Cheers and Tears

We find ourselves today in the eleventh chapter of Mark. (Mark 11:1-11) Like visiting an old friend, we find these words to be comforting. According to the text, it was time for the Passover. A time to remember their proud past as God’s Chosen People. The law required the people to attend within a certain radius, however no legislation was necessary. Everyone wanted to be a part of the great holiday. It was a time to do three things. First, they made their annual animal sacrifice at the temple. Second, they paid their annual taxes. Third, it was a time to reconnect with family and friends. It is for that reason that everyone wanted to be in Jerusalem for the Passover. Over the years, preachers, including myself, have emphasized the massive cheering crowd. Let me say this clearly.

It was a great crowd of people! The size of the crowd cannot be over emphasized. Mark says many people spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut palm branches from nearby fields. Some people followed Jesus; some people ran ahead of Jesus (Mark 11:8-9). Matthew calls it a very large crowd (Matthew 21:8). Luke says the crowd was so great that the religious leaders encouraged Jesus to rebuke them (Luke 19:39). John tells of a great crowd that had gathered for the festival (John 12:12). You cannot question the size of the crowd.

It has been estimated that the population of Jerusalem swelled to 2,500,000 on that Passover. That is based on the number of animal sacrifices made. That was a massive crowd at that time in that place in history. That was 1% of their world’s population. According to the United States Census Bureau, the total world population in the year 33 AD was approximately 285 million. If 2.5 million people were present in Jerusalem on the day Jesus entered, then approximately .9% of the world’s population was present. Those numbers are hard to comprehend, but it is safe to say approximately 1% of the world’s population was present in Jerusalem that day. (1% of the world’s population today is 7.8 million.) The largest Christian gathering in the history of the world is six million. That crowd gathered in 2015, when the Pope went to Manila. It was a great crowd of people. However, the size of the crowd was not everything. You can question the integrity of the crowd. They were selfish. They all wanted something from Jesus.

There is an old preaching story about a rabbi who was visiting a friend. He took the friend to a window and asked him what he saw. The friend replied, “I see men, women and children.” Then, he took his friend to a mirror and asked, “What do you see now?” The friend replied, “I see myself!” The rabbi replied, “That is the choice we must make in life! Are we going to look through the window and see others? Or are we going to look at the mirror and only see ourselves?” You are a disciple of Jesus Christ! You have no choice. Jesus looked through the window and saw the needs of this world. You must look through the window too. That was not the case of the crowd. That is not the case of many in our world. Selfishness blinds us of the real meaning behind Palm Sunday. Just think about it.

Some cheered for Jesus for political reasons! Some in the crowd expected a political Messiah. They had grown tired of foreign domination. They had grown tired of Roman ways and laws. They longed for independence and believed Jesus had everything needed to lead a successful political revolution. Just like their ancestors did in the past after a successful military campaign, they waved palms and chanted political slogans. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David.” Hosanna in the highest heaven.” They were not wrong. Jesus did have the right stuff for political success, but they missed the memo. Jesus did not come with a political agenda. Jesus came for spiritual reasons. Jesus came to be the bridge between mankind and God. Do you know of anyone who tries to use Jesus politically? They say true Christians are their political party.

Some cheered for Jesus for personal reasons! Jesus’s miracles were well known. They had heard how Jesus brought sight to the blind. They had heard how Jesus got the lame to walk. They had heard how Jesus had exercised demons. If Jesus could do that for others, then why not them, or a loved one? The crowd was filled with the blind, the lame, and the limited. They cheered for Jesus to get his attention because they wanted a healing. The problem is they did not get the memo. Jesus did not come to improve their health care system. Jesus came for spiritual reasons. He came to be the bridge between mankind and God. If you get the point say, “Hosanna!” Do you know of anyone who is mad at God because a sick loved one was never healed?

Some cheered for Jesus because Jesus was popular! In 1997, Hanson had their one hit wonder, MMMBop. The song was nominated for a Grammy because everyone was listening to that catchy tune and those clever words. Hanson even sang the National Anthem the 1997 World Series between the Indians and the Marlins in Cleveland. Their father predicted they would become more popular than the Jackson Five. He was WRONG! Their popularity faded and no one has heard from Hanson in years. Rumor has it they are singing at birthday parties and grocery store openings. However, in 1997, they were trending. On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus was trending.

On the lips of everyone was the name Jesus. Everybody seemed to have an opinion about him. Some believed and some did not believe, but everyone had an opinion. The problem is they did not get the memo. Jesus did not come to be a celebrity. Jesus came for spiritual reasons. He came to the bridge between mankind and God.Do you know of anyone who must be in the middle of the action?

For years preacher, including myself, have made a big deal about the size of the cheering crowd on that day. Perhaps, there is more. After all, the cheering crowd disbanded after a short time and the streets of Jerusalem grew quiet. However, the committed stayed near Jesus. It is safe to say a small minority in the crowd understood what was happening on that day. The Apostle Paul said it best nearly 30 years later in his letter to the Philippians. Speaking of Jesus, he said, “And being found in the appearance of a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross.” 

Annually, I attend the Mahoning Valley Spring District Conference of the United Methodist Church. It is not favorite part of my job. Our district is made up of 57 congregations. It is an afternoon filled with reports and voting. It is as exciting as it sounds. It never disappoints. The meeting rotates annually. This year, we host in on April 18. Several years ago, it was held at Warren Grace. On that day, a woman came up to me when the meeting concluded and asked, “Did you go to McKinley School?” I said, “Yes!” McKinley was my elementary school. She said, “I was your first-grade teacher!” I drew a blank. I had to look at her name tag. Her name is Mary Fuller. I thought, “Are you still alive?” I said, “You were a lot taller in those days.” We talked for a few moments about my experience in the first grade and then it was over. I enjoyed talking to her.

As I drove home, I thought about Mrs. Fuller. I do not have many memories. It was a long time ago. To be honest, I only have one clear recollection of the first grade. The date was November 22, 1963. The public address system crackled on. I can still hear our principle’s voice, Mr. Yerman, telling the school that President Kennedy (1917-1963) had been assassinated in Dallas. I remember looking at Mrs. Fuller. She seemed stunned. She walked out of the classroom and into the hall. She gathered with the other teachers. They were talking about the sad news, then something happened that caught me off guard.  I can remember one of the teachers began to cry. I do not think I will ever forget that sound. Those tears pierced my heart. Maybe we give too much time talking about the cheers of the massive crowd, and not enough time talking about tears of the committed minority? The crowd cheered on Palm Sunday. The committed cried on Good Friday.

On Friday evening we are going to gather at Green Haven Memorial Gardens. It is one of our local cemeteries. For what it is, it is a nice place. But what is it? It is a place for the dead. Some people will not go because it is a cemetery. They will be there soon enough. However, I think it is a place we must go. It underscores the fact that Jesus died. We will read the final words he uttered, and we will remember his pain. It is five days from now, but I know what I will hear when I leave. It happens every year. As I walk through the silent crowd after the closing words, I will hear someone crying. It will hit them like a ton of bricks, Jesus died for them! Jesus died for us! Jesus died for you and me. There will be no cheers on Friday evening, only tears. How many tears will you shed for Jesus on Friday? Rick Warren (born 1954) of the Saddleback Church in California said, “Nothing will shape your life more than the commits you make.” How committed are you?

Do You Remember?

One of the most beautiful buildings in the world is the cathedral in Milan, Italy. I had the good fortune to go there several years ago. Worshippers are welcomed by three magnificent doorways. Over the first one doorway, is a carving of a beautiful wreath of roses, and underneath it is the legend, “All which pleases is just for a moment.” Over the second doorway is a sculpted cross, and the words, “All that troubles is just for a moment.” But underneath the great central entrance to the main aisle is the inscription, “Only the eternal is important.” The message is clear. We should live with our eyes fixed on eternity. How much time do you spend worrying about the temporary? How much time do you spend worrying about the eternal? The only things that really matter are those things that will matter in 100 years. What matters in 100 years? The only thing that matters in 100 years is Jesus. That leads us to our scripture lesson for today.

We find ourselves today in the twelfth chapter of John. The story begins with a group of Greeks. It is a great way to begin a story. When I was a young, I was surrounded by a group of Greeks in school. They were great people, and they were all named Nick. In the Bible story, we do not know their names, but we do know they wanted to see, or interview, Jesus. Their interest in Jesus leads us to believe they were God fearing Greeks. At first, they approach is Philip. He was a logical choice for them because Philip is a Greek name. Philip is uncomfortable going to Jesus directly, so he goes to Andrew. He went to Andrew because both were from the town of Bethsaida. According to verse 22, Philip and Andrew together went to Jesus with the request.

We are never told if the Greeks ever got to talk to Jesus, but we are told the moment had come. Jesus cannot escape the painful truth. He is going to die! Jesus did not want to die nor was he surprised by his death. It was all part of the divine plan to save the world. The death of Jesus shows us the depth of God’s love. Comparing himself to a wheat kernel he knew he must die, so others could live. His death would mean life for the generations to come. We stand in the aftershock of Jesus’s death. Without the death of Jesus, there is no resurrection. Without the death of Jesus, we have no hope of eternity. Never underestimate the death of Jesus. It changed everything. It is my experience people are uncomfortable with the death of Jesus. That is why we try to run to the resurrection.

That is one of my pet peeves in the ministry. Everyone enjoys Palm Sunday. It is a great day! Attendance is up and the weather is improving. Everyone is in a good mood because everyone likes waving palms. The traditional scriptures are read, and video is shown of Jesus entering the Golden City. Everyone is looking forward to the great resurrection day. Everyone enjoys Easter. It is a great day! The flowers are beautiful, the traditional hymns are sung, the traditional scripture is read, and the video is shown. Everyone leaves happy because ham is waiting for them. (Who does not like ham?) Please do not misunderstand me. I have nothing against Palm Sunday or Easter. They are both great days, but there is so much more. Most miss the rich days of Holy Week. The crowds of Palm Sunday and Easter are replaced by a small group on Maundy Thursday and a smaller group on Good Friday. I hope that is not your story. I hope you do not just run from Palm Sunday to Easter. I hope you remember what Jesus did every day of Holy Week. Those days are important because they revolve around the death of Jesus. Do something different this year and remember what Jesus did for you each day of Holy Week. So, let me as you the question of the day, do you remember?

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was become the tradition of this church to go to the local cemetery to remember the death of Jesus. We are joined by other United Methodist congregations in the area. The truth be told, the group is always small. I really do not care. It is the right thing to do. The traditional scriptures are read, and the candles are extinguished. The service ends with the same words annually, May God have mercy on us because Christ died for us. I am always spiritually spent once the service is over. They reality of Christ’s death is hard for me to accept.

One year, on Easter morning one of the saints from this church wanted to talk to me about his experience at the cemetery. He had a bad experience. He could not hear because the woman next to him kept talking. He could not see because he sat in the back. He did not like his seat because it was uncomfortable. He did like going to the cemetery because it reminded him of his own death. He did not like the music because it was too depressing. As he went through list of complaints, I stayed quiet. It was a great way to spent Easter morning. When I finally got a word in, I said, “Good! If Christ hung on the cross for your sins for hours, then you can handle a few unpleasant minutes.” May we never forget Christ died for us! Reformed theologian Richard Allen Bodey (1930-2013) once said, “He drained the cup of God’s wrath bone dry, leaving not a drop for us.”

The Gospel in a Nutshell

His name is Rollin Stewart (born 1944). Some called him “Rock’n Rollen.” Others have called him the “The Rainbow Man.” You may remember him. He was a born-again Christian, who during the 1970s and 1980s, was a fixture at American sporting events wearing his rainbow-colored afro-style wig holding a sign that read: John 3:16. He seemed to be everywhere. He was at the 1977 NBA Finals. He was at the 1979 MLB All-Star Game. He was at the 1980 Moscow Olympics Games, where he was arrested for a short time. In 1981, he was at the Masters in Augusta, Georgia, and in 1982, he was at the Indianapolis 500. At the height of his popularity, he was featured in a Budweiser Beer commercial and was portrayed by Christopher Walken on Saturday Night Live. Where is Rollin Stewart today? The man has made a few mistakes. Sadly, he is an inmate at the Mule Creek State Prison in Lone, California where he is serving three life sentences for kidnapping. If you would like to learn more about Rollen Stewart, then read the article, The Rainbow Man: Lessons on How Not to Evangelize. Today, I do not want to talk about Rollen Stewart. I want to talk about Rollen Stewart’s sign. That leads us to our scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves today in the third chapter of John. Our reading is only part of a longer discussion between two men, Jesus, and Nicodemus. You know about Jesus because we speak of him regularly. Jesus was the Son of God, the very incarnation of God, our only hope of salvation. Nicodemus is not as famous, but he is still noteworthy. He was a respected member of his community. He was not just a Pharisee, an expert on the law. He was a member of the Jewish Ruling Council, also known as the Sanhedrin. That body was established to judge in the details of the law. Prior to our reading, we are told Nicodemus sought out Jesus at night. Much has been made over that fact. Some believe, he went to Jesus at night to protect his identity. After all, how would it look for a respected Pharisee, a member of the Jewish Ruling Council, to be looking for help from a lowly itinerant rabbi? I believe, Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, because the work of the day was over and the two would have time to talk. The discussion begins with some flattering words. Nicodemus was impressed by Jesus’s miracles. However, Jesus is not interested in being complimented. Jesus is more interested in salvation. The Master says it clearly, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.” Nicodemus hears the words but fails to understand them. Jesus is baffled by his spiritual ignorance. Jesus explains to Nicodemus his part in God’s plan of salvation for the world. This is where John 3:16 comes into play. They are not Jesus’s words. They are the words of the editor. The verse summarizes what is happening. “For God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” The whole verse pivots on that little complex word, love!

In 1960, C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) wrote a book called The Four Loves. He explored the four kinds of loves found in the Christian faith. Each one is found in the Bible. The first word for love in the Bible is the Greek word EROS, which gives us the word erotic. It is sensual or passionate love. It is the kind of love that involves a box of candy, a fist full of flowers and boxer shorts. The second word for love in the Bible is the Greek word PHILA, which gives us the word philanthropist. It is a social love. For example, Andrew Carnegie was a philanthropist. He wanted to improve communities, so he gave a fortune to establish libraries in both the United States and Canada. The third word for love in the Bible is the Greek word STORGE. It is an empathic love. It is the kind of love you feel for family members. It is the kind of love you feel for your parents or your children. The fourth word for love in the Bible is the Greek word AGAPE. That is the word that is used in the New Testament for God’s sacrificial love, which we see in Jesus. It is that Greek word for love that John uses in the Gospel lesson for today, John 3:14-21, for God so loved the world. There is nothing simple about that word. Consider these three things with me. These thoughts are not original. They came from United Methodist preacher James W. Moore (1938-2019).

First, God’s love is wide! John 3:16 begins: For God so loved the world. In other words, it talks about the width of God’s love. Just think about that phrase for a moment. God loves the world! God’s love is not selective. God loves everyone. He loves all nations. He loves people regardless of their language. He loves all denominations. He loves people, regardless of their salvation systems. He loved all people, regardless of their sexuality. He loves the attractive and the not so attractive. He loves the rich and poor. God loves everyone! How do I know this divine truth? Because John 3:16 begins, “For God so loved the world. “That means God even loves you! Never question the width of God’s love.

One of the great personalities of church history was Martin Luther (1483-1546). The great German theologian and reformer will always be remembered as a man of God. However, never forget, he was a man. He was limited by his human tendencies.  He was not a man of great patience. He would often grow frustrated with the people around him. He once grew so frustrated that he said, “If I were God and these vile people were as disobedient as they are now, I would knock the world into pieces!” (How many ugly things have you said in a fit of rage?) The good news for his generation was Martin Luther was not God! Martin Luther was a human being, like you and me. He had limitations. God is different. God has no limitations; God’s love has no limitations. God’s love is wide! God cannot stop loving you because God cannot stop loving everyone! Listen to the phrase again: God so loved the world! The last time I checked we were still in the world. God’s love is wide!

Second, God’s love is deep! John 3:16 continues, he gave his one and only son. In other words, it talks about the depth of God’s love. God loves us, but he did not show up in a with a fist full of flowers, a box of candy, wearing boxer shorts. He was not interested in a one-night stand. God demonstrated his love for us by entering this world to be the perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is what makes Good Friday so bad. Jesus, the incarnation of God, died on the cross to atone for your sins. That is a heavy thought. Jesus’ death made eternal life possible for you and me! Never question the depth of God’s love.

In July of 2019, Johnny and Dawn Vann were busy raising their seven children. One afternoon on a North Carolina Beach the unthinkable happened. A massive high tide wave hit the beach and four of the Vann’s children swept into the ocean. Without thinking about his own safety, Johnny jumped into the water and save his children, one by one. The problem is he could not save himself. Rescue crews tried to save him. Despite 45 minutes of CPR, Johnny died. Dawn said her husband will always be remembered as a good person. I think she is wrong. I think John Vann will be remembered as a great person, because his love for his children was deep. He died so his children could live. How can you question his love? It is not just the story of a father and his children. It is the story of God and mankind. Jesus died so we could live. That is part of the message of John 3:16, he gave his one and only son. God’s love is deep. Do you remember the words of Isaiah 53:5? It says, “By his wounds we were healed.” God’s love is wide and deep!

Third, and finally, God’s love is powerful! Do you remember the story of Clara Barton? During the Spanish-American War, she was overseeing the work of the Red Cross in Cuba. One day Colonel Theodore Roosevelt came to her, wanted to buy food for his sick and wounded Rough Riders. But she refused to sell him any. Roosevelt was perplexed. His men needed the help, and he was prepared to pay out of his own funds. When he asked someone why he could not buy the supplies, he was told, “Colonel, just ask for it!” A smile broke over Roosevelt’s face. Now he understood–the provisions were not for sale. All he had to do was simply ask and they would be given freely. It is not just true of food in the Spanish-American War. It is also true of Heaven!

John 3:16 ends: that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Does anyone here want to go to heaven? If you do then there is only one option. You must accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior. You must believe in Jesus and your hope of salvation will become a reality. It is the greatest gift you will ever receive. It is too good to be true, but it is true. You can live the rest of your life not worrying about death. It is so liberating. However, it will change you. You will spend the rest of your life trying to find a way to thank God for saving your sin sick soul. The love of God is wide, deep, and powerful!

It is called the Gospel in a nutshell! The major theme of Christianity summarized in in one verse. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. This is the Good News for today. You are loved! You have always been loved. You will always be loved. You are loved today. God just cannot stop loving you. C.S. Lewis once said, “Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

So Close, Yet So Far

When I was in high school, football was a big deal. I never played on the team, but I was a fan. That was a good thing because I consider my high school years to be the zenith of high school football in my hometown. The players on those teams became local celebrities. It was common to see a Division One recruiter sitting in the stands on any given Friday night.

It was during my Sophomore year, the best player on the team was a boy by the name of Tyrone. He had all the skills needed for success. He was big, strong, fast, and quick. He drew a great deal of attention from college scouts. I will never forget the day he signed his National Letter of Intent. The local media was present for the announcement. He made that major announcement from the school’s library. (I believe, it was the first time he had journeyed into it.) Tyrone signed his National Letter of Intent and told the world he was going to Washington State University in Pullman, Washington. The whole community was so proud. One of our own was going to the great northwest to play major college football. Once he signed his name, the recruiter from Washington State gave him a Washington State team jersey, a Washington State baseball cap and a football with Washington State painted on it with the team colors, crimson and grey. Tyrone put on his jersey and baseball cap. He grabbed his football, and everyone cheered. The next day, he came to school showing off his new Washington State gear. As he walked down the hall, everyone congratulated him. When he passed by me, I was standing near a teacher by the name of Dick James. Mr. James yelled out to Tyrone, “So Tyrone, you are going to Washington State!” Tyrone grimed and broke into a Heisman Trophy pose. He yelled back, “Yes, sir, Mr. James. I going to be right there with the president.” The noisy hallway grew quiet. Tyrone was so close, yet so far away.

I will confess, I have told you that story in the past several times. I repeated that story today for three reasons. First, I like telling that story. It is fun. Second, people have asked me to retell the story. They like it. Third, the story makes a point. It is easy to be so close, yet so far away. That is what we find the in the scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves today in the second chapter of John. According to the text, it was almost time for the annual Passover. The law dictated everyone within a certain radius must attend the Passover in Jerusalem, but no legislation was needed. Everyone wanted to go to Jerusalem. It was a time to reconnect with family and friends. However, it was also time to pay their taxes at the temple. Jesus goes to the temple and cannot believe his eyes. There were people selling livestock and small birds. There were money changers. Do not miss the next line. They are not there to raise money for the local food bank. They are not there to raise money to pay off some temple debt. They are not there to raise money for the next youth mission trip. They are there for personal profit. So, to speak, they were selling salvation. The animals and birds were sold to be sacrificed. The foreign currency had to be changed into an acceptable currency. Everything was done at a tremendous profit. In the name of God, they were exploiting people. The money made the temple leaders blind to God and the needs of their own people. It is still true today. Money is the greatest obstacle to our spiritual development. It is more than Jesus can handle. In a moment of rage, Jesus scatters the animals and birds. Jesus upends the tables of the money changers. Jesus reminds the people the temple was a place of prayer, not profit. Each one of those temple leaders played the part of Tyrone. They were so close, yet so far away.

I hope that is not our story. We do not want to play the part of Tyrone, so close, yet so far away. It is one of the great challenges facing the church today. We can fill our calendars with important church work and forget why we exist. We exist to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Preparing for worship is time consuming and important, but it is more than just entertainment. Sending our young to church camps and mission trips is important, but those activities are more than wholesome activities. Fundraising is important because we can keep our church financially stable and helps the needy, but money will not save your soul. May we never forget, we are in the disciple making business. So, to keep you from being like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away, I challenge you to do three things today.

First, I challenge you to reaffirm your personal commitment to Jesus Christ! This is a fair question. How did you come to know Jesus Christ? Everyone’s story is different. Everyone’s story is important. There are no bad stories. It does not matter how you came to know Jesus. It only matters that you know Jesus personally. Your parents can not do it for you. Your grandparents can not do it for you. Your preacher can not do it for you. God wants to have a personal relationship with you. Do you want to have a personal relationship with Him?

When Michelangelo was a young boy, he went to a master sculptor, asking to be a student. As they talked about the commitment needed to be a great artist, the master sculptor said, “Michelangelo, it will take your entire life.” Michelangelo responded, “What else is life for?” It is not just true of art. It is true of discipleship. It will take your whole life, but what else matters. Anything less is to be like Tyrone, so close yet so far away.

Second, I challenge you to reaffirm your commitment to the Holy Habits! What are the Holy Habits? The list differs with every group. According to the Living Church, these are the five holy habits: worship, prayer, meditation, Bible study, and service. Others include communion and generosity. How much time do you spend practicing the holy habits? Your answer is very revealing.

There is an old preaching story about a man who bought a parrot at his local pet store. The man was excited about hearing the bird talk, but the bird never said a word. The man returned to the pet store and told the owner about his untalkative parrot. The owner of the store said the bird did not talk because the bird did not have a mirror in the cage. He said, some birds like to preen as they talk, so he bought a mirror for the cage. Still, the bird did not talk, so the man returned to the store. The owner said, you need to buy a ladder. Some birds like to exercise while they talk. Still, the bird did not talk. Next, the owner suggested the man buy a swing for the cage, so the man bought a swing. Some birds like to amuse themselves as they talk. The next day, the owner of the parrot returned to the pet store and announced the bird had died. Shocked, the owner of the pet store asked, “Did the bird ever talk?” The owner responded the bird only spoke once. Seconds before he died the parrot said, “Doesn’t that pet store sell any food?” If you do not practice the holy habits, then you are going to died spiritually. If you do not practice the holy habits, then you are going to be like Tyrone, close, yet far away.

Third, and Finally, I challenge you to reaffirm your commitment to love as a way of life! There is nothing easy about being a disciple of Jesus Christ. From the moment you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you must find a new way, every day, to thank God for saving your soul. The only way to thank God is by helping other people in the spirit of love. You are not just helping others. You are helping yourself. That is the magic of the Christian faith. Several years ago, Duke University released a study. They reported the most fulfilled people are those who live for a bigger cause. There is no bigger cause than God.

In the tenth chapter of Mark is the story of the rich, young ruler. You remember his story. He had it all. He was rich so he could buy anything his heart desired. He was young so his health was intact. If you have your health, then you have it all. He was a ruler, so he had influence in his community. He had everything, but he did not. The only thing he lacked with spiritual peace. According to the story, the rich, young ruler sought out Jesus to find that peace. He asked the question, we have all asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus asked him if he had murdered anyone, been sexually faithful, offered false testimony, and honored his father and mother.” His heart must have jumped when he answered correctly. His heart must have dropped when Jesus told him he lacked only one thing, sell his possessions, and give the money to the poor. He could not do it. The rich, young ruler walked away broken hearted because he was like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away.

Judas Iscariot is the most notorious traitor his history. For three years, he traveled with Jesus. He heard the lessons. He saw the miracles. He felt the presence of the Master. He was trusted and respected by his peers. He was their treasurer. He should have known better, but he betrayed Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. I do not know why. Perhaps, he tried to force Jesus’s hand, thinking he would fight back, but he did not fight back. Instead, Jesus goes to the cross and Judas hangs himself. It would have been better for him if he would have never had been born. Judas Iscariot was like Tyrone, so close, yet far away.

Pontius Pilot should have known better. He was the Roman Governor in that corner of the world. Jesus stood before him, as well as the common criminal Barabbas. Pilot has the power to saved Jesus’s life, but surrendered to public opinion. Instead of releasing the innocent Jesus. Pilot releases the guilty Barabbas. Pontius Pilot should have known better. He was like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away. This is the question you must answer?

Are you like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away? I hope not. I challenge you today to reaffirm your personal commitment to Jesus Christ! I challenge you today to reaffirm to the holy habits! I challenge you today to reaffirm your commitment to love as a way of life. Years ago, Jesus went to the temple and was shocked by their behavior. What would Jesus say to us? Do not be like Tyrone, so close, yet so far away.

Defeating Self-Doubt

Let me begin and end with stories about two bearded presidents. The twenty-third President of the United States was Benjamin Harrison (1833-1901). He was a Republican from Indiana. He served as president from 1889-1893. It was during his term the White House was wired for electricity. The White House was wired for electricity in 1891. Electricity had only been around about ten years. Many were still skeptical. Harrison was one. He must have wished it would have waited for his successor, Grover Cleveland (1837-1908). Historians tells us Harrison was intimidated by electricity. He and his wife, Caroline (1832-1892), refused to touch a single light switch. They were afraid of being electrocuted. They were so paralyzed by fear the Harrisons often slept with the lights on. If no servants were present to turn them off. I tell you that story for one reason. Our fears and self-doubts have a way of paralyzing us. It is a common fact today. That takes us to today’s scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the seventeenth chapter of Genesis. Abram is ninety-nine-years-old. (I do not play the numbers game. If the Bible says he was ninety-nine, then he was ninety-nine.) His covenant with God was yesterday’s news. It had been twenty-four years since God made the great promise to make his descendants a great nation. There is only one problem. He still has no children with Sarai. Abram must have feared he was the reason for God’s inactivity. Abram had made many mistakes. You can find those mistakes between Genesis 12 thru 16. Yet in Genesis 17, we discover that God’s great promise had not been forgotten. To underscore this reaffirmation, God changes Abram’s name. Abram is now to be called Abraham. Abram means “exalted father.” Abraham means “father of many” or “father of the multitude.” The covenant is not just reestablished. It is expanded. Abraham’s self-confidence must have been restored. The way you look at yourself changes everything.

My goal today is to help you restore your self-confidence. That is no small task. How many people do you know struggle with self-doubt? Do you struggle with self-doubt? It is a serious issue. Have you ever stopped to consider Satan puts self-doubt into your life because he does not want you to maximize your full potential? He wants you to live in a shell, afraid to come out. God, on the other hand, wants you to live up to your full potential. He wants you to have the greatest impact on your little corner of the world because you are His ambassador. After all, you are a disciple of Jesus Christ! I am going to restore your self-confidence by asking you three questions. Each correct answer is illustrated in Abraham’s story.

This is the first question. Do you know yourself? Abraham was 99 years old in the Bible story. That means he had 99 years to learn about the world and himself. That is one of the things I like about growing older. Proverbs 20:29 says, “The glory of the young is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old.” Experience has taught me age makes us secure. When you are young you feel like you have something to prove. You must be the fastest. You must be the strongest. You must be well versed in automotive repairs, construction, and French cooking. You must be the best looking and the most successful. Being young is exhausting. The older you grow the less you must prove and the more you learn to like yourself. Today, the only person I am trying to impress today is myself. I am no longer trying to impress you and I do not care if you do not like me. I do not want to sound arrogant. However, I do want to sound secure.

The most liberating words in my life are the words, “I don’t know!” I am quite comfortable confessing my ignorance. I know nothing plumbing, auto repair, foreign policy, sewing, crafts, and the finer details of physics. I cannot speak a word of Portuguese. I cannot read music or play a musical instrument. Except for my awarding winning chili, I do not cook, but I will eat anything. I do not know anyone interviewed on the late-night talk shows. Saying, “I don’t know,” does not mean you do not know anything. It means only means “I don’t know” about certain things. I do not know anything about cardiology, but I know something about God, preaching, the Bible, church growth and group dynamics. I know I love my wife and my wife loves me. This is the truth. I like being sixty-three years old because I have had sixty-three years to learn about myself, my strengths, and my weaknesses. I have grown secure. Abraham had ninety-nine years to learn about himself. Does anyone here know everything? When was the last time you uttered those three little words, “I don’t know?” Abraham knew who he was, and so did Jesus. Let me ask you the first question again, do you know who you are? Self-confident people know themselves.Do you know yourself?

This is the second question. Do you know whose you are? That is Abraham’s story. We can relate to him because he was so much like us. Genesis 12-16 is filled with one story after another about his mistakes. If God was looking for perfection, then He would have passed over Abraham. However, this is the good news. God was not looking for perfection and accepted the imperfect Abraham to be the father of a great nation. It is still true today. If God was looking for perfection, then God would have passed over us. God hungers to be with us not because we are perfect. God hungers to be with us because he loves us.

One of the great preachers of yesteryear was Philip Brooks (1835-1893). He was extremely confident and optimistic. A close friend asked him what the source of his attitude about life was. He replied, “It is really quite simple. I am a Christian.” Once you discover God’s love for you, everything changes. Just think about it for a second. God claims you as a child. In the end, God will be victorious, and He wants to share the spoils of that victory with you! It really does not matter what the world says about you. The only thing that really matters is that God loves you! Jesus was self-confident because he knew whose he was. Abraham was self-confident because he knew whose he was. You should be self-confident because God loves you too. Let me ask you the second question again, do you know whose you are? Self-confident people know they are loved by God. Do you know who you are? Do you know whose you are?

This is the third and final question. Do you know where you are going? Abraham had hope. He knew he had a bright future. He was going to be the father of a great nation. In the Christian faith, Jesus had hope. He knew he was going to heaven when his suffering in this world was over. May we never forget that Jesus suffered. The Apostle’s Creed says: He (Jesus) suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. Jesus knew he was going to heaven when it was all over. All he had to do was hold on, but it is not just Jesus’s story. It is our story too.

Has there ever been a time in your life when you felt completely defeated? There did not seem to be any escape and every day was a challenge. It was a challenging situation, but you have hope because you are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You know the main event is not this world. The main event is heaven. Someday the challenges of this world are going to be over and you get to go heaven! I have said it a million times. The only things that really matter are the things that will matter in one hundred years. The only thing that will matter in one hundred years is Jesus. Someday we are going to heaven! Let me ask you the third question again, do you know where you are going? Self-confident people are hopeful. When you find yourself defeated by self-doubt ask yourself these three questions. Do you know who you are? Do you know whose you are? Do you know where you are going? Let me end with this story.

History tells us Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) was the sixteenth president of the United States. His life is well documented, so it should come as no surprise he was shot at Washington DC’s Ford Theater on April 14, 1865. He died at the Petersen House across the street from the theater a day later. Due to his height, they laid him sideways on the bed. He is considered the last casualty of the American Civil War. The political climate of America on that day was ugly. The country was in turmoil and was ripped to shreds by hatred and a cruel, costly war. In the past, I told you about the items found inside of Lincoln’s pockets on that horrible evening. Do you remember them? In President Lincoln’s pockets were found:

          1. A handkerchief, embroidered “A. Lincoln”
          2. A country boy’s pen knife
          3. A spectacles case repaired with string
          4. A purse containing a $5 Confederate bill
          5. Some newspaper clippings

One of the newspaper clippings was an article written by British statesman John Bright (1811-1889). He called Lincoln, “one of the greatest minds of all times.” Today, that is common knowledge, but that was not the case in Lincoln’s time. Lincoln’s critics were fierce. Lincoln kept Bright’s words for one reason. He could not believe anyone would say he had a great mind. All these years later, we can confess the truth. Lincoln suffered from depression and self-doubt.

I do not have an article which says you are one of the great minds of all time, but I do have a divine truth that cannot be debated. You are a child of God! There is no reason to be filled with self-doubt. You are so valuable to God. You are so valuable to God He sent Jesus into the world so you can spend eternity with him. I hope you do. Canadian author Marty Rubin (born 1964) once said, “Self-doubt inflicts the deepest wounds.”

Proper Identification

Several years ago, I was at the saving’s store. You know the saving’s store. Can I be honest with you? Every time, I go to the saving’s store, I end up back in the electronics department. I am not a big television watcher, but I love to look at all the televisions mounted on the back wall. The screens are all different sizes, but each picture is equally beautiful. I love it when all the screens have the same picture. I was just standing their admiring a picture of a parrot when someone jolted me back to reality. This woman grabbed me by my right arm, spun me around and said, “Randall, is that you?” She gave me a big hung and continued, “Are you home for a visit or have you moved back?” I looked at her and said, “I am not Randall.” She turned a million shades of red and said, “I am so sorry. You look just like my cousin, Randall.” I said, “It is fine. He must be an extra good-looking man.” She smiled and said, “Yes, he is.” Making a proper identification is important!

Several years ago, I received a bill from Alpine Visa. I opened it and discovered I

had been shopping at the Belk’s Department Store in Guntersville, Alabama. I owed about $375. There were only two problems. I have never been to Guntersville, Alabama, or a Belk’s Department Store. I Googled Alpine Visa and found out it was all part of a larger scam. The site suggested I go to my local police department and file a report. About an hour later, I was sitting at the police department and filing a report. The officer told me I was smart for coming. Many would have paid the $375. I am too cheap to pay an extra $375. The officer also said I was a victim of identity fraud. Making a proper identification is important.

In 2014, Katheryn DePrill (born 1987) lived in Allentown, Pennsylvania, along with her husband and three children. She will tell you; life is full of surprises. Her biggest surprise came when she was 12 years old.  She was working on a school project about her family tree. Her parents, Carl and Brenda Hollis, slid a scrapbook in front of her and told her the truth. She was adopted! There is nothing glamorous about her story. She was abandoned by her biological mother in the restroom of the local Burger King. In time, she was adopted by Carl and Brenda, who gave her a loving stable home. Katheryn will always consider them her parents, but she was determined to find her biological mother. She holds no hard feelings against her. She just wants to meet her to fill a void in her heart. It was her mother’s idea to seek help on Facebook. More than 30,000 friends helped Katheryn find her. At 27 years old, Katheryn met her biological mother for the first time.  At the time of Katheryn’s birth, her biological mother was seventeen years old. She had been raped in a foreign country. That story grabbed my attention at several levels. Making a proper identity is important. Making a proper identification is at the very heart of our scripture lesson for today.

We find ourselves in the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark. The first eight verses of Mark introduce us to John the Baptist. He is an interesting character. He wore clothes made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt. He ate locust and wild honey. His wardrobe and diet underscored his one-word message: repent! Unlike Jesus, who went to people, John retreated from people, living in the wilderness. However, the scriptures tell us people responded to his message. Many found John in the wilderness and repented. Each one received a sinner’s baptism, each one needed a sinner’s baptism, except one. The lone exception to the rule was the sinless Jesus. It is his baptism that grabs our attention today. According to Mark, Jesus was immersed in the Jordan River.

The question that haunts this story is, why would the sinless Jesus need a sinner’s baptism? It is an important question with three answers:

  1. Jesus’s baptism fulfilled all righteousness. In other words, Jesus was part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world.
  2. Jesus’s baptism ignited his earthly ministry and ended John’s contributions.
  3. Jesus’s baptism shows us that he completely identified with the sins of mankind.

Jesus’s baptism should never be dismissed. It was a red-letter day in Jesus’s life. Even God, Himself, was there. As Jesus is pulled out of the water, the Almighty speaks, “You are my Beloved Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased.” That line is significant because it eases any doubt of Jesus’s identification. Jesus was the son of God. Jesus was the incarnation. Jesus was the greatest life who has ever lived because he died to make salvation possible for all. Making a proper identification is important. Jesus knew a proper identity was important too.

One of the great stories in the Bible is Peter’s confession. (Mark 8:27-30) It all began with a simple question. Who do people say that I am? (Mark 8:27-30) That is what Jesus asked the disciples. They responded, some thought he was John the Baptist incarnated. Others said, Jesus was the great prophet Elijah. Still others thought he was one of the prophets. They are all impressive answers, but each one of those impressive answers is wrong! It illustrates for us you can identify Jesus in an impressive way and be wrong. That is what we find with other world religions.

If you ask other world religions about Jesus, they have a collection of impressive wrong answers. Let me give you a few examples. Muslims believe Jesus was a great prophet, but he was not the son of God, nor the incarnation of God. Orthodox Jews believe Jesus was the son of Mary, a miracle worker and crucified on a cross. However, he was not the Messiah. Hindus believe Jesus was a Holy or Wise Man. Some Hindus believe Jesus was a god, one of many gods who have existed in history. Buddhists believe Jesus was enlightened. The Bahai faith looks for the best in all world religions. They teach Jesus was one of many manifestations of God. The Druze is a western Asian religion. It is a more of a philosophy than it is a salvation system. They respect the teachings of Jesus and consider him a prophet. They are all impressive answers, but they are all you. Let me ask Jesus’s question again.

Who do people say that I am? In our society, very few completely reject Jesus completely. Most are impressed by Jesus. Some say Jesus was a great role model. He was always loving and forgiving. Some say Jesus was a great teacher. His lessons draw massive crowds, and made each attendee think. Some say he was a great miracle worker, healing the sick, the blind and the demonic. Have you ever called on the name of Jesus to heal a sick loved one? Some say Jesus was a martyr, he died on the cross and created a new way to live. Those answers are not bad answers. They are impressive, but they are incomplete. Making a proper identification is important. Then, Jesus asked the real question.

Who do you say I am? There were twelve disciples, but only one spoke. Peter said, “You are the Messiah.” The rock did not completely understand what he was saying. His understanding of Messiahship would be challenged, but two thousand years later we do understand. Jesus was the very incarnation of God. His three-year ministry changed our world and changed the way we view eternity. Without Jesus, our lives in this world are shallow. Without Jesus, we have no hope of heaven. In the life of the church nothing is more important than Jesus. Without Jesus, we have nothing at all. Making a proper identification is important.

I did some math the other night. I have been on the ministry for thirty-eight years, the last twenty-six here. I am proud of my longevity. My longevity makes me a curiosity in this system, but I feel respected. From time to time, I am asked to be a mentor for a young pastor who come to this district. Generally, I refuse to be anyone’s mentor, but I do offer to be their friend. (Being a mentor would require another pointless form.) I have made some great friends with younger clergy. I feel bad for younger United Methodist clergy because they are beginning their careers in such complex times. The ministry, itself, is simple. I have said it a million times. All one must do is talk about Jesus and care about your people. In the ministry nothing else really matters. Everything else is an extra. Who wants to go to church and not hear about Jesus? God, himself, identified Jesus correctly at his baptism. Jesus was the son of God and our Lord and Savior. In the life of the church, the only thing that really matters is Jesus. Making a proper identification is important.Let me end with an old preaching story, I have told you in the past.

A church received a new minister. The church was full for his first Sunday and he preached a wonderful sermon about Jesus. The second Sunday came, and he preached another wonderful sermon about Jesus. His third sermon was about Jesus. Each week the congregation heard a wonderful sermon about Jesus. This went on for months. Everyone should have been happy, but this was a church. Someone had to complain about all those wonderful sermons about Jesus. One man pulled the minister to the side after worship one Sunday. In the corner of the narthex, he confronted the minister. He began by saying, “Your sermons about Jesus are excellent. However, you have been here for months and all we have heard is about Jesus. Our world is a complex place and there are some many social ills. There are people starving to death. There are diseases that have no curve. There are people who cannot read. There are children lost in slavery and lives being lost in wars. We do not hear about any of those things. All we hear about is Jesus! Doesn’t anything else matter? And the pastor said, “No! Once the world knows Jesus all those other issues will go away.” After all, Jesus is the son of God. Our only hope of salvation. In the life of the church, what really matters to you? Augustine of Hippo (354-430) once said, “Jesus Christ is not valued at all until He is valued above all.”

Real Christianity

We find ourselves in the sixth chapter of Matthew. It was written about the year 50 AD by the disciple known as Matthew, also called Levi. The Gospel was written to Jewish or Jewish-Christians crowd to prove to them that Jesus was their Messiah. The sixth chapter is in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. The scripture is rich. The first verse of our reading introduces three acts of righteousness, giving, praying, and fasting. The entire reading can be distilled down to two words: real Christianity. Jesus wants our faith to be genuine. That is what Jesus is really saying. The Master does not want us to be hypocrites. He does not want us to say one thing and do something else. Jesus wants our faith to be genuine! Jesus wants our faith to be authentic. Jesus wants our faith to be real. So, when you give to the needy, pray and fast do not do it to put on a big show for this world. Do those things privately. Do those things to cultivate your relationship with God, so you can be more like Jesus. Being a real-Christian-sounds easy, but it is difficult. I hope you do not find the next line too shocking.

I was wrong! I thought you punch anything into the google search engine and get an answer, but I was wrong. As I prepared this message, I punched into my google search engine “Examples of Real Christians.” I expected to get a list of names of martyrs or missionaries. Instead, I got qualities of a real Christian, things like loving unconditionally and always forgiving. One site made an interesting comment. They said in the history of the world there has only been one true Christian. His name was Jesus of Nazareth, and he lived several thousand years ago. That means the rest of us are failing in our Christian walk. That means we all have some work to do. I do not want to be depressing, but I do want to be honest. This evening I do not want to just challenge you this evening to do better. I want to help you do better. I am confident your faith will grow if you look at three things.

 First, on this Ash Wednesday, I want to look at yourself. When you look at yourself in a mirror what do you see? I do not mean your mother’s smile or father’s pattern baldness. I mean what kind of a person do you see when you look at yourself? Do you consider yourself a good person? I would guess that most of us consider ourselves good people. The reason we consider ourselves good is because we compare ourselves to the bad people in our community and the world.

If you look at the news, then you know the truth. There are some bad people in our world. Has anyone here looked at the local news or read the newspaper lately? Violence has taken our both the city and the suburbs. Places that were once considered safe are now off limits. We have surplus of murders, abusers, drug dealers and sexual predators. We have suicide bombers and human right violators. There are some bad people in this world. Sin now comes in all sizes and shapes. It is impossible not to compare yourself to them. How can you not feel like a good person when you stand next to a suicide bomber? You can be honest with me?Are you a real Christian or are you a respectable Christian?

 Second, on this Ash Wednesday, I want you to look at Jesus. When you compare yourself to a suicide bomber you reach one conclusion. When you compare yourself to Jesus you come to a completely different conclusion. The gospel story tells us how perfect Jesus was. Jesus was born in the ordinary way but lived an extra ordinary life. He never committed a single sin. His reward for the perfect life was to be executed like a common criminal. His perfection made him the perfect sacrifice for the world’s sins. When you stand next to a suicide bomber you reach one conclusion about yourself but when you stand next to perfection you discover your flaws. If we compare yourself to this suicide bomber you look fine. If we compare ourselves to Jesus, then it is another story. Lent is a time to compare yourself to Jesus. Are you a real Christian or are you just a respectable Christian? We have some work to do.

 Third, and finally, on this Ash Wednesday I want you to look at the cross. The cross was a Roman form of execution. It was designed to make an example out of the criminal. The cross was a common site in the Roman world. Everyone had seen someone die on a cross. It is safe to say, Jesus saw people die on the cross before he went to the cross. He knew the agony that was waiting for him. The dying process took hours! It is difficult to look at the cross, but it is important that we look at the cross. The cross reminds us of God’s great love for us. The cross calls us to rediscover the person inside of you that God intended from the very beginning. Are you a real Christian? Or are you just a respectable Christian? That is the question that haunts us every Lent.

 Andrew Young (born 1932) was the fifty-fifth major of Atlanta. He and his wife did their best as parents. They had four children. They taught each one right from wrong and exposed them to what was important. One night they took their daughter to church to hear an African missionary speak. The speaker was powerful, and their daughter took in every word. Their daughter stayed behind when the program was over to get more information. On the way home she told her parents she believed God was calling her in to the mission’s field. They dismissed those words as a school-girl’s passion. Several years later, Mr. and Mrs. Andrew Young stood at the airport saying good-bye to that daughter. She was headed to the mission’s field of Africa. On their way home the Young’s got into their car. They looked at the empty back seat. They fought back the tears and rode in silence. It was Mrs. Young who spoke first. She said, “Andrew, we always wanted to raise a respectable Christian. I never knew we were raising a real one.” It is the question of Lent. How many real Christians do you know? Perhaps, this is a better question. Are you a real Christian?

Perfect Balance

We find ourselves today in the ninth chapter of Mark. The previous story is noteworthy. Peter has just identified Jesus for the first time as the Messiah. That was a pivotal moment in Jesus’s earth ministry. In many ways, it was the beginning of the end. To underscore the importance of that identification Jesus takes the inner circle, Peter, Andrew, James, and John on a field trip. Jesus takes them to a mountaintop. Many believe, the mountain was Mount Tabor, which stands 1,800 feet high, others say it was Mount Hermon, which stands over 9,000 feet high. For our purpose, it does not really matter. They must have believed they were going to the mountaintop to rest and pray. They had no clue what was about to happen. Without warning, the Bible says Jesus was transfigured. I am not exactly sure what that means, so I cannot explain it. It will have to suffice to say Jesus’s appearance changed. He became transparent and luminous at the same time. The four disciples were shocked. Then, this strange story gets stranger. Without warning, the two greatest personalities of the Old Testament suddenly appear. There was Moses, the great law giver, and there was Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets according to the Jews. Overwhelmed by the experience, the disciples struggled how to respond. Peter mentioned something about constructing shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. There is no time for Jesus to respond because the story even gets stranger. Without warning, God, Himself, suddenly appears, hidden by a cloud. The Almighty announces to everyone present Jesus is his son. For this reason, they should listen to him. And as fast as the scene began, it was suddenly over. As they traveled down the mountainside Jesus tried to explain his future ministry, but his words must have fallen on deaf ears. It was simply too much for a human mind to comprehend. The only thing that brings them back to reality is a problem waiting for them at the base of the mountain. There is a demon possessed boy who needs help. We know it is true. Mountaintop experiences are great, but they do not last. We need mountaintop memories to keep us going. However, we live in the valley surrounded by problems.

The father of the great Methodist movement was John Wesley (1703-1791). His story is well documented. He was homeschooled in Epworth, England by his mother, Susanna. He went to Christ College at Oxford University. It was while he was there, he formed a small group called the Holy Club. They gathered for three reasons: Bible study, prayer, and debate. At some point, the group decided those sacred acts were not enough. They had to help the needy in their community, so they went to the poorest people in that community and sacrificed for their benefit. Wesley even forwent a haircut and gave that money to the poor. The Holy Club had perfect balance. They balanced worship and missions. I appreciate the United Methodist Church because of that balance. That balance of worship and missions is in our DNA. I pray we never lose our balance, for if we do, we will surely fall. John Wesley did not discover that balance between worship and missions. It is found in the story of the transfiguration. Let us look at both sides in more detail.

First, Peter emphasized worship. If you want to exist as a church, then you must worship. It is the one thing the church must do and still be considered a church. Peter understood the importance of worship. Look at the story with me. Peter is at the top of the mountain with Andrew, James, and John. They thought they were going to be alone with Jesus to pray. They experienced so much more. They experienced God! It must have been great. Peter appreciated the moment so much he did not want to leave. He wanted to stray. What did it say in verse 5? Peter said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  Peter emphasized worship.

I appreciate this church because worship is a priority. Prior to the pandemic, we worshipped three times every Sunday morning. We worshipped at various times and in various ways. We worshipped three times on Christmas Eve and four times on Easter morning. We worshipped on Wednesday evenings during Lent. Once the pandemic hit, we found ourselves worshipping in the parking lot using a FM transmitter. Then, we came inside and worshipped virtually. True worship has nothing to do with hymnals, projection systems and organs. True worship has everything to do with experiencing God. Peter emphasized worship and so do we! Because Peter, and us, want to experience God. If you want this church to be what God intended, then we must worship. Peter emphasized worship! However, in the life of the church, there must be more.

Second, the other eight disciples emphasized missions. In the reading beyond our reading, Jesus descends the mountain with Peter, Andrew, James, and John. The four must have been on a spiritual high, but the reality of this world was waiting for them. The other eight disciples are debating with a crowd. In the eye of a debate was a demon-possessed boy. Jesus exorcised the demons because the disciples were unable to do the miraculous. Do not be critical of the eight because they were doing their best to respond to human need. Responding to human need is important because it shows the world our faith is sincere. Churches and individual Christians who do not respond to human are shallow and hypocritical. That is what we found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) You know the story.

It all begins with a question. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus was being tested. That question was answered with a story. A man was traveling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man must have been a fool because only a fool would travel that dangerous road alone. That road was notorious. The expected happened. The man is robbed and stripped of his possessions, including his clothes. Laying there in his birthday suit, he is left to die. The good news is people saw him at his time of need. People who should have helped him. There was a Priest and a Levite. The Priest was from the line of Aaron and a leader in the Jewish faith. The Levite was from the line of Levi and had various religious duties. Both spent their lives worshipping, but they never heard a single word. They did not respond to the man in need. Both walked on the other side of the road and refused to help. The unlikely hero in the story is a half breed. The Samaritans were a mixed raced people. They were a combination of Jew and Gentiles. That was shocking to the Jews of Jesus’s time. No one expected much from him, but he comes to the aid of his fellow man. The Bible says he had pity on him. I think he had compassion for him. He bandaged his wounds, he got him help, and he gave generosity to his relief. So, you answer the question, who is my neighbor? The answer is not the religious people, who sat on every committee at the synagogue and knew every line of liturgy. The answer is the Samaritan because he showed compassion. Christians who do not respond to human need are shallow and hypocritical. That is why missions is so important.

I appreciate this church because missions are a priority. Have you ever taken an inventory of all the mission outreaches that come out of this church? The list is impressive. Several years ago, Kathryn and I took sun dresses to Haiti made by the sewing ladies of this church. Since the pandemic, they have made countless face masks to keep people safe. The Helping Hand Closet has raised a small fortune to help a variety of local people who have found themselves in need. Prior to the pandemic, the prison ministry, Kairos strived to save the souls of the incarcerated. I miss seeing that mountain of chocolate cookies. Out in the narthex sits our wooded cow, Bill Johnson. He was purchased by a Christian woman with a good heart. The money placed in the bucket in his mouth goes to the Heifer Project. They buy animals to help those living in the Third World. Thousands of dollars have been raised and countless animals have been purchased that to the generosity of this church. Annually, our youth go on a mission trip to help the poot somewhere else. We have been doing this for twenty years. They have gone has far south and east as Wilmington, North Carolina and as far west and north as Madison, Wisconsin. The Giving Tree makes sure everyone gets a Christmas present. The Warm Weather Tree helps the locals of this area stay warm during the winter months. Did you know this church gave away $13,000 last year to missions, $10,000 went to Christian Camp Gideon in Estonia so boys and girls can learn about Jesus? We have never had a special offering that was a failure. If there has been a natural disaster, we have responded. Your generosity is extremely humbling. I could go on, but I will not. The other eight disciples were involved with human needs. In other words, they were involved in missions. If you want this church to be what God intended, then we must be involved in missions. Peter emphasized worship! The eight other disciples emphasized missions! Do you see the balance?

The story of the transfiguration and the story of the demon possessed boy cannot be separated. Those two stories model for us the perfect balance that should exist within the life of the church. The transfiguration on the mountain represent worship. In worship, we want to experience God. The Almighty is not just pleased with worship, He expects worship. The demon possessed boy represents missions. Our world, locally, nationally, and internationally are filled with problems. God expects the church to respond to human need. In the life of the church both worship and missions are important. It is impossible to be the church God intended and not worship. It is impossible to be the church God intended and not be involved in missions. It is imperative worship and mission stay in perfect balance. For if that balance is lost, we will fall.

Nik Wallenda (born 1979) is a seventh-generation family member of the Flying Wallendas. He is a true American daredevil. He has done some amazing things to display his courage. On June 16, 2012, he walked over Niagara Falls. Tens of thousands of people gathered around the falls on that Friday night to watch him do it, and millions more watched on television.I was one of the millions. He walked on a two-inch wire that was suspended 200 feet in the air over the Horseshoe Falls. It took him less than twenty-five minutes. It really was amazing! I have a difficult time walking on ice on my driveway. Can I state the obvious? It was vital he kept his balance.

It is vital for us to keep our balance too. To be the church God intended us to be we need both worship and missions. We need to keep worshipping and we need to continue to respond to human need. It is not just what I expect from us. It is what God expects from us.

Sympathy and Compassion

Once again, we find ourselves in the first chapter of Mark. Today’s story is nothing more than a continuation of last week’s story. So, the background material remains the same. Jesus is still in Capernaum. Jesus is still with his first disciples, Peter, Andrew, James, and John. It is still the Sabbath. You remember the story. Jesus went to the synagogue to worship and teach. He taught as one with authority. Not on the agenda that day was an exorcism. It was quite a scene. The whole community must have been abuzz about the exorcism and Jesus’s healing power. When worship was over Jesus went to the home of Simon and Andrew for the main meal of the day. It is while Jesus is in this private residence that he is told that Simon’s mother-in-law is sick. We do not know her exact condition. We are only told she is sick and in bed. Her exact problem is not important. The only thing that is important is that Jesus healed her. However, Jesus’ day was not over. According to the text, Jesus was a better man than me. (No surprise there!) After worship, I take my weekly Sunday afternoon nap. After worship, Jesus healed many in Capernaum. The healing of the demonic had spread so people brought their loved ones to Jesus to be healed. Those healings drained Jesus. Early the next morning, he retreated to a deserted place to pray. In the end the disciples find him, and Jesus relocates the ministry. It is a great story.

It is a great story because it drips with compassion. Think about it for a moment. The people in the story are not just sympathetic. The people in the story are compassionate. Sympathy only feels, compassion helps. Peter’s mother-in-law would have remained ill and maybe died, but the people had compassion on her and got her help. Verse 30 says, “they immediately told Jesus about her.” If “they” would have remained silent, then she would not have been healed. The news of the healing spread rapidly. By that evening many sick and diseased people were arriving because their loved ones had compassion on them. Verse 34 says, “Jesus healed many of their various diseases and exorcised more on that evening.” No one would have been healed or exorcised if their loved ones if their loved ones only had sympathy on them. They were healed and exorcised because their loved ones had compassion on them. Jesus, himself, had compassion on the afflicted and healed many. In the end, Jesus is exhausted and is forced to retreat to a quiet place to rest.

Never underestimate the power of compassion. It has a way of softening our hard world. We respect compassionate people because they remind us the world is not all bad. There are still people who want to help those less fortunate. Ours is not the first generation. The compassionate have always existed.

Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) is remembered as a compassionate man. He often visited the hospitals during the Civil War to cheer up the wounded. He had sympathy for all the wounded. Occasionally he had compassion. On one such occasion, he saw a young soldier, who was near death. “Is there anything I can do for you?” asked the compassionate President. “Please write a letter to my mother,” the young soldier replied. Unrecognized by the soldier, Lincoln sat down and wrote as the youth told him what to say. The letter read,

          My Dearest Mother,

I was badly hurt while doing my duty, and I will not recover. Do not sorrow too much for me. May God bless you and Father. Kiss Mary and John for me.

The young man was too weak to go on, so Lincoln signed the letter for him and then added this postscript,

        Written for your son by Abraham Lincoln.

Seconds later, the young man awoke. He asked to see the note, the soldier was astonished to discover who had shown him such kindness. “Are you really our President?” he asked. “Yes,” was the quiet answer. You cannot tell me Abraham Lincoln did not have a compassionate side. However, it is not just true in history. Compassion is still softening our hard world today.

His name is Henry Darby. His story was told by NBC last week. By day he is the principle at South Carolina’s North Charleston High School. By night he stocks shelves at the local Walmart. He is not working those extra hours because he needs to money. He is working those extra hours to help his students who are in need. Every cent he makes goes to them. There is a surplus of need in his school. There are students living under bridges. There are students living in cars. There are students sleeping on an old-stained mattress in unheated trailers. Hard hit by the Coronavirus, 90% of the student body in North Charleston, South Carolina live below the poverty line. To ease his grandchildren’s financial burden, that is what he calls his students, he got a job at Walmart in the middle of the night. On the days he works those extra hours, he gets two hours of sleep a night. His humility is impressive. He said, “You just do what you need to do.” The only thing he asks of his students is to pay it forward. Henry Darby’s story grabbed my attention and my heart. Every night I go to bed, I think of Mr. Darby stacking shelves at Walmart to help other people. He is not just a man of sympathy, who feels bad for his students, He was a man of compassion, who does his best to help. How do you question his compassion? It is not that hard to find compassionate people. I found one at home.

For over a decade, my wife Kathryn and I traveled to Russia to help orphans. It was really her ministry. I would go to support her. Those children were her passion. She did all the work. With little help, she handled the finances, the passports, and the visas to get into the evil empire. She made the plane reservations. She had the contacts in Russia. She raised the money to pay for the orphans needed items, like shoes and medicines. She did it all and never took a single cent. As she spoke at one group after another about the orphans, people would say, “I cannot go because I would want to adopt them all.” That line got old. I knew that was not true because the orphans smelled too bad. Each orphan had a heavy scent of body order. They tried to mask it with men’s cologne women’s perfume. This is the truth. Some did not want to go. Some could not go. Some were afraid to go. Some could not get over the politics. I can only speak for myself. I am glad I went, and I would still be going, if not for Vladimir Putin. He has his own problems today.

If you ask Kathryn about those trips, she will bring up Vlad. She has a special bond with him. He was a social orphan. His parents were alive, but they gave him to the state because he had no legs. He lost them at twelve years old while jumping off railroad cars in Moscow. In his orphanage many of the children had severe disabilities. She really could not help them, but she could help Vlad. If Vlad had been born in America, he would he fitted with prosthetic legs, but he was born in Russia and was given a wheelchair and placed in an orphanage. She was determined to help him, and she did. She raised the needed funds, over $20,000. She got in touch with doctors. She got permission from the orphanage to bring him to America. Vlad lived with us for several months so the work could be completed. Not every day was rewarding. In time, because of those legs, he moved out of the institution and lives independently. We still communicate with Vlad. She still helps Vlad, financially. Like most Russians, he has a hard life, but he is thankful he is not living in an institution. He is thankful he has a future. He has a future because a Christian woman did not just have sympathy for him. He has a future because a Christian woman had compassion for him. The Dalai Lama (born 1935) once said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Has there ever been a time in your life when needed some compassion? Let me answer that question. The answer is YES!

This is the good news for today! Jesus was not just sympathetic about our problem with sin. Jesus was compassionate about our problem with sin. In other words, Jesus did not just feel bad for us, he helped us. You know the story. Jesus was born in the ordinary way, yet he lived an extraordinary life. For three years, he was involved in active ministry and did not do a single thing wrong. He loved everyone and never committed a single sin. He deserved a large prize, but, instead, he received an ugly cross. During Passover, his enemies unleashed their horrible plan. On Friday was Jesus was nailed to a cross, a Roman form of execution. Once dead, they took his lifeless body down and placed it in a new tomb. On Saturday, his enemies celebrated because Jesus was dead. On Saturday, his loved ones grieved because Jesus was dead. On Sunday, those two groups had their lives turned upside down. It was early in the morning when a handful of women showed up at Jesus’s tomb. To their society they were second class citizens. To God they were something special. God entrusted them with a message that would change the world. Jesus had returned from the dead. For forty days, the resurrected Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God and proved to everyone he was not a ghost. His was a bodily resurrection. He required food to be satisfied. At the end of the forty days he ascended into heaven, where he is today. The Apostle Paul understood the power of that resurrection. In Romans 6:23 Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In other words, Jesus was not just sympathetic to our sin problem, feeling bad. Jesus was compassionate to our sin problem and died on the cross so we could live!

What the Needy Need

I love the story of a hotel who was holding two conventions at the same time. One of the conventions salesmen. The other convention was ministers. When dinner came the kitchen had to work at top speed. For dessert, the salesmen were having spiked watermelon. But the chef discovered that it was being served to the ministers by mistake. “Quick!” he commanded a waiter. “Bring it back!” The waiter returned, reporting that it was too late. The ministers were already eating the liquor-spiced treat. “Did they like it?” asked the chef. “I believe they did,” replied the waiter. “They are putting the seeds in their pockets.” Today’s message is not about ministers, those who are divinely called into Christian leadership. Today’s message is about ministry, responding to human need in the name of Jesus. That takes us to our scripture reading.

We find ourselves today in the first chapter of Mark. Our reading for today followings the reading from last week. According to the text, Jesus and his followers, Peter, Andrew, James, and John are in Capernaum, the hometown of Peter. Jesus used Peter’s home as a base of operation when he was in Galilee. On the Sabbath, Saturday, Jesus went to the local synagogue to worship. During that time, the synagogue was also used to teach the sacred scriptures. Jesus was a rabbi, a teacher, so he taught. Jesus’s lesson was effective, and he impressed everyone who was present. Verse 22 says, he taught with authority. Everyone is happy, except one. A single individual was not impressed with Jesus. He was intimidated by Jesus. The author, Mark, explains why. The man was demon possessed. The demon spoke through the man and the demon inquired about Jesus’s intentions. He asked, “What do you want from us?” Notice, it is one demon speaking for many. In the end, the demon is exorcised, and the man is liberated. The congregation is impressed and spreads the good news about Jesus. The eyewitnesses of the event cannot help but to tell their world. It is an amazing story. However, I hope you look at this old story in a new way. Do not just think of the man as a demon possessed man. Think of the man as an individual in need. Once you do, the story becomes relevant. How many needy people exist in our world?

How many needy people do you know? Today, I am not talking about world issues, like hunger, illiteracy, or political corruption. I am talking about individuals in your life who are struggling. There is no shortage. How many people do you how are struggling with a physical problem? How many people do you know are struggling with cancer? How many people do you know are struggling with the coronavirus? How many people do you know are struggling with a condition with no solution? How many people do you know are dealing with a broken relationship? Their brother lives around the corner, but they have not spoken for years. Does anyone know someone with a financial problem? Do you know someone who is facing bankruptcy? How many people do you know are filing for bankruptcy for a second time? How many people do you know are struggling with their parents? It maybe their health. It maybe their driving? You know Dad should not be driving but you just cannot take the keys. After all, he is your dad. Do you know of anyone who is struggling with their children? They are approaching forty and they still cannot live with you. They just cannot find the on ramp to the highway called life. Do you know of someone with a legal problem? Do I have to go on? Do I really have to go on? There are so many people with so many problems. We are surrounded by needy people. I do not know anyone who does not know someone, who is in need. The question is not if they have problems. The question is, how do you respond to those problems?

A select few are called to be ministers, but God expects all believers to minister, to serve Him in this world. We are surrounded by the needy. How comfortable are you responding to the needy? If not very, I hope this message helps you. Jesus models for us how to respond to the needy. The needy need our attention.

In the 1950s, Stanley Arnold was asked to develop a marketing campaign for men’s shavers’ manufacturer, Remington. It was considered one of the most conservation companies in America. The project intimated Arnold at first but then came up with a magnificent idea. He went to the New York offices of Merrill and Lynch and placed the ultimate odd-lot order: “I want to purchase,” he told the broker, “one share of every single stock listed on the New York Stock Exchange.” It came to more than $42,000 for one share in each of the 1098 companies listed at the time. Arnold took his diversified portfolio into a meeting of Remington’s board of directors, where he argued passionately for a sweepstakes campaign with the top prize called “A Share in America.” The conservative old gentlemen shifted around in their seats and discussed the idea for a while. “But Mr. Arnold,” said one, “we are not in the securities business. We are in the shaver business.” “I agree that you are not in the securities business,” said Arnold, “but I think you also ought to realize that you are not in the shaver business either. You are in the people business.” He was right!

May we never forget we are in the people business. We are not in the restaurant business. We are not in the building maintenance business. We are not in the education business. We are not in the music business. We are not in the keeping traditions alive business. Those things are not bad, but they are not our business. We are in the people business because Jesus was in the people business. Jesus came into the world to be the bridge between God and man. We are to help people find that bridge. The people who have helped me the most during my time of need did not just give me a check or can of tuna. The people who helped me the most gave me some attention. Jesus spoke to the man directly and gave him his attention. How much attention are you giving the needy in your world?The needy need our attention. However, the needy do not just need our attention. They also need our respect.

Consider this simple fact with me, most of the time the Bible does not report Jesus’s planned and formal teachings. Rather, the Bible talks about the interruptions that came along as Jesus traveled. That is what happened in this story. Jesus goes to the synagogue to worship and teach. Mark does not tell us the topic of his lecture, but Mark does tell us about the interruption caused by the demonic. An exorcism was not on the agenda. However, there is no sign in the text, Jesus was upset about the interruption. The most important thing to Jesus was people. This is not the only place. In the eighth chapter of Luke, Jesus came down from the mountainside and was interrupted by a leper. In the end, Jesus heals the man. In the same chapter, a centurion came to Jesus begging for his servant. His quality of life is near zero, but in the end, Jesus heals him. In the story of Zacchaeus, Luke 19, Jesus enters Jericho and is welcomed by a big crowd. However, a small man, Zacchaeus, stops the whole parade. Once again, Jesus is interrupted and, once again, Jesus does not care. Time and time again, Jesus was interrupted, and time and time again, Jesus treated those interruptions with respect because people are more important than agendas or plans. Jesus respected everyone.

Let us be honest, life is hard. There are many who feel like they do not matter. The world is constantly telling us we do not matter. We do not matter because we are too old, or young. We do not matter because we do not have a vast portfolio. We do not matter because we do not have the right connections. We do not matter because of the color of our skin, our sexual identity, or our educational level. The world is always telling us we do not matter, but we do matter. When you treat someone with respect, you are telling them they matter. Jesus showed the leper he mattered. When Jesus healed the centurion’s servant, he told him he mattered. When Jesus stopped the parade for Zacchaeus, he was telling him he mattered. When Jesus healed the demonic in the synagogue, he was telling him me mattered. When you help the needy you are telling them, they matter, and you matter too. Everyone matters because everyone is loved by God. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.The needy need our attention. The needy need our respect. The needy need our honesty.

The other day, I was at home watching one of those morning shows. The segment was about eating healthy. They had a skinny bald man on who was making healthy smoothies you could eat for breakfast. It started off with a frozen banana and some buckwheat, followed by kale. Then, he added seeds and bran flakes. He finished it off by throwing in a tumble weed and an acorn, for flavor. He hit the button on the blender and the final product was poured into a glass. Can I be honest with you? It looked disgusting. The interviewer drank his and told the world it was delicious. Then, they went back to the studio and the other announcers said they were jealous because it looked great. There must have been six back at the studio, but only one was honest. Carson Daily said, that looks disgusting. Make me a donut smoothy. Everyone else was shocked by his response, but I thought it was great because he was simply being honest.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.” The needy need our honesty. Sometimes are honesty is affirming. “You aren’t that bad.” “Do not be so hard of yourself.” “You are a good person.” “You are not stupid.” Sometimes, our honesty sounds critical. You do not want to hurt them, but they need to learn. Respect them enough to tell them the truth. Does someone in your life need to hear they are a financial disaster because they need to get a job. Does someone in your life need to hear they are lonely because they are selfish? Does someone in your life need to hear you have done nothing with their life because you lack ambition and drive. Does someone in your life need to hear their health is poor because they have unhealthy habits. They eat too much. They exercise too little. They smoke. Does someone in your life do poor in school and says the teachers are poor and do not like them. Respect them enough to be honest. They are lazy, not unliked or stupid. Does someone in your life need honesty? Do not tell them those things because you want to hurt them. Be honest with them because you care about them and want to help them. Jesus was honest with the demonic. He had a spiritual problem. The needy need honesty. The needy need our attention, respect, and honesty. Let me end with this old preaching story.

An elderly widow, restricted in her activities, was eager to serve Christ. After praying about this, she realized that she could bring blessing to others by playing her piano. The next day she placed this small ad in the Oakland Tribune: “Pianist will play hymns by phone daily for those who are sick and despondent–the service is free.” The notice included the number to dial. When people called, she would ask, “What hymn would you like to hear?” Within a few months her playing had brought cheer to several hundred people. Many of them freely poured out their hearts to her, and she was able to help and encourage them. Her ministry had touched the lives of many! That simple story illustrates a simple point.

We are surrounded by needy people. It can be overwhelming but remember these three points. The needy need our attention. The needy need our respect. The needy need, and deserve, our honesty. We are surrounded by a needy world. How are you going to respond?