Our daughter, Jill, sent me a note on Tuesday evening of this week that the author of my favorite book as a child died this past Monday. His name was Norman Juster and he wrote one of the most famous children’s books out there – The Phantom Tollbooth, in 1961. I never knew that much about Mr. Juster, but he lived to the ripe age of 91 and died from complications as the result of a stroke.
While he wrote several other books as well, The Phantom Tollbooth was a well loved volume in our library. I remember when Mom took me to Marshall Field’s in downtown Chicago and bought the book based on the recommendation of one of her friends. Of course, it wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted Tom Swift and science fiction. Or Tom Sawyer and other more popular books. But no… I got a story about a young boy named Milo who found a mysterious tollbooth in his bedroom one day.
Milo would “go through” the tollbooth and visit magical, wonderful places on his adventures. Admittedly, I was about eight years old at the time and the book challenged me with words and thoughts that I was not yet familiar with. But that was one of the great skills that Mr. Juster brought to his writing. He challenged children to advance – to learn more – not only words, but relationships and concepts of words to one another. It wasn’t “See Dick and Jane run…”
He challenged us about complex topics and stretched our minds to reach new heights. And believe it or not, I don’t remember any of my friends who had the book in their family libraries. I came to love The Phantom Tollbooth and read it many times throughout the years. I think all of our children have read it (yes, our original copy) and at least several of our grandchildren have also read it. By the way, I highly recommend it to your kids and grandchildren as well!
The point of all this is that I was challenged beyond my years. In fact, the book is similar to the Bible in that way. The Bible is a difficult book to understand. For the new Christian, its theological concepts and applications can be daunting. And let’s face it – it sure helps to have someone who can help guide you on the journey through the Scripture. In fact, very few people have actually read the Bible cover to cover.
When Milo starts his journey in The Phantom Tollbooth, he doesn’t understand very much. But through his travels and some help along the way, Milo grows in his understanding and the reader is swept along in Milo’s education.
Jesus, in many ways, tells us that the Holy Spirit plays a similar role in helping us to understand God’s Word. Our verse tonight highlights the words of Jesus as told to us by the apostle John in his Gospel. John recounts to us, in John 16:12-15, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”
To this day, the Holy Spirit is a guide to help us understand truths and concepts that are above our human comprehension. My encouragement tonight is that God wants us to stretch ourselves to gain a broader and deeper understanding of His Word. My prayer is that we will answer the challenge to learn as much as we can and to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide us in our journey as we become more like Jesus.
Thank you, Mr. Juster, for your desire to push an eight year old boy beyond his limits to reach new heights as a young reader. Rest in peace, sir, and to the rest of you… Have a great day in the Lord, grace and peace…