Advent Expections

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 11, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 35:1-10; Lk 1:47-55; Ja 5: 7-10; Matt 11:2-11

The story is told of a baby boy born into the Lane family in 1958. The father, a man named Robert, chose to name his boy Winner. How could the young man fail to succeed with a name like “Winner Lane”?

Several years passed and the Lanes had another son. For unknown reasons (this is a true story), Robert named this boy “Loser.” What a terrible thing to do to the baby—(like Johnny Cash’s “A Boy named Sue”)—Robert and his silent wife seemed to have doomed their 2nd son’s prospects. I wonder how many years he spent in counseling trying to overcome that moniker.

Of course, everyone who knew the boys probably thought they could figure out how they would turn out. After all, the psychological concept of the “Self-fulfilling Prophecy”–or you get what you expect from a child–is well known (Consider the “Pygmalion in the Classroom” research in which 4th grade teachers were told their students were brilliant—when they were actually ordinary—and watched how they treated these kids. By year’s end, those kids had performed excellently and had even raised their IQ points, demonstrating that teachers’ expectations had an important effect on kids’ performance.)

But contrary to everyone’s prophecies, Loser Lane succeeded. He graduated from college and later became a sergeant with the NYPD, shield # 2762. Nowadays, no one feels comfortable calling him “Loser.” His colleagues simply refer to him as “Lou.”

And what about the other brother? The one everyone expected to be a great success? The most noteworthy achievement of Winner Lane is the sheer length of his criminal record. Inmate #OOR28Q7 has nearly three dozen arrests for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, resisting arrest, and other assorted acts of mayhem. Sometimes things don’t quite turn out as we might expect.

(Borrowed from Tom Hughes, Down to Earth: How Jesus’ Stories Can Change Your Everyday Life, NavPress, 2019, p.13).

These examples demonstrate that we need to be careful about what we expect of our children and of others. Often our expectations may be too high or too low. They can put emotional pressure on those we love and thus limit or frustrate them, disappointing them and us. This time of year, we also tend to have expectations of Christmas which may or may not be appropriate.

The best way to keep our Advent expectations realistic is to check them against what Scripture records and predicts:

A. Our psalm this morning is the Song of Mary, also known as “The Magnificat” (Luke 1:47-55). (The custom in the early church was to name psalms after the Latin rendering of the 1st word or two; so, Magnificat for “My soul magnifies….” Notice: We would expect the whole psalm to say, “YIPPEE, God picked ME!” Young women from the tribe of Judah grew up wishing and believing they might be the one to bear the Messiah. And despite her challenges of being unmarried and poor, Mary does rejoice in God’s choice of her.

But the majority of her focus is on glorifying/praising God for what He is doing (through her) for His people! How mature! She wisely takes the focus off herself, and sets it upon God’s activity. She praises Him for His mercy to those who respect and revere Him; His past works of power; His surprising, unexpected propensity to reverse worldly fortunes (the low are raised up and the lofty are brought low); and for His fulfillment of His promises (Genesis 12, 17, and 22) to Israel: a king from the lineage of David; and a messiah who will bless all nations on earth.

What does Mary have to teach us about expectations? She had been raised to expect the Messiah to come. She knew from Scripture that He would redeem His people.

What does Mary have to teach us about love and joy (We lit the candle for joy today)? Because she loved God, she was willing to bear up under public criticism and condemnation. Because she loved God, she surrendered to His will. Because she loved God, she praised Him, with great joy, for keeping His promises to His people.

B. In our Gospel lesson today, Matthew 11:2-11, Jesus has sent the 12 out to put into practice all He has taught them. He, Himself, continues to preach and teach. JtB (John the Baptist) has been imprisoned for some time now, and—as often happens—he begins to doubt his earlier faith that his cousin Jesus is the Messiah. He deploys 2 disciples to ask Jesus (v.3) Are You the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?

No doubt JtB expected Jesus to set him free. Jesus does not do so. Instead He reiterates His job description from Isaiah 61:1: the blind see; the lame walk; lepers are healed; the deaf hear; the dead are raised to life; and the Good News is preached to the poor. Because He avoids saying He will…proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, JtB learns Jesus will not be leading his jail break. The response comes back to him, “Yes, your cousin is the Messiah you proclaimed at the beginning of His earthly ministry. But no, He will not be supervising your prison release.”

Jesus does not meet JtB’s personal expectations. Apparently, it suited God’s purposes for JtB to leave the scene (decrease) so Jesus’ ministry could increase. But He does proclaim him the greatest of the Old Testament prophets. Hopefully, JtB understood this need to exit the world stage and began to prepare himself to meet his Maker.

C. In fact, JtB probably knew Isaiah 35:1-10, a Messianic prophecy from 700 years before Jesus’ birth. He would have remembered that in the predicted Messianic Age (the 1000 year reign of Christ). The material earth will be restored to the time before the Fall. Scholars believe it will be returned to what the Garden of Eden was like. When Adam and Eve sinned, God cursed the ground and the serpent, but not the people. Paul will later assert (Romans 8:22) We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Paul had learned from Jesus that creation, too, would be redeemed at Jesus’ 2nd Coming.

Additionally, JtB would recall that the bodies of human beings will be renewed. Verses 5-6 state …the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. Water will gush forth in the wilderness and streams in the desert. Jesus accomplished the healing of many individuals during His 1st Advent. But when He comes again, all of humankind will be spiritually, physically, and emotionally healed. How’s that for a truly wonderful Advent expectation (and promise)!

D. No wonder we have the James 5:7-10 passage assigned for today as well. The 2nd coming of Jesus Christ will right all that is now wrong with our world. However, as James counsels us, we need to (v.7) Be patient, then, brothers [and sisters] until the Lord’s coming. Scripture has told us what to expect. We just need to wait with faith, as a farmer waits for his/her crops to grow. When I was in seminary in Pittsburgh, I planted crocuses around my house. Even if there was still snow on the ground, these were the first blooms of Spring to manifest. They made such a beautiful display against a white or dirt background. Unfortunately, there were also many deer around my place, and they dined on those flowers about as fast as they came up. James also recommends we meditate on the lives of the prophets—including JtB—who prophesied the wonders to come, but did not get to experience them during their lifetime on earth.

Remember how, as a child, it was so difficult to wait until Christmas morning to see what Santa left under the tree or to unwrap our gifts? We would be so anxious and excited we could hardly sit still. As grown-up believers in Jesus, we can have this same excitement over Jesus’ appearing, while we patiently wait, in faith, for that great day. We just want our Advent Expectations of Jesus to line up with what Scripture promises and describes.

Thanks be to God, Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia, Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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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

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

Don’t Be A Fool!

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

Unshakable Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 7, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 1:1-20; Ps 50; Heb 11:1-16; Lk 12:32-40

Years ago, Paul Harvey shared the story about a 3 year old boy who accompanied his mother to the grocery store. Before entering the store, she gave him strict instructions not to even ask for chocolate chip cookies—his favorites. She put him in the cart and they proceeded up and down the aisles, as she gathered her groceries.

He was doing fine until they reached the cookie and cracker aisle. He saw the bag of his favorite kind and asked his mother if she would buy them for him. She reminded him of what she had told him prior to entering the store, and said, “No.” He was disappointed but soon distracted as she wheeled him by other displays. Realizing she had forgotten soup crackers, she returned to the cookie aisle.

Once again, he asked, “Mom, can I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Again, his mother held firm: “No,” she said, and she reiterated, “we are not buying any cookies today.”

Finally, they arrived at the check-out counter. The boy, an experienced shopper, knew this is his last chance. As his Mom was unloading the contents of her buggy, he stood up in the seat and yelled, “In the name of Jesus, may I have some chocolate chip cookies?” Everyone in the check-out area stared, then broke into laughs and clapped. And while Mom gaped with open-mouth, 23 shoppers soon presented him with 23 bags of chocolate chip cookies.

I love this story! I shared it about 3 years ago as an illustration of the power of prayer. But today, I want to point out that this child knew that if he asked for something in Jesus’ name, he would get it. His mom had taught him about Jesus, and he had developed a child’s unshakable faith.

All of our Scripture passages today confirm our need for unshakable faith. Now this is not to say we never have doubts. Most of us ebb and flow, having unshakable faith some of the time and then less enduring faith at others. When we have doubts, we need to read Scripture, pray for faith—it is a spiritual gift—and remember that the devil’s first interaction with Eve in the Garden of Eden was to cast doubt on God’s goodness and on His word. Are our doubts legitimate or are they suggested to us by the evil one?

A. Our Isaiah (1:1-20) lesson reveals God’s deep unhappiness with the folks in Judah (the Southern Kingdom) because–like their brothers from the Northern Kingdom–they were headed, wheels off, toward the theological cliff. Speaking for God, the prophet Isaiah condemns them for their rebellion against the Lord. They have disobeyed Him. They have rejected Him and have turned their backs on Him. Yet they still go through the religious motions. Their Temple rites are impeccable.

Their sacrifices are given in the prescribed manner, according to what is laid out in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. But their hearts are far from God and He knows it! Their whole problem is spiritual apostasy. Religion without relationship is rebellion. They have the form of worship but not the substance. They are phonies and fakers—hypocrites–and they aren’t fooling God!

Even so, the Lord is willing to reason with them, in the heavenly courtroom. He is judge and He calls the rest of His creation as witnesses in the “trial” of His people. In verse 18, God says Come now, let us reason together…Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. Even now, at the 11th hour, He is willing to rescue them from plunging over the cliff. He says (vv.19-20) If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword. How patient! How longsuffering! How loving, merciful, and willing to forgive! God is giving them yet another chance to demonstrate their obedience and unshakable faith in Him.

B. Similarly, Psalm 50 warns us of God’s coming judgment. As in Isaiah 1, the Lord calls for the heavens and the earth—all of His creation—to witness His righteous accusations against His people. Do you see the consistency of Scripture? Here we have two accounts, written by two different persons at separate times, but visualizing God bringing righteous accusations against His Chosen Ones in a court of law. Again, the people have been disobedient. They have rejected the Lord and continually violate His Law. They are apostate! They are neither faithful nor faith-filled. Furthermore, God does not need their sacrifices (v.13) If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. God is spirit. Does He even have to eat? If so, would He require our help? Not really, as every plant and animal on earth belongs to Him.

Instead, what God wants is for them to develop and live out unshakable faith in Him. This kind of faith is life-changing. This kind of faith is pleasing to God.

C. The Hebrews lesson comes from Chapter #11, or what is known as “the faith hall of fame.” The author of Hebrews first defines faith (v.1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Then he (or she) posits that (v.2) This is what the ancients were commended for. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham predated the incarnation of Jesus, as did all of the Old Testament patriarchs and heroes. They lived before Jesus came to earth. Nevertheless, we are assured that their faith—being sure of what they hoped for and certain of what they did not live to see—saved them.

Notice, with each patriarch, the verse begins with…

1.) oVerse 4–By faith, Abel…

2.) Verse 5–By faith, Enoch…

3.) Verse 7–By faith, Noah…

4.) Verse 8–By faith, Abraham….

Each of these men are examples to us of unshakable faith. That’s why they are included in the faith hall of fame. The writer to the Hebrews sums up the importance of faith in one sentence: (v.6) And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and the He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. Again, our unshakable faith pleases God. Paul declares in Romans 10:9 …if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.’

Unshakable faith saved those who came before Jesus’ 1st Coming and saves us who now have the benefit of His model and teaching.

D. In our Gospel lesson today, Luke 12:32-40, Jesus makes two points: First, He wants us to not put our trust in things/possessions that are transitory. As I said last week, none of us will be taking a U-Haul to heaven. Things can be swept away, like the homes and goods of those poor folks flooded out recently in Eastern Kentucky. Things can rot and be ruined. Money can be lost.

When I went to seminary in 1996, I had a 401K account with $28,000 in it. My 13 year old daughter got sick and we had no health insurance. I had to cash in that retirement account to afford her care as we searched all over for a diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment. She had Chronic Fatigue (practically unknown then) and something called POTS, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome; i.e., her blood pressure varied in unexplained and unexpected ways. If she stood too long, she grew faint. She could not sit through a school day, so I had to home-school her. Praise God there were seminarians who helped. A former math teacher tutored her in Algebra; a missionary to Tanzania who spoke French helped her keep up her foreign language; two wives of seminarians, who were certified teachers, taught her Biology and English, respectively. I coached her in Social Studies. God provided in such a way that she was able to take her GED and pass out of high school without attending.

Additionally, when I left seminary, the college I worked at—Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pa—had paid into a retirement account for me (I directed their counseling center by day and took seminary classes at night and during the summers). That account, when I finished my training in ministry, contained $28,000. How’s that for identifying the hand of God? The Lord had replaced my retirement funds! That and a number of other events have led me to have unshakable faith in Jesus, God the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We are to trust in God’s care and provision for us. Jesus says in verse 32–Do not be afraid little flock [believers], for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom [God’s rule and reign on earth].

And, secondly, He wants us to trust in and be ready for His 2nd Coming. Jesus uses the metaphor of a wedding in which He is the bridegroom and we are the servants. In Ancient Near Eastern weddings, the celebrations could continue, at the bride’s family’s home, for a week. Meanwhile, servants back at the groom’s house—where the newlyweds would live in a room he had added (imagine all of your adult life with your in-laws)—would not know when he might actually leave the celebration to return home with his new bride. So, servants needed to stay ready, like a baby-sitter—don’t be asleep or have a boyfriend over when the parents get home; or like teens when their folks are away—don’t be having a party. In this particular parable, Jesus says the Master will be delighted if he arrives home to find everyone ready to greet him. In fact—since the Master is Jesus—He will serve the servants (in John 13:4-16, He washes their feet).

Therefore, we need to be ready whether He (Jesus) comes again at the 2nd watch, 9:00 pm, or the 3rd watch, 3;00 am, today or tomorrow or months from now. Jesus is not a thief, but His 2nd Coming will be much like that of a thief in the night. No thief tells you when he/she plans to burgle your home. Why? Because if we knew when and what time some bad actor was coming to rob us, we would be prepared. We would have some brawny friends and probably a gun or two (and a cell-phone to record the event).

Perhaps you saw the video this week of the 80 year old liquor store owner who fired at a young felon trying to rob his store? He was prepared. Interestingly, the crook ran out and jumped into a BMW station-wagon. That’s a pretty pricey get-a-way vehicle. But I diverge.

The important point is that Christ’s return is certain, but the time and the day is not. So, we want to exercise a faith that is…sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

As I have said before, and often, the US is in a similar position now to Judah back then. Our challenge is how to develop an unshakable faith in Jesus. What can help us do this?:

First , we can pray. Faith is a spiritual gift that God would love to give us. We can ask Him for unshakable faith.

Second, we can remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. In his commentary on Isaiah 1, J. Vernon McGee cites a helpful poem:

Philosophy says: Think your way out.

Indulgence says: Drink your way out.

Politics says: Spend your way out.

Science says: Invent your way out.

Industry says: Work your way out.

Communism says: Strike your way out.

Fascism says: Bluff [or bully] your way out.

Militarism says: Fight your way out.

The Bible says: Pray your way out, but

Jesus Christ says: I am the way [out]….

(Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991, p.29.)

God’s judgment is coming, but our faith in Him, through the work of Christ on the Cross, saves us.

Third, we can also try to live a life like the Old Testament saints from Hebrews 11, …being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham did not live to see and learn about Jesus. They came way before Jesus’ time on earth, but they hoped for God’s eventual rescue of humankind. No matter their difficult circumstances—and they each had some–they trusted (believed) in God’s goodness and His loving kindness. When we nurture an unshakable faith in Jesus Christ, we have gained our way out of the troubles of this world.

Finally, we can offer to God our sincere, heartfelt worship. No empty rituals, but actions that speak louder than our words. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Worn Out and Done In

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/19/2022

Scriptures: 1 Kings 19:1-18; Ps 42; Gal 3:23-29; Lk 8:26-39

What do we do when we are worn out and done in? Tired of carrying on? “On our last nerve”? Ready to “throw in the towel”? Frustrated and defeated? Out of our minds with anguish, or fear?

Our Old Testament lesson this morning, 1 Kings 19:1-18, presents us with just such a situation, and God’s rather surprising response.

The prophet, Elijah, has just enjoyed a miraculous victory over the false prophets of Baal. But then word comes to him that Queen Jezebel, a Baal-worshiper, has sworn to kill him for showing up her pagan priests.

Someone once said, Yesterday’s victories will not help you in tomorrow’s battles. (quoted by Delmer Chilton and John Fairless, The Lectionary Lab: Year C, 2015, p.217). Realizing she is a nasty, powerful, and vindictive woman, Elijah temporarily loses his religion and runs for his life. Without consulting the God he serves, he flees, then spends some time in the wilderness thinking over his situation, and decides he has had it with being a prophet. The life of a prophet is a difficult one. If you have ever been the truth speaker in a corrupt system, a badly run enterprise, or a vindictive clique, you know that truth-tellers (today we call them “whistle-blowers,” and they are protected by law) suffer. Later on, Jesus will famously say of the religious leaders of Jerusalem (Matt 23:37) O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you….

So Elijah is burnt out, depressed, and done in, afraid for his life, and hopes to turn in his prophet’s credentials. When he finally talks to the Lord, he tells Him he would just as soon die as continue on. Notice what God does: God does not engage him in a “pity party,” reviewing and recounting with him his troubles. Instead, He sends him supernatural sustenance and deep, recuperative sleep. The divine menu is so nutritious, and the rest so restorative, that Elijah is able to travel to a mountain, on foot, 40 days’ distant. He locates a cave in Mt. Horeb and settles in to wait on God.

God meets him there and curiously—since God knows everything—asks him (v.9) What are you doing here, Elijah? This is similar to when God asked Adam and Eve, after they sinned, Where are you? Had God really lost Adam and Eve in the garden? No. He wanted to see if they would admit their sin to Him. God knows what Elijah is doing there, so He must be waiting to see if Elijah can figure it out for himself. Elijah asserts he has been zealous in doing God’s work, but has encountered a bunch of serious trouble as a result. God then reveals Himself to him, not in the great things (ferocious wind, earthquake, and fire, usually signs of God’s judgment) but in a still, small whisper. After revealing Himself, God asks the same question again, (v.13) What are you doing here, Elijah? Notice again that the Lord really doesn’t respond to Elijah’s litany of troubles.

Instead, He wants Elijah to refocus on his calling. He reconfirms his calling, and sends Elijah back to do the work of a prophet: (1) He is to anoint two kings, Hazael (over Syria, a non-believing nation), and Jehu (in Ahab’s place, over Israel)—just as the prophet Samuel anointed King Saul and later, King David. A time will come when the Lord will tell Jehu to destroy Ahab’s dynasty (2 Kings 9:1-16), though Elijah will not be there to see it take place. And he is (2) to anoint his prophet successor, Elisha. Surprisingly, God appears to accept Elijah’s resignation. He reminds the prophet that He has reserved in Israel a remnant of 7,000 who love and worship Him.

What are the lessons we might take from this passage? First, God knows our struggles, our disappointments, our discouragement, our despair. Initially He may seem absent, but then He goes on to minister to our physical and psychological needs, restoring us, strengthening us. He often then reaffirms that to which He has called us.

As a single woman for over 40 years now, I have found the Lord always comes to my rescue economically, when I am down to my last few dollars. When I first hung out my shingle as a psychologist in 1991, I quickly found that if I needed $175 to pay my light bill, that amount is exactly what I made that day. He was teaching me to depend upon Him and He hasn’t failed me yet. Second, we may have come to the end of our rope, but God’s resources are vast and sufficient for our needs.

The journey God has us on is too great for us.

Elijah and we need the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen and uphold us. We are overcomers by the blood of the Lamb. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. Third, even if we think we are outnumbered by evil-doers and are the only ones we know who still love Jesus, we can trust that there are many others as yet unknown to us—and that God’s got us!.

Psalm 42 contains the heart cry of someone who feels alone and abandoned by God. Now we know we worship the “with us” God, Emmanuel. He never leaves or forsakes us. He has promised to be with us until the end of the age. So, like Elijah, even though we might fear the Lord has abandoned us, He has not. In verse 5, the psalmist asks himself why he is so bereft Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Then he provides his own antidote: Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

If we ever feel like God has abandoned us, we have only to think deeply about the times in our past when He has been there for us. God does not change. He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. We can also remember that Jesus has said (Matthew 16:18 on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.

Galatians 3:23-29 reminds us that we will never be abandoned by God because we are sons [and daughters] of His. Because we are “in Christ” by believing in Him, we are clothed with His righteousness. There are no “woke” divisions, no outcasts due to wrong political leanings, and no racial differences. In verse 28, Paul so famously states There is neither Jew nor Greek [no exclusions due to race or ethnicity], slave nor free [no exclusions due economic status], male nor female [no exclusions due to biological gender], for you are all one in Christ Jesus. The only criterion for inclusion is our love of and belief in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Our Gospel (Luke 8:26-39) today cites another particular case of a man who cannot claim membership in Christ’s Church because he is completely taken over by demons. Jesus, like God the Father with Elijah, is very calm and accommodating to the Demoniac. The poor man lacks any control over his life. He lives in isolation—never a good idea. Like lions who go after the sick and the lame, lagging behind the herd, the evil one picks us off when we are out of Christian fellowship. Even though the townspeople had tried to restrain him with chains, he uses superhuman strength to break them. I have witnessed this in the seriously mentally ill. They are often strong enough to break the holds of husky hospital attendants. This guy is so out of it that he cannot even tell Jesus his name. The strongest demon in him says his name is “Legion” (there were 6,000 soldiers in a Roman legion), meaning he is plagued by multitudes of demonic spirits. But Jesus, Who has power even over hordes of violent demons, casts them all out of him into a nearby herd of pigs. The pigs then flee into the lake and drown. The demons are destroyed. The man is restored to his right mind. He wants to follow Jesus, but the Lord tells him (v.39) Return home and tell how much God has done for you. Jesus wants him to become an evangelist, and we can assume—in his gratitude—that he does.

We worship the God who sees us and who hears us. He knows when we have reached the end of our rope and are ready to let go.

Chuck Swindoll relates the following commentary: Perhaps you recall the book by Rabbi Harold Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People? R. C. Sproul [a famous Presbyterian preacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1900’s] had a great answer for that. Someone asked him on one occasion, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” His answer was classic. He said, “I haven’t met any good people yet, so I don’t know.” (Quoted in Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.578). Or as Paul has written, Is any one without sin? No not one (Romans 3:10) and (Romans 3:23)…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

I think our tough times are tests, and no one escapes having them.

They may be sent by the evil one to discourage us and turn us away from God, but it seems that God allows them as a means of deepening our faith and of molding and shaping our character.

Nevertheless, our God is also the divine rescuer. He rescues a war-weary prophet. He restores a man totally overrun with demons.

Because we are His sons and daughters, He hears the cries of our hearts and responds.

The next time we find ourselves in a place of suffering, let’s try to have the attitude of today’s psalmist, as paraphrased in modern English by Eugene Peterson in The Message, p.965 Why are you down in the dumps, dear soul? Why are you crying the blues? Fix my eyes on God—soon I’ll be praising again. He puts a smile on my face. He’s my God.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Birds on a Buffalo

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 5, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 2:1-21; Ps 104:24-35; Ro 8:14-17; Jn 14:8-17, 25-27

In 2003, I went on a mission trip with the youth of the church I was serving at the time (in Philadelphia) to the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota. The Standing Rock covers an extraordinary amount of real estate from the south-central North Dakota to the northern portion of South Dakota. I found the temperatures of 108-115 to be very uncomfortable and I really hated the biting and stinging black flies—who seemed to love getting ahold of me. I had to buy a fly swatter to beat them off my arms and legs. YIKES! Nevertheless, the native Americans were fascinating. While our youth worked with theirs, I focused on ministry to the women of the tribe, talking with them about their families, their health, their way of life, and their view of God.

If you know anything about the history of the Lakota Sioux, you know they were totally dependent upon the buffalo for their food, clothing, shelter, tools, and so on. They followed the buffalo herds wherever they went, taking only what they needed and using all parts of the animal—including appropriating its tail as a fly-swatter. Essentially, their fortunes rose and fell with the availability of the herds. The Sioux word for Buffalo is tatanka. If you have ever seen the movie, “Dances with Wolves,” you may remember the Kevin Kostner character, an army cavalry officer, was trying to communicate with a few Sioux warriors. He made horns with his fingers and stomped on the ground to convey “buffalo.” The Sioux warriors initially thought he was not quite right in the head, but eventually realized what he was trying to convey. They named the animal in their language—tatonka—which I loosely translate as large, powerful, necessary critter. Interestingly, their word for God the Holy Spirit is the Wakantonka, the greatest of all beings! They knew they were totally dependent upon Him, even for the buffalo. I loved that picture of the Holy Spirit! He is the power-arm of the Trinity. No one can control Him! We, His creatures, are totally dependent upon Him.

We noted while we were there that the herds are coming back. I was fascinated with the buffalo, and asked us to pull our van over whenever we encountered a new herd. As I observed them in the wild, I noticed that many carried a little bird on their shoulders. It occurred to me then that we are to the Holy Spirit as that bird is to the buffalo: We are along for the ride, but unable to influence the direction, timing, or speed at which we travel. All the power resides with the buffalo.

Our Scriptures today, this Pentecost Sunday, all revolve around the very important empowering and sustaining work of the Holy Spirit:

A. Our Acts 2:1-21 lesson describes how the Holy Spirit fell on the 120 disciples, empowering them for service. We are familiar with this story as it explains the birth of the Christian Church (Christ-followers of whatever denomination). The disciples are obediently waiting and praying. They are following Jesus’ orders. He had told them in Luke 24:49 that they were to …stay in the city [Jerusalem] until you have been clothed with power from on high [the Holy Spirit]. They had been waiting for 10 days from Christ’s Ascension. Now bear in mind that Pentecost had already been established by God as an annual feast day back in Leviticus 23 (It was part of the Law/Torah). First came Passover (Friday, the beginning of the Sabbath), but foreshadowing the death of Christ, the Lamb of God. Just as the blood of the Passover lamb had spared the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, the shed blood of Christ covers our sins and redeems us from spending eternity in hell. The second feast God inaugurated was called 1st Fruits (we know it as Easter Sunday), and it foreshadowed Jesus’ resurrection. The third feast, 50 days from Passover, was and is Pentecost (a harvest Festival, also called the Feast of Weeks).

On the original Pentecost, the Holy Spirit showed up early (9:00am), but not visibly. There was an auditory sign, (v.2) Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. People who have lived through tornadoes say they sound like a multitude of freight trains rushing by. That was the sound of the Holy Spirit’s presence, but without the wind. Nevertheless, it brought people out into the streets. There was also a visual sign of the Spirit’s presence (v.3) They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. They could see fire, but it did not burn; think of Moses and the burning bush that did not disintegrate as it burned. Isn’t it interesting that they resembled tongues like fire, since they were going to burst into languages (tongues) previously unknown to them. So the Holy Spirit announces His presence with loud surround-sound and some fancy pyrotechnics. They were then empowered to witness about Jesus to Jewish foreign-language speakers in their native tongues and dialects–people groups from all over the Mediterranean, even from as far as Rome. Peter is now emboldened to preach to the crowd.

Now the Holy Spirit falls on all believers, where previously (in the Old Testament) the Holy Spirit was given to individuals for specific purposes and often for limited time. Today, we encounter the Holy Spirit in (a.) Baptism in which we are reborn by water and the Spirit, as Christ-followers; in (b.) Confirmation🡪in which we are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13-14 Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession…; and (c.) in the Baptism of the Holy Spirit (your own subjective experience) 1 Cor 12:13 For we were all baptized by one spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. This experience is not limited by race or culture or social distinctions. The Holy Spirit is available to all believers who ask for Him, in order for us to minister in the power of Christ, and manifest the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

B. Our Psalm (104:24-35) is a symphony of praise to the God of Creation. The line most relevant to the work of the Holy Spirit is verse 30 When You send Your Spirit, they [meaning we and all creation] are created, and You renew the face of the earth. Peterson’s paraphrase of Scripture, the Message, states it this way: Send out Your Spirit and they [created things] spring to life—the whole countryside in bloom and blossom. In other words, God’s Holy Spirit is creative and transformative. The power of the Holy Spirit makes good things happen.

C. Among those good things is our adoption, thru Christ Jesus, as children of God and heirs with Christ. This is what Paul asserts in our Romans lesson today (8:14-17). We become sons and daughters of God when we allow ourselves to be led by the Holy Spirit (v.14 …those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons [and daughters] of God. Our obedience is Key. We are following Jesus’ example when we say, Yet not My will, but Yours be done (Luke 22:42).

In today’s Gospel (John 14:8-17, 25-27), Jesus calls the Holy Spirit “the Counselor,” “the Spirit of Truth.” One of His primary jobs is to teach us Jesus’ will and remind us of Jesus’ ways. To this end, the Holy Spirit dwells within us. He also counsels—guides, directs, encourages, helps—us. If we obey Jesus—there it is again—and pray not selfishly but in the character of Christ, God will grant us what we ask for. You may say, “Well, I prayed to get a Mercedes, in Jesus’ name, but didn’t get one.” The issue then becomes was your receiving a Mercedes consistent with God’s will for you? This is often the “sticking point” when the response to our prayers is “No” or “Not yet.”

Because of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, we are not to fear anything, according to verse 27 Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. Please say that last part out loud: We are not to be afraid. Again: We are not to be afraid. We have the Holy Spirit, so we don’t need “safe spaces.” I heard recently that MIT, Evergreen University, and others, have eliminated grades for college courses. Someone has decided that bad grades may hurt a student’s self-esteem. I find this logic puzzling. Wouldn’t we do better to teach students to apply themselves to get good grades, or even to manage their disappointment in a healthy manner? Rather than doing away with grading, our culture would be better served to face the truth with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. We don’t even have to worry about what this world is coming to…we can just trust in God and give our concerns to Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The story is told about a little boy who was flying a kite. It was a windy day, and the kite kept going higher and higher. Finally it got so high that it was out of sight. A man passed by and saw the little boy holding onto the string. The man could not see the kite, and he asked the boy, “How do you even know you have a kite up there?” The boy replied, “Because I can feel it.” Typically when we encounter the Holy Spirit today, we don’t hear a great wind or see tongues of flame—or even a dove. Even so, we should be able to discern His assistance in our lives by feeling (sensing) Him (a.) leading us to do the right thing; (b.) empowering us to serve Jesus in His Church; or (c.) helping us to become more like Jesus. As the Lakota Sioux say, He is the wakantonka.

Think about this: Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, His last words were for them to wait until they received the Holy Spirit. He didn’t ask them to write manuscripts or screen-plays. He didn’t expect them to run out and begin evangelizing. He didn’t want them to assemble a committee and come up with a plan or a program. He didn’t even ask them to compose worship songs. Instead, He told them to do nothing until…

(J.D. Grear, Jesus, Continued: Why the Spirit Inside You is Better than Jesus Beside You, Zondervan.)

That should be us: We are the birds on the buffalo. The Holy Spirit is the power source. We wait on Him. We follow His direction. He leads us and we are to go along for the adventure. Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Stay in Tune

Pastor Sherry’s message for 4/24, 2022

Scriptures: Acts 5:27-39; Ps 150; Rev 1:4-8; Jn 20:19-31

I don’t know much about organs—the musical instrument—but I have read that among the many “stops” on most organs there are 4 of particular importance:

1. The Diapason or principal stop, which appears to heighten volume;

2. The Flute stop, which gives us the tones of a flute;

3. The String stop, which gives us the tones of string instruments like the violin, viola, etc.;

4. and the Vox Humana (the Human voice), which, ironically, is very seldom in tune. It seems if it is tuned when the temperature is cold, it will go out of tune when the environment warms up. If tuned when warm, it goes out of tune when the AC is turned on. This is such a lovely image of us, isn’t it? We easily get out of tune with God.

The Bible commentator, J. Vernon McGee uses the metaphor of these 4 stops to explain the meaning behind Psalm 150. He says opening up the Diapason/principal stop is like when Jesus stepped up to speak creation into existence. It burst forth in all of its glory! Stars, space, earth all sang out praises to God the Father. Remember, Paul said (Romans 8:19-22) that all creation groans as it awaits Jesus’ 2nd Coming. And Jesus told the Pharisees that even the rocks would cry out if He forbade His disciples from praising Him (Luke 19:40). The Flute stop, when opened, sounded like birds and angel choirs who then added their songs of praise. When the String stop was opened, light hummed across the universe, and all of creation sang in harmony to the Lord!

(Rev. Dr. J. Vernon Mcgee, Commentary on Psalms, pp.191-192.)

As Psalm 150:6 says Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! You see, we were created to worship God. He is both our Creator and our Redeemer. Perhaps you remember the Westminster Shorter Catechism question–written in 1646 by a team of Anglicans and Presbyterians, containing 107 questions that explain Christian doctrine– “What is the chief end [purpose] of man [kind]? The answer is, It is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” By glorify is meant that we give Him the weight He is due because He is preeminent over all other things. Because of His supremacy, we are to praise Him/delight in Him always.

When the Vox Humana was added, however, it was found to be out of tune. We human beings are often out of step with God and out of tune.

So the question presents itself, “How do we humans stay in tune with creation and with God?”

A. Psalm 150 tells us we stay in tune with God when we praise Him and when we allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

Many folks today are out of tune with God because they either do not know Him; or, they do not respect Him. Many rich folks believe their money and their ingenuity are all they need. Similarly, numerous university professors, scientists, and medical doctors believe their intelligence saves them. Other folks use drugs, alcohol, serial love affairs, and other addictions to fill the God-shaped hole in their lives. They don’t trust God to help them, so they rely on whatever they can find to comfort themselves or numb themselves out.

Thus, McGee writes in his commentary on Psalm 150, p.194 “Today you and I are living in a created universe that is actually singing praise to God. But men are out of tune. Man is in discord. God’s great purpose is to bring man back into the harmony of heaven.” That is why Jesus went to the Cross, died, and rose again. His costly and loving sacrifice brought those of us who believe in Him back into tune with God and with the universe.

B. The apostles knew this. In our Acts 5:27-39 passage, we read of the account of early persecution of the enfant Christian Church. Led by the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin convenes to reemphasize to the apostles—who they have arrested–that they should stop teaching in Jesus’ name.

Peter and the other 10 reply (v.29) We must obey God rather than men! Jesus had told them (in the Great Commission) to take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and all the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Teaching and preaching in the Temple was their faithful response to the first part of this command.

Their insistence on continuing, despite the Sanhedrin’s condemnation of them, infuriated the Jewish leaders. Some hotheads among them urged them to execute them. But Rabbi Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, recommended a wiser course of action (vv.38-39)…in the present case, I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (The presence of Christ-followers to this day proves Gamaliel right.) Gamaliel prevailed and the apostles kept right on preaching the Gospel.

Even though they were flogged, they rejoiced due to their release, but also due to God’s power over the views of men, and because they had shared in some of Jesus’ suffering (the flogging). They had seen the Resurrected Christ! They were empowered by the Holy Spirit. And they were very clear about their purpose. Obeying Jesus, whatever the cost, was how they stayed in tune with Jesus.

C. Our Gospel lesson, John 20:19-32, recounts the need for the apostles, but especially for Thomas, to see and to touch the risen Christ. The 10 believed because they saw Him and interacted with Him on Easter Day. Because Thomas was absent at the time, he missed out. But once he touched Jesus, a week later, he knew the resurrection stories were true.

He then exclaims (v.28) My Lord and my God! This is a profound and a beautiful expression of his faith. But notice that Jesus goes on to bless all of us who have not seen Him in the flesh–who have not touched His crucifixion wounds—and yet we believe. Clearly, Jesus commends faith that arises out of something beyond physical experience. As the writer to the Hebrews asserts (11:1) Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. You just know that you know, even if you can’t always explain it to someone else. We stay in tune with Jesus when we believe in Him.

D. In Revelation 1:4-8, the apostle John journeys into heaven (in a vision) where he sees that Jesus is the One Who is all He claimed to be:

1. He is the faithful witness the One who came from heaven to earth to reveal and explain to us the Truth.

2. He is the firstborn from the dead the first to rise from the dead and never to die again. Jairus’ 12 year old daughter, the widow of Nain’s son, and Lazarus were all raised from the dead by Jesus. However, unlike Jesus, they all experienced death a second time. By His resurrection, Jesus Christ overcame death for Himself and for us.

3. He is the ruler of the kings of the earth the rightful heir to the promised eternal throne of King David.

4. He is (v.8) the Alpha and the Omega…the One who is [currently in heaven], and who was [walked the earth 2000+ years ago], and who is to come, the Almighty.

In verse 4, John mentions the seven spirits before His [God the Father’s] throne. This means the complete Holy Spirit, not that there are 7 separate Holy Spirits. The number 7, to the Hebrews, meant either perfection or completeness. Consider how often 7—for completeness–appears in the context of God’s dealings with humankind: The Sabbath and worship of God occur on the 7th day (We Christ-followers changed it to the first day of the week in honor of Jesus’ resurrection.) In Joseph’s Egypt, there were 7 years of plenty and 7 of famine. Namaan the Syrian was told to wash in the Jordan 7 times to be healed of his leprosy. Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylonia, was crazy for 7 years. There are 7 Beatitudes in Matthew. There are 7 petitions in the Lord’s Prayer. Seven loaves (and 2 fish) fed the 5,000. Jesus made 7 statements from the Cross. (See J. Vernon McGee, Commentary on Revelation, p.39.) And John reports in his Gospel that Jesus made 7 “I am” statements, all ways of saying He was and is God. So, we stay in tune with Jesus when we believe He is completely and thoroughly God, as well as man.

Our scripture passages today all attest to the ways we can stay in tune with our God:

1. When we praise God and allow Him to carry the most weight in our lives.

2. When we obey God.

3. When we learn to enjoy God first of all.

Think of what He has done and continues to do for us. It is human nature to think we experience joy when we meet our needs first. But the paradox is the Truth: When we learn to enjoy God above self (and others), we tap into the “organ stop” that blasts out joy.

4. When we believe without seeing Jesus in the flesh.

5. When we believe because we know Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega, the be-all and the end-all, the completeness of God.

Alleluia, He is risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams