Pastor Sherry’s message for August 29, 2021
Scriptures: Song of Songs 2:8-13; Ps 15; Jas 1:17-27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Recently I read Michael Youssef’s book, Saving Christianity (published in 2020). In it, he describes the factors that have led to a serious decline in membership and Sunday attendance in mainline Christian churches such as ours. Youssef is a naturalized US citizen from Egypt. He is the lead pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia (the Buckhead neighborhood). He left a mainline denomination to found his church in 1987. He departed because his superior (a Bishop or Superintendent, unnamed in his book) had rejected the Biblically-faithful notion that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father. Like too many mainline church leaders, that fellow (Youssef’s boss) did not believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. He also didn’t believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ. (I have served under several such leaders. Like Youssef, I had to walk away from their apostasy.) This leader mocked Youssef as he withdrew to plant the Church of the Apostles. Youssef started with fewer than 40 souls. But, through faithful Biblical preaching and teaching–and a vigorous, Christ-centered outreach to the surrounding community–His church has now grown to over 3000 members.
He believes–and I agree—that we cannot cherry-pick the Scriptures, taking in what we agree with and rejecting what we disagree with. There is no integrity to that. Just as Jesus is either God or a madman–but not simply a moral leader or a good teacher–there is also just one choice with the Bible. Either we accept the Bible as God’s word written, in its entirety, or we reject it.
Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are told in 2 Peter 2:1-2–But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even as far back as the first century, the Church was infiltrated by heretics who sought to either alter or water down the faith. Here Peter is warning the infant church to be wary of those who preach or teach false doctrines. Similarly, Jude, Jesus’ brother, warned in Jude 3-4–I…urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ as our only sovereign and Lord. The apostle John cautioned, in Revelation 22:18-19–And I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city which are described in this book. Clearly, we are not to add verses or subtract verses from the Bible. As I have urged before, if we don’t understand a Scripture passage, or don’t like it, we are to trust in God’s purposes for us, study the opinions of reliable Bible scholarly and commentators, and patiently wait upon the Holy Spirit to make its meaning clear. As Paul counsels Timothy, (2 Timothy 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Our passages assigned for today substantiate this approach. They also demonstrate to us the wisdom of Scripture:
A. Song of Songs 2:8-13–reaffirms to us that Jesus loves us.
This book is God’s endorsement for love and sensuality in the marital context. Like the “Beloved,” the newlywed wife depicted here, we are to eagerly anticipate being reunited with Christ. We don’t know where her groom had disappeared to, whether to military deployment, a business trip, or hospitalization, but she waits to hear his voice alerting her to his return. Similarly, Jesus is now physically separated from us, as He sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. But we can and do hear the Bridegroom’s or Jesus’ voice through God’s Word. We who believe in Jesus as our Savior, await his call to us—either from the grave or at the rapture—Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with Me. Our Lord wants us to dwell with Him in heaven.
B. Psalm 15–is a description of those who will dwell with God.
Verse 1 asks the question, Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill? The remainder of the psalm provides the answer:
1. Those who are upright/righteous;
2. Those who speak truth;
3. Those who do not slander others or hold grudges;
4. Those who despise vile actions but honor righteous behavior;
5. Those who keep their oaths, even when it costs them;
6. Those who make an honest living and never accept a bribe.
The psalmist, King David, predates Jesus but nevertheless describes Christ’s character. We are to be like Jesus. Those who revere the Lord and who order their lives in accordance to His will can look forward to living with Jesus in heaven. Those who love Him and act like Him will dwell with God.
C. In our Gospel lesson (Mark 7:1—8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus distinguishes between outward ritual (religion by rote) and heart attitudes. The Pharisees have come to listen but also to find fault. They fault Jesus because His disciples are not following one of their traditions, hand-washing before meals. This practice is wise, a fact which has certainly been reemphasized in this era of Covid. But in the arid Ancient Near East, water was hard to come by. However wise it is for one to wash hands before eating, Jesus reminded them that it is not mandated by Scripture.
Jesus then takes them to task and calls them hypocrites! He points out that they adhere to man-made rules but neglect their relationships with God and their family members. Jesus then goes on to list the sins that come from a wrong heart-attitude toward God and our relatives and neighbors:
1. Sexual immorality;
10. Arrogance and folly.
Notice, these behaviors and attitudes are nearly the opposite of those recommended by our psalmist, David. Jesus is saying, essentially, it’s not rule-keeping or going through the “holiness motions” that allows us to dwell with God, but rather the condition of our heart. Do we love Jesus? Do we ask the Holy Spirit to help us to think and to live like Jesus? Are we surrendered and obedient to the will of God?
D. Finally, James, the brother of Christ–ever offering us practical advice—reminds us in James 1:17-27–(verse 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.
In other words, all good things come from God, who desires to bless us.
We can trust in Him because, unlike humans, He is always faithful and true.
James continues in verse 19–My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. He advises us to listen to God and others carefully. Truly hear someone out before composing a rebuttal or a come-back in your mind. Then take time to consider your response before speaking. We all know that once words are spoken, they are difficult to take back. Be careful about becoming angry, and careful with your anger expressions. It is not a sin to become angry, but so often it is what we do with our anger that offends God.
In verse 22 James admonishes us—Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says! We are not to be consumers of church services. We are to use what we learn on Sundays to guide the way we operate in our world. We need to “walk the walk.” If a nonbeliever were watching us, would they see enough evidence to assume we are followers of Jesus Christ?
Our passages today confirm for us that (1) Jesus loves us.
(2) We can believe that if we love Jesus, and behave like Him toward God and others, we will join Him in heaven. (3) Christ-like heart attitudes matter more to God than empty ritual and non-biblical tradition. (4) Our faith is evidenced in action.
Youssef believes the broader Christian Church is being decimated by “enemies from within,” by apostasy (false doctrines), and by our lack of respect for the Word of God. Our foes are those who call themselves Christians while divorcing themselves from the Biblical faith.
These folks are being deceived by the evil one (Remember from last week that we are in a spiritual battle). Youssef writes (p.93), If you abandon the foundation of Christianity—the Scriptures and the atoning death and resurrection of Christ—and replace the Christian gospel with the secular left agenda of Darwinism, climate change, identity politics, victim oppression politics, LGBTQ politics, and on and on, you will become the darling of the media and the leftist political establishment. You’ll be interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR, and you’ll write for the “Washington Post” and “New York Times,” and you’ll be praised by the “Daily Beast” and “Huffington Post.” You can call yourself a “person of good news,” but it won’t be the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.
NO Sir, our hope is set on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness! It is not politically correct these days to be a faith-filled, Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ (Remember, we are in a spiritual battle). But I would rather be out of step with the power-elites, the politically correct, and all the woke folks, than turn my back on Jesus Christ as revealed to us in Scripture, and as faithfully passed remembered and passed on to us by generation after generation of believers in the apostolic faith.
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams