Upcoming Events

Bible study is Wednesday November 16 & 30, 2022, at 3:30 pm at Pastor Sherry’s house. No Bible study November 23.

Christmas covered dish dinner and party in the Fellowship Hall December 14, 2022 at 7:00 pm.

Christmas Eve Candlelight service 7:00 pm.

Sunday worship 11:00 am Christmas Day.

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The Best King Ever!

Pastor Sherry’s message for 11/20/22

Scriptures : Jer 23:1-6; Lk 1:68-79; Col 1:10-20; Lk 23:33-43

The story is told, “In 1987 director Bernardo Bertolucci released the film The Last Emperor to raving reviews. It was based on the autobiography of the last living emperor of the Manchu dynasty in China, Henry Aisin-Gioro Pu Yi (before its fall to the communists in the 1950s). Eventually the movie would be hailed ‘the most honored film in 25 years,’ including nine Academy Awards (Oscars).

“And while the story tells the riches to rags story of Yi’s life, from spoiled child emperor to imprisoned and tortured detainee after the revolution to his final seven years as a gardener in a Beijing Park, what is perhaps most interesting, at least for our sake, is one account towards the beginning of the film.

“At this point, Yi is surrounded by the trappings of an imperial power. 1,000 eunuch servants exist to fulfill his every whim. At one point, Yi’s brother asks him what happens to him when he makes a mistake? The emperor responds, ‘when I do something wrong, somebody else is punished.’ To demonstrate this, he picks up an ornate jar and smashes it on the ground. Immediately a servant is taken and beaten for the action of the emperor. It is, in a sense, a true version of the famous ‘whipping boy’ story.

“Why is this so interesting? Because it gives us a perfect contrast, the perfect opposite to what Jesus does on our behalf. From the world’s perspective, it is the poor and marginalized who are to bear the brunt of the world’s pain and blame. [Isn’t that just so often true!] It is the unnamed servant who receives the punishment in this account, not the emperor. In the Christian story however, it’s just the opposite. The king takes the punishment on our behalf.”

(Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Content from “The Last Emperor,” Columbia Pictures, 1987. )

Today, in the Church calendar, we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It probably seems a little odd to focus on Jesus’ crucifixion amidst preparations for Thanksgiving feasting, “Black Friday” sales, and the joy we have in Advent of anticipating Christmas. Additionally, we in America long ago divorced ourselves from the idea of having a king in our Revolutionary War. But the truth is that Jesus Christ is the King of the whole world! He is sovereign over all of us, even those who do not believe in Him. And, thankfully, He is the best king ever!

Praise God we do not have to be “whipping boys” because King Jesus took punishment that was justifiably ours upon Himself. Let’s examine together what our Scripture passages have to say about this today:

A. In Jeremiah 23:1-6, God the Father is castigating the kings, nobility, priests and false prophets for their poor leadership of His people. This is just prior to the defeat of the Southern Kingdom at the hands of the Babylonians. The legitimate prophet Jeremiah warns them of punishment to come, (v.1) Woe to the shepherds…! God has been watching. He knows that false prophets, idolatrous kings, and weak, compromised religious leaders have abused His sheep and lead them astray. In a way very similar to that of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34:11-24), He declares they have scattered His flock, rather than gathering them in; and driven them away from God rather than drawing them closer t Him. So, since they have (v.2)…not bestowed care on them, I [God] will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done. God himself will gather His flock and (bring home the remnant from exile in Babylon) and place better shepherds over them.

Then He prophesies the coming of Jesus (vv.5-6) ”The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a king who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land…He will be called the Lord Our Righteousness.

Jesus, descended from King David, will be, like him, a shepherd-king. However, He will be the True Shepherd, the Good Shepherd (John 10), the Great Shepherd, the Eternal Shepherd, the Best king Ever!

B. Luke 1:68-79 constitutes Zachariah’s Song (the 3rd after Elizabeth’s and Mary’s). Zach, the elderly, priestly father of John the Baptist, had been struck mute by the angel who foretold John’s birth—due to his lack of faith. Once John the Baptist was born, and Zach agreed he was to be called John, Zach got his words back. In this morning’s lesson, he provides a psalm-like song celebrating not just his new son’s role as a Prophet of the Most High, but as the forerunner to Jesus the Messiah.

As he rejoices that the long awaited Messiah is almost here, he bursts into prophesy: The Light is coming into the darkness. God is sending His rescue plan, our salvation. He, Jesus, will empower us to live without fear (for God will be with us), and (vv.74-75) to serve Him…in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. Halleluia! He will be the Best King Ever!

C. Paul, in Colossians 1:10-20, describes Christ the King in even more detail. He explains that Jesus has superior strength and power: Verse 16 For by Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities, all things were created by Him and for Him. Not only did He create all things, but, to this day, He holds them together. Biologists have discovered that in the cell body of all connective tissue (called Lamina) is a cross.

Jesus is also supreme over all creation. He contains the fullness of God the Father, the Greek word is pleroma It means He has all the attributes and characteristics of God the Father. If we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father.

Furthermore, (v.20), through His sacrifice of His life on the Cross for us, He has reconciled us—really all things—to God the Father. There is no other king like Jesus—He is the Best King Ever!

D. This brings us to our Gospel passage, Luke 23:32-43. It’s a bit startling, isn’t it, to find ourselves in the midst of the Crucifixion on this final Sunday of the Church calendar year. This Jesus, this King of the Jews (and of us), appears defeated, vanquished, weak, powerless, suffering, dying. He is mocked, derided by Jews and Roman soldiers. His clothes—all He ever owned–are confiscated and gambled over before His very eyes.

And He is hung between two actual criminals.

He speaks only twice: Once, directed to His Father, forgiving His murderers, granting them grace they do not deserve(v.34) Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing. And a 2nd time, gifting the one respectful, faith-filled thief with salvation (v.43) I tell you the truth, today you will be with Me in paradise.

What a great king he is, forgiving, merciful, generous. Thank God our King is not like Emperor Yi. Jesus is the Best King Ever because He came to serve, to suffer for us. You see, the Jewish concept of a king—taught to them by God the Father through the prophets—was that the king was beholden to and under the authority of God. He owed his kingship not to some self-declared divine right or to being born into the right dynasty at the right time. He was anointed/appointed by God to take care of God’s people, His subjects. Isaiah is one of the first to see Messiah as a leader who will suffer for His people. This perspective confounds and frustrates many.

There is a famous old story of two angels that helps demonstrate why this must be so:

Two traveling angels stopped to spend the night in the home of a wealthy family. The family was rude and refused to let the angels stay in the mansion’s guest room. Instead the angels were given a small space in the cold basement. As they made their bed on the hard floor, the older angel saw a hole in the wall and repaired it. When the younger angel asked why, the older angel replied, “Things aren’t always what they seem.”

The next night the pair came to rest at the house of a very poor, but very hospitable farmer and his wife. After sharing what little food they had, the couple let the angels sleep in their bed where they could have a good night’s rest. When the sun came up the next morning the angels found the farmer and his wife in tears. Their only cow, whose milk had been their sole income, lay dead in the field.

The younger angel was infuriated and asked the older angel, “How could you have let this happen? The first man had everything, yet you helped him,” he accused. “The second family had little but was willing to share everything, and you let the cow die.” “Things aren’t always what they seem,” the older angel replied. “When we stayed in the basement of the mansion, I noticed there was gold stored in that hole in the wall. Since the owner was so obsessed with greed and unwilling to share his good fortune, I sealed the wall so he wouldn’t find it. Then last night as we slept in the farmers bed, the angel of death came for his wife ……. I gave him the cow instead … Things aren’t always what they seem.”

Our Jesus appeared to be defeated at the Cross; but instead He was and is Christ, the Victor!

To quote two of my favorite Bible commentators, the Revs. John Fearless and Delmer Chilton (of “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” fame, The Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.346):

We celebrate Christ the King today, not because of His regalness, but because of His humility; not because of His power [though His power is matchless], but because of His compassion; not because of His triumph [though He has triumphed over sin and death], but because of His travail; not because He fixes our lives [though he can and often does], but because He shows us how to live in service to God and each other.

Thank God we have Jesus, the Best King Ever!

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Waiting for Christ’s Return

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 13, 2022

Scriptures: Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 12; 2 Thess 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Does it seem to you that we are often called upon to wait? We wait to be called in at the doctor’s, the dentist’s, or the vet’s office and in lines at Walmart, the grocery story, and the airport. How about waiting on the final results of this year’s elections? Florida had 7.5 million votes tabulated mere hours after the polls closed. Why has it taken Las Vegas—a place known for skillfully counting cards and numbers—and Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona, days and days to tally theirs?

Often we may feel like the old guy in the following story:

A very old man lay dying in his bed. In death’s doorway, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookie wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands.With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven. There, spread out on waxed paper on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies. Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, made its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife. “Stay out of those,” she said. “They’re for the funeral. Source Unknown

That joke is awful! The wife certainly isn’t behaving like a Christian, is she? But it does bring home the point that we can wait with great expectation but be disappointed in the results. We might even wish we hadn’t gotten our hopes up.

However, Christ’s return will not disappoint those of us who love Him. It seems like it’s taking forever, and we wonder when it will happen. In 2 Peter 3:8-15a—Peter reminds us that God himself is patient. He calculates time differently than we do (vv.8-9)–>With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. A Smart aleck once read these words and went on to have a conversation with God that sounded like this:

“Lord – is it true that a thousand years for us is just like a minute to you?”

“Yes.”

“Then a million dollars to us must just be a penny to you.”

“Yes.”

“Lord, would you give me one of those pennies?”

“All right. Wait here a minute.”

(Source =Lifeway website; sermon by Rick Ezell on Wednesday, January 01, 2014)

Today’s Scripture passages all deal with either how to wait or signs to help us discern if the end is truly near.

A. Paul has much to say in his letters to the Thessalonian church about recognizing and awaiting the End Times. In our passage from last week, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, Paul is writing in about 52 or 53AD, just twenty years or so after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Some in the church thought they were in the End Times due to the Roman persecution. They worried that Christ had already returned and they had missed Him. Paul declares they have not and tells them what should reassure them: First of all, there will be a huge, active falling away from Christ—international apostasy—out of which will arise, “the man of lawlessness” (the Anti-Christ). We are seeing this already in America. We are now a post-Christian nation, with many not even knowing who Jesus is and with others who couldn’t care less. They dabble in the occult, they look to horoscopes and mediums, they may even worship Satan, but they tend to have no interest in pursuing the Christian God.

But back to “the man of lawlessness.” He will become a dictator, taking military, political, and religious control of the world. The big key to his identity is that (v.4) —He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Right now, the Holy Spirit is holding him back/restraining him/preventing him from appearing. But when he arrives on the scene, he will mimic Jesus, claim to be Him, and perform counterfeit miracles based on Satan’s power. Right now, dictators come, ascend to power, fall and die. But the question to ask is, “Do they take over God’s temple and claim to be God?”—and— “Can they work miracles?” Nevertheless, take heart! Whatever he says or does, Jesus will overcome him.

What will help us stand firm until Jesus comes again is…

1.) Knowing Scripture so we can’t be fooled;

2.) Holding onto our faith, despite hard times;

3.) And prayer.

In today’s passage, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Paul gets after those believers who have stopped working as they wait. “No” he says! Look at his example: he worked as a tentmaker when he was among them. In verse 10, he is adamant—If a man [or woman] will not work, he [she] shall not eat.

So, how do we wait on Jesus’ Second Coming?

1.) Study Scripture, so we are aware of the signs.

2.) Hold onto our faith, no matter what happens in the culture.

3.) Pray.

4.) And work—even if we are retired (we can do acts of service and always pray for others).

B. Jesus, in Luke 21:5-19, forecasts some other signs that the end is coming. He predicts (v.8), first, there will be what He calls “false Christs,” false Messiahs. They will make claims that they are gods, but we must measure them against what we know of our One, True, Lord Jesus Christ. Also, they will bring with them indoctrination into false religions (perhaps like Progressive ideology, Critical Race Theory, and distortions of gender and sexuality, involving sex-change surgeries and hormonal therapies for children and the belief that men can have babies).

Next, He says we can look for wars, revolutions, and rumors of wars. It will be a time of turbulence all over the globe. These will precede the end, but are not the end itself. In verses 10-11, He describes worldwide chaos: Nations aligning with or fighting against each other; widespread earthquakes, famines, and plagues; fearful events and great signs from heaven—whatever those will be.

But even before these happenings arrive, Christ-followers will be persecuted. Even now, Christians are being raided and arrested by the FBI. The MyPillow®️ guy was stopped at a Hardee’s drive through and had his phone confiscated by FBI agents serving a subpoena. These violations of our civil rights will only increase. But Jesus assures us that we are not to worry about what to say when brought before judges or governmental officials. Instead of being horrified, we are to consider this our opportunity to witness to them. Instead of being tongue-tied or worried about what to say, Jesus assures us that He—through the power of the Holy Spirit–will give us the words to say, words that no one can dispute. We will become objects of hate to non-believers, perhaps including our family members and friends, but Jesus will protect us. He wants us to trust Him, despite whatever happens to us, including being martyred. This is a difficult truth to preach, but it is what Jesus predicted. May we have the courage and be strengthened to endure it if it comes to that.

C. Isaiah 65:17-25 reminds us of why we should stand firm in our faith, no matter what persecutions or trials we face in the End Times.

After Jesus defeats the forces of evil at Armageddon, God (v.17) will create new heavens and a new earth. If you read through Revelation, you can tell our world will be pretty beaten up by the time Jesus appears a 2nd time. We will probably need a new earth, at a minimum. God tells us, through His prophet (v.19) —The new Jerusalem will be delightful! God will be overjoyed with His people there; and they too will be very happy, with no weeping or crying. Premature death will be an event of the past (no cancers, illnesses, strokes, or heart-attacks). People will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors (which assumes no warfare or taxes). All of God’s people will be blessed! God will answer our prayers before we even finish praying them. And all animals will become plant-eaters—no more carnivores devouring prey—and will be at peace with each other. Nonbelievers say it is certainly impossible for carnivores to become herbivores. However, if God created them, He can certainly alter their digestive systems and their food preferences.

Isaiah paints a great picture of what is to come while we wait for Christ’s return. But, like so many times in life, it appears to be going to get pretty rough for us before it eases up. I think of the three times I gave birth. Labor is truly hard work, but the birth at the end makes it all worth the travail. Our Lord promises us that it will smooth out and the end will be great!

The challenge for each of us is to hold on to our faith while we wait. In the meantime, we don’t want to get discouraged over political, economic, or social hardships. Instead we want to hold on to Jesus with both hands, trusting in Him no matter what comes. We want to be like Paul, who exhorted us (in Philippians 3:13-14) … straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Amen! May that be so for all of us!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Our God Prefers Truth over Lying to Influence People

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 6, 2022

Scriptures: Haggai 1:15-2:9; Ps 145:1-5; 2 Thess 2:1-17; Lk 20:27-40

One of the things I most love about our God is that He is a straight shooter. He always speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth, even if folks don’t like it or don’t want to hear it. Truth, real truth, is often a scarce commodity. In this time of elections, for instance, we hear “facts” from a candidate that are called “disinformation”—or outright lies—by his/her opponent. Since they contradict each other, we end up wondering which one is telling the real truth. The same is true of newscasters. Remember the days of the great Walter Cronkite? He detailed the news without spin or opinion. We felt like we were hearing the truth and we trusted him. Telling the truth leads to trust in the person who tells it.

Two stories I read recently highlight this:

(1) The first concerns 2 outrageously wealthy and wicked brothers. They were consummate hypocrites, acting like they were such great Christians on Sundays, and contributing tons of money to various church projects—you know the type—while the rest of the week, they schemed and scammed at work, defrauded their friends and colleagues, and cheated on their wives. (These are the kinds of Christians that non-Christians point to, paint with a broad brush, and use to call us all hypocrites.)

A new pastor arrived who preached Biblical truths with passion and commitment. Under his leadership, the church grew so much that the congregation needed to enlarge their worship space. At about that time, one of these brothers died. The other brother approached the new pastor and offered to cover the entire cost of the building expansion, if the new pastor would claim at the funeral that the deceased brother had been a saint.

Now the new minister had discerned the truth about these two brothers. Nevertheless, he gave his word that he would call the deceased a saint. He took the check to the bank, where he immediately deposited it. He then said the following at the funeral the next day: “This man was an ungodly sinner, wicked to the core. He was unfaithful to his wife, hot-tempered with his children, ruthless in his business, and a hypocrite at church…but compared to his brother, he was a saint.”

(2) The 2nd story comes from a 4th grade class who wrote a letter to their teacher who was convalescing in the hospital from surgery: “Dear Mrs. Fisher, Your fourth grade class wishes you a speedy recovery by a vote of 15-14.”

(Both stories reported by Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.587-588.)

Two of our passages today demonstrate God’s preference for truth-telling over lying:

A. Haggai 1:15-2:9. The prophet Haggai, another minor prophet, proclaimed God’s word to the Israelite remnant when they returned to the Promised Land after their 70 year exile in Babylon. He ministered during the same period as Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Zechariah. His book is the 2nd shortest in the Old Testament (only Obadiah is shorter).

He gave five messages to the people and each is precisely dated based on the reigns of the kings of Persia. The challenge which proceeds today’s reading (1:1-11) was given on September 1, 520BC. The people had encountered resistance from Samaritans and Arabs around them in their efforts to rebuild the Temple. So when the process became difficult, they wrongly assumed it must not be God’s will to rebuild at that time. God rebuked and redirected the remnant’s erroneous assessment (1:12-15) on September 24, 520. Essentially, the Lord told them, “Au contrare, mes amis. [This is the last that I remember of my high school French.] You have deserted your work on My house to work on your own houses. I am not happy with this! Don’t worry about the resistance because…(v.13) I am with you.” So they jumped to it! (v.15b) on the 24th day of the 6th month in the 2nd year of King Darius.

After they had gathered material and begun again to rebuild, the Lord encouraged the people, (2:1-9) on October 21st, 520. The elderly folks—who had been around to see the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple—were dismayed by how pitiful (to them) the reconstructed temple looked. Solomon’s Temple, which Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had destroyed, had been a “jewel box,” and one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. It had been constructed of marble overlaid with gold, silver and jewels. These poor refugees had no such gold, silver, or jewels; they rebuilt with just rock set upon rock. So God had the prophet tell the political leader, Zerubbabel, the religious leader, Joshua (a different Joshua from the one who had led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land), and all the people, Be strong…for I am with you. The Lord encouraged them by saying (vv.6-9) In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land [in other words, shock and awe everyone]. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations [Jesus] will come, and I will fill this house with glory [because Jesus will be teaching within it]. The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine…the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…and in this place I will grant peace.

So God conveyed to them the stark truth: “You have abandoned building My house because you got scared, then focused on your own houses. You need to get cracking on My house!” Once they did begin construction, they were disappointed with the results. Again, God redirected them. “I’ve got this. This house will exceed the beauty of Solomon’s Temple, though plain, because Jesus, My Son, will grace it with His divine presence.” Notice: God is honest with them but also tender and encouraging.

2. Luke 20:27-40. In a way similar to that of God the Father, Jesus rebukes and redirects the Sadducees. Remember, the Sadducees were the rich, urbane, religious liberals of the day. They dismissed the Pharisees as fundamentalists, and they curried the favor of the Romans for power and influence. They approach Jesus with a ridiculous issue: How likely is it that a woman would marry one brother after his elder brother had died, on and on through 7 brothers? Brothers 3-7 would no doubt decide she was cursed and would avoid her, or barren and would avoid her.

We see this with Judah’s 1st two sons. Back in Genesis 38, Tamar married Judah’s 1st son, Er. He was so wicked he was put to death by God.

Then, according to the law intended both to provide for and to protect widows—as well as ensure descendants for the dead man–Tamar married Judah’s 2nd son, Onan. Onan was also very evil so the Lord put him to death as well. Judah refused to allow Tamar to marry his 3rd son, Shelah, believing she might somehow cause his death too. My maternal grandmother married five times (but not to 5 brothers). Each died a natural death. Nevertheless, we teased her claiming that marrying her was the “kiss of death” for her husbands.

These Sadducees should have been familiar with this Genesis story, so would have known their example was preposterous. Additionally, as Luke points out, Sadducees didn’t even believe in an afterlife or in a resurrection.

Matthew and Mark both report that Jesus told them they neither knew Scripture nor understand the power of God (they didn’t believe in the supernatural or in miracles). Jesus doesn’t really address their ridiculous case, but instead demonstrates from Exodus 3 that Our God is the God of living persons. He says to them (v.37) But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” [all present tense]. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive. He is the God of all of us on earth and also of those who go on to heaven to dwell—in a different life form—with Him there. He rebukes them for their ignorance of God’s Word and their unbelief, but redirects them to the reality of resurrection.

So what is God saying to us today thru these passages? Among a number of possibilities are the following:

(1) I believe He is asking us, “Will we be honest with people?” Like our God is, like the new pastor in the story was, and like the children were. God the Father enjoined us not to lie, making slander or “bearing false witness,” the 9th of the 10 Commandments. We want to remember that Jesus called Himself the way, the truth, and the life. To our God, truth is not just a virtue or a concept, it is the person of Jesus! Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth, so He too both embodies truth and can lead us to the truth. We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is true and what isn’t. We can also ask the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to speak the truth, in all situations.

(2) We want to speak truth, but we also want—as best as we can– to speak the truth in love. The Father rebuked the remnant, then also encouraged them. Jesus rebuked the Sadducees, then redirected them, addressing their core theological errors. In both stories I related, the folks involved told the truth, but without much love or compassion.

(3) Lying politicians, newscasters, and others need to beware. Jesus says of Satan, in John 8:44 that…[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lives. Lying helps us resemble the evil one in behavior. Lying is never a good idea. It offends God. Additionally, the truth generally always comes out, then the liar is shown for what he/she is.

This Tuesday, Election Day, let’s watch and see who the American people perceive are the liars, and may the truth-tellers win! And may we resolve always to speak the truth in love.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Why the Wait?

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 30, 2022

Scriptures: Hab 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Ps 119:137-144; 2 Thess 1:1-4,11-12; Lk 19:1-10

Habakkuk is one of the Minor Prophets (a short book at the end of the Old Testament, only 3 chapters long) whose major theme is faith/believing/trusting in God. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah and lived from approximately 640-570BC. Instead of writing warnings to sinful Israel to repent, he delivered a series of dialogues between himself and God. In our reading today, he asks God (Chapter1),

1.) Why is there so much violence and injustice?

2.) How come You tolerate wrong-doing, LORD?

3.) Why don’t You do something?!!

Then, in Chapter 2, he asks, Why would you use an unjust nation (Babylonia) to punish us? True, I get that we are sinners who deserve punishment; but why would You use them? They are worse than we are, and they aren’t even believers!

Let’s focus on how God answers Habakkuk, because both the issues the prophet raises–and God’s responses–are very contemporary. To the question of why God permits evil, the LORD says, (v.5) Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. What could that be? In the short run, He is going to allow them to be chastised by/taken to “the Biblical woodshed” by being defeated and captured by the pagan Babylonians. This happened in 587BC. Jerusalem and the Temple were burned; the people who were not killed were chained and led off to Babylon as slaves. However, as the books Ezra and Nehemiah later attest, they were freed to return to the Land after 70 years of captivity. In the long run, however, it is a subtle prediction of the coming of Messiah. Jesus, God Himself coming to earth in human form, is indeed… something in your days that you would not believe. Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us–will be breaking into human history to both demonstrate God’s love for us and to save us from our sins.

To the question of why God uses sinful nations to punish His people—and bear in mind that we Christ-followers are His People, and that we do currently deserve punishment for a multitude of national and personal sins—the prophet says, (2:1) I will stand at my watch and station myself at the ramparts; I will look to see what He [God] will say to me. As a person of great faith, the prophet states essentially, “I don’t understand so I am going to wait on the LORD to make it clear to me.” Notice, he doesn’t say, “This is nuts! I’m just going to do what I need to do to take care of me and mine.” Instead, he waits in faith, trusting in God’s purposes for him and for us.

God does answer him: (2:2-3) …though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. What’s God mean by this? It is as though the Lord is saying, “Yes I am using a corrupt, immoral nation to discipline My People, but the day will come that I discipline them too.” Nebuchadnezzar was puffed up and arrogant. History reports that Babylon fell in 539 BC, overtaken by the Medes and the Persians. No nation lives outside God’s purview, not then and not now. The Lord truly is sovereign over all things. King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 8:11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. People wrongly assume that God is not watching, that He doesn’t know what’s going on. When it looks like He is tolerating evil behavior, it’s not an invitation to continue to do wrong. He is instead giving a nation time to come to its senses and repent.

