Pastor Sherry’s message for September 11, 2022
Scriptures: Jer 4:11-12, 22-28; Ps 14, 1 Tim 2:12-17; Lk 15:1-10
The first verse of our Psalm appointed for today says The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Consider the following story:
An atheist was walking through the woods, admiring all the “accidents” that evolution had created. “What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself. As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. Turning to look, he saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charging towards him. He ran away as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw the grizzly was closing in. Somehow he ran even faster, so scared that tears came to his eyes. He looked again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pounding, and he tried to run faster. He tripped and fell to the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up, but the bear was right over him, reaching for him with its left paw and raising its right paw to strike him.
At that instant the atheist cried, “Oh God help!” Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river stopped moving. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky, “You deny My existence for all these years, teach others that I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect Me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”
The atheist looked directly into the light and said, “I would feel like a hypocrite to become a Christian after all these years, but perhaps you could make the bear a Christian?”
“Very well,” said the voice.
The light went out. The river ran. The sounds of the forest resumed. Then the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed its head, and spoke: “Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful.”
(The source of this story is unknown.)
The Hebrew word for fool is nabal. Nabal is variously translated as madman; crazy; lacking in sense. Although our Lord Jesus told us not to call any man a fool, we can probably think of several serving in public office today. Perhaps you remember an Old Testament character from 1 Samuel 25 named Nabal. During the days when King Saul was chasing David and his men around the wilderness, trying to kill him, this man both insulted and denied food and water to David and his 400 men– even after they had protected his sheep and his fields. Last week we talked about “counting the cost.” This man foolishly did not anticipate what his contempt for David might have earned him. David was God’s anointed. Nabal, the fool, died of a massive stroke 10 days later.
The point is that God says those who do not believe in Him—we call them atheists–are fools. The guy in the bear story was a fool. Nabal was aptly named as he too was a fool. Obviously, we don’t want to be fools like those who deny God’s existence. You here in this congregation are all believers and thus are not fools. So why emphasize this point? Did you know that Karl Marx was an atheist and that Communism is built on a rejection of God. There are forces afoot in our culture today trying to drive us into Communism. This is not a direction a wise Christian can tolerate and about which we cannot remain silent.
Two of our Scripture passages today give us God’s perspective on unbelief or atheism:
A. The prophet Jeremiah speaks for God in Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28. In verses 11-12, he says the Lord is bringing judgment against Judah, the Southern Kingdom. God’s people there have run out of second, third, fourth, and tenth chances. They had the example of what happened to the Northern Kingdom in 722BC. God has sent them prophet after prophet to warn them. By Jeremiah’s time, the Lord is fed up with their casual and contemptuous treatment of Him. If they do still worship Him, their worship is half-hearted. They respond to God with rote, joyless ritual, rather than with hearts that love and praise Him. Most, however—just like in America today—no longer believe in God and no longer worship Him. The Sabbath is just a day like any other. They don’t know Scripture (Do you notice how often nonbelievers quote Scripture and quote it out of context? They don’t understand it because they have never studied it.) They don’t see the need for a personal relationship with the Lord; thus, they don’t develop one.
Therefore, in verse 22, God says of them My people are fools; they do not know Me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good. Every week it seems, conservative newscasters ask why our culture has gotten so corrupt, cruel, and violent. People with no knowledge of our God do not realize that it is Judeo-Christian values that have guided ethical and compassionate behavior for centuries. But many modern parents are not teaching their children about the Lord. Someone has said, “God has no grandchildren.” Each generation must teach the one following it. We don’t enter heaven because our grandparents were vital believers. Since teaching then next generation about Jesus has been neglected or overlooked, we in America have now become like the Israelites were at the death of Joshua (Judges 2:10-12)—After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers [the folks who entered the Promised Land with Joshua], another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger. If we don’t choose to worship the Lord, we will put something in His place: wealth, power, sexuality, addictions. We have kicked Jesus out of our schools, our courts, and our public life. And we wonder why there is so much lawlessness and evil stomping around our land today.
Consider this true story: Charles Bradlaugh was an outstanding atheist in England. Down in one of the slums of London was a [Methodist] minister by the name of Hugh Price Hughes [1847 -1902]. All London was aware of miracles of grace accomplished at his mission.
Charles Bradlaugh challenged Mr. Hughes to debate with him the validity of the claims of Christianity. London was greatly interested. What would Mr. Hughes do? He immediately accepted the challenge and in doing so added one of his own.
Hughes said, “I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women, and I challenge you to do the same.
“If you cannot bring 100, Mr. Bradlaugh, to match my 100, I will be satisfied if you will bring 50 men and women who will stand and testify that they have been lifted up from lives of shame by the influence of your teachings. If you cannot bring 50, then bring 20 people who will say, as my 100 will, that they have a great joy in a life of self-respect as a result of your atheistic teachings. If you cannot bring 20, I will be satisfied if you bring 10.
“Nay, Mr. Bradlaugh, I challenge you to bring one, just one man or woman who will make such a testimony regarding the uplifting of your atheistic teachings.”
Again London was stirred. What would Mr. Bradlaugh do? In answer, Charles Bradlaugh, with great discomfiture and chagrin, publicly withdrew his challenge for the debate.
(Source: Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Bible Communications, 1996, Paul Lee Tan)
That’s right! Atheism does not uplift anyone! Instead, it robs folks of hope, peace, and joy. It encourages exactly the kind of self-centered, morally bankrupt and violent behaviors we are seeing more and more of today.
In verses 23-28, the prophet predicts what the land of the Israelites will look like after the Babylonians have besieged and overcome them. Things will appear to be a reverse of God’s acts of creation—(v.23) …formless and empty. There will be no people, as all will have died or been carted away into slavery. There will be no fruitful land, but only desert. And, by this point, God is very determined on this punishment for unbelief (v.28b) I have decided and will not turn back.
This passage and what subsequently happened to Judah in 587 BC demonstrate to us that there are limits to God’s patience.
B. King David speaks for God in Psalm 14. Read 1st and 2nd Samuel and you will find that David experienced humankind’s depravity on a number of occasions. He describes the fools who do not believe in God as follows: (v.1b) They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. He would have agreed with Jeremiah, who came after him. Much later, Paul, will quote David in Romans 3:12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. We see this today with godless men and women in control of our federal, state and even local government offices. As an example, consider the civil servant in Las Vegas this week who stabbed to death an investigative journalist who had uncovered and reported the man’s dishonesty and fraudulent practices. Corruption, wickedness, and just plain lack of good sense abounds at the highest levels in Washington, D.C. The Israelites have nothing on us—in fact, with social media, TV, and the internet, we have probably out-sinned them (certainly by greater numbers!).
I think we can safely conclude that God is as disappointed in us as He was with them. If we want to see a return to peace in our streets, a lowered crime rate, and more civil behavior, we need to be praying for a national return to Christ. Jesus Christ is the antidote/the corrective vaccine to all of the negative trends in our culture today. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).
On this 21st anniversary of 9/11, we need to keep on praying for our country…not just that we will be safe from further terrorist attacks; but that we will relearn—or learn for the 1st time—Christian values and practice Christian virtues. And that we will vote for candidates in 2022 and 2024 who love God and love our country. May God bless us and may God bless America!
©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams