jesus’ time. Do you remember the story of the man born blind? The disciples asked Jesus, who sinned? Was it the blind man or his parents? Personal sin is one answer to suffering. You can make a case for it in our time. There is a surplus of human suffering, because there is a surplus of sin. There is a problem with this line of thinking. It is wrong. In other words, Job’s friends gave him some bad advice and Job recognizes it. In our scripture reading for today, Job tells them to stop. It is not a matter of what Job’s friends knew. It was a matter of who Job’s friends didn’t know. They didn’t know God and they didn’t know God’s ways. Can I ask you a question? Have you ever been given some bad advice?

One of the best people in the world is my sister, Susan. In a few days, she is scheduled for knee surgery. I was talking to her the other night. The topic of her knee came up. She started by saying, “If you have any horror stories about knee surgeries, I don’t want to hear it.” I didn’t. This is an amazing time to be alive. I am confident everything will go well, and she will be able to resume her tennis career. She warned me not to start the bad news stories because she has been overwhelmed with people’s bad advice. People have told her the doctor is a quack. People have told her hospital is filled with germs. People have told her about every possible mishap that can happen. She has decided not to tell anyone anymore about her knee surgery because she has had enough unhelpful advice. She is not the only one. That happens to everyone, who has a problem or a crisis. It is one of the things which made a personal problem or crisis harder.

I am not just talking about medical issues. I am talking about life. Any kind of change in your life welcomes unsolicited advice givers. You know it is true. On the day you announce you are getting married, someone will say, “Why are you marrying that person?” On the day, you announce you are going to have a baby someone will say, “I wouldn’t want to be raising a child in this world.” On the day, you buy a new home someone will say, “Why did you buy in that neighborhood?” On the day you announce, you have purchased a new car someone will say, “I bought one of those once. It was a lemon.” I could go on, but I won’t. You get the point. Our ears are filled with unsolicited advice. Bernard Williams (1929-2003) once said, “Unsolicited advice is the junk mail of life.” Have you every wished they would just stop? This is the question I have asked a million times.

Why do people feel like they have the license to give advice? It is an excellent question. Psychology Today posted an article on the topic on December 31, 2017. They say, there is no single answer. There are a variety of answers. Consider this list with me. Maybe you know someone who fits into one of these categories? Maybe you fit into one of these categories?

          1. Unsolicited advice givers are rigid. They believe there is only one way to solve a problem. For them, there is no Plan B. For them, it is all or nothing, black or white. How many rigid advice givers do you know? How rigid are you?

          2. Unsolicited advice givers are arrogant. They believe they are more intelligent, sensible, or special than others. They believe the world would run smoother if everyone would listen to them. How many arrogant advice givers do you know? How arrogant are you?

          3. Unsolicited advice givers are compulsive. They lack any self-awareness or self-discipline. They simply can’t help giving advice. They are unaware of how their actions or words affect others. How many compulsive advice givers do you know? How compulsive are you?

          4. Unsolicited advice givers are controlling. Some give advice and don’t even care about the person. What they just want to control the situation. How many controlling advice givers do you know? How controlling are you?

          5. Unsolicited advice givers are lazy or selfish. They are tired of hearing your problems, so they give advice to change the topic. It is their way of saying you have talked about you long enough. I want the attention focused on me. How many lazy or selfish advice givers do you know? How lazy or selfish are you?

I do not know how to categorize Job’s friends, but I do know their advice was wrong. The source of human suffering is not sin. That is not just my opinion, it was Job’s opinion. In the end, he dismisses the foolish words of his friends, and he returns to God’s. I hope you can do the same. Let me end with my own tale way wayward advice.

It was the end of a long day. I had been suffering with my viral infection for several weeks. I didn’t know it than, but I know it now, because my doctor told me. I was at the church at 4:30 AM to pray and say, “Good-bye,” to the youth going to Knoxville for this year’s mission trip. That meant I stood outside in the excessive heat and pollen for about an hour. When I returned home, I had another cup of coffee and began to review my material for the morning. I preached at 8:30, 9:15 and 11:00. It was the 8:30 service that did the damage. Trying to speak in the open air in Louisiana-like weather was more than my lungs could handle. I was next to worthless at 9:15 and 11:00. I was frustrated because I love to preach, and I physically just couldn’t do it. Throughout the morning, people saw I was struggling, and they wanted to help. I received what seemed like million pieces of advice. I was told what to eat. I was told what to drink. I was told what to breath. I heard about about everyone’s sinus, viral, and allergy history. Someone told me my end was near. (At that moment it sounded good. I wanted to go home early.) It was a long morning, but I survived. That afternoon, Kathryn and I drove to the Akron area. To be more exact, she drove, and I slept. My great nephew, Luke, was getting his Eagle award in the Boy Scouts and I refused to miss it. I was proud of him and I was proud to give the invocation and the benediction in the service. There was a wonderful dinner afterwards. As I ate, complete strangers gave me more free bad medical advice. When I returned home in the early evening, I was done for the day. Kathryn turned on the television to watch her Sunday night shows, the ones where everyone speaks with a British accent while solving murders. I decided to escape to a good friend’s house to escape my world. As usual, I walked in the back door without knocking. I was greeted by his two dogs, Cooper and Bailey, and in my broken voice yelled out, “So, what is happening?” My friend responded, as usual, “You are.” I sat in my usual spot and my friend’s wife looked at me and said, “You are sick! What are they doing for you?” It was painful to speak, and I was tired of talking about my health.” I gave her the quick version and she began to give me her medical advice. I said to her what I wanted to say to everyone else with their medical advice on that long day, “Just stop!” She was shocked because I didn’t want to hear he wisdom. I know, I offended her, but at that moment, I didn’t care. I simply had enough of people’s advice. Can I ask you a question? Is there anyone in your life you would like to say, “Just stop?”

For seven days his friends sat with Job in silence. It was Job who started talking. That gave his friends permission to talk. However, their words were not helpful. How helpful are your words when a friend is in need? Do you remember the quote from Chuck Swindoll? He once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  I cannot disagree with that quote.

Good Fellows

Once again, we find ourselves in the second chapter of Job. Much has already happened. When our story began, Job had a good life. He was rich in resources and relationships. He feared God and shunned evil. He is the greatest man in the East. Even God is impressed with him. That is when everything seemed to go wrong. God may have been impressed with Job, but not the Dark One. Satan is convinced Job’s pious ways would pass once hardship entered his life. Sad but true, God grants Satan permission to test Job. The tests are not easy; they are hard. Over a short period of time, he loses everything. Job’s money is gone. His oxen, donkeys and lambs are taken by foreign raiders, who killed most of the servants. His relationships are gone. All ten of his children are gone in an instant by a mighty wind from the wilderness, while partying at the eldest son’s home. Even his good looks are gone. He is covered with painful boils from head to toe. He loses everything, except for his charming wife. She adds nothing to his life. Too bad the raiders didn’t take her too! 😊. Thank goodness for his friends. That is who we look at today.

According to the text, Job had three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. There is nothing exceptional about them. They are simply remembered for their friendship. They hear about Job’s hardships and decide to respond. They travel together to spend some time with him. They only bring one thing with them. It is not money or personal wisdom. The only thing they bring with them is their sympathy. Verse twelve tells us, when they saw Job in the distance, they did not recognize him. They are emotionally moved, and sit with Job for seven days, not saying a single word. Sometimes, silence is the wisest response. They are the embodiment of true friendship. If you have one true friend, then you have been given a great gift. Helen Keller (1880-1968) once said, “Walking in the darkness with a friend is better than walking in the light alone.”  I can’t disagree with that quote. I am fortunate to have several good friends. Let me state the obvious.

There is a world of difference between a friend and an acquaintance. Webster defines an acquaintance as, a person who knows someone slightly. Webster defines a friend as, a person you know and with whom you have a bond of mutual affection. Do you hear the difference? An acquaintance is someone you know. A friend is someone you like and respect. How many acquaintances do you have in your life? How many true friends do you have in your life? You may have many acquaintances in your life, but only a few friends. Job must have known many people, but Job only had three true friends. Let me give you an example.

The Canfield Fair returns in about a month. As county fairs go, it is the best. I like the Canfield Fair. My wife loves the Canfield Fair. She should be paid by the fair board for promoting it. She will go every day, so I will go every day. I don’t mean from dawn until dusk. I mean we go every day for a few hours. As I walk around the Canfield fair with her, holding my lemon shake, french fries and sausage sandwich, I will run into people. I will say a few words to them and move on. Kathryn will always ask me the same question: How did you know that person? Every answer is different. Sometimes, I met them at a wedding. Sometimes, I met them at a funeral. Sometimes, they visited the church at some point, or they rented the church hall for some graduation party. In twenty-five years, I have met a lot of people. My children used to complain about having to stop all the time at the Canfield Fair so I could talk to someone. I always said, “If I had a real job, we wouldn’t be here at all.” I am not unique in that way. We all have many acquaintances. I wish everyone had one true friend. My wife says part of the magic here is that everyone thinks they are my friend. She may be right. How many acquaintances do you have? How many true friends do you have? There is a world of difference between the two. The scripture for today is not about Job’s acquaintances. It is about Job’s friends.

This is not the only place in the Bible where friendship is mentioned. Friendships are not just mentioned in the Old Testament or the New Testament. Friendships are found in the entire Bible. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times.”  Consider these Biblical friends with me:

Jonathan and David

Elijah and Elisha

Paul and Timothy

Ruth and Naomi

Mark and Paul

John and Jesus

Moses and Aaron

Abraham and Lot

Paul, Philemon, and Onesimus

They were all friends. When I was in the Bluegrass State, my congregation could not sing What a Friend We Have in Jesus enough. So, this is the question we must answer:

Why are friendships so important? Harvard University tells us solid friendships promote “brain health.” I am not sure what that means, but I need all the “brain health” I can get. Mental health professionals tell us there are four important reasons why friends are important. Consider these with me.

  1. Friends encourage and support – Friends are especially important in a time of crisis and turbulence. Your friends will get you through that transitional period.
  2. Friends will help your selfesteem – Friends see the best in you.
  3. Friends keep you active – In other words, your friends get you involved in the world. No one is meant to live on an island.
  4. Friends can be a positive influence – We make friends with people we admire. They bring the best out of you.

Let me give you some pastoral advice. Don’t ever take your friends for granted. They are extremely important.

It was the fall of 1975. I was an incoming freshman at Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio. It was a time of transition in my life. My high school days were over, and those friendships were fading. My college days were beginning, and those friendships were being formed. I didn’t know it then, but those friendships would become very valuable to me. One of those friendships was with a boy named Jim. He was a skinny, tall biology major from Hanoverton, Ohio. That friendship came easily. I am not uncomfortable saying that every moment with him was special. We were roommates during our sophomore year. That was when our friendships were forged. From the very beginning, we had differences of opinions. However, those opinions never really mattered. We respected one another and listened to what the other had to say. There were no secrets between us. There was no topic that was off limits. Countless times, he visited my family in Warren, meeting my extended family. Countless times, I visited his family farm in Hanoverton, and met his extended family.

When we graduated from college, I knew our friendship would endure. I am not saying we talked every day, but we stayed connected. I knew he was out there for me. I like to think he knew I was there for him. In time, we would both go into the ministry in the United Methodist Church, yet our careers took a different path. I found a home here, and he became the ultimate itinerant soldier. Through the years, he served churches in Hubbard, Canfield, Toronto, Shelby, Doylestown and New Philadelphia. For a six-year period, he served as a District Superintendent. He was professionally respected by many. I will be honest with you. I was proud of his success and he was proud of my longevity. I will never forget the day he told me he had decided to retire. He said, “Russ, 38 years is enough.”

He decided to go home to retire, to Hanoverton. Kathryn and I were excited because he was going to be close. We dreamed of the things we were going to do together. He bought a small place on Guilford Lake, surrounded by his family. Kathryn and I were there several times. Once, he took us for a ride on his pontoon boat. Once, he took us out to dinner for our anniversary and it wasn’t our anniversary. It was like a dream come true. We talked about him coming here to help me with visitation. When he told me he accepted another position, I was disappointed.  Yet, I understood. I will never forget the day that he took Kathryn and me to the cemetery where his parents, Don and Elinor, were buried. It was on that trip he showed us where he was going to be buried. That day came too soon.

Six months into his retirement, he was visiting another friend in the Canton area. That was when the unthinkable happened. He was driving home to get ready for Christmas Eve, when he was in a horrible traffic accident. Several days later, Jim died. I have never had the emotional outpouring that some expected. It almost came as I wrote this message. Maybe the reason is I am still in denial? Maybe I decided to talk about his death because I am still wrestling with the truth. Jim is dead. On Memorial Day, Kathryn and I drove to visit Jim Humphrey’s grave. He is buried next to his mother, as it should be. As I stood next to my friend’s grave, I noticed how lonely this world truly is. Like Job, I have many acquaintances, but very few true friends. Can I ask you a personal question? How many true friends do you have? Don’t take a one for granted. You will not know how valuable they are until they are gone.

The Good Wife

This week we find ourselves in the second chapter of Job. You remember his story. In the beginning, Job had a good life. He was rich in resources and relationships. He was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. God Himself was pleased with Job and boasts about him to the Dark One. Satan scoffed at God’s observations and asked God for permission to test Job’s pious ways. Unfortunately, God granted Satan permission. Satan is convinced that in those tests, the relationship between God and Job will be damaged. It is the same reason Satan tests us. Job’s testing came on in an instant. Change usually does. Job may have had the worst day in the history of the world.

Prior to our reading, we are told that Job’s ten children, his seven sons and three daughters, were having a good time at the home of his eldest son. The party came to a quick halt, when a messenger arrived with some bad news. The oxen were plowing, and the donkeys were feeding nearby, when raiders came and took them away. By the way, they killed the slaves that tended the animals as well. That messenger was the only one who survived. Still in shock over this bad news, a second messenger arrives with more bad news. Three more bands of raiders came and stole the camels. By the way, those servants were killed too. He was the only one who had survived. Then, the bad day got worse. A great wind from the wilderness came and blew down the house of his eldest son. There were no survivors. That means, all of Job’s children are dead. Over a short period of time, Job went from a man who was rich in resources and relationships to a man who was poor and alone, with his wife. When chapter one ends, we find Job a broken man, but not a beaten man. His core value of God remains intact. This next line is key. After losing most of his blessings, he falls on the ground and worships God. I would like to say his hardships were over, but I can’t.

Chapter two begins as chapter one began. Satan, along with the angels, is presenting himself to God in heaven. The Almighty One asks the Dark One where he has been. The answer is the same. He has been wandering around the earth. Once again, God asks him if he has considered Job. (Don’t you wish God would have stopped mentioning Job?) He is blameless and upright. He fears God and shuns evil. Once again, Satan scoffs at God. He says, Job’s attacks must be more personal in order to damage his faith. God grants Satan permission to test Job yet again. This attack is not for the vain. He is covered from head to toe with painful boils. The pain and the discomfort are real. Job, in a picture of complete despair, takes a broken pot and scrapes himself while sitting in a pile of ash. It is at this moment the main character in our story for today suddenly appears.

Job’s wife, we don’t know her name, appears on the scene. She takes an inventory of everything he has lost. Let’s be honest. She takes an inventory of everything she has lost, and she becomes verbally abusive. She is not impressed by his faith and integrity. She is confused by it. In what must have been emotional words, she says in 2:9, “Curse God and die.” At that moment, Job must have wished the raiders would come back to get her too! I would not call their marriage a happy union, but it does illustrate that all marriages are tested from time to time. How many tests has your marriage endured?

Back in 2013, Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott released a report on marriage. They have been married for over forty years, and they will confess they have had their share of personal problems. However, they will also say there is a difference between a bad fight and a good fight. In a good fight, you are sharing ideas and opinions. Everyone has different passions. In a bad fight, you are damaging the relationship itself. They say married couples generally fight about these five things:

  1. Money They say the issue is not a lack of money. It is a lack of influence, and conflicting priorities. You don’t care about sacrificing something that is important to you. You do mind sacrificing for something that isn’t important to you.
  • Sex It is an uncomfortable topic, but it is an important topic. Everyone has a different sex drive. It is important to align your libidos.
  • Work It doesn’t matter whether you work at home or you work away from home. It is important for the couple to be alone, away from their children and their responsibilities. Research tells us only 25% of couples have dinner alone once a month. Your marriage is not about your children or your other responsibilities. Your marriage is about the two of you.
  • Children It is important that children see a unified front. If they don’t see a unified front, then they will divide and conquer. Every couple needs to generate those rules and standards for parenting alone. Children may enjoy the show, but it is unhealthy. Children are accountable to their parents, not parents to their children.
  • Chores On the day you start keeping score of who is doing family chores and who is not, you have lost. That’s a bad idea. The scales of marriage are always in flux. Keeping score is setting you up for turmoil.

On May 27 of this year, Kathryn and I celebrated our thirty-first anniversary. I have never preached much on marriage, because I don’t feel like I’m a marriage expert. However, this is also true: I have been married for thirty-one years, so I must know something about the topic. Do you know what I have learned about marriage? There is more to it than “Happy Wife, Happy Life. There is more to it, than “If Momma ain’t happy then no one is happy.” I have learned that the secret to a happy marriage is sharing the same core values. I am not really talking about hobbies, things like bird watching or baseball. I am talking about your core values. What are the most important things to you as an individual? What are the most important things to you as a couple? Kathryn and I are different people, with different interests, but our core values are the same. That was the problem with Job and his wife. Their core values weren’t the same. His core values were built on God. Her core values were built on the temporary things of this world. That is why the Bible talks about being equally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). If you have found someone in this world who can tolerate your odd ways and share your core values, then you should be thankful. Don’t ever take that relationship for granted. Cherish that person and praise God for it. You have been given a great gift.

Equally yoked Christian couples seem to know three things the world has never known. Never forget these three Biblical truths:

  1. God is bigger – God is bigger than any problem that will enter your marriage. God is eternal and unchanging. God exists outside of time and knows every detail of your life and marriage. God has never been surprised. Psalm 62:8 says, “Trust in him at all times, you people, pour out your hearts to Him, for God is your refuge.”
  • Two are better than one – In hardships, never forget, you are part of a team. Share your fears and your insecurities. Listen to your spouse’s heart and take comfort in the fact that you are not alone.
  • Hardships have a purpose – Why did God permit Job to be tested? There is only one reason. God wanted Job to be stronger in the end. That is why God permits us to be tested. Satan wants us to fail. God wants us to be stronger. God wants you to make some progress in the faith (James 1:2-4). Are you making any progress in the Christian faith?

Let me end with a personal story from my time in the ministry. Their names were Lamont and Jean. They were a wonderful Christian couple with a wonderful Christian spirit. They are both gone now, but they were a big part of this church when I arrived twenty-five years ago. They had been married for decades. Their lives were filled with many wonderful memories and pride in their successful children. When I arrived, they spent most of their days alone at home, facing various medical problems. One day, I called them, and they invited me over. When I arrived, Lamont met me at the door with a smile and a handshake. Jean was sitting on the couch, limited by a recent surgery. I looked at them and said, “So, what are you two doing today?” He responded for them both, “Nothing special. We are just sitting here looking at one another.” I knew what he was saying, but I couldn’t agree. I said, “Someday, you are going to look back on today and remember this as a good day.” I wasn’t wrong. Lamont died first and Jean, even though surrounded by loved ones, was alone without him. Her life was never the same without him. I tell you this story for one reason. Don’t ever take the love of your life for granted. Every day together is a great gift. Job reminds us that life is filled with all kinds of hardships. There is a world of difference between facing those hardships alone and facing those hardships together. Chuck Swindoll (born 1934) is a Christian evangelical pastor, educator and radio preacher. He founded Insight for Living, which airs on 2,000 radio stations in 15 different countries around the world. He once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”

Passing the Test

We find ourselves in the first chapter of Job. When we last left him, Job had a good life. He was rich in resources and relationships. His good life begins to change in our reading for today, which is a conversation between God and Satan. According to the text, angels came to present themselves before God. Along with them came Satan himself. God inquires where Satan has been. The Dark One answers freely; he has been roaming the earth. It is God who highlights Job. He is the model for all human life. He is blameless and upright; he fears God and shuns evil. Satan scoffs at God’s observation. Satan basically says, “Why shouldn’t Job do everything you require? After all, you have given him everything he desires.” So to speak, Satan calls out God. He challenges the Almighty. Satan believes Job’s pious ways will stop the moment his good life is interrupted by hardship. God gives Satan permission to test Job. Let me say this clearly:

Satan asks to test Job for one reason. It is the same reason Satan tests us. His greatest desire is to damage our relationship with God. Satan tests us regularly. That is why the news outlets are filled with painful, sad stories. Can I be honest with you? When I compiled the following stories, I found myself becoming emotional.

In the fall of 1984, I received a phone call that tested my faith. My Uncle Bob, who had flown his private plane for years safely, decided to take his extended family up. It was his normal custom. I remember, he took me up once. On that day, he took up his daughter-in-law and her two brothers. The fun ended quickly when his engine stalled during take-off. There were no survivors. It was unbelievable, and for a short time we lived in denial. Just think about it. My Aunt Phyllis lost the love of her life. She has never remarried. Uncle Bob’s daughter-in-law left behind an infant daughter, who does remember her. A mother and father lost their three children in a matter of seconds.  There is no happy ending to this story. You can blame my Uncle Bob, or you can blame his mechanic, but that doesn’t take away the shock.  Our world has a surplus of suffering.

In March of 2002, my wife was driving a Youngstown State University van. The group was returning from a Habitat trip to Florida. The weather was bad, and I was worried. The good news is, they arrived home safely. That wasn’t the story for a van from Bowling Green State University. They were driving home from Florida too. Everyone was having a great time until they got twenty-five miles south of Cincinnati. The rain was heavy, and the driver was driving too fast. The van began to hydroplane and slammed into a truck. Everyone was taken to the hospital, but only the driver survived. How do you live the rest of your life knowing you are responsible for the death of six friends? There is no happy ending to this story. You can blame the driver, but it doesn’t take away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith.

In 2007, teenage sisters were in Pompano Beach, Florida on vacation. They thought it would be fun to go parasailing. They did, and they did have fun, until it happened. The rigging broke loose from the boat. The girls drifted into a nearby building. On impact, the girl sitting on the inside seat died. The girl sitting on the outside seat lived. There are no words, only questions. How do you live the rest of your life without your sister? There is no happy ending to this story. It is easy to blame the parasail operator, but it doesn’t take away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith.

On July 5 of this year, the Salt Lake City Police Department announced they had found the body of 23-year-old Mackenzie Lueck. Her remains were found in Logan Canyon, 90 miles north of Salt Lake City. She was a student at the University of Utah and had been missing for several weeks. A 31-year-old man, Ayoola Ajayi, was taken into custody and charged with murder. According to her cell phone records, he was her last call at 3:00 AM. You can blame Mackenzie. Nothing good happens at 3:00 AM. You can blame Ajayi. However, that doesn’t take away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith.

Earlier this week, the news came out. A one-and-a-half-year-old girl from Indiana fell to her death on a cruise ship. It is every grandfather’s nightmare. The extended family was taking a cruise together. Everyone was having a great time until the family went to dinner on the eleventh floor. The maternal grandfather, Salvatore Anello, was watching the little girl. For some unknown reason, he sat her on an open window, when he lost his grip. The little girl fell to her death. How do you live the rest of your life, knowing you let your granddaughter fall to her death? It is easy to blame the grandfather, but that doesn’t the away the pain. Our world has a surplus of suffering. That story tests my faith. Let me give you one more example.

For the past decade, every major mainline Protestant denomination has wrestled with the issue of sexuality. The United Methodist Church is no exception. I have no clue how much time and money has been spent on the topic. Some have called it the slavery issue of our time. It is a topic we will never agree upon. Did you know that 4.2% of our population falls into the LGBTQ category? (That figure may be high.) Did you know 80% of the world’s population lives on ten dollars a day or less? Not a single word has been uttered on their behalf. That is not just wrong; it is a sin. If you want to experience true suffering in this world, then look at those who are living in true poverty. How much money do you spend in a single day? Our world has a surplus of suffering. Our inactivity tests my faith.

At home, we have been debating the topic of suffering. It has stretched me. Do you believe Satan creates all the suffering in the world? Or do you believe Satan uses the suffering in the world, and bad things just happen? Honestly, I’m just not sure, but I do know all the suffering in our world tests our faith. The question is, as a disciple of Jesus Christ, are you going to pass the test? I can’t eliminate all the hardship and suffering in your life, but I can give you three pieces of pastoral advice. The next time you feel your faith tested, remember these three things:

  1. God is with you! I have said it a million times. There has never been a moment in your life when you have been orphaned. Do you remember the Great Commission? Jesus is speaking to the disciples for the last time. He tells them to go out and make more disciples, and he makes a great promise. It is a promise that is still in effect today. The Master said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:10). Never forget it. God is with you!
  • God believes in you! First Corinthians 10:13 says, And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  That Bible verse is loaded. God must really believe in us, because we are forced to endure so much. Never forget it. God believes in you!
  • God loves you! 1 John 3:1 says, “See what great love God the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.”  God loves you so much, he found a way to spend eternity with us. If you have ever questioned God’s love for you, then look at Jesus hanging on the cross. Never forget it. God loves you!

One of the great names in America today is Ted Turner (born 1938). We have looked at him in the past. He is an American media mogul and philanthropist. He owns CNN and the Atlanta Braves, among other things. His personal past is interesting. He was raised in a strict Christian home and jokes that he was saved several times. That faith was tested early in his life when his sister contracted a fatal disease. Ted admits he prayed to save his sister, but she died. Ted Turner reacted like many have reacted. He was mad at God and decided there wasn’t a God. The happiest person on that day was Satan. He had damaged Ted Turner’s relationship with God to the point that Ted Turner didn’t believe there was a God. Financially, Ted Turner is a success. His net worth is $2.2 billion. Spiritually, Ted Turner is bankrupt. He failed the test and is a self-proclaimed atheist. Today, Ted Turner is eighty years old and believes in absolutely nothing. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) once said, “To live is to suffer, to survive is to find some meaning in the suffering.”

I am assuming you are passing the test. There is no vaccine against pain and hardship. Sooner or later, they will enter our lives and when they do, we will run to God. Because, either you have God in your life, or you have nothing at all. Chuck Swindoll (born 1934) is a Christian evangelical pastor, educator and radio preacher. He founded Insight for Living, which airs on 2,000 radio stations in 15 different countries around the world.He once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it. How do you respond to the pain and suffering in this world?

The Good Life

This is how the Book of Job begins. According to the first verse of the first chapter, Job lived in the land of Uz. That information is important for one reason. Uz was a large piece of land to the east of the Jordan River. That means, Job lived outside of Israel, so the story of Job was not just written for Israelites. The story of Job was written for everyone’s benefit. Yet, there is more to his story than location. The same verse also tells us he was blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil. Don’t misunderstand those words. Job was a good man, but Job was a sinner, like us, at heart. Job was a good man with a good life. Verse two tells us he had seven sons, the perfect number. Plus, he had three daughters. Verse three tells us he has seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred donkeys, and numerous servants. What all that means is that Job was rich. Verse three tells us Job was the greatest man of all the people in the East. However, Job wasn’t just rich in resources, he was rich in relationships. He maintained and valued all the relationships in his life. Job was a good man and Job had a good life. Never forget the next line. We are good people and we have good lives too.

This is a historic day in the life of this congregation. Last week, I completed my twenty-fifth year of service here at Western Reserve. That means, today I begin my twenty-sixth year. This church has changed a great deal over the years. Some have asked why I didn’t move on. Some wish I had moved on. When I first came here, I came for my parents. They lived in Warren and I wanted to be close to them. When my parents died, I stayed for my children. This is a great community in which to raise your family. When my children moved out, I stayed for me. I had become part of this community. The truth be told, I had opportunities to move on to other more exciting churches, where I would have made more money, but I refused. I shunned those attempts to be moved by the United Methodist hierarchy, because this is where God wants me to be. That is fine with me, because you are good people and we have good lives. I like to think I lost nothing by not moving and gained a great deal by staying. Those of us who have lived our lives here in the Mahoning Valley are hard on ourselves. We don’t say it very often, but we, like Job, have good lives. Just think about it for a moment.

You have a good life because you have your health! Did you know, according to Medicare and Medicaid sources, 52% of people turning 65 will need long term care in their lives. Long term care means five years or longer. Did you know, according to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, 4.2% of Americans live in nursing homes at any given time. Those figures do not surprise me. I can fill my calendar with visiting the institutionalized. Those are exhausting visits.

The picture is always the same. The resident is always in bed and the television is on in the background. No one is is watching. A tray with half-eaten food is on the side. The words are awkward, as I look for common ground. We visit the past for a couple of minutes, and I end with a prayer. When the prayer is over, the resident looks at me and says, “Russ, I wish I could come back to church one more time.”  You have a good life because you are here today. You have a good life because you have your health!

You have a good life because people are a big part of your life! Sometimes those people are family members. Sometimes those people are friends. Regardless, the people in your life bring you happiness. A recent Harvard study tells us, having strong relationships in our lives promotes brain heath. Friends help us relieve stress, make better choices, and recover from health problems. Can I ask you a question? How many friends do you have? How many friends do you have at this church? Those friendships are extremely valuable because you share the same core values. You have a good life because you have friends!

You have a good life because you live in a true community! Community has nothing to do with economic opportunity or growth. Community has nothing to do with weather. Community has everything to do with a sense of belonging. Webster defines a community as a group of people who live in the same place or have a certain thing in common. We live in a great community because we care about one another. How many fundraisers have you attended for someone who was injured in an accident, or struck with a disease? How many silent auctions have you entered? It would be nice to win the basket, but it really doesn’t matter. The only thing that really matters is that you helped someone in this community. You have a good life because you live in a true community!

You have a good life because you live in the United States of America! Did you know, according to the United Nations, there are 196 countries in the world today. 194 of those countries are members of the United Nations. (The two countries who are not members of the UN are the Vatican City and Palestine.) The UN exists to tackle global issues. According to US News and World Report, the world considers Germany the greatest country in the world to live in, followed by Canada and Great Britain. The United States is number four. Did you know, according to the Pew Research Group, 85% of Americans believe America is the greatest country in the world? It is hard to disagree with that fact. I love visiting other countries, but I am always ready to come home. You have a good life because you live in the United States of America!

You have a good life because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ! This is the sad truth: On the day you die, your American citizenship is revoked. You have a good life because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. When you die, your American citizenship ends, but your citizenship in the Kingdom of God continues. Your time in heaven is eternal. Never forget it: You are not saved by your good works. You are saved by grace, and by grace alone!

If only we could end the story of Job after the fifth verse of the first chapter, it would be a good thing. The problem is, the story of Job continues. Next week, we discover the source of all human suffering. Let me give you a teaser, it isn’t God. The problem is, the story of Job does continue and all the good things in his life are taken from him. Yet, Job prevails in the faith and he continues to worship God. If it is true of Job, then it is true of us. When hardship comes to your life, how will you respond? Will you prevail in the faith, or will you walk away and curse God? It is a question you must answer for yourself. Chuck Swindoll is an evangelical Christian. He is an author, preacher and radio host. He founded Insight for Living, which is now broadcasted on over 2000 station in fifteen different countries around the world. He once said, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”  Let me end with this daily scene from my home.

Every day, I wake between 6:00 and 7:00. The house is quiet because my children are gone, and Kathryn is still down. I start the coffee, check the weather, and log into my bank account to make sure everything is accountable. Then, I walk my dog and call a good friend. Then, I sit down and work on my sermon in the quiet. It is during those quiet times that I begin to worry about some minor details in my life. There seems to be an endless supply. My dog Macy, the world’s best dog, is getting older and that bothers me. My granddaughter is getting older and I worry I haven’t spent enough time with her. My daughters are transitioning and that worries me. There is only so much I can do for them. I worry about my Aunt Phyllis. She is eighty-six and the family matriarch. She is completely healthy, but I worry she won’t make it to the big family wedding next summer. I begin to worry about my refrigerator, because it is sixteen years old and is making a funny noise. I worry about my wife, and I worry about the strain she will be under when she leads the next mission trip to the former Soviet Union. I worry about myself. Maybe my allergies aren’t allergies. Maybe they are masking a more serious problem? Life is moving fast and there are so many things I still want to do. I am not saying my worries paralyze me, but I will admit they weigh me down. Then, I take a shower and go to work.

In my job, every day is different, yet every day is the same. Every day, I connect with all kinds of people. Some communication is by text. Some communication is done face to face. Some is done by phone or email. I have asked the question a million times: what is happening in your life? Usually, what is happening in your life is not good. People tell me they spend too much time going to funeral homes. People tell me they spend too much money at the doctor’s. People tell me about some major problem in their home. People tell me about the broken relationships in their lives, or in their children’s lives. I can field your problems easily, because they are your problems. However, it is my problems that stagger me. However, in all those discussions a transition takes place. Hearing everyone else’s problems minimalizes my problems. At the end of the day, I walk into my home, look at my wife, and say, “We have good lives.”  That is what I want to tell you. We have good lives. We are American Christians who worship together; how much more can you expect?

Fatherhood is Important

I love this old preaching story. In Spain, a father and son had become estranged. The son ran away, and the father set off to find him. He searched for months to no avail. Finally, in a last desperate effort to find him, the father put an ad in a Madrid newspaper. The ad read:

Dear Paco,

Meet me in front of this newspaper office at noon on Saturday. All is forgiven. I love you.

Your Father.

On Saturday, 800 Paco’s showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. Don’t tell me the relationship between a father and their children isn’t important! With this story in mind, let us look at this morning’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the eighth chapter of Luke. Jesus and the disciples are in Galilee. That fact is important because the Master was extremely popular there. The crowds followed him everywhere. One of the people in the crowd on that day was a man by the name of Jairus. In his little corner of the world, he was a significant man. Luke tells us he was a ruler in the local synagogue. What does that mean? Not being a member of the clergy, his position was not liturgical in nature. He acted more as an administrator or trustee. Sometimes, the position was paid. Sometimes, it was volunteer. Regardless, the position was always held by a respected, good man in the congregation. Jairus was a good man, yet hardship does not discriminate. This good man was facing his greatest nightmare. His only daughter, twelve years old, was dying. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Jairus fights his way through the crowd to ask Jesus for a miracle. Jesus is his only hope.

I read verses 40-42 countless times this week. With every reading, I was more moved by the emotions of the father. It isn’t just Jairus’ nightmare. It is every parent’s nightmare: the death of their children. I do not know how you can read this story and not be moved. She was twelve years old and her life was just beginning. However, the story is not so much about death. In the end, the girl lives. It is a story about parenting. There is no other way to say it: This story reminds us that parenting is hard. If you want to be a good father, then you had better be prepared to give more than your sperm. You’d better be prepared to give your life. This story gives us three divine truths about fatherhood. They are as true today as they were in his day.

Important

There is an old story about a young man standing in front of a judge. He was about to hear his sentence. It was an awkward moment for the judge, because he had known the young man since childhood, for he was well acquainted with his father – a famous legal scholar and the author of an exhaustive study entitled, “The Law of Trusts.” “Do you remember your father?” asked the magistrate. “I remember him well, your honor,” came the reply. Then, trying to probe the offender’s conscience, the judge said, “As you are about to be sentenced and as you think of your wonderful dad, what do you remember most clearly about him?” There was a pause. Then the judge received an answer he had not expected. “I remember when I went to him for advice. He looked up at me from the book he was writing and said, ‘Run along, boy; I’m busy!’ When I went to him for companionship, he turned me away, saying “Run along, son; this book must be finished!’ Your honor, you remember him as a great lawyer. I remember him as a lost friend.” The magistrate muttered to himself, “Alas! Finished the book, but he lost the boy!”

First, fatherhood is important. In other words, your children must be the top priority in your life. Fathers do much more than pay the bills. Mothers may love their children unconditionally, but fathers add a sense of security and stability to the home. That is extremely important. A father’s presence makes a great difference in the life of a child. These statistics are a few years old, but they still ring true. They come from the U. S. Department of Justice.

  1. 43% of US children live in fatherless homes.
  2. 90% of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.
  3. 80% of rapists come from fatherless homes.
  4. 71% of pregnant teenagers come from fatherless homes.
  5. 63% of youth suicides come from fatherless homes.

Don’t tell me fathers aren’t important. If you want to be a good father, then make your children your top priority. Do your children know they are your top priority? Fatherhood is important.

Challenging

Second, fatherhood is challenging. One of the most intimidating things in life is bringing a newborn home from the hospital. Babies don’t come with instruction books. The truth is, you just do the best you can. It isn’t just true of newborns; it is true at every age. Most of the time that is good enough. The truth is, just when you grow comfortable with newborns, they are no longer newborns. They are toddlers. Just when you get used to toddlers, they become preschoolers. Then, they go to school. Then they start taking all those classes and joining all those teams. Then comes middle school and high school. Then they try to figure out what they are going to do with their lives. Are they going to go to college or a trade school? Then, they get married and you have to learn how to be an in-law. Then, you must learn how to be a grandparent. All these changes make parenting very challenging. Do you know what I have observed? There are no instruction books for any of those stages of life. You just do the best you can. Can I tell you the truth? I always felt one stage behind.

In the Bible lesson for today, Jairus is trying to help his twelve-year old daughter. I have been the father of a twelve-year old daughter twice and it isn’t easy. Enjoy your children at the stage they are right now but be prepared. It is going to change soon. They will change, so your relationship with them must change. That is so challenging.Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging.

Eternal

Third and finally, fatherhood is eternal. In the story, the twelve-year-old girl dies. Her life ended just as it was about to begin. Her life would have been over, if not for Jesus. He resurrects her. In other words, he brings her back to life. She is one of a select few in the Bible who were resurrected. Do you remember the others who were resurrected in the Bible? There were nine in all; 3 in the Old Testament and 6 in the New Testament. Except for Jesus, do you know what happened to the other eight? They all died again in time. However, their resurrections were just the foreshadowing of eternal life. The girl lived because her father introduced her to Jesus.

Fatherhood is not just paying the bills. Fatherhood is not just being a positive role model. Fatherhood is not just getting the person ready for life. Fatherhood is getting the person ready for eternity. Children have so many wonderful options today. They can take lessons and join teams. They can take advanced classes and go to camp. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. However, none of those things are preparing them for eternity. If you want your child to live for eternity, then be like Jairus. Introduce your children to Jesus. How could you enjoy heaven without them? Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging. Fatherhood is eternal.

Fred Craddock (1928-2015) taught homiletics at Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. No one has influenced my preaching more than he has. In my opinion, he is one of the greatest preachers of the twentieth century. No one can tell a story like him. This is one example.

One summer Fred and his wife decided to get away for a few days. They went to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. One night they found a quiet little restaurant and looked forward to a private meal—just the two of them. While they were waiting for their meal, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting guests. Craddock whispered to his wife, “I hope he doesn’t come over here.” He didn’t want the man to intrude on their privacy. But the man did come by his table. “Where are you folks from?” he asked amicably. “Georgia.” “Splendid state, I hear, although I’ve never been there. What do you do for a living?” “I teach homiletics at a seminary.” “Oh, so you teach preachers, do you? Well, I’ve got a story I want to tell you.” And with that he pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with Craddock and his wife. Dr. Craddock said he groaned inwardly: Oh no, here comes another preacher story. It seems everyone has one.

The man stuck out his hand. “I’m Ben Hooper. I was born not far from here across the mountains. My mother wasn’t married when I was born, so I had a hard time. At the time, that was shocking. When I started school, my classmates had a name for me, and it wasn’t a very nice name. I used to go off by myself at recess and during lunchtime because the taunts of my playmates cut so deeply. What was worse was going downtown on Saturday afternoon and feeling every eye burning a hole through you. They were all wondering just who my real father was.”  

“When I was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to our church. Because of my past, I would always go in late and slip out early. But one day the preacher said the benediction so fast, I got caught and had to walk out with the crowd. I could feel every eye in church on me. Just about the time I got to the door, I felt a big hand on my shoulder. I looked up and the preacher was looking right at me. ‘Who are you, son? Whose boy, are you?’ I felt the old weight come down on me. It was like a big black cloud. Even the preacher was putting me down. But as he looked down at me, studying my face, he began to smile a big smile of recognition. ‘Wait a minute,’ he said, ‘I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are a son of God. You come from a great legacy. Go and claim it.’” The old man looked across the table at Craddock and said, “That was the most important single sentence ever said to me. Those words changed my life.” With that he smiled, shook the hands of Craddock and his wife, and moved on to another table to greet old friends. It was at that moment Craddock remembered something. The good people of Tennessee had elected Ben Hooper, that illegitimate boy, to be their governor.

This is the point: You may have had the greatest dad in the world, or your dad may have been a complete loser. It doesn’t really matter, because you come from a great legacy. Never forget it. You are a child of God! George Herbert (1593-1633) was a Welsh-born poet, orator and priest in the Church of England. He once said, “One father is worth more than a hundred schoolmasters.”

Holy Spirit 101

The date was May 24, 1738. You may know the story. John Wesley (1703-1791) was born in Epworth, England. His father, Samuel, was an Anglican priest. His mother, Susannah, was a stay-at-home mother, who set the standard high for all parents. She taught John and his siblings how to survive in this world and be prepared for eternity. John Wesley had everything he needed to be successful, but he didn’t have a clue. Until he was thirty-five years old, he only knew failure. He failed as a pastor and he failed as a missionary. Tired of defeat, John Wesley went on a great spiritual quest. That quest ended on May 24, 1738 on Aldersgate Street. There is no other way to say it, John Wesley was touched by the Holy Spirit. We call it his sanctification experience. He was touched by God for a divine purpose. The only thing he ever wrote about that day was a simple phrase in his personal journal, I felt my heart strangely warmed. Those words are not impressive, but his life after that experience was. From that point on, he only knew success. He took the whole world on as his parish and changed history. When he died in 1791, he left behind 135,000 followers, plus another 541 itinerant preachers. Today, there are millions of people around the world who claim the title Methodist. If we could resurrect John Wesley, then he would tell you that the Holy Spirit changed everything! Let me state the obvious.

I was not in the ministry on May 24, 1738. However, I was in the ministry two hundred and fifty years later, on May 24, 1988. I remember that year, because it was the first year I was under a United Methodist appointment. I was serving in the old Morristown Charge in the old St. Clairsville District in the East Ohio Annual Conference; the congregations in Morristown, Lloydsville and Bannock. As May approached, I was looking forward to the anniversary of the great Aldersgate experience. I was disappointed. Except for a few men riding on horses and dressed like circuit riders, there was no celebration. That year at Annual Conference, I expressed my disappointment to my District Superintendent. He was a spiritually mature man by the name of Abraham Brandyberry. He felt as I did. I asked him why the famous date was overlooked. He simply said, “Russ, there was no celebration, because no one in our time understands Wesley’s sanctification, because no one in our time understands the Holy Spirit.” There was no debate, because I knew he was right. Many are ignorant of the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Can I ask you a spiritual question?

Do you understand the Holy Spirit? It is a fair question, but it is a hard question to answer. Just think about it for a moment. Our understanding of the Holy Spirit is a little thin. We are much more comfortable with the other members of the trinity. We believe in a triune God: God the father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. God the father is the creator. God created the entire world out of nothing. That is impressive. We seem to have a handle on God the Son. Jesus was the redeemer. Jesus died for the sins of the world. We are saved by grace and by grace alone. The Holy Spirit is different. God the Holy Spirit is much more elusive. It is hard to summarize everything the Holy Spirit does with a few words. So, let me ask you the question again. Do you understand the Holy Spirit?

On this Pentecost Sunday, I want to help you understand the Holy Spirit. Part of my job is to teach you theology. For this reason, don’t think of this message as a sermon. Think of this message as an academic lecture. It is not an advanced level course; It an entry level course. For this reason, I have called this message Holy Spirit 101. I have grouped my thoughts about the Holy Spirit around three questions. They are three questions you must be able to answer by the final exam.

This is question number one: Who is the Holy Spirit? The answer is simple. You can answer it with one word: God. The Holy Spirit is God. In order to completely understand that answer, that the Holy Spirit is God, consider this with me. The Holy Spirit was not created or revealed at Pentecost. The Holy Spirit has been present in this world from the very beginning. Genesis 1:26 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’”  The key word in that verse is the word us. The us in that verse is the trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is timeless because the Holy Spirit is God.

The deity of the Holy Spirit is clearly seen in scripture. If you do not believe me, then look at the life of Jesus. The Holy Spirit was a big part of Jesus’s life. The Holy Spirit was in Jesus’ forerunner, John the Baptist. The Holy Spirit was present when Jesus was conceived. The Holy Spirit was present when Jesus was born. The Holy Spirit was present when Jesus was baptized. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. You can’t tell me the Holy Spirit didn’t play a vital part in Jesus’s earthly ministry. When Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit became available to everyone.

The same great characteristics of God the father can be applied to God the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the mind of Christ, the Spirit of the Lord, the Spirit of adoption, of truth, of liberty; the Spirit of wisdom, of understanding, of counsel, of might, of knowledge, of godliness, of the fear of God. This only begins to show how unlimited He is. Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is God! Answer the question,“Who is the Holy Spirit?” The Holy Spirit is God!

This is question number two: What does the Holy Spirit do? You can answer that question with one word: change. The Holy Spirit brings godly change. It is as true today as it was on the day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit historically has made order out of disorder, clarity out of confusion. How many examples do you need?

Just look at the disciples. Prior to Pentecost, the twelve didn’t have a clue. I do not know how that was possible. They followed Jesus around for three years, but they didn’t have a clue. They were present for every miracle. They were there for every parable. They heard about the Kingdom of God from the Master himself. Peter, Andrew, James and John were even on the mountaintop when Moses and Elijah appeared, the great law giver and the greatest of the prophets. They heard their endorsement of Jesus, but they didn’t have a clue. Then, the Holy Spirit came into their lives and everything changed. The pre-Pentecost Peter who denied Christ three times was touched by the Holy Spirit and preached to the crowd. According to the text, 3,000 were saved that day. It wasn’t just Peter. The same thing is true of all the disciples. Each was changed or transformed by the Holy Spirit and went on to do great things for God. The disciples would tell you, the Holy Spirit changed everything! Historically, the Holy Spirit has made order out of disorder and clarity out of confusion. For this reason, the United Methodist Church needs a good dose of the Holy Spirit. What does the Holy Spirit do? It changes everything. Answer the question,“What does the Holy Spirit do?” This is the answer: The Holy Spirit brings godly change.

This is question number three: Why is the Holy Spirit important to us? You can answer that question with one word: revival. Sometime back the Associated Press carried this dispatch: “Glasgow, Ky.– Leslie Puckett, after struggling to start his car, lifted the hood and discovered that someone had stolen the motor.” That is the story of so many churches today! They own everything needed to be a church, but they lack one thing, the Holy Spirit. In other words, they don’t have a motor.

This is an incredible time to be in the ministry. I can honestly say it is not the same old thing. My job has changed completely in the last thirty-five years. Things are not getting easier. They are getting harder. The world has changed. We live in a post-Christian world. The church is no longer respected by society. How many local congregations are near the end? Every church seems to be looking for a quick fix, but there are no quick fixes. It isn’t just true of local congregations. It is true of entire denominations. It is certainly true in the United Methodist Church.

This is the first Pentecost since the special General Conference. You know the topic, sexuality. It is a debate with no winners. Some want the denomination to change their long-standing tradition of not officiating at gay weddings or ordaining openly gay individuals. After spending millions of dollars, nothing changed. In the months to follow, our denomination is struggling. It would be struggling if the vote had gone the other way. The unity of our denomination is in question. There are no simple answers to this problem. A special committee appointed by the Council of Bishops will not solve it. A slick advertising campaign will not solve it. A powerful sermon on love will not solve it. The only thing that will solve our disunity is a good dose of the Holy Spirit. Answer the question,“Why is the Holy Spirit important to us?” This is the answer: The Holy Spirit brings revival.

I want to end this message this morning not with a story, poem or quote. I end this message this morning with a challenge. I challenge you to go home and pray about the Holy Spirit. Pray that you not just understand the Holy Spirit with your mind, but that you experience the Holy Spirit with your heart. For once you do, everything will change. Never forget it, the Holy Spirit brings godly change. Billy Graham (1918-2018) was an American Baptist preacher and evangelist. He once said,“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge and my job to love.”