So what is Habakkuk saying to us today? I believe he is making at least four important points:

1. Our God is very aware of all the sinful behavior around us (ours and others’).

2. God’s judgment may not come speedily, but it does come eventually.

3. In the meantime, our Lord is exceedingly patient, not wanting anyone to perish. He gives us all plenty of time and multiple opportunities to come to Him in repentance. And don’t we love and appreciate that about Him!

4. When we don’t understand why God is doing what He is doing, we should follow the example of Habakkuk: Be a watchman or watchwoman, and Trust in the Lord; Pray; and Wait.

Now, let’s turn our focus to today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 19:1-10, a perfect example of why God often chooses to wait.

Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem to be crucified. He enters Jericho, a town 20 miles NE of Jerusalem. Just prior to entering the city, Jesus restores the sight of the blind man, Bartimaeus. Next, He is on the lookout for a notorious sinner, Zacchaeus. Always guided by the Father’s will, Jesus goes looking for this man. This is a divine appointment.

Zacchaeus (ironically his name means pure) is…

1. The Chief Tax Collector for the region— As I explained last week–in reference to the prayers of the Pharisee versus those of the tax collector—tax collectors were despised by their countrymen because they were perceived as Roman collaborators/sell-outs/traitors, as well as thieves. The Mishna, a Jewish commentary on God’s Law, pairs tax collectors with murderers and robbers.

2. He was also very rich because, in a pyramid system, he took a percentage of what every tax collector under his authority pocketed;

3. He was a man who had forsaken his religion in a quest for wealth;

4. Lastly, he was short in stature.

Zacchaeus learns Jesus is coming and wants to see Him (He appears to have a spiritual hunger, like the blind man, Bartimaeus). He runs ahead and climbs a sycamore-fig tree. This tree would have been between 30-40 feet high, with slick bark, and low, broad limbs that ran parallel to the ground. He could have viewed Jesus from that vantage point without being observed—or so he thought! Jesus, of course, knows he is there, stops, and calls to him to come down. Again, this is a divine appointment. Jesus’ mission has always been to reclaim the prodigals (Luke15:11-31—the Parable of the Prodigal Son), and to welcome the humble into God’s kingdom (Luke 18:9-14—the humble. praying tax collector of last week’s Gospel). Notice Jesus says to him, (v.5) Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. Now I ask you, what’s with the must? Who can make Jesus do anything? Only God the Father has that kind of influence.

The people murmur….Jesus does not stay at the home of a Pharisee; nor does He appear to visit the most influential persons of the city. Instead he chooses to hang out with the most notorious and despised man there. The crowd considers him outside the possibility of redemption; but thank God Jesus does not write off any who are open to God. There appears to be a time lapse—we don’t know how long they conferred at Zach’s house. But Jesus (and His Father) recognized Zach’s spiritual bankruptcy. Jesus probably talked with Zacchaeus about our need for God and God’s willingness and ability to meet that need.

But whatever was said, Zacchaeus is transformed! He admits he has been robbing the poor and says he will give ½ of his wealth to make amends (compare this with the Rich Young Ruler who could not let go of his money to follow Jesus, Matthew 19:16-24). The Law required giving back what was taken and adding 20%. So a “fine” of 20% was considered generous. Zacchaeus is going to gift the poor with 50% of all he has. He also promises to give back 4 times what he defrauded others. He actually penalizes himself by meeting the standard expected of rustlers: In Exodus 22:1, if a person stole an ox, they had to replace it with 5 cows; if one sheep, 4 sheep were required. Zacchaeus demonstrates his new faith with his works (James 2:18). Jesus affirms his transformation by saying (v.9) Today salvation has come to this house….He also points out that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham—no matter how bad a sinner; and that Jesus came (v.10) to seek and to save what was lost. (Remember the parables of Luke 15 one lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son, all of whom were located).

So why the Wait? Because God may be doing a new thing. So that sinners like Zacchaeus (and us) can be saved. So that we might fall in love with Jesus and desire to please Him. So that we become magnanimous, forgiving, and grace-filled toward Him and others. Thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Praying with Humility and Gratitude

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 23, 2022

Scriptures: Joel 2:23-32; Ps 65; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

I have preached here before on the fact that our God answers our prayers. He tends to answer in one of the following ways:

1. Yes, that’s something I am happy to do for you right away.

2. No, I am omniscient and know that would not be good for you.

3. Not yet.

a. I am working out all the intervening variables;

b. Or, I am waiting on you to develop further.

He also likes for us to have an humble attitude toward Him when we pray. In our Gospel Lesson today, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus contrasts the opposite attitudes of the Pharisee and the publican/tax collector.

The Pharisee was a man at the top of the religious ladder of the day. Was he praying out loud or silently? If out loud, how arrogant of him! He appears to be talking to himself, about himself, rather than dialoguing with God. His prayer is a soliloquy, a speech made by himself to himself. Lord, I’m thankful that I am not like other men (v.11)…YIKES! There’s his first mistake. He should have said, “Thank You that You called me to be a Pharisee; I am so happy to serve You and Your people, Lord!” He might have added, “Thank You for keeping me from becoming a robber, an evildoer, an adulterer, or anyone who mistreats others. I know that there, but for the grace of God, go I.” And he would have been very Christ-like to have requested of God, “Lord, I ask you to bless this tax collector and bring him to repentance for any theft or fraud he has committed.” Instead, being very self-focused and lacking humility, he considers himself a cut above other sinners.

The Publican or tax collector, was considered a low-life in that culture (definitely a sinner!). Unlike the Pharisee, however, he seems to have been very well aware of his deficiencies/his sins. He knows that he has denied his nation (as a Roman collaborator); he knows he has alienated himself from his countrymen. The Romans let tax collectors set their own salary, which they did by demanding a certain percentage above what he was required to collect for them. So typically, tax collectors charged extra, taking care of themselves at the expense of their own fellow citizens. Additionally, they didn’t think they needed God or were too ashamed to approach the Lord (We’ve all known people who have said, “If I entered the church, the roof would fall in.)

But notice his prayer, and contrast it with that of the Pharisee: The tax collector admits he’s a sinner! He is humble and humiliated by his past, his present, his bad choices, his wrong actions. He is so aware of his deficiencies before God, he cannot even raise his eyes toward heaven. His prayer is one sentence (v.13): God have mercy on me, a sinner, or God be merciful to me a sinner. This is where we derive The Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is a famous old prayer uttered from foxholes, places of danger, and traumatic situations.

I once was visiting some friends when someone they knew asked me to minister to their adult daughter. She had been car-jacked at night, kidnapped, and pistol whipped by two men. She feared for her life, sure she would be raped and murdered. She was a believer and knew to pray “The Jesus Prayer” throughout her entire ordeal. The felons took her to a deserted area, blind-folded her, and told her to remove her clothing. She was sure this was the end for her. Suddenly, however, she heard the sounds of the two men running away. She suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress afterward but also knew that God had saved her in answer to her prayer. We believe the men must have seen a large angel behind her who frightened them away.

So what is the right heart attitude? From what attitude should our prayers arise? Not that of the Pharisee—arrogant, going on about how great we are, how much we’ve done for God, how much better we are than others. Rather, Jesus says the right heart attitude, especially when we pray, should be one of humility–and of gratitude. He says in verse 14–For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. We want to approach God humbly, acknowledging and confessing our sinfulness. And, we want to approach God with gratitude for His mercy and love:

Our other lessons today explain why we should pray to God with gratitude:

A. 800 years before Jesus, the prophet Joel warns the Southern Kingdom (Joel 2:23-32) that the Great Tribulation of God’s Judgment is coming. Actually—even now—we haven’t yet seen the End Times. The prophet assures the people that if they repent and turn back to the Lord, He will respond, take pity on them, and call off the conquering Babylonians.

He foretells that they will rejoice in the Lord because…

1.). He will bring life-giving rain (v.23);

2.) He will repay them (v.25) for the years the locusts [enemies; evil-doers] have eaten.

3.) He will provide them with plenty to eat (v. 26);

4.) He will “pour out His Spirit on all people (v.28), empowering them and us to accomplish miraculous things we could never produce in our own.

5.) Best of all (v.28), Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This prophesy predates the saving work of Jesus Christ, but it does infer that redemption is coming.

B. In a similar vein, Psalm 65 is called a “Restoration Psalm” and also prophesies what will occur at Christ’s 2nd Coming: King David wrote it in celebration of God’s goodness to him/us. He knew, historically and personally, that God saves His people from our enemies. He also experienced God’s forgiveness for his (and our) sins. Furthermore, God also draws us near to Him—He wants to be with us!

David recognized that God answers our prayers with what he called (v.5) —awesome deeds of righteousness, and addressed the Lord as, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas…. As a former Sociology major, I believe our younger American generations now—who do not know God—are suffering from what the French Father of Sociology, Emile Durkheim, called, anomie. This is a sense of purposelessness, of alienation. It occurs when people’s lives lack meaning, when they fail to see they have a reason for living. If unrelenting, it leads people to suicide and to other acts of desperation, like running people over in a parade, or shooting strangers in a grocery store. But for those of us who know and believe in God, we always have meaning and purpose in life (See Psalm 139), and, we are never alone!

Finally, David praises God for His loving provision for us.

C. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes Paul’s farewell address: He wants Timothy, his spiritual son, to know he has—(v.7)…fought the good fight, like a loyal soldier; I have finished the race, like an Olympic runner; and I have kept the faith—remember in our Gospel lesson of last week (Luke 18:8), Jesus wondered, When the Son of Man comes [when Jesus returns], will He find faith on the earth? Paul has kept the faith. He was, in fact, martyred for his faith. Paul is encouraging Timothy and us to keep our faith in Jesus, no matter what comes.

Why? Because death for us is not the final word/final chapter! It is a release:

1.) From the battles of life—or, “the rat race;” and

2.) From the frailty and failings of our mortal bodies. It is like a ship being untied from a wharf, freed to sail out to sea.

3.) And it is a release that frees us to accept our final reward, what Paul calls a crown of righteousness (v.8). It’s not a wreath of olive leaves, like the original Olympic winners got, or even a medal, like present day athletic stars. It is something Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, gives to each one of us who loves Him. Truthfully, I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I want it when my time comes. Death is not the end for those of us who love Jesus.

So why should we pray with gratitude in our hearts?

1.) Because our God is our creator, our provider, and our protector.

2.) Because He loves, forgives, and redeems us.

3.) Because He gives our lives meaning and purpose.

4.) Because He is present to us.

5.) Because He hears our prayers and responds to us

6.) And because He rewards us with a new and a better life—and some special reward–on the other side of death.

The next time you are feeling downhearted, discouraged, or alone, grab onto any one of those reasons to feel grateful to God. Remember, our God is for us, not against us. Thanks be to God!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Antidote to Apostasy

Pastor Sherry’s Message for October 16, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 31:27-34; Ps 119:97-105; 2 Tim, 3:14-4:5; Lk 18:1-8

“In the sixteenth century, there was a protestant reformer in England by the name of Hugh Latimer. He was known as a great preacher of his day and as a result he had many opportunities to speak. Once he found that he was to preach before King Henry VIII of England. As he thought about his great responsibility to bring a message before the king he realized that the message that God laid on his heart was not the message that the king would want to hear.

“As he began his sermon he said, ‘Latimer! Latimer! Do you remember that you are speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII; who has power to command you to be sent to prison, and who can have your head cut off, if it please him? Will you not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears?’

“He then paused and continued, ‘Latimer! Latimer! Do you not remember that you are speaking before the King of kings and Lord of lords; before Him, at whose throne Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day you will have to give account yourself? Latimer! Latimer! Be faithful to your Master, and declare all of God’s Word.’

“Latimer faced the choice: would he preach what man wanted to hear or would he preach what Christ would have him preach. Latimer did take his stand for truth and preached boldly. Eventually, he was martyred by Henry’s daughter the Roman Catholic Queen Mary.” (Borrowed from a website known as “Ministry 127”, 10/15/2022).

What a choice Hugh Latimore faced: Preach God’s word and offend a dangerous monarch; or preach what Henry the VIII wanted to hear and perhaps offend Jesus. Interestingly, he bravely chose to potentially offend the king. King Henry appears to have respected him for it, and had him made a Bishop. It was Henry’s daughter by his 1st wife (Catherine of Aragon), Queen “Bloody Mary,” who had him burned at the stake as a protestant heretic.

Last week, several of our readings focused on apostasy. You may recall that apostasy means turning your back on, or walking away from your faith in Jesus. You’ve been taught faith in Christ and accepted that Jesus is Lord; but you come to reject this faith, for any number of reasons.

I was a person of faith from my childhood until I attended college at 18. I became a Sociology major—sociology is the study of the influence our groups have on our behavior. My groups influenced me away from my faith. It didn’t help that I didn’t want to get up on Sunday mornings to go to church. And, with the arrogance of youth, I had decided I knew better than God, so I believed I could intelligently criticize Him. It was when I turned 28 however, was married, and had my first child that I realized I needed God’s help in raising that child. My husband and I came home from the hospital with this little boy, sat down on the couch, looked at each other, and said, “What now?” We didn’t know what we were doing. Both of us had come from dysfunctional homes. We knew what we didn’t want to do, but we did not know how to go about what we did want. Clearly, I wasn’t as smart or as competent as I thought I was. I had become what Scripture calls, “Humble /poor in spirit.” I realized I needed God. That’s the first beatitude from Matthew 5:3–Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Our Scripture passages today reveal how God’s Word serves as an antidote to apostasy:

1. In 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Paul is urging the young pastor Timothy to maintain church order through preaching God’s Word. Paul commends Timothy in verse 15, saying—…from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. He further asserts that (vv.16-17)—All Scripture is God-breathed [not just written by people, but inspired by God] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. So knowing God’s Word makes you wise. “Your work as a pastor, Timothy (and Sherry) needs to be based upon preaching and teaching God’s Word.” He then charges Tim–and all of us who are Christian ministers–to (v.2) —Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season [when it’s popular and when it isn’t]; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come [and is here, now] when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

I made a friend in Pittsburgh (where I went to seminary)—let’s call her Mrs. Watson—who was a nominal Catholic. She had grown up in the faith, but had fallen away as an adult. She then had created her own set of beliefs by picking and choosing elements from several religions. She called herself a Christian, but also believed in reincarnation. I asked her why she wanted to make her salvation dependent on her own effort–what if she were reincarnated as a cockroach!—when Jesus had already done the work for her?

Back before the Episcopal Church split from Bible-believing conservatives, forming the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)—liberal theologians were telling people that God was “doing a new thing” (that is, ordaining active gay pastors and marrying gay couples). One heretical bishop from New Jersey told his congregation that it was all right for him to have an affair with his secretary because his wife was physically incapacitated. God may have been doing a new thing, but His new things will not contradict the whole counsel of Scripture. Scripture consists of God’s thoughts written down. It says in several places that He does not change His mind (for example, James 1:17–Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows.

I once had a young man come to me who told me God had said it was OK for him to satisfy himself sexually, outside of marriage. He may have heard a voice say that to him, but since that teaching disagrees with God’s Word, I did not think he was hearing from God. After all, Paul said that (2 Corinthians 11:14). —…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. This message was something this young man wanted to hear to justify what he wanted to do.

As a pastor and preacher, my primary duty is to preach passages from the Bible. The Truth is that sincere believers are hungry and thirsty for what God provides for us in His Word. I’ll never forget the results of an independent study I did in seminary on the history of the Christian Church in Vietnam since the war we fought there. Prior to the war, both the Catholic Church and the Christian Missionary Alliance Church were very active, making converts in Vietnam. After the war, the CMA especially redoubled its efforts. They evangelized a small tribe hidden away in the mountains, having learned their language. The chief confronted them after he heard of Jesus. He asked them, “How long have you known about this Jesus?” “For over 2,000 years,” they replied. “Then,” the chief retorted, “why has it taken you so long to bring this good news to us?” To people trying hard to appease ruthless gods of nature, the Gospel message of God’s deep, abiding love for us is truly Good News. Similarly, a seminary friend of mine took a small parish in North Carolina. After she had preached for several weeks, she was told by a parishioner at the door, “Thank God you preach from the Bible! I was sick to death of hearing sermons about saving the whales, or about championing the Green New Deal.” Paul knew we would get off course, drift away from Jesus, if we preached anything but God’s Word.

2. The psalmist (Psalm 119:97-105) predates Paul but says about the same thing: In verses 97-100 he declares that meditating on Scripture makes a person wiser than their teachers, their elders, or their enemies. If one is able to live by the wisdom he or she reads in the Bible, she or he is also able to discern wrong paths and understand right actions (v.104).

When I arrived at the church I served in New Orleans (around 2003), the staff was reading a book (The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown) that was popular at the time but filled with unorthodox and heretical nonsense. They did not know Scripture, so they had no way of knowing why what they were reading was untrue. My boss and I had to sit down with them and point out where the book departed from the Truth Scripture tells us about Jesus.

“John Wesley used to ask his young men whom he had sent out to preach on probation two questions: “Has anyone been converted?” and “Did anyone get mad?” If the answer was “No,” he told them he did not think the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel, and sent them about their business. When the Holy Ghost convicts of sin, people are either converted or they don’t like it, and get mad.” (Dwight L. Moody, Moody’s Anecdotes, Project Gutenberg, 2009, p. 123).

As the Psalmist writes (v.105)—Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. God’s word shows us the way to go. Like a flashlight in the dark, or a miner’s or fireman’s helmet, it helps guide us to safety.

3. Jeremiah prophesies (in 31:27-34)—even before the people are defeated by the Babylonians—that God will bring them back to the Promised Land. He did bring them back starting about 70 years after they were deported (516 BC). He also brought them back in 1948. They returned to the Land, and to the country Israel, but not to the Lord. That prophetic fulfillment awaits the End Times. Then, the prophet predicts, God will restore Israel—because He loves them—and they will come to know Jesus Christ as their Messiah. They do not as yet accept Jesus as Messiah; they have not discerned God’s Word rightly.

4. Jesus tells the Parable of the Unjust Judge in Luke 18:1-8. His purpose in telling the story is to encourage them…to always pray and not give up (v.1). However, He is not saying God the Father is like this crooked judge. On the contrary, God the Father is much more moral, much holier than this corrupt official. And He commends the persistent woman, and asks (v.8b) —when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? He will if we are faithful to utilize our antidotes to apostasy: (1) To read and meditate on Scripture—so that it is almost written on our hearts–and (2) to persist in daily conversation (prayer) with God. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Gratitude Like The One In Nine

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 9, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 29:1-7; Ps 66:1-12; 2 Tim 2:8-15; Lk 17:11-19

A Jesuit priest has said, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” That bears repeating: “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” Modern psychological research has shown that finding things to be grateful for is a key to good mental health. People who can think of 3 things for which they are thankful, daily, are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be happy.

A cartoon in a magazine shows a couple, at the church door, saying goodbye to the pastor following the service. The man says, “Wonderful sermon! Thanks for not mentioning my name.” We can be grateful for not having our sins shared from the pulpit. (I promise you, I will never name you and your personal sins from this pulpit.)

I can think of two other examples of grateful people:

(1) The leader of our denomination, John Wesley, “…was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart.

“While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God.

“Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes. “And what else do you thank God for?” he said with a touch of sarcasm.

“The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, ‘I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!

“Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.

“Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley’s extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, ‘I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.’”

(From a sermon entitled “True Thankfulness” by Donnie Martin, July 26, 2010)

(2) Albert, the fellow who manned a drive up window at a Café DuMonde in New Orleans, where I stopped most mornings to get a CafeAuLait. He lacked most of his teeth but the ones he had were gold. He probably worked for minimum wage, but when I asked him each day how he was, he always replied, “I’m blessed!” The Lord used Albert in my life just as he used the porter in John Wesley’s. Two “simple” but wise—though economically disadvantaged persons–knew the value of daily expressing their gratitude to God.

Let’s see what our Scripture lessons today have to say about daily expressing gratitude to God:

A. Our Psalm (66:1-12) instructs us to praise God because of His deliverance, His preservation, and His provision for us.

B. In our Epistle (2 Timothy 2:8-15), Paul instructs us thank God for our redemption through Jesus Christ.

C. In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 29:1-7), the prophet has written a letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon. They had been carted away, in defeat, to a pagan foreign nation. Surprisingly, instead of commiserating with them, Jeremiah essentially tells them that they are to “bloom where they have been planted.” This sentiment was often pictured on posters in the 1960’s and I remember thinking as a young person, “I don’t want to bloom where I am planted. I want to, instead, change my environment.” I didn’t realize then that God often calls us to do our best where we are, as He intends us to be transformed there, as well as to influence others to be transformed. So, Jeremiah encourages the deportees to build homes for themselves and their families. They are to settle in where they have wound up. Further, he encourages them to plant gardens, so they can feed themselves. Obviously, the Lord intends that they will be there for a while.

They are to marry and have sons and daughters. Again, this implies they will be there for some time. This side of the Cross, we know they were there for 70 years, or for most of 2 generations. Rather than being frustrated or resentful (hateful), they were also to contribute to the peace/prosperity of the city of Babylon. In fact, the Lord says, through the prophet, (v.7) —Pray to the LORD for it [Babylon], because if it [Babylon] prospers, you too will prosper.

They were not to be grateful for their captivity, their deportation to a foreign land. God used that experience to punish them because He is holy (and cannot abide sin). They were guilty of idolatry, greed, lust and sexual perversion, and multiple abuses of power. They had been grossly out of line for a long time. We know from Hebrews 12:5-11 that God disciplines those He loves. We also realize that if He didn’t, we could not really trust Him. He means what He says in Scripture, and He says what He means. The Lord has punished them, hoping they will change their sinful attitudes and improve their behavior in the future. The point is that—even though they are captive in a foreign land—which seems terrible to them, it comes as no surprise to God—He engineered it. They can and should be grateful to Him because they are alive and He has not abandoned them.

We want to be grateful to God for what He teaches us through our trials. When we go through trials—emotional pain—we are molded and shaped by God. Years ago, I was counseling college students at Florida State University as part of a pre-doctoral psychology internship. While there, I encountered a “trust fund baby,” a young man who had been handed everything. He told me that he drove a brand new BMW; all his expenses were paid by his parents; he had a job waiting for him, in his father’s firm, when he finished school; and he had never had to mourn the loss of someone he loved. In other words, he had never suffered, he had never had to struggle. He asked me to help him develop some motivation for life. I suggested he volunteer at a soup-kitchen for the homeless, or spend time with disadvantaged kids in daycare. I have never known anyone to have compassion for others who has not observed or experienced suffering. When we go through trials, we learn compassion for others. We learn to have patience. We learn to trust in God despite our circumstances.

D. In our Gospel lesson (Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 lepers.

Our Lord is headed to Jerusalem to die. At the fringe of some unnamed village, 10 lepers appeal to Him for healing. He gives them what they want, freely, graciously. Notice: they had faith in Him and in His ability to heal them. He says to them, (v.14) —Go, show yourselves to the priests.

Leviticus 14:1-10 describes all the things a leper who had been healed had to do: (1) Show him/herself to the priest. (2.) The priest would then perform a detailed ritual to ensure the person was cleansed spiritually as well as physically; (3.) Then the healed person was to wash his/her clothes; shave off all his/her hair, even eyebrows; and bathe with water.

So, the ten obey Jesus and scurry off to begin the cleansing process. It is on their way that they are healed. They had stepped out in faith. They had trusted in Jesus. And unlike Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5), they were immediately compliant. But only one guy notices his healing and returns first to thank Jesus. Maybe the other nine were just too overjoyed to focus on gratitude. Or maybe they believed they deserved it (they felt entitled). Most likely their attention was on remembering and performing the religious requirements, or on the anticipated happy reunions with their families. We don’t really know why they didn’t think to thank the LORD.

The one guy who does was a hated Samaritan! We would say today that he wasn’t raised right; that he was not well bred; that he was “sorry from way back.” But the fellow who wasn’t raised right knew enough to express his gratitude. Maybe he was shocked that Jesus would heal even him. Maybe he was aware that he didn’t deserve this kind of grace from a Jewish rabbi. Jesus’ response to the Samaritan’s gratitude was fantastic—v. 17–Rise and go; your faith has made you well. This implies that the fellow was kneeling at Jesus’ feet; or maybe he had prostrated himself, in adoration. Jesus is so pleased that he commends him for his faith and for his manners. This guy has received the same physical healing as the other 9; but he has also received a complete healing. In addition to the physical, he received a spiritual healing as well–forgiveness for his sins. Both healings merited eternal gratitude.

Today’s lessons go beyond issues of disease or misfortune and healing: They challenge us to be mindful of all that God has done for us and to be grateful to Him. Too many of us are like a demanding guy in the Post Office. A guy with a broken right arm goes into the Post Office. The lady at the counter asks how she might help him. He proceeds to ask for a post card and a stamp. Then he asks her to write out his message on the card, and finally to address it to his friend. She asks again if there is anything else he needs. He looks at the card and says, “Yes please add an apology to my friend for the bad handwriting.”

(Borrowed from John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.310.)

Are we like that—or like the 9 who were healed, but didn’t express their gratitude? It’s all too easy, isn’t it, to take God’s grace for us for granted and to forget to express to Him our grateful thanks. This week, let’s remember to express to our Lord our thanks and praise. Even better, try to think of three things daily for which you are grateful to God. Do this for a month and watch and see what happens. You should find yourself being more joy-filled.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Where Do We Turn When Times Get Tough?

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 2, 2022

Scriptures : Lam 1:1-6; Ps 137; 2 Tim 1:1-14; Lk 17:5-10

While I was laid up with a bad back last Sunday—by the way, thank you for your prayers, and solicitous emails and texts—I listened to sermons by Dr. Ed Young, Sr. (an excellent expositor of the Bible), and Pastor Joel Osteen, a terrific encourager. They are both exceptional preachers. I noted that Joel tends to lead off with a joke, even if it’s not really relevant to his sermon topic. I thought I would share one of his I heard last Sunday that’s also not really relevant to what I intend to preach today—but it’s funny:

A young woman’s mother has died and she is greeting friends and family at the reception following her mom’s funeral. A cousin comes up to her and congratulates her on her recent inheritance of $10,000 from her deceased mother.

“Oh,” she replies, “didn’t you know Mom did not leave that to me?”

The cousin was shocked! The young women explained, “Mom never had much money, you know, so she wanted to be buried with that $10,000.”

The cousin was aghast! “You don’t mean to say you placed it in her coffin?

“Oh, yes. I wanted to honor her wishes so, before they closed her casket, I tucked into her hands a check for the full amount.”

This isn’t a sermon on tithing, so you can put away that worry. Instead, what I want to focus on is what the Lord has to say to us today about how to hold onto our faith when times get tough. Times are tough right now, aren’t they? In June, I reopened my counseling practice to offset the impact of inflation on my monthly budget. I’m now treating about 4 therapy clients over the internet. Many of us are also re-learning how to further economize. We take fewer trips in our cars or only fill our gas tank partway. We shop with coupons, search the sales, buy the BOGO’s, or change to cheaper products at less expensive stores. We are concerned about the increase in crime all around us and perhaps are worried about our safety.

Many have stopped watching the news on TV because the video images are so horrific, and the lying and conniving of so many government officials—and their family members—is so depressing. Thank God we love a Lord who knows our anguish and responds to our pain! He does not overlook unethical or immoral behavior on the part of our leaders.

I don’t know about you but I was encouraged this week when an Italian woman, Giorgia Maloni, was elected Prime Minister of Italy. The press tried to paint her as a fascist; but she bravely ran on the platform of “God, Family, and Country”—a conservative, but hardly a fascist! Good for her and good for the Italians! I hope this is the beginning of a new trend across the western world.

Let’s jump into our Scripture lessons and see if God would agree. (I believe He would.)

A. In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Paul is writing to the young pastor, Timothy, who he has left in charge of the Church in Ephesus (around 67AD). Paul had led Timothy to Christ, so he is providing this dearly beloved [spiritual] son with instruction on church order and principles of church leadership so that he can become a successful minister of the Gospel. This letter is a kind of seminary tutorial from Professor Paul. He wants Timothy to note that he is at the top of Paul’s prayer list (Don’t we all wish we had been at the top of Paul’s prayer list?)

Especially in this 2nd pastoral letter (also his final letter before being beheaded in Rome), Paul warns Timothy about the afflictions that beset a congregation and its pastor—especially apostasy. In our context, the dictionary would define apostasy as the willful turning away from the principles of the Christian faith. This rejection of God is not due to ignorance, but to the human choice to turn one’s back on Jesus. To prevent this, Paul wants Timothy to continue to preach the Word of God and the Gospel: (1) No matter if people turn away; (2) No matter if congregational numbers dwindle; (3) No matter if people don’t feel sufficiently entertained; (4) No matter if folks don’t want to hear the teachings of Jesus. Paul is saying, in so many words, “Make it winsome if you can, but don’t skimp on presenting the reality of the Gospel. No matter what forces come against you, Timothy,” Paul exhorts him, “you remain strong!”

In verse 7, he famously reminds him, For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [fear], but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline [a sound mind]. When the world comes against you—and it will—remember that you have a spirit of power: the Holy Spirit is in you, to guard, guide, and strengthen you! The love of Jesus and of God the Father enfold you and stand behind you so that, rather than fearing people’s bad opinions or getting angry and becoming vengeful, you can operate out of Spirit-induced self-restraint and self-control. Paul knew Timothy (and we) lack self-confidence so he told him this to give him (and us) self-assurance and to help us recognize the true source of our strength.

Furthermore, like an excellent coach, he inspired Timothy with his own example of bearing up under persecution, travail, and trials. Consider how Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, suffered for the sake of the Gospel.

Don’t be caught off guard by tough days, weeks, or even tough seasons.

These happen to all of us—especially if we love and serve Jesus. The evil one doesn’t bother those he already holds in his hands, such as non-believers and the apostate. Make no mistake, as the enemy of
God, he comes after true believers, tooth and nail, trying to get us so discouraged that we abandon God. It would be naïve to think being a Jesus-follower protects us from tough times. Nevertheless, we don’t want to give him the victory over us. So Paul reminds Timothy (and us) to (v.14)—Guard the good deposit [of faith and love] that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

What are we to do when times get tough? Hold on to our faith in Christ Jesus!

B. Speaking of Jesus, He hits this very issue in Luke 17:5-10. He admonishes His disciples (and us) to hold onto our faith–even if it’s just a small amount–and perform our duties to God and others dependably. He wants us to remember that our salvation is a gift from God. We don’t work to achieve it. Therefore, our obedience to God is not a matter of earning merit but of dutifully expressing our gratitude. When we are born again, we demonstrate our appreciation of God by our service to Him and to others. Out of love and reverence for God, we behave toward Him as servants. The word in the Greek is doulos and it also means slaves. A friend from seminary planted a church in Gainesville, Florida, called “Servants of Christ,” to remind his congregation of this very fact. We are all servants of the Son of God.

C. Jeremiah shares with us what happens when a people dedicated to God at their inception as a nation turns apostate (Lamentations 1:1-6). The prophet is grieved! He weeps and laments for Judah and Jerusalem, personalizing the city as a woman. He witnessed the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586BC. He saw his countrymen and women killed, wounded, and carted off into slavery. In his grief, he reveals to us the heart of God. God is heartbroken when we veer off into sin and apostasy. At God’s direction, Jeremiah had tried to call his people to return the Lord, but he was unable to deter their downward trajectory. God continued to love them but despised their sin and could not allow it to continue unpunished.

Commenting on the connection between God’s love and His righteous anger over our sin, Rev. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan–considered one of the best preachers and Bible teachers in the world in the early to mid-1900’s—wrote the following: “This is a supreme necessity in the interest of the universe. Prisons are in the interest of the free. Hell is the safeguard of heaven. A state that cannot punish crime is doomed [Are the “defund the police” folks and “Progressive DA’s” listening?]; and a God Who tolerates evil is not good. Deny me my Biblical revelation of the anger of God and I am insecure in the universe. But reveal to me this Throne established, occupied by One Whose heart is full of tenderness, Whose bowels yearn with love; then I am assured that He will not tolerate that which blights and blasts and damns; but will destroy it, and all its instruments, in the interest of that which is high and noble and pure.” (Studies in the Prophecy of Jeremiah, Fleming H Revell, 1969, p.248). God disciplines us because He loves us. His desire, like than of any good parent, is that we learn to do better and to make wiser life choices.

D. Psalm 137 paints a similar picture. It is written from Babylon.

The deported Judeans remember Jerusalem and the Temple with sorrow and grief. They appear to realize their continued sin and rebellion toward God brought them to this place. They insist they want to return to Jerusalem and honor God. And, as is so very human, they want God repay their enemies–the nations that mocked them in their defeat–by destroying their children. This last wish is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus, but rather an expression of their distress. They are particularly angry with the descendants of Esau, the Edomites. Remember, Esau was the carnal twin brother of Jacob, God’s choice to become a leader of Israel. The Edomites had ridiculed these Judeans in their defeat. This hurt! This would be like the betrayal of extended family members, or of cousins allied against cousins.

Again, seeking revenge is not a Christian response to tough times. Seeking out God is. We want to trust that God is for us and not against us. We want to trust that even when we disappoint Him, He still loves us.

However, we need to understand that He will not tolerate disobedience—and especially apostasy—forever. In tough times, we repent of our sins and trustingly lean into the loving and everlasting arms of Christ!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Cooking the Books

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/18/2022

Scriptures: Jer 8:18-9:1; Ps 79:1-9; 1 Tim 2:1-7; Luke 16:1-13

Remember “Cliff Notes”? Back in the day before computers and the internet, if you were assigned a novel you dreaded to read—like Silas Marner or Moby Dick, you could get one of these little black and yellow booklets and learn what you needed to from them. No telling how many people have successfully made it through high school or college English classes by consulting Cliff Notes. They would reveal to you the themes and subthemes, what the major characters represented (if they were symbolic), the setting, the tone and the genre of the book, etc.–enough so that you could pass a test on the required reading without really reading it. I guess the internet has put Cliff Notes out of business.

Nevertheless, today—since I want to focus on the Gospel lesson–I am going to begin by giving you the Cliff Notes version of our other three readings. They are too valuable to skip over.


A. In Jeremiah 8:18-9:1, the prophet is actually weeping over what the Lord has told him will be the capture and deportation of Judah. The prophet knows his apostate countrymen and women will wonder why Jerusalem is sacked and the Temple destroyed. They believed God would never allow this to happen, no matter their behavior. They missed that our God does not revere buildings. He loves the people who worship Him inside the buildings. So, because they no longer believe in God, they will not understand they are being punished for their idolatry and faithlessness.

Both due to their spiritual adultery—despite all his warnings to the contrary–and due to his identification with their distress, Jeremiah grieves over them.

B. Asaph, the author of Psalm 79, is aware that God has used the Babylonians to punish His wayward Judean Chosen People. He begs God to forgive and restore the nation. He also asks God to bring judgment against Babylon, a pagan nation (v.6) …pour out Your wrath on the nations that do not acknowledge you. How ironic that God often uses non-believing nations to discipline His chosen (Pagan Assyrians carted off the Northern Kingdom in 722BC, for example.) Finally, in verse 9, he begs God to …help us Oh God our Savior, for the glory of Your name.

C. Paul advises Timothy (and us) to pray for national leaders, whether we like them or not. YIKES! We have been praying weekly that corrupt and dishonest leaders be replaced by ethical, God-loving ones; but I confess I have been remiss in praying for the folks in that first category. OOPS! Paul says we are to do so in order that the Gospel continues to spread into the world; and because God does not wish for anyone to perish. Remember John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whoever believes in His shall not perish but have eternal life. God loves everyone, unconditionally. But the gift of eternal life is conditioned on believing in Jesus.

Much more could be made about all three of these passages, but I have given you the gist, the Cliff Notes version.

Now, let’s turn our attention to the Gospel lesson assigned for today, Luke 16:1-13, the Parable of the Crooked Steward. It directly follows the parable of the Prodigal Son. Remember how the younger son asked for his inheritance early and squandered it all? Well, this crooked steward—we would probably call him a Chief Financial Officer (CFO) today—has mismanaged his boss’ accounts, and misappropriated his boss’ profits.

We’ve heard of this happening all too often, haven’t we (the Enron scandal and the housing debacle of 2008, etc.)?

The story is told of a man who was interviewing candidates for an accounting job… When the first man came in, the interviewer asked, “OK, what’s two plus two?” The candidate replied, “Four,” and the interview was over. Same thing happened with the next man. But the third candidate, when asked the same question, stood up and locked the door. He closed the blinds, then leaned over the desk and asked, “How much do you want it to be?”

(Borrowed from a sermon by Rev. Timothy Archer, “Bad Books, Good Lessons,” Feb. 15, 2004).

I worked on my doctorate at Florida State University from 1986-1989. In my final year, I saw student clients at the university’s counseling students. Among them were several accounting majors from the College of Business—one of the most difficult majors at FSU at that time. Now this was in the days prior to internet searches, and students were often required to search out and read important research articles in professional journals. I asked one of the librarians then how many journals the library subscribed to and was told 40,000. These monthly or quarterly scholarly works were bound into volumes by year and you had to physically go to the stacks and search them out. Because accounting was such a competitive major, some students–to thwart their student rivals–would use razor blades to remove the relevant articles from the library’s reserved sources. I remember thinking at the time that (a) I would not want one of the guilty parties to be my accountant; and (b) why we would wonder that some professionals have no integrity.

But back to our parable: The boss gets wind of the fact that the CFO has “cooked the books” and cans him. Interestingly, he isn’t immediately escorted out of his office, with his parking pass confiscated and his computer codes changed. Instead, the boss tells him to prepare for a financial audit. The crook knows his fraudulent practices will soon be uncovered.

So, what’s the Crooked CFO to do? He shrewdly decides he needs to convince those who owe the boss money that he is on their side. They may not even be aware he is crook. Nevertheless, he offers to discount what they owe the company. Perhaps he had inflated what they owed to begin with (pocketing the difference), but he now reduces one guy’s bill by 50%, and another’s by 20%. Every bit helps, right? Wouldn’t we all love to have someone cut our grocery bill by 50% or our gas bill by 20%? He seems to think these fellows will remember him kindly once the boss has sacked him. They might hire him—not as an accountant it is to be hoped–so that he doesn’t have to dig ditches or wave traffic around road construction sites.

Now Jesus surprisingly commends the dude! Don’t you want to say to Jesus, “But Lord, he’s a crook!” However, Jesus isn’t commending him for being dishonest. This is a parable of contrast, like the how much more stories Jesus tells:

1.) If the unjust judge will give a powerless widow woman justice, how much more will the Lord do?

2.) If a son asks for an egg, will his earthly father give him a scorpion? How much more then will his heavenly father provide?

3.) If the grouchy neighbor will give his friend bread at midnight, how much more generously will our heavenly father respond?

4.) If the earthly father celebrates his prodigal son’s return, how much will our heavenly father celebrate our return to Him?

Jesus commends the guy—not for being a shyster but for investing in relationships (with those who owe the boss) instead of monetary greed. We don’t know if he truly underwent a lasting attitude adjustment. But consider what William Barclay has to say about him in his commentary:

“If only the Christian was as eager and ingenious in his attempt to attain goodness as the man of the world is in his attempt to attain money and comfort, he would be a much better man.”

(William Barclay. The Gospel of Luke. The Daily Bible Study Series, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, p. 208.)

Our God wants us to passionately pursue doing the right thing toward others. Jesus also commends the guy for trusting in the merciful nature of his boss. Remember, the Prodigal Son’s trust in his father’s grace and mercy compelled him to return home. Jesus is following up that parable by demonstrating that we can trust in our God’s compassion for us.

Martin Luther once wrote, That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself, I say, is really your God. Others have suggested we need only review our bank account expenditures to see what we value most. We need to be mindful of loving God above all things, even money! Like this shyster steward–once he knew he was in trouble–we need to invest more in relationships with others than in lining our own pockets, cooking someone’s books, or taking care of ourselves first, and maybe only.

Jesus goes on to say that we cannot serve God and money! He never said no one could become wealthy. You can clearly be a Christian and make money. I once sat on a plane next to a guy from a well-known, Christian financial ministry. He told me that making money is a gift from God. It is a gift that most people lack. He has had rich men approach him, desiring to leave off making money to become a member of his ministry. He said he tells them to keep on making money, since it is such a rare gift, but plough the excess into ministries for others. Do you remember Rick Warren’s books, The Purpose-Driven Life and The Purpose-Driven Church (2002)? Pastor Warren made millions on these two books. He asked God what to do with the proceeds. He did not trade in his old car for a Mercedes or a Lexus; he did not buy a new, bigger house; instead, he told his church to no longer pay him a salary, kept a small portion for his family’s needs, and put the rest into 5 ministries: One for breast cancer research (his wife had breast cancer); one for aids research; and 3 others dedicated to raising up Christian leaders in Africa. So you see, you can make money but you cannot let a love for money take the place of God in your life.

Additionally Jesus implied that if we are faithful stewards of what He gives us, He will give us more. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? If we don’t think God is very generous towards us, we may want to consider how generous we are toward Him and towards others. If we want God to be generous toward us, we must be generous toward others as well. Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams