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