A Matter of Integrity

What would you do for $10,000,000? That was the question James Patterson (born 1947) and Peter Kim (born 1958) asked countless Americans. Their findings found their way into a 1991 book called The Day America Told the Truth. What would you do for $10,000,000? According to them, Americans would do these things:

  • 25% said they would abandon their family
  • 23% said they would become prostitutes for a week
  • 16% said they would give us their American citizenship
  • 16% said they would leave their spouse
  • 10% said they would withhold testimony to enable a murderer to go free
  • 7%   said they would murder a stranger
  • 3%   said they would put up their children for adoption

Those findings came in 1991, thirty-one years ago. How much uglier do you think those findings would be today? Those findings tell me two things. First, there is a surplus of desperate people in our land. Money seems to have a death grip on us. According to a 2020 Experian study, the average American holds $92,727 in consumer debt. Second, there is a shortage of integrity in our land. Integrity is defined as, the quality of being honest, and having strong moral principles. Do the people in your life consider you a person of integrity? How many people do you know of true integrity? What would you do for $10,000,000? That leads us to our scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the first eleven verses of the fifth chapter of Acts. To the casual reader, it is an odd piece of scripture. A couple in the early church, Ananias and Sapphira, sell a piece of land and give some of the profit to the church. How can giving money to the church be a bad thing? In my time in the ministry, I never refused a donation, no matter how small. However, according to our story, Ananias and Sapphira gave to the church and for their act of generosity they died. I am shocked every time I read this story. I am not alone. We are told in verse eleven the whole church was shocked.

It is only when you dig into the story that you begin to understand what happened. The fact that money is involved blinds us to the divine truth. They had every right to keep some of the money for themselves. However, they pretended they gave all the money. Verse two tell us they laid the money at the apostle’s feet. In other words, they made a big show of their giving. They pretended like they gave it all. There is no other way to say it. Ananias and Sapphira were liars. They lied because they wanted false praise. They lied because they wanted to be applauded. They lied because they wanted a pat on the back. Ananias and Sapphira were hypocrites, and the church will not tolerate hypocrites. In the end the couple dies. There is no harsher punishment then death. The story warns us about being a hypocrite. It encourages us to be people of integrity. Do the people in your life consider you a person of integrity? Do the people in your life a hypocrite?

As a disciple of Jesus Christ, you must be a person of integrity. You must be a person of high moral and professional standards. Do not misunderstand me. Your integrity will not save your soul. After all, we are saved by grace. We are only saved by the precious blood of Jesus. Being a person of integrity has nothing to do with your salvation, but it everything to do with your witness. Your integrity will enhance your witness. Our world will forgive many things, but our world will not tolerate hypocrisy. Ananias and Sapphira died because they were hypocrites. Your witness will die if you are a hypocrite. You must be a person of integrity. If you want to be a person of integrity, then there are three things you must do. These points are not original. They came from James W. Moore (1938-2019).

People of integrity are honest! Years before Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) entered politics he lived in a New Salem, Illinois. He had a variety of jobs. He once worked in a general store. One day a man came in and purchased a few items. Once the transaction was complete Lincoln discovered he had shortchanged the customer. It was only a few cents, so he tried to find him after work. It was only then that he discovered that the customer lived 17 miles out of town. Lincoln walked the enter way to correct the error. As the story of that experience spread Lincoln was given the name “Honest Abe.” Do the people in your life consider you honest? Before you answer, consider the fact that honesty is such a complex thing.

I have two adult daughters, Sarah and Anna. We raised them the same, but they are completely different. When they lived with us, Sarah led with her heart; Anna led with her brain. If you wanted to feel better about yourself, you talked to Sarah. If you need the absolute truth, you talked to Anna. One day, I was at home dressing for some activity. I walked downstairs and looked at Sarah and said to her, “How do I look?” Sarah answered, “You look great!” Just then Anna walked into the room. I asked her the same question, “How do I look?” She said, “Do you want me to be honest?” I said, “Yes!” (That wasn’t the right answer.) Anna answered, “Your race is red. Your nose is big. Your hair is messed up. Your shirt is wrinkled. Your pants are too long, and your shoes are old.” She ended by saying, “You may want to consider a breath mint.” I looked at Sarah and said, “Is she telling me the truth? Why didn’t you tell me?” She said with a sheepish look on her face, “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.” Have you ever told a white lie to protect someone’s feelings? When I say people of integrity are honest, I am not talking about feelings. I am talking about personal gain. Would you lie for some personal gain? That is the story of Ananias and Sapphira. They lied for personal gain. People of integrity are honest. Are you honest?

People of integrity are true! American Christian author Charles Swindoll (born 1934) tells the story about a man who bought two chicken dinners late one afternoon at a fast-food restaurant. The attendant inadvertently gave him the proceeds from the day’s business–a bucket of money (much of it, cash) instead of fried chicken. The man didn’t have a clue. It was only when he arrived at the picnic spot with his date that he opened the bag. It was at that moment they discovered the $800. The man and his date did the honest thing. They put the money back into the bag and returned to the restaurant. He walked in and handed the money filled bag to the manager. He said, “I think this is yours.” Obviously, the manager was relieved and thrilled to death. He looked at the man and said, “Don’t go anywhere. ’Let me call the newspaper. I’m going to have your picture put in the local paper. You must be the most honest man in this community.” The man begged him not to call the newspaper. He pointed to his date and said, “This young woman isn’t my wife. She is married to someone else, and I am married to someone else too. Our spouses don’t need to know we are together.” This is the point. One can be honest and still not have integrity. If you want to be a person of integrity, then you must be true. In other words, you must keep your word. Go back to the text.

At some point in his life Ananias and Sapphira became Christians. They believed the Gospel message and understood the power of the resurrection. They celebrated the fact they were going to heaven. They said the right things. The problem was they didn’t do the right things. They didn’t keep his word. When was the last time you broke your word? Are you a person of integrity? Are you honest? Are you true?

People of integrity are loyal! There is no way you can turn this story and tell me Ananias and Sapphira were loyal. These were the early days of the church. Everything was new. Everyone was a charter member. Ananias and Sapphira had just accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. They had just promised to live for him. Their promise didn’t last long. There is an old preaching story about a young solder, who confided in his chaplain he never cheated on his girlfriend if she was less than fifty miles away. His loyalty went fifty miles. How far does your loyalty go? Are you a person of integrity? Are you honest? Are you true? Are you loyal?

Look at the story with me one more time. Ananias and Sapphira were not people of integrity. They were hypocrites. They were not honest. They were not true. They were not loyal. In the end, they died and the only thing they brought to the people in their lives was sadness. What are you bringing to the people in your life? Are you a person of integrity?

Approximately, two months ago, I retired. I had been in the ministry forty years, the last twenty-eight years at the Western Reserve United Methodist in Canfield, Ohio. I left with many memories of many wonderful people. These blogs are filled with their stories. However, one of the people I missed the most is a man named George. He was the first person I met at Western Reserve. In 1994, he was the chair of the Staff-Parish Relations and helped move to that community. From the very beginning, I considered him a great man of integrity. I never questioned his honesty. I never questioned his word. I never questioned his loyalty. When George said something, it was like signing a legal contract. It was a sad day for that church when George moved away because he was the spirit of that congregation. This is the truth. George brought the best out of me. He didn’t do it because he was ever critical in anyway. He brought the best out in me because I respected him because he was such a man of integrity.

That is what people of integrity do. That is why people of integrity are important. Our world has a surplus of hypocrites and a shortage of people with integrity. Here is a question you must answer. Do the people in your life consider you a person of integrity? American author H. Jackson Brown Jr. (1940-2021) once said, “Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.”

Let Us Pray

Years ago, I served three small membership United Methodist congregations in Belmont County, Ohio. I was proud to serve the Morristown, Lloydsville and Bannock churches. Combined, they averaged eighty people on an average Sunday morning. You could drive the loop in 12 miles. My three churches were teamed with two other United Methodist congregations in the area, Belmont and Bethesda. Together, we formed the West Belmont Cooperative Parish.

Every Monday morning the pastors of those churches would meet. The pastor of the Belmont church was a guy by the name of Lew. He was sort of an odd fellow, but I liked him. He wore a rumbled shirt and sported an un-groomed beard with uncombed hair. His glasses were always dirty and sliding down his nose. He left the ministry years ago. He was more passionate about computers, then he was anything else.

At one of our Monday morning gatherings, he showed up with his computer. Within the first few minutes, he turned it on and asked the group, “Can I show you something?” He hit a few buttons and showed us a list of prayer requests. He flashed his yellow smile and said, “My church is compiling a list of prayer requests. We are going to prove to the world that prayer works.” I thought that was an odd thing to do, so I said nothing. I thought, how many answered prayers do you need to prove pray works? Lost in his computer world, Lew showed us his list. There was all kind of things on it.

  1. Vern was facing knee surgery
  2. Doris’ children were traveling up from Charlotte
  3. Jennifer was taking a big exam in school
  4. Dorothy was trying a new hair color and prayed she would like it
  5. Kelly wanted a date with someone named Steve
  6. Rain for the crops
  7. Lois was worried about a new recipe

Wanting to impress us with his computer, he printed the list out and gave each one of us a copy. When I got home, I looked the list again. The more I studied the list the more critical I grew. Everything on that list was about them, their wants, their needs, and their desires. I hate to say it. Their prayer requests were extremely narrow and selfish. Listen to what I am about to say. There is more to prayer than our wants, needs and desires. Prayer is not about us. Prayer is really about God. That takes us to the scripture lesson for today.

We find ourselves in the fourth chapter of Acts, verses twenty-three through thirty-one. Much has happened already. It is really a continuation of a single story. It began in the third chapter, where Peter healed a lame beggar. The miracle created a crowd and Peter took that opportunity to talk about Jesus. In the end, Peter and his companion, John, were arrested. Once released, they were sent back to their own people. The Apostles reported on what had happened, and the people responded by praising God in prayer. It is that prayer that grabs our attention. Those early believers knew what we often forget. Prayer is not about us. Prayer is about God. Their prayer models for us three things we should never forget in our prayers. It is those things I want to look at in this blog.

First, when you pray never forget the sovereignty of God! One of the most beloved stories in the Bible is the story of Jonah. We think of it as a children’s story. However, it is really a story for adults. You know the story as well as I. Jonah was the reluctant prophet. God tells him to go to Nineveh because they need to repent. The problem is Jonah does not want to go. This is the question you must answer to understand the book. Why doesn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh? The reason is the people of Nineveh were Gentiles and Jonah was a Jew. He only wants God to love people who are just like him. This is the point. Every day we play the part of Jonah. We only want to love people who are just like us. When was the last time you prayed for someone who wasn’t just like you?

When you pray remember the sovereignty of God. When God looks at the world, he doesn’t see political boundaries or different philosophies of living. God is not a racial profiler. God does not have a foreign policy. God does not see Americans and non-Americans. God does not see one’s sexual orientation. God has never uttered the phrase, “Charity begins at home.” (That is such an unchristian phrase. It was shut down any church.) God only sees human needs and suffering. Look at verses 24b-26. It says, “When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed one.’”  The early believers knew of the sovereignty of God. I hope we never forget about the sovereignty of God. I challenge you to remember sovereignty of God the next time you pray.

Second, when you pray never forget the supremacy of Jesus! Max Lucado (born 1955) is a Christian author and clergyman. He once said:

If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.

If your greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.

If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.

If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.

But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

When you pray remember the supremacy of Christ. Jesus was the greatest life that ever lived. I am sure the founders of the other world regions were fine people, but they can not hold a candle next to Jesus. He is the bridge between God and humankind. He is our only hope of salvation. The early church understood the supremacy of Christ. In the second chapter of Philippians Paul wrote:

He (Jesus) humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

 Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.

In verse 27 of our scripture lesson, Jesus is called the anointed one. To the early church, Jesus was everything. Some things should not change. Jesus should be everything to us. I challenge you to remember sovereignty of God and the supremacy of Jesus the next time you pray.

Third, when you pray never forget the sanctity of the church! In 1949, the Chinese communist government expelled all foreign missionaries. That action signaled the beginning of a new round of Christian persecution. For decades, there was next to no news about the church in China. The only thing the church could do was pray. Everyone expected the worst. Then, the world found out what was happening, revival! In 1949, there were 1.8 million Christians in China. By the year 2000, there were 26 million Christians. In 2018, the Chinese government declared there were 44 million Christians in China. Yes, there is terrible persecution, but there is also revival!

When you pray never forget the sanctity of the church. I am not talking about the human organization we call the church, the one that is filled with boards and committees. I am talking about that organism God calls the church, the body of Christ, those individuals who are glorifying the name of Jesus, and those individuals who are still proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ. Verses 29-31 says, “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.”  I challenge you to remember sovereignty of God, the supremacy of Jesus, and the sanctity of the church the next time you pray.

Saint Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was an Italian friar, deacon, and mystic. He died at the age of 44. Don’t let his age fool you. We know his name because of his spiritual maturity. He once uttered this prayer:

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive it; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. 

Saint Francis knew the truth. Prayer is not about us. Prayer is about God.

One of the saints in my life is a woman named Carol. She truly is an amazing Christian woman. I have known her for years. My wife Kathryn has known her longer. As a matter of fact, Carol was Kathryn’s Sunday School teacher during her High School years. Years later, she babysat our daughter, Anna, in her home. Life is funny. Carol and Anna are now Facebook friends. Every visit with Carol is a treat. On one such visit, Kathryn looked at Carol and said, “I must tell you something. Without you I never would have gone into the ministry.” Carol responded with moist eyes and said, “Every time I hear about you and your ministry in the former Soviet Union, I am so proud I know you. I must tell you something. I’m not in a situation to financially support your ministry. I’m sorry.” Kathryn said, “I don’t send you those reports because I want your money. I spend you those reports because I want something more valuable. I want your prayers.” If Carol knows anything, she knows how to pray.

Do you know how to pray? Are your prayers filled with your wants, needs and desires? Are your prayers filled with the things of God? Prayer is not about us. Prayer is about God. The founder of the great Methodist movement once said, “Prayer is where the action is.”

Is There a Witness in the House?

Years ago, I was talking to a good friend. We covered a variety of topics. Then, it happened. Without warning, she looked at me and asked, “Russ, have I ever told you, my witness?” This is her story, so I will try to do it justice.

She went to visit her mother, who was near the end of her life. She existed in a cloud of depression. She had been widowed for several years, and everything was wrong. Nothing was right in her world. Every word she uttered was critical. My friend dreaded those visits to her mother. However, on one visit, she experienced the unexpected. Her mother greeted her with a smile. Relieved, she walked in and received an unusual question. Her mother asked, “Does God ever speak to you?” The daughter responded, “Mom, I talk to God all the time. I think he responds to me from time to time.” The dying woman said, “He speaks to me all the time. He is a fun guy, and he tells me unusual things.” She continued, “I’m going to die.” The daughter said, “We are all going to die someday.” The mother said, “No, I am going to die in one week. Your father came to visit me and showed me what heaven is like. Heaven is a fun place! He told me I am going to die in one week.” Lost in her mother’s words, she just listened. The daughter looked at me and asked, “Do you know how my witness ends?” I didn’t have a clue. She said, “My mother died exactly one week later.” She finished her story with a smile and these words, “I know my parents are together again, having fun in heaven!” How could I ever forget that story? How could I ever forget that witness? That takes us to our scripture reading for today.

We find ourselves in the first twenty-two verses of the fourth chapter of Acts. I don’t care how you turn the story. It is a story about witnessing. According to the text, Peter had just healed a cripple. Listen to what I am about to say. No one was questioning the authenticity of the miracle. For years, the man had sat there begging in the shadows of the temple. His existence depended on the generosity of others. He had no future and no opportunity to live a full life. Everyone had pity on him, but no one would have traded places with him. That is why they could not believe their eyes. This long-time beggar was whole, healed by Peter. Everyone is happy except two groups. First, the other beggars were not happy. They were asking, “Why not me?” Second, the leaders of the Orthodox faith were not happy. His healing signaled a continuation of their Jesus problem. They thought it would end with Jesus’s execution.  They were wrong. Not really knowing what to do, they had Peter and his companion, John, arrested. In verse seven they asked, “By what power or in what name did you done this?” Peter answers the question in verses ten through twelve.

“It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Does anything else have to be said? Those are impressive words from a common blue collar-man. If you study those words, you discover Peter answered their question by using Bible. He was saying to them, Jesus was the fulfillment of prophecy. That is true, but this is equally true. Never underestimate the value of your witness. It is nothing more than sharing your experience with God. When was the last time you experienced God?

American clergyman and Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) once said, “Let God be the judge. Your job is to be the witness.” That quote is important because witnessing is misunderstood. Has anyone ever tried to share their witness with you in a pushy, aggressive way? Those individuals forgot they are not the judge. I know that is true because I have experienced that kind of witnessing.

Years ago, I was running late for an appointment, so I decided to drive the back roads to save time. I would have made it, but I was stopped at a railroad crossing. Frustrated, I sat there and watched the train inch along. I shut my car off and rolled the windows down because it was a hot day. As I studied the various cars on that train something unusual happened. A young un-groomed man wearing a red flannel shirt suddenly appeared from the surrounding weeds and ran toward my car. I snapped to attention. I didn’t have a chance to say a word. The stranger looked at me and said, “Brother, you are going to hell if you haven’t accepted Jesus!” He picked up one of my windshield wipers, and placed a track under it. As fast as he came, he was gone. As I sat there reading his literature, I could not question his theology. However, I do have a few questions about his method. I am not sure if it is story of poor witnessing or evangelism. Can anyone here relate to that story? Have you ever been assaulted by someone else’s witness? I am convinced most of us haven’t shared our witness because we don’t want to be like the un-groomed red flannel shirted man. Witnessing is so misunderstood.

This week, I “Googled” the question, why don’t Christians share their witness? I didn’t come up with one reason why people don’t share their witness. I came up with nine reasons. Maybe you can relate to one of them? This is the list.

  1. Ignorance – They don’t know they are supposed to witness
  2. Education – They don’t know what to say
  3. Wrong Assumptions – They assume everyone knows the Gospel
  4. Apathy – They just don’t want to witness
  5. Procrastination – They will tell their story later
  6. Worldliness – They don’t want to look like a religious nut
  7. Preoccupation – They don’t think about sharing their story
  8. Inadequacy – They don’t think their story is interesting
  9. Rejection – They don’t want their story to be dismissed

I think people don’t share their witness because witnessing, itself, is misunderstood. What is witnessing? It is nothing more than sharing your experience with God. There is no good witness or bad witness. There is just your witness. You are not the prosecutor, defense attorney or judge. You are the witness. The only thing you are required to do is share what you have experienced. When was the last time you experienced God? When was the last time you shared your story? When was the last time you witnessed to someone? Never forget, witnessing is important. If you do not believe me then look at the scripture lesson.

Peter simply expressed his understanding of Jesus. According to Peter, Jesus was more than a wise teacher. Jesus was more than a positive role model. Jesus was more than a miracle worker. According to Peter, the events of Jesus’ life were all part of the divine plan. The ultimate expression of his love was the cross. Without the cross, there is no hope of salvation. His understanding of the divine plan is amazing. Can I tell you the truth? I am intimidated by his witness. My simple witness can’t compare. Are you intimidated by Peter’s witness? If you are too, it really doesn’t matter. The people in your life don’t care about Peter’s witness. The people in your life care about your witness. They care about your witness because they care about you. Your story reminds them that God is still active in our world. Your story, your witness reminds people we are not alone. God is with us! Your story reminds people there is still hope. I challenge you to share your witness because our world is desperate for hope.

When I was in seminary I served a small membership church in Garrard County, Kentucky. There is an old tradition among the Christian Churches in that area. On the fifth Sunday of every month, they gathered for a hymn sing. That means they gather four times a year. That event was a big deal to those congregations. My church, the Pleasant Grove Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), never missed one during my tenure. Each service was about the same. Besides the singing, there were the host pastor’s opening welcome. Everyone was encouraged to stay for refreshments. There was a long list of prayer requests so everyone could get caught up on the news. There was an offering to support the local food bank and a powerful message about the importance of accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. After all, hell is hot! However, the best part of the service, in my opinion, was when the host pastor stood up and asked the question, “Is there a witness in the house?” That was when the laity had the opportunity to grab the spotlight. One by one, people stood up and talked. Some told how they came to know Jesus. Some told how Jesus had supported them during some personal crisis. Some reported on some divine coincidence. It was a time for the spiritually mature to shine. Each witness ended with the congregation shouting, “Amen!” So let me ask you the question.

Is there a witness in the house? In other words, what is your story? When was the last time you experienced God? Your story may be about the moment you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. Your story may include some freak coincidence that reminded you that God was with you. Your story may include the words of a stranger, your angel, who gave you the strength to continue. Your story may include that overwhelming feeling that everything was going to be fine when everything was wrong. Everyone has a story. What is your story about God? What is your witness? I challenge you to share your story, your witness, with someone and remind them that God is with us. Do you remember the quote from Warren Wiersbe, “Let God be the judge. Your job is to be the witness.”

Worth the Risk

His name is Felix Baumgartner (born 1969). His is an Austrian born skydiver. On October 14, 2012, he roared twenty-four miles up in a helium balloon. He found the place where space begins. Do you remember what happened? The video clip was shown countless times. He jumped out of his balloon and drifted down to the surface of the earth safely. Along the way he became the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power. I knew he would be safe because the whole thing was sponsored by energy drink company, Red Bull. Can I ask you a question? Do you consider Felix a hero? Do you consider Felix a fool? We can all agree on the fact that he is a risk taker. Here is a question you must answer. How great of a risk are you willing to take for God? That leads us to the scripture lesson for today.

We are in the third chapter of Acts, verses one through ten. According to the text, Peter and John are on their way to the temple to pray at 3:00 in the afternoon. It is unusual for us to show up at church for pray in the middle of the afternoon, but it was not unusual for them. The devout came at scripted times. They came at 9:00 in the morning. They came at 3:00 in the afternoon. They came at sunset. The Hebrew faith has always valued prayer.

As the devout came, they saw the usual cast of characters lining the street, the beggars. Most did not come by their own power. They were placed there by their loved ones, who knew of the generosity of the religious. After all, how can you worship God and ignore the needy of this world? Each one of the beggars had their own spot and story. Some were begging because of some physical limitation. They were blind, lame, or deaf. Some were begging because of an accident or a disease. Some were begging because they were simply too old to work. It was quite a crowd. The only thing they had in common was poverty. They sat there begging because they had nowhere else to go. They were the lowest of the low in their society. They were a sea of hopelessness. Everyone had pity on them, but no one would have traded places with them.

According to the text, as Peter was nearing the temple, he does something unexpected. In the middle of that sea of hopelessness, Peter picked out one man. I do not know why that man. Perhaps, he had been there the longest? The text tells us he had been lame from birth. Perhaps, his voice was the loudest or the most annoying? Perhaps, he was the most pitiful? Or perhaps, the man just got lucky? The man just happened to be at the right place at the right time. He just happened to be there when Peter mustered enough courage to try something new. That was Peter’s first miracle. It is always hard to do something for the first time. What happens if he calls on the name of Jesus to heal the man and nothing happens? The more I have wrestled with this text, the more I am convinced Peter was a risk taker. Are you a risk taker? I hope you are, because you are never going to make a difference in this world playing it safe. Let me ask you two questions. Both are extremely practical.

First, how much of your personal pride are you willing to risk serving God? There are no guarantees in the ministry. In the history of the church, we have known great success and we have known great failure. When was the last time you were part of a ministry that failed? The feeling never goes away. When ministries fail egos are damaged and people never forget. However, the worst thing is there is nothing we can do. Are you willing to be a risk taker for Jesus or are you happy playing it safe? Helen Keller (1880-1968) once said, “Life is either a wild adventure or it is nothing at all.” Are you willing to risk your personal pride serving God?

Listen to this list of names:

  1. Bill Gates
  2. Abraham Lincoln
  3. Isaac Newton
  4. Ludwig van Beethoven
  5. Frank Woolworth
  6. Walt Disney
  7. Thomas Edison
  8. Winston Churchill
  9. Henry Ford
  10.  Albert Einstein

Each one these individuals knew great success. Each one of these individuals also experienced failure. I can give you a story of failure about each one. For example, Thomas Edison’s (1847-1931) teacher once told him me was too stupid to learn. I respect each name on the list because they worked through their individual failures.

I love this story because Peter lays everything on the line. Verse six says, “Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” It is one thing to say the words. It is another thing to have a miracle flow through you. I don’t care how you turn the story. Peter was risking his personal pride. What would have happened if the man wasn’t healed? Peter would have looked like a fool. How foolish are you willing to look for Jesus? Are you willing to risk your personal pride?

Second, how much of your personal security are you willing to risk serving God? It isn’t just true of Peter. It is true of us. We live in a sea of hopelessness. Our world is filled with hurting people. God expects us to help them. They are not going to come to us. We are going to have to go to them. God expects us to meet them. God expects us to interact with them. God expects us to get emotionally involved with them. That is the difference between missions and charity. Yes, there is an element of risk. Are you willing to risk your personal security?

During my time in the ministry, my wife Katheryn and I have visited the former Soviet Union over two dozen times to help unadoptable orphans. In December of 2011, Kathryn and I were getting ready to travel back to Russia. We were traveling to an orphanage we had visited in the past, the Renewal Orphanage in Dmitrov. We were excited about that trip because our youngest daughter, Anna, was going. It was her first trip, and she was a little apprehensive. I couldn’t blame her. She had never done anything like this in the past. She had seen a mountain of pictures from previous trips but going was different. Anna has always tried to hide her emotions, so she was not always easy to read. That is why when she came home from school just a few days before we left upset, I was surprised. I said, “Anna, what is wrong?” She responded, “Someone asked me if my will was up to date. You may need it if you are going to Russia.” She asked for the first time, “Dad, are we going to be safe?” I said, “Yes! Do you really think I would put you in danger?”

Have you ever noticed how many cowards there are in this world? You know it is true. You don’t have to travel out of the country. Just try to do something in the name of Jesus. Annually, my church sent teenagers on domestic youth mission trips. They went everywhere. Annually, someone will tell me it isn’t a good idea because the highways are dangerous. Try to help people in the city and people will try to discourage you by quoting some crime report. Try to save the souls of the incarcerated and people will wonder about your sanity. Have you ever tried to discourage someone from doing something in the name of Jesus? Could it be our pews are filled with cowards?

Are you willing to risk your personal security? Just think about it for a moment. In the text, the group that was responsible for killing Jesus was still in power. They had the authority to kill anyone who supported Jesus. Peter healed this man in the name of Jesus. He was aligning himself with Jesus and putting himself in danger. You can say a great deal about Peter, but you can’t call him a coward. Do you consider yourself a coward? Are you willing to risk your personal pride? Are you willing to risk your personal security?

I love this old story. A clergyman from New York called on Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) at the White House during the darkest days of the Civil War. He said: “I have not come to ask any favors of you, Mr. President; I have only come to say that the loyal people of the North are sustaining you and will continue to do so. We are giving you all that we have, the lives of our sons as well as our confidence and our prayers. You must know that no boy’s father or mother ever kneels in prayer these days without asking God to give you strength and wisdom.” Lincoln was moved by his words. He replied, “But for those prayers, I should have faltered and perhaps failed long ago. Tell every father and mother you know to keep on praying, and I will keep on fighting, for I know God is on our side.” As the clergyman started to leave the room, Mr. Lincoln held him by the hands and said: “May I consider this a pastoral call?” “Yes,” replied the clergyman. “Out in the country,” replied Lincoln, “when a parson makes a pastoral call, it was always the custom for the folks to ask him to lead in prayer, and I should like to ask you to pray with me today. Pray that I may have the strength and the wisdom.” The two men knelt side by side, and the clergyman offered the most fervent plea to Almighty God that ever fell from his lips. As they arose, the President clasped his visitor’s hand and remarked in a satisfied sort of way: “I feel better.”

I love that story because it humanizes one of the great figures in American history.

I don’t care if you are president of the United States or a common citizen, we all need prayer. If you are going to make a difference for Jesus in this world, then you better collect as many prayers as possible. It is not easy risking your personal pride. Sometimes we fail. It is not easy risking personal security. There is a sea of hopelessness out there. It is not easy serving in the name of Jesus, but it is worth the risk. Albert Einstein (1879-1955) once said, “A ship is always safe at the shore – but that is NOT what it was built for.” Neither are you!

Christian Patriotism

Peter Marshall (1902-1947) was a Scottish-American preacher. We know his name because his widow, Catherine Marshall (1914-1982), wrote a book, A Man Named Peter, about this life. He tragically died from a heart attack at the age of 46. During the 1940s, Peter was the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. and served as the chaplain of the United States Senate. One day, he stood before that body and uttered this prayer.

Lord Jesus, thou who art the way, the truth, and the life; hear us as we pray for the truth that shall make all free. Teach us that liberty is not only to be loved but also to be lived. Liberty is too precious a thing to be buried in books. It costs too much to be hoarded. Help us see that our liberty is not the right to do as we please, but the opportunity to please to do what is right.

In that brief prayer Peter Marshall recognized the unique relationship between our American patriotism and the Christian faith. In many ways they stand side by side. America is not just a nation. America is a Christian nation. According to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans call themselves Christian. That takes us to our scripture reading.

We find ourselves in the Epistle to the Romans, one of the great theological works of all time. It was written by the Apostle Paul in the spring of AD 57. He was writing to the Gentile population in the city of Rome. The major theme is God’s plan of salvation for all mankind, both Jew and Gentile. Verse nine is key, if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  Many believe that verse was the first creed used in the church. Personally, it is my favorite verse in the Bible. Your belief in the resurrection is not optional. It is indispensable. It is not just true of American Christians. It is true of all believers, regardless of citizenship.

The Bible says it clearly, God loves all countries equally, because God loves all people equally. God does not care about our politics. God has no trouble crossing manmade boarders. God loves all people, regardless of their nationality. God loves Americans as much as people from South Africa. God loves Americans as much as the people of India. God loves Americans as much as the people of France. God loves Americans as much as the people of Brazil. Did you know, if you count Taiwan, there are 197 nations in our world today and God loves the citizens of each one. Yet, I must say this.

Traditional America seems to have special appreciation of the faith. We can relate to the faith because Christianity is part of American history. The faith is woven into the fabric of our society. The father of our nation George Washington (1731-1799) said in his farewell address, “Do not let anyone claim the tribute of American patriotism if they ever attempt to remove religion from politics.” Just think about it for a moment. Through the eyes of many, Christianity and American patriotism stand side by side in three ways. I want to look at those three ways. These thoughts are not original. They came from James W. Moore (1938-2019), who served at the St. Luke United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas. My goal is to help you appreciate both your American citizenship and your Christian faith.

First, there is a bold declaration in both Christianity and American patriotism. In declaring our independence, the patriots made a bold declaration. Britain was the greatest political force in the western hemisphere in 1776. The thirteen colonies paled in comparison. History tells us the cry for independence was much clearer in the northern colonies. The southern colonies were more reserved on the topic. Yet, in June of 1776, a Virginian named Richard Henry Lee (1732-1794) was the first to speak openly of an American independence. On July 2, 1776, the Second Continental Congress voted to announce and declare that they we accept nothing less than their absolute freedom from Britain. A subcommittee of five, led by Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), was selected to sign a declaration of independence. It took two days to find the perfect words. Lee was one of the first signers. Even 246 years later, you can see the Declaration of Independence was a bold declaration.

When was the first time you declared to your world that Jesus was your Lord and Savior? Maybe you made that declaration on a youth mission trip or a church camp? Maybe you made your declaration during a revival or during a small group study? Maybe you made that declaration when you were young, or not so young. The details really don’t matter. The only thing that matters is that you declared Jesus was you Lord and Savior. That declaration revolutionized your relationship with God, and it revolutionized your earthly relationships. Some were thrilled are your declaration, but others had some questions.

Second, there is a high price in both Christianity and American patriotism. Did you know fifty-six men signed the Declaration of Independence? That is not the end of their story. Their conviction resulted in untold sufferings for themselves and their families. Of the 56 men, five were captured by the British and tortured before they died. Twelve had their homes ransacked and burned. Two lost their sons in the Revolution. Another had two sons captured. Nine of the fifty-six fought and died from wounds or hardships of the war. Carter Braxton (1739-1797) of Virginia, a wealthy planter and trader, saw his ships sunk by the British navy. He sold his home and properties to pay his debts and died in poverty. At the battle of Yorktown, the British General Charles Cornwallis (1738-1805) had taken over Thomas Nelson’s (1738-1789) home for his headquarters. Nelson quietly ordered General George Washington to open fire on his own home. Nelson died bankrupt. John Hart (1713-1779) was driven from his wife’s bedside as she was dying. Their thirteen children fled for their lives. His fields and mill were destroyed. For over a year, he lived in forest and caves, returning home only to find his wife dead and his children vanished. A few weeks later, he died from exhaustion. George Washington never received a cent from the government for his military service. There is no other way to say it. The patriots paid a high price. However, it wasn’t just the signers of the Declaration of Independence who paid a price.

The general population paid a high price. Only one-third of the population even wanted independence. Another third was indifferent, and another third remained loyal to England. The third that supported the war paid a high price. Did you know 7,200 died, 8,200 were wounded and another 10,000 died from disease? Their suffering was a reality. That generation paid a high price.

Jesus paid a high price, he died on the cross, but what about you? I hate to say, it but we live in a time of cheap grace. We want the benefits of the faith without discipleship. This is a weekend when we celebrate our independence. How is the faith altering your daily life? What are you give up in the name of Jesus? What are you doing in the name of Jesus? What have you sacrificed lately for the faith?

Third, there is a great reward in both Christianity and American patriotism. The American Revolution ended nearly two years after the battle at Yorktown. The Treaty of Paris, officially ending the war, was signed in 1783. They didn’t just gain their freedom. They won new land. Great Britain surrendered all the land they held east of the Mississippi River. America is not the oldest nation in the world, but it is the oldest democracy in the world. Their great reward is our great reward. In America we really are free!

What is our great reward in the faith? On the day you declared Jesus as your Lord and Savior you suddenly had a special relationship with the God of the universe. Death is no longer something to fear. You can live at peace in this world because you know that someday you are going to heaven. The Apostle Paul wasn’t wrong. He said, “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Someday we are all going to heaven!

A few days ago, I began a new chapter in my life. After forty years in the ministry, thirty-six in the United Methodist Church, I am retired. I am qualified to say, I have had a great life, because I have met so many good people along the way. I have had many wonderful experiences along the way. Let me tell you about one.

It happened on New Year’s Eve 2012. I was part of a Volunteer in Mission group, organized by my wife, Kathryn. We were approximately one and a half hours northeast of Moscow, Russia, in the city of Dmitrov. It is the home of the Renewal Orphanage, which is the home of many handicapped children. New Year’s Eve is an important night to the Russians. During Soviet times, Christmas was outlawed, and New Year’s Eve was promoted. Every Russian celebrates the New Year.

The children of the Renew Orphanage were not excluded. They celebrated too. It was the custom to gather the teenagers, so they could celebrate. The staff arranged a party. They called it a Disco. The teenagers wore their best clothes. The kitchen prepared a special menu. The music was played extra loud. However, what fueled the excitement were the visiting Americans. It is my experience many Russians admire America. They struggle with the German because of the Second World War. Everyone was having a wonderful, but as midnight draw near, I experienced something new. An old television set was rolled into the room and placed so all could see. In Russia, the president addresses the country as the new year begins. On cue, there he was, Vladimir Putin. Emotionally, I had the typical American reaction to him, but the orphans listened intently. The oldest of the teens looked over at the Americans table to look for our reaction. Once Putin’s short speech was completed, the Russian national anthem was played. The Russians, who were able to stand, did. Some sang the words. Can I be completely honest? I did not know what to do. Do I stand in respect to Russia? Our Russian hosts had been good to us. Do I sit there in silent protest? Even in 2012, there was so much about Russia that was just wrong. I sat and prayed the moment would pass quickly. It did and the party resumed. Can I tell you the truth?

I still think about that New Year’s Eve. It was such an unusual scene. With the stench of Soviet atheism still in the air, I had never felt more like an American. This is equally true. I had never felt more like a Christian. As my good friend we say, “There comes a time when you have to take a stand.” In this case, not standing was taking a stand. Can I ask you a question? When was the last time you really thought about being an American? When was the last time you thought about being a Christian?

What Does God Expect?

May 27, 2013 was a special day in my life. It was my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. My wife Kathryn and I wanted to do something special, so we flew to Boston. We spent that evening at Fenway Park. It is one of the most loved stadiums in America and is a piece of American history. It opened in 1912, the same day the Titanic sank. Out of respect for the dead, the open day celebration was canceled. It is an amazing story and, I looked forward to visiting it. I had watched games from Fenway for years. I wasn’t disappointed. It met all my expectations. From our right field seats, we witnessed the Indians, now Guardians, win, 12-3! I couldn’t have asked for more. That leads us to an interesting question.

What does God expect? The answer to that question comes from our scripture lesson for today, Acts 2:42-47. They are the closing words of the second chapter of Acts. It is important to note, it is the same chapter that records the events of Pentecost. You remember the story. The Holy Spirit arrived, and lives were transformed. In the verse prior to our reading, we are told thousands of individuals were saved on that day. Our reading tells us about the activities and priorities of those new converts. Verse 42 spells it out clearly:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer

That verse is important because it answers our question, what does God expect? God expects us to do three things. First, God expects us to be devoted to the Bible. In other words, we are to be a learning church. How much time do you spend studying the Bible lately? Second, God expects us to be devoted to the fellowship. In other words, we are to be a generous church. How devoted are you to your church? How generous are you with your church? Third, God expects us to be devoted to worship. When you partake of the body and the blood of Christ and pray, you are worshipping. How much time do you spend worshipping God? It is those three things I want to explore in this blog. May we never disappoint God.

First, God expects us to be a learning church. Verse forty-two says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings.” Remember, these words were written about the early church. The apostles were still with them. In time, the apostles would spread throughout that area of the world and spread the Good News about Jesus Christ. In more time, according to tradition, eleven of the twelve would be martyred for the faith. Those times had not yet come. The apostles were still with them. Just think about it for a moment. The apostles were eyewitnesses of Jesus’ ministry. They reported about they had experienced. The early church didn’t just listen to their words. The early church was devoted to their words because they had so much to offer. Time changed things. We are not living in the days of the early church. We are the contemporary church. We can no longer hang on every word of the apostles because they are dead. The best we can do is study their written words. In other words, the best we can do is study the Bible. How much serious Bible study have you done lately? How devoted are you to the scriptures? God expects us to be devoted to understanding the Bible.

In the eighth chapter of Acts is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian. Do you remember the story? The apostle is on his way to Gaza. It is on that road that he encounters an important Ethiopian authority. He was returning home after worshipping in Jerusalem. His life is complex. He is professionally successful, but his personal life is limited. When Philip meets him, the Ethiopian is reading from the Old Testament book of Isaiah. He does not understand what he is reading. He is not the first one who didn’t understand what he is reading in the Bible. He was not the last one. Can you relate to the Ethiopian? Have you ever had a hard time understanding the Bible? There is nothing casual about reading the Bible. If you want to understand the Bible, then you must be devoted to the Bible. How devoted are you to the scriptures? God expects us to be devoted to the Bible. At church, you can get help understanding those sacred words. How are you doing in that area of your spiritual development? Is God disappointed in your efforts? God expects us to study the Bible.

Second, God expects us to be a generous church. Verse forty-two says, “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teachings and to fellowship.”  Don’t just jump over that word, fellowship. It means more than a potluck dinner or a friendly greeting. It is much deeper. It means they were willing to sacrifice for one another. If you don’t believe me, then look at look at verses forty-four and forty-five. They say, “All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.”  There is no way to read that line and not talk about money. How much money do you give to the church, so the church can respond to human need? Do you give sacrificially? Do you give out of your surplus? How devoted are you to the fellowship?

As I write this piece, I am retired after forty years in the ministry. On my last day at my church, I reviewed the things that brought me the most satisfaction. One of the points I covered was financial. When I went to my church in 1994, the annual budget was $154,000. When I left, the church’s budget was $496,000. That fact makes two points. First, life is getting more expensive. Second, the ministry grew along the way. However, one thing remained the same. Every year, people complained the budget was impossible to meet. That simply was not true. I learned long ago churches do not have a spending problem. Churches have a giving problem. The Biblical standard for giving is the tithe, 10%. According to the people at Vanco, only 5% of American church goers’ tithe. That means 95% of American church goers are living below the Biblical standard, disappointing God. It is my experience, many church goers spend more money on lunch after worship, than they gave to the church during worship. How devoted are you to the church? How generous are you? How are you doing in that area of your spiritual development? Is God disappointed in your efforts? God expects us to be devoted to the fellowship.

Third, God expects us to be a worshipping church. Verse forty-two says, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” The phrase the breaking of bread means communion. Jesus broke the bread at the upper room to represent his body. If you combine communion and prayer, then you create worship. How important is worship to you? The faith was never meant to be lived out in isolation. Sadly, the numbers do not lie. According to the Pew Research Group, 70% of Americans claim they are Christian. However, only 47% of American Christians belong to a church. Only 22% of American Christians attend worship each week. You can eliminate everything except worship in the life of the church and still be a church. If you eliminate worship, then you stop being a church. You can eliminate the United Methodist Men, the United Methodist Women and the Methodist Youth Fellowship and still be a church. You can dissolve the East Ohio Annual Conference and the Mahoning Valley District and still be a church. You can eliminate Sunday school and all the committees and still be a church. We could sell the building and still be a church. We could cancel all the concerts and picnics and still be the church. However, the one thing you can not eliminate and be a church is worship. How much time do you spend worshipping? How devoted are you to worship? How are you doing in that area of your spiritual development? Is God disappointed in your efforts? God expects us to be devoted to worship.

Have you ever taken a whale watching tour? On our trip to Boston, Kathryn and I traveled to Gloucester for such a tour. They guaranteed a whale sighting, but I wasn’t convinced. I am a product of this area, so I’m a little cynical. I expected to bob off the Massachusetts coast and see nothing. I figured the guaranteed part was a picture of whale at the end of the trip. That is why I was shocked when I saw a whale. I was overwhelmed. In all, we saw four different whales. One was so close you could study her details. The naturalist called her Pinball because she had a perfectly round circle on her tail. I was overwhelmed by Pinball’s size. We watched Pinball swim under the surface. We watched Pinball shoot water through her spout. We watched Pinball stick that massive tail up out of the water. The whole experience with Pinball made me feel better. I felt better about our world’s ecology. After all, we hear so much about pollution. We must be doing something right! Just think of all the fish that must be in the sea to sustain one whale. How many whales are in the world? The whole experience made he think about God. How could you look at such a superb creature and not believe in God? We were out on the ocean for four hours watching whales. The truth is I didn’t want it to end. Listen to what I am about to say. They whole experience was more than I ever expected. How many times have you said that in your life? Most of the time we are disappointed. Wouldn’t it be great to be more than God ever expected?

Fatherhood Is…

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

Dear Paco,

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

Your Father.

On Saturday 800 Pacos showed up, looking for forgiveness and love from their fathers. Don’t tell me, the relationship between a father and their children isn’t important! That simple story takes us to our scripture lesson.

We find ourselves in the eighth chapter of Luke.  Jesus and the disciples are in Galilee. That fact is important because the Master was extremely popular there. The crowds followed him everywhere. One of the people in the crowd on that day was a man by the name of Jairus. His name means “God enlightens.” In his little corner of the world, Jairus was a significant man. Luke tells us he was a ruler in the local synagogue. What does that mean? He was not a member of the clergy. However, that does not mean his position was not important. He acted more as an administrator or trustee over the synagogue. Sometimes, the position was paid. Sometimes, it was volunteer. Regardless, the position was always held by a respected good man in the congregation. Jairus was a good man, yet hardship does not discriminate.

This good man was facing his greatest nightmare. His twelve-year-old daughter was dying. Emotionally and physically exhausted, Jairus fights his way through the crowd to ask Jesus for a miracle. Jesus is his only hope. I have read verses 40-42 countless times this week. With every reading, I was more moved by the emotions of the father. It isn’t just Jairus’ nightmare. It is every parent’s nightmare. The death of their children. I do not know how you can read this story and not be moved. She was twelve years old. It is not easy being twelve years old. In a certain way you are nowhere. It is the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. Yet, in this story, it is the end of life, itself. The daughter is dying. Yet, the story is not about death. In the end she lives. The story is about parenthood. This story gives us three divine truths about fatherhood. Let us look at them one at a time.

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

Fathers do much more than pay the bills. Mothers may love their children unconditionally, but fathers add sense of security and stability to the home. That is extremely important. A father’s presence makes a great difference to the life of a child. The statistics don’t lie. These statistics are a few years old, but not much has changed. They are still painful to recite. According to fatherhoodfactor.com:

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

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

Second, fatherhood is challenging! In 1909, Sonora Louise Smart Dodd (1882-1978) sat in church with her father on Mother’s Day. It must have been a difficult sermon to hear because her mother died years earlier during childbirth. She and her five siblings were raised with love and care by their father, William Jackson Smart (1842-1919), a Civil War veteran. The 27-year-old Sonora began to think about the great sacrifices her father made for her and her siblings. Then, she began to wonder why there wasn’t a Father’s Day. The next day, she began a crusade to establish one. She began by enlisting the support of the Spokane Ministerial Association and the YMCA. They declared the first Father’s Day to be June 19, 1910. It was a big success. Soon other communities and states began to recognize Father’s Day. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) supported the idea of a national Father’s Day in 1916 and President Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933) did the same in 1924. Some things don’t change. Nothing happened in Washington DC for decades. It took our man in Washington DC Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973) in 1966 to sign a presidential proclamation making the third Sunday in June Father’s Day. Six years later, 1972, 58 years after the establishment of Mother’s Day, Richard Nixon (1913-1994) signed a law-making Father’s Day a national holiday. I tell the history of Father’s Day for one reason.

Senora Smart Dodd recognized what we must never forget. Fatherhood is challenging. Fatherhood has nothing to do with golfing, boating, or cooking out. Fatherhood has everything to do with sacrificing. Fatherhood has everything to do with adapting. Fatherhood is challenging because our children are always changing. Your college graduate does not want to be treated like a newborn babe. In the Bible lesson for today, Jairus is trying to help his twelve-year-old daughter. I have been the father of a twelve-year-old daughter, twice, and it isn’t easy. Enjoy your children at the stage they are right now but be prepared. It is going to change soon. They will change so your relationship with them must change. That is so challenging.Fatherhood is important. Fatherhood is challenging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

You may have had the greatest dad in the world, or your dad may have been a complete loser. It doesn’t really matter because you come from a great legacy. Never forget it. You are a child of God!

God, Go It Again!

We find ourselves in the first four verses of the second chapter of Acts. The scriptures say it clearly. It was Pentecost. To the Jewish world, it meant it was fifty days after the Passover. It was also called the Feast of Weeks (Deuteronomy 16:10) or the Feast of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16). It was comparable to our Thanksgiving Day, a celebration of the harvest. To the Christian world, it meant it had been fifty days sense Jesus was resurrected. It also meant; it had been ten days sense Jesus ascended into heaven. Ten days is a long time to wait. They must have wrestled with Jesus’ last words about evangelizing the world. However, they also obeyed Jesus. They stayed in Jerusalem. They waited for something to happen and on the day of Pentecost, it did. While the rest of their world was celebrating the harvest, Jesus kept his promise. No longer reserved for select political or religious leaders, the Holy Spirit was unleased on all believers. Without warning the Holy Spirit blew into the disciples lives and everything changed. They were transformed. They did not change physically; they changed spiritually. The lessons they wrestled with in the past suddenly became clear. The things they could not do in the past became easy. It was an amazing moment. The words printed in your Bible are only shadows of the actual event. The first revival in the history of the world had begun and the church was born. The Methodist tradition should never wrestle with the Holy Spirit because we are a product of the Holy Spirit. Do you remember the story?

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

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

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?

For many it is not an easy question to answer. To help you answer that question I am going to ask you two other questions. The way you answer those two questions will be very revealing. Both deal with your priorities. Are you motivated by earthly things or are you motived by God? Be honest with yourself so you can answer the question, Have you experienced the Holy Spirit? If you are ready for my two questions say, “Amen!”

Question #1: Are you more passionate about people or property? The answer should be obvious. However, it is not obvious to everyone. What we say and what we do are often two different things. For example, I have never been in the middle of a church debate about human need. I have never been part of a church debate to borrow money to help the forgotten. I am still waiting for the first person to fundraise to fight world hunger or homelessness. However, I have been in the middle of church debates to improve our church property. Ask yourself the question again. Are you more passionate about people or property? If you have been touched by the Holy Spirit, then the only thing that really matters is people.

In the creation story, God created everything, and everything was good. He made the earth and the sky. He made the seas and the dry ground. He made the fish and the animals and the insects. When God created those things, he said they were all good. However, when he made mankind, he said something different. God looked at mankind and said it was very good. Every person is made in the image of God. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. What is more important to you people or property? Once you have experienced the Holy Spirit the only thing that matters is people! And all of God’s people said, “Amen!” Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?

Question #2: Are you more passionate the invisible or the visible church? In other words, are you more interested in Jesus or the organizational church? Do you have an easier time quoting church rules or Bible verses? Are more comfortable talking about local church history or what God has done for you today? Do you have an easier time listing past pastors or disciples? The Holy Spirit only cares about the invisible or spiritual church. Have you stop to consider the word Methodist isn’t even found in the Bible? 

Years ago, I was texting a regular worshipper of this church. They have been coming here for years and I consider them one of us. The problem is she and her husband have never joined. I was trying to correct that situation. She texted me this question, what do we have to do to join? She meant classes or something. I responded, “Nothing. All you need to know is Jesus and me.” How do you feel about that response? Maybe you do feel like we need classes or something? I do not require classes because my goal is not to make good church members or great United Methodists. My goal is to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The mission statement of the United Methodist Church. It really doesn’t matter if you know how many annual conferences exist or how long a bishop serves. It really doesn’t matter if you know about the history of Western Reserve? It only matters that you know Jesus. If you know Jesus, then you are part of the invisible church. Are you more passionate about the invisible or the visible church? The Holy Spirit only cares about the invisible church.

Have you experienced the Holy Spirit? How do you answer the question? There is only one correct answer. Your answer can not be, “Maybe.” Your answer cannot be, “I hope so.” In the life of the church, “No,” is not an option. The only acceptable answer is, “YES!” It is the question that will not go away. Have you experienced the Holy Spirit?

Wilmore, Kentucky is a small town, located seventeen miles from Lexington. It is not much of a place. According to the 2010 census, it has a population of less than 3,700 people. The only thing noteworthy about the place are the two academic institutions that call Wilmore home. They sit on either side of Lexington Avenue. On the south side of the road is Asbury Theological Seminary, my seminary. On the north of the road is Asbury University. Both schools are steeped in the Christian tradition. In my younger days I used to call Wilmore, Jerusalem west. Historically, an event happened in Wilmore that should not be forgotten.

On February 3, 1970, a revival broke out at a chapel service in Hughes Hall at then Asbury College. Chapel was scheduled to last fifty minutes, it lasted eight days. The students had been praying for a revival for some time. God heard their prayers. On that day, the academic dean, Custer Reynolds (1915-2005), was scheduled to speak. The problem was he did not feel led to speak, so he gave his witness and invited the students to share their personal experiences with God. Several students spoke. One young man came followed and told how he had been recently touched by the Holy Spirit. It was his Aldersgate experience. For the first time in his life, he was proud to be a Christian. There is no other way to say it. Like John Wesley, the Holy Spirit transformed his life. Other students followed him. They confessed their sins and told of similar experiences with the Holy Spirit. The altar was opened to anyone who wanted to pray. Hundreds of students rushed forward to pray and the crowd was washed by the Holy Spirit. People traveled from other time zones to be part of the revival in little Wilmore, Kentucky. Nothing else really mattered but God!

Seventeen years later, I enrolled at Asbury Theological Seminary. I sat in chapel regularly with my fellow students. I can still hear all those men sing the hymn, And Can It Be. It was powerful.Regularly, the revival at the college was mentioned. Regularly, the words were uttered, “God, do it again. Regularly, in my prayers I uttered the words, “God, do it again.” If it can happen in Wilmore, Kentucky, then it can happen anywhere. It can happen here. It can happen to you! God, do it again!

In Awe

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

Have you ever had to say goodbye to a close friend or a loved one? I don’t mean the casual goodbyes we say at the end of a lunch or an accidental meeting. We can fill the days with words normally. I am talking about the last words that will be spoken ending a relationship. Those words are difficult. We choose our words more selectively. Everyone knows it, but no one says it.  There will be no more reunions in this world. The next reunion will be in heaven. Those goodbyes are not easy. How do you compress all those experiences down to a few words? How do you compress your emotions down to a few words? Have you ever had to say goodbye to a close friend or a loved one?

When I was young, we took a family vacation to the state of Maine. I remember it as a wonderful trip. The five of us climbed into the family car and saw the sites. We went to Maine for one reason. It was the home state of my father’s stepmother, my Grandma Helen. She was the only grandmother I knew on the Adams side. My biological grandmother died seven years before I was born. One day we connected with my grandparents in a place near Boothbay Harbor. She had cousins who lived there, Mary and Marge. They hosted everyone for lunch. I don’t remember what we ate but I do remember the scenery. That rocky coastline was impressive. I hope to travel to Maine in my retirement. It must have been late in the afternoon when we started saying goodbye. I remember standing near my mother and sisters. Grandma Helen was saying goodbye to Mary and Marge. Without warning, they began to hug and cry. One of my sisters asked, “Why are they were crying?” My mother answered, “When you are their age, you don’t know if you are going to see each other again. This may be their final goodbye.” Goodbyes aren’t easy.

It was not easy for the disciples. They had only been with Jesus for three years, but their lives had completely changed over that time. They had seen so much. They had experienced so much. It was almost cruel to expect the disciples to accept so much in such a short amount of time. In short, they were in awe. They were in awe for three reasons.

First, they were in awe from what they were experiencing. Like young people who return from church camp or adults who return from a mission trip, words cannot capture everything that happened.Our words have limitations.The words in the scripture lesson for today are just shadows of what really happened. How do you describe a miracle? How do you describe an ascension? When was the last time your words couldn’t capture an experience? They were in awe of what they were experiencing.  

Second, they were in awe of what they had experienced. They had traveled with Jesus for three years. That is not a long time. How many relationships do you have that are older than three years? However, just think about everything they had experienced during those three years! There is more to a relationship then time. There is significance. They had seen Jesus heal the sick and the afflicted. They had heard his teaching and felt his presence. They had proudly marched into Jerusalem on that Palm Sunday and scattered like sheep in the days to follow. They had cried at his death and felt the numbness of his absence. They rejoiced at his resurrection. It all happened in such a short period of time. There was no time to process the events. They were in awe of what they were experiencing.  

Third, they were in awe of what they would experience. They were pre-Pentecost disciples. They have just been told they are to go into the world and witness for about Jesus. I can’t think of one group less qualified for this task. They knew very little. They understood very little. They were unprepared and unequipped. You would be hard pressed to find a group that was more impotent. They were well acquainted with their own deficiencies. They were in awe of the challenge that was facing them. That is one of the reasons we are so fascinated with the disciples. We are so much like them. Like them, we are in awe of the great challenge facing us.

The Great Commission says we are to go out and make disciples in the world. We are to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19) Does anyone here feel qualified for that task? Is it possible we have no energy left to make disciples because we spend our energy maintaining the institutional church? Or maybe our problem is deeper? Maybe we are like those pre-Pentecost disciples. We have heard about the Holy Spirit, but we have never experienced the Holy Spirit. Never forget, Jesus expects us to make as many disciples as possible. How many disciples do you think this church has made? We have no hope without the Holy Spirit.

The date was June 13, 1948. The place was Yankee Stadium. The occasion was Babe Ruth Day. They came to remember, and there was so much to remember. In 1927, Babe Ruth became the first player to hit sixty home runs in a single season. He hit 714 home runs in his career and had a career batting average of .342. In 1923, he hit .393. He was one of the first five to be voted into baseball’s Hall of Fame. He not only changed baseball; He saved baseball. There was so much to remember. Time can be a cruel thing.

By June 1948 the great Bambino was only a shell of his younger self. He would not see Labor Day. Cancer would take his life. He was 53 years old. Babe Ruth Day would give the fans one more opportunity to express their appreciation. Babe Ruth Day gave the fans the opportunity to say good-bye to the Sultan of Swat, the great Bambino. Goodbyes aren’t easy. That is especially true if you are never going to see the person again. It is easier to say good-bye to someone you are going to see again. It isn’t just true of professional athletes. It is true of everyone.

Bill Johnson is one of my best friends. You know Bill. He worked here with me for five years, before he kicked us to the curb for the bright lights of Salineville. He is now in Sugarcreek. Recently, his mother celebrated her ninetieth birthday. The family had a party to celebrate the occasion. From what I understand everyone enjoyed themselves. At ninety years old you have lost many in your life. Bill asked his mother, “Mom, when you get to heaven who do you want to see?” He thought the answer would be his father who has been gone for years. He thought it might be her old boyfriend Rawley. They would go fishing and drink Rolling Rock beer. Mrs. Johnson surprised Bill with her answer. Who do you want to see when you get to heaven? Jesus! I can wait a little longer to see everyone else. Let me ask you the question.

Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? It maybe that child in your life that left far too soon. It maybe that spouse that worried and prayed for you. It maybe your parents who taught you how to live. It maybe that close friend who made you feel better on the hardest day. Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? There is no wrong answer. There is only your answer. Who is the first person you want to see when you get to heaven? This is my answer. It is the same answer ninety-year-young Mrs. Johnson gave her loving son. I want to see Jesus. I can wait a little bit longer to see everyone else. The great evangelist Billy Graham (1918-2018) said it best. “My home is in heaven. I’m just traveling through this world.”

Are You Making Progress?

We find ourselves in the second chapter of Luke, verses forty-one through fifty-two. According to the text, Jesus was twelve years old. (2:42) That was a significant year in the life of a young Hebrew man. For it was during that year, he began his studies to take his place among the men in the faith. Perhaps, that is why Mary and Joseph went to Jerusalem? Or perhaps, they went to Jerusalem annually for the Passover, as was required by the law. We really don’t know why they were in Jerusalem, but we do know they were returning home. The distance between Jerusalem and Nazareth is 63 miles as the crow flies. It was more like 68 miles, because no road is perfectly straight. You do the math. If you walk about 4 mph, then it would have taken 17 hours to get home. The journey was not done in isolation. The pilgrims returned home in large packs. Those packs offered the pilgrims protection. They walked with family and friends, who filled the hours of traveling with various discussions.

Jesus was twelve years old and twelve-year-old boys begin to explore their independence. It would have been natural for Jesus not to travel with his parents. Mary and Joseph assumed their son was traveling with his friends. They assumed wrong. Jesus was missing. They send out a first century “amber alert”. They asked everyone with ears the question, “Have you seen Jesus?” Everyone answered, “No!” With no other option, Mary and Joseph returned to the Golden City. (They had to go back! How do you tell God you have lost his only son?) After three days (2:46) of searching, they found Jesus in the temple. It is easy to feel both their frustration and relief. They tried to reprimand him, but their words seem to fall on deaf ears. They thought Jesus was lost, but he knew where he was the whole time. He was in his father’s house. Listen to what I am about to say.

The story of Jesus at twelve years old is really our story. It is a story for anyone who wants to make progress in the faith. Jesus models for us how to make progress. He models for us how to grow spiritually. Verse 46 tells us what Jesus did clearly. It says:

After three days they (Joseph and Mary) found him (Jesus) in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.

Let us break that verse down together.

Jesus Positioned Himself

First, Jesus positioned himself. We have covered this in the past, but it is worth reviewing. In a world of places Jesus could have been. Jesus was at the temple courts with the teachers. He should have been walking home, but he was in the temple courts with the teachers. That simple fact says great deal about Jesus’s priorities. Even into adulthood, Jesus had every reason not to attend worship, but Jesus never failed to attend worship. The Bible does not say Jesus missed worship because family was in town. The Bible does not say Jesus missed worship because the weather was too bad or nice. The Bible does not say Jesus missed worship because he was tired after laboring at the synagogue’s big fundraiser. The Bible does say Jesus attended worship because worship was a priority to him.

As a nation that is not our story. Our national theology is extremely poor. There are several reasons why. One of the reasons is worship is no longer a priority for many. Everything thing else seems more important than worship. This is not just my opinion. It is fact. According to Gallup, in 1937, 73% of all Americans belonged to a church. Today, approximately 45% of all Americans belong to a church. That is a sad fact, but the problem runs deeper.

There is a world of difference between church membership and church attendance. We can belong to a church and never worship. You can worship and never join the church. According to the Pew Research Group, 38% of Americans consider themselves regular worshippers. That means they worship once a month. How bad is the situation? We have redefined the term regular worshipper. We used to define a regular worshipper as one missed worship only once a month. Now you are considered a regular worshipper of you come once a month. How many times have you worshipped this month? One of the reasons we are not making progress in our faith development is that we are not positioning ourselves. We just don’t worship. Jesus sat in the temple courts with the teachers. Where do you sit on most Sunday mornings? Jesus positioned himself.

Jesus Listened

Second, Jesus listened. Jesus is sitting in the temple with the teachers, and he is listening to what they were saying. In other words, when Jesus was listening, Jesus was learning. You know it is true. We are not very good at listening. However, we are excellent at talking. Have you ever gone to church and tried to listen but the person next to you will not stop talking? There seems to be a national shortage of good listeners. If you don’t believe me then just google this question, how can I become a better listener?

Everyone seems to have list to help us. Even dumblittleman.com. This is their list of seven

  1. Remove all distractions
  2. Be present
  3. Wait for the other person to stop talking
  4. Don’t assume anything
  5. Look at nonverbal communication
  6. Clarify
  7. Ask questions 

Do the people in your life consider you a good listener? When you come to church do you spend more time listening or talking? It is my job to communicate the divine Biblical truth in a clear way. It is your job to listen to the divine truth. American author Bryant H. McGill (born 1969) once said, “One of the most sincere forms of respect is to actually listen to what another has to say.” How much do you respect the people in your life? How much do you respect me? How much do you respect God? Are you a better talker or listener?Jesus positioned himself and listened.I don’t want to shock you, but you don’t know everything. You may want to stop talking and listen.

 Jesus Questioned 

Third, Jesus asked questions. When I was young, I lived in a home that will built in the 20’s. If you lived in a home built in the 20’s you know they weren’t built like homes today. Homes built during that decade did not have air conditioning or decks. However, they did have front porches. We never sat on the front porch, except when the weather grew hot. I have fond memories of those hot evenings because the entire neighborhood sat on their front porches at the same time. That is how we got to know our neighbors.

When I was young, I would journey to our neighbor’s front porch. We shared a driveway. Her name was Mrs. Ortmyer. I thought she was as old as the hills. She was probably my age. She served me the same snack regularly, ginger ale and soda crackers. Every night I would ask a mountain of questions. Why is it so hot in the summer? Why is it so cold in the winter? Why is the grass green and the snow white? How can birds fly and fish swim? Every evening our discussion end the same way. She would cup her hands over her ears and say, “Russell, go home! When you get older you will have all the answers you want.” I have to say it. Mrs. Ortmyer was wrong! I am older but I still have a mountain of questions. Why are some born with so much and some so little? Why are all my friends fighting the battle of the bulge, yet someone dies  every seven seconds from a lack of food? How can you raise two children in the same house, and they end up so different? Have you ever asked those kinds of questions? When I get to heaven, I have a mountain of questions for God.How many questions do you have for God?

There is nothing wrong with asking questions. Jesus asked questions. Look at verse 46 again. It says, “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.”  There is nothing wrong with a sincere question. Asking God, a sarcastic question just shows your arrogance. Asking God, a sincere question means you are simply trying to understand. Look at it this way. If you don’t ask questions, it means you don’t care enough to try to understand. Jesus positioned himself, listened, and asked questions.Ask God all the questions you like. Don’t worry, He can handle it!

I love this story. I have told it many times. You may remember me telling it in the past. When Pablo Casals (1876-1973) reached 95, a young reporter asked him, “Mr. Casals, you are 95 years old and considered the greatest cellist that ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?” Mr. Casals answered, “Because I think I’m making some progress.” As your minister, let me ask you this revealing important question: are you making any progress? I am not talking about the cello. I am talking about the faith. Are you making progress in the Christian faith?

I graduated from Mount Union College in 1979. During my daughter’s time at Mount Union the name was changed to the University of Mount Union. Only the name changed. In many ways the school is still the same. The core values never changed. It is still a good place.

Like today, students loved Spring break. The lucky ones went to Florida. I spent my Spring breaks in northeast Ohio. One year a group of guys decided to drive to Florida. They were in a hurry to escape the cold damp spring of Ohio for the warmth of Florida. To save time and money they decided to drive through. They figured it would take them about twenty-four hours, so they decided the six of them would drive in four hours shifts. I was there when they jumped in a van and headed south. To be honest, I was jealous. The bright lights of Warren did not compare to Miami. When they returned, they had a million stories. The one that was repeated the most was about the trip on the way down. In the middle of the night, it was time to change drivers. The driver exited the highway and woke up the next driver. They traded seats. When the new driver got back on the highway, he started driving north, not south. The mistake was not noticed until the next driver got behind the wheel. It was an ugly scene. The trip was extended by an additional eight hours. They had not made any progress in those four hours. So, here is the question you must answer. Are you more like Pablo Casals, making progress? Are you more like Spring breakers, making no progress? It is the question that will not go away.

Are you making progress? If you are ashamed of your answer, then do what the twelve-year-old Jesus did. First, Jesus positioned himself. Worship was a priority to Jesus. Second, Jesus listened. Stop talking and listen when you come to church to hear the divine truth. Third, Jesus questioned. I am not talking about cynical or sarcastic questions. I am talking about asking sincere questions because you simply want to understand God’s mysterious ways. Christian author Anya VonderLuft once said, “Life is not worth living unless you live it for the one who gave you life.”  Are you making progress?