Pastor Sherry’s Message for February 7, 2021
Scriptures: Isa 40:21-31; Ps 147:1-11; 1 Cor 9:16-23; Mk 1:29-30
If we were having a conversation, I would ask you to tell me if you have heard this story before. But, we’re not, so please bear with me if this is a repeat. It’s the truestory of the Cambodian man whose testimony I heard in a college chapel service and found to be riveting!
In the 1970’s, he was a 16 YO brilliant student, already in medical school at that young age. One day, he and his friends were recreating in a city park when truckloads of Kmer Rouge soldiers (under the dictator PolPot) descended upon them. He witnessed his friends to either side of him being shot to death. (They held University ID’s, and the communists were bent on getting rid of all intellectuals, doctors, etc.). He was spared because—through a bureaucratic snafu, he had as yet no university ID [1st miracle]. Nevertheless, he was taken to prison camp with many others. The word had spread there that they were all to be executed (You may remember a movie which documented those events called, “The Killing Fields”). He found himself blindfolded and lined up and realized the executions were being carried out to his left. He said he cried out to God, “If You exist, spare my life and I will serve you for the remainder of it.” By a 2nd miracle, they ceased the executions just before they reached him.
In a 3rd miracle, he escaped into the jungle. While running by night and hiding during the day, he met a fellow he called, “The Jungle Man,” a 4th miracle. “The Jungle Man” was a Christian who shared with him his faith in Jesus. He taught him one Bible verse–probably John 3:16. (Just think, if you were running for your life, which one Bible verse would you have wanted to have memorized?) They had to separate for safety, but the Cambodian gradually made it to a refugee camp across the border into Thailand. In a 5th miracle, he encountered “The Jungle Man” at the camp community water faucet. “The Jungle Man” then taught him another Bible verse. Daily, he learned a new verse and shared with whoever-camped-in-his-area would listen. No one had a Bible, but many were hungry to learn of Christ. There is no telling how many were saved by learning those verses and sharing the love of Jesus with other refugees. Not so ironically, they took in Living Water around a simple water faucet.
In a 6th miracle, the Cambodian found sanctuary in the US, in Denver, Colorado. There, he completed college and seminary—though he didn’t share how that had come about. Nevertheless, it is clear he honored his promise to God to become a pastor. I have no idea how many Cambodian refugees found their way to that Denver seminary, but in a 7th miracle, the Cambodian man met there and married a Cambodian Christian woman.
They completed their studies and returned to Cambodia to preach the Gospel to their countrymen (now a communist country). They were both arrested on arrival, imprisoned, and denied much food or water. Like Paul in our 1st Corinthians passage, he believed he could not stand to not preach the Gospel. Like Jeremiah, he felt his very bones would have to cry out God’s word. His confinement left him despondent and frustrated with God. As he grumbled one day, his dear wife reminded him, “Husband, didn’t Paul preach to the walls when he was imprisoned?” So he began to preach to the walls. It turned out they were bugged! Several communist guards who were listening were actually converted! [8th miracle]. In a 9th miracle, they came to him and said,”We can’t let you go, but is there something else we can do for you?” I might have asked for more food or water, but in his zeal, he asked them to bring people to his prison door so he could preach to them. He reported that the guards actually went out into the streets and brought people in by gun point! [10th miracle] Eventually, he and his wife were released [11th miracle], and he founded a Christian Seminary in Cambodia. By the time I heard him, he had been leading teaching crusades for Jesus in soccer stadiums in Cambodia, still a communist country [12th miracle].
I was very touched by his testimony (which I heard in the late 1990’s). It was clear to me that God protected and provided for him over and over again in miraculous ways. He knew for certain that God had saved him, several times over. The Cambodian man’s experiences are dramatic and extraordinary, but as our Scriptures today attest, we too can be assured of God’s love, grace, provision, and protection. Let’s focus on 2 of them:
1.) Isaiah 40:21-31. Isaiah is probably my favorite book in the Old Testament. It is certainly quoted in the New Testament more than any other O.T. book. Beginning with Chapter 40, the Prophet Isaiah is foretelling the return of the Israelite remnant from their Babylonian Captivity. Now scholars believe Isaiah prophesied from 750-700BC. In previous chapters, he predicts the Southern Kingdom, including Jerusalem, will be taken intocaptivity because they abandoned God and worshipped pagan dieties. God then removed His protection from them and allowed the Babylonians to capture and deport them in 586BC. Now, in chapter 40, Isaiah predicts that 70 years later God will bring them back home. This had been meant as a punishment for their spiritual adultery. In His mercy, however, God fully meant to later restore them. In fact,God assures them in this message that, when the time comes, they will be able to pack up and set out in confidence. WHY?
a.)Because of His power and His sovereignty. Afterall, He is (v.22) enthroned above the circle of the earth. The sky and its stars are His canopy, His tent. In Verses 22-24, he says essentially that God rules and overrules the decisions and the actions of rulers. They only come to power because He allows it. And when their reign ends, they disappear like dandelion seeds dispersed by wind.
b.) And because He does not forget about us or fall asleep on the job! In verse 27, we learn thatGod knows where they are and what they need (He knows this about us too). In verse 28, he proclaims that The Lord is the everlasting God. This means He’s not dead! He’s not even retired!
He hasn’t abandoned us or left us to fend for ourselves. Psalm 121:4 echoes this: He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep….Later, in verses 7-8, the psalmist declares, The Lord will keep you from all harm—He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore. I don’t know about you, but I find deep comfort and reassurance in these passages.
c.) Finally, if we wait upon Him (hope/trust in Him), God will renew our strength. Isaiah 40:29 says, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. And in verse 30 (saving the best for last; this is one verse I would memorize to share), But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not grow faint. Do you know that God gave the Israelites strength to walk back to Jerusalem from Babylon, a journey on foot of 1678 miles! He did the same for the Cambodian pastor. Like Paul, the Cambodian fellow felt compelled to preach the Gospel. Like Paul, God gave the Cambodian the power to preach and an audience to preach to. So too can we assume He will also strengthen us if we ask.
2.) Mark 1:29-39. Look at the renewed strength Jesus gave to Peter’s wife’s mother! She was sick, He healed her, and she popped right up and fixed Him supper. From the perspective of one laid low this past week by a reaction to the Covid vaccine, I can now appreciate more fully how complete was her healing. I spent two days in bed recuperating, while she immediately felt good enough to get up from bed and cook.
The same was true for Jesus. He taught at the Synagogue, chased out some demons, then He healed untold numbers of sick and demonized after sundown (once the Sabbath had ended). Surely He was tired! But rather than sleeping in late the next day, He got up early and went off alone to pray. He knew that it was His connection to His Father and the Holy Spirit that renewed His strength. Sure, He was/is God and we are not. But He was/is human too, with human needs and frailties like ours. I think Mark is emphasizing for us what Jesus modeled: the necessity of a prayer connection with Our Heavenly Father, our Source and our Strength.
Over the course of this next week, I urge you to focus on the encouragement our God gives us for those times we grow weary or overwhelmed. We tend to think, “I can’t!” or “It’s awful!” and forget that God is able. Like with a deck of cards, pick a worry, any worry:
a.) Your health; the Covid or other illnesses or concerns.
b.) Your finances; the direction of the economy;
c.) The moral decline of our culture;
d.) The bad behavior or poor choices of a loved one;
e.) The bad behavior or poor choices of our political leaders;
f.) A mental condition or an addictive pattern with which you currently struggle, etc.
Let’s remember that none of these issues is a surprise to God. None of these is too difficult for Him to handle. None of these is outside His expertise or His control. This week, let’s practice trusting in the God of Isaiah, of St. Paul and of the Cambodian pastor. Our God is never asleep at the wheel! He knows what is going on in our lives and what we need. When we trust in Him to provide and protect, He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams