I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish. But I will establish my covenant with you, and you will enter the ark—you and your sons and your wife and your sons’ wives with you. You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive. You are to take every kind of food that is to be eaten and store it away as food for you and for them.”
Noah did everything just as God commanded him.
My third Sunday as a new pastor in Atlanta, I was preaching and feeling great about the sermon. I had prayed and studied. I had prepared a careful outline of the text, and I felt confident that my sermon was a theological masterpiece, loaded with exceptional insight into the Scriptures.
As I was preaching, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and said, “Tell them about Joe Reed.”*
I thought, “Joe’s story doesn’t fit with my outline.”
I continued to preach, and the Holy Spirit said, “Tell them about Joe Reed.”
Again, I thought, “Joe Reed’s story has nothing to do with my sermon. It won’t illustrate anything I’m speaking about this morning.”
The Holy Spirit said again, “Tell them about Joe Reed.”
I thought again, “There’s no way to fit that into this sermon.”
While continuing to speak, I scanned my carefully planned outline and couldn’t see any place to fit Joe’s story into the sermon.
And, the Holy Spirit said again, “Tell them about Joe Reed.”
So, I reluctantly obeyed this strange leading. “I’m reminded of a young man in our former church on Cape Cod…” I told the story of Joe Reed and how he came to know Christ. I thought to myself, “See, Lord, that story doesn’t fit.”
I clumsily transitioned back into my sermon outline and continued. I was preaching from the first chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus saw Nathaniel and said to him, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Phillip called you.” Suddenly, Nathaniel, who had been skeptical of Jesus’ Messiahship, recognized that Jesus is real.
Adding Joe’s story to the sermon had made me feel less than pleased with the overall message, but many people made commitments to Christ following the sermon. As I met briefly with each person who had come to the front of the sanctuary to share their commitment, one of the young women in line said to me, “I’m Terry’s sister.”
I looked down the line of people thinking to myself, “Which of these people is Terry?” I couldn’t remember having heard the name. So, I asked, “You’re who?”
She said again, “I’m Terry’s sister.”
I asked, “Terry who?”
“Terry Reed. The wife of Joe Reed, the man on Cape Cod whose story you told.”
I was amazed to learn that Terry Reed had grown up in Alabama in a Southern Baptist church. She had been in youth choir and had faithfully attended youth group, but she didn’t know Jesus personally. She left home, went to a university, and strayed further and further from church. Finally, she moved to Cape Cod, met a man, and moved in with him. He was a likeable guy but not interested in God.
Terry was homesick for the South and didn’t know where to find any southerners. Somebody mentioned that they were attending a Southern Baptist church right there in Chatham. She thought, “Southern Baptists on Cape Cod?” So, she came to the Bible study we were having in our home. She met Jesus there.
Now, she had a new problem. She knew Jesus, had received the Holy Spirit and was under conviction about sin in her life. She realized, “Oh, no. According to Scripture, sex outside of marriage is sin. I’m not supposed to be living with a man I’m not married to.”
Terry came to us and asked, “What am I supposed to do?”
Susan and I explained, “You have to move out.”
She said, “I can’t. We share the rent and everything. We can’t afford two apartments in Chatham.”
I said, “You can’t afford to disobey God.”
“But, what will we do about the rent?”
“It’s better to die than to sin. There are people who will take you in. We’ll work with you. You can do something. You have to get out of that situation. You can’t just keep on sinning.”
“What if we live together, but we don’t sleep together?”
“Don’t con yourself. Just get out of there.”
So, she did. This, of course, did nothing to endear me to her live-in boyfriend. Joe Reed didn’t think I was the greatest guy on earth. But, h