Certain Hope

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 28, 2021

Scriptures: Jer33:14-16; Ps 25:1-10; 1 Thess 3:9-13; Lk 21:25-36

As I was listening to our anthem being sung this morning, the Lord changed my sermon. YIKES! I really don’t like last minute alterations—I feel unprepared– but I have to be obedient as He knows best. He wanted me to change the first story. He wanted me to tell you about George Muller. George was a German missionary from about the time of Charles Dickens (early 1800’S). He thought he was meant to go evangelize Jews, but the Lord told him, “No, I want you to go to England.” George did as he was told and discovered the huge number of orphans on the streets of London. If you’ve read Oliver Twist or David Copperfield, you know that Dickens did a great job of bringing the plight of abandoned children into public consciousness. George and his wife founded 5 or 6 orphanages, paid for entirely by donations and as a result of his intense prayer-times. Over the span of his life, he improved the plight of thousands of British orphans by feeding and housing them, teaching them about Jesus, educating them, and training them for trades or for service jobs. He rarely told anyone what he was praying for, but he experienced God answering his prayers, time after time. In his brief autobiography, he tells of having no bread or milk for breakfast for 250 orphans. He prayed for God’s supply and soon heard that a bakery truck had stopped with day old bread to offer for free. Immediately after, a mild wagon came by with extra milk to give away. The orphans were fed for another dad

I tell this story because George Muller had hope in God’s supply that was certain. He would send up a prayer and wait to see what God would do.

Now, having to wait is tough for most of us–for both kids as well as grownups. We look for the shortest lines in the grocery store or at Walmart, so we don’t have to wait. This time of year, we often have to wait at the P.O, the gas station, or even for parking spaces at the mall. And, of course, we wait on the arrival of Christmas! Few of us appear to be as positive and upbeat about waiting as was George Muller.

Today is the 1st Sunday of Advent, a time of waiting on the arrival of Jesus. We prepare for His 1st Coming, at Christmas, as a helpless infant. He arrived in a small Hebrew backwater town, with a mission to save a sin-sick and lost world. We also await His 2nd Coming, when He will return to earth as a triumphant, all powerful king. His mission at that future time will be to judge the world and to create a heavenly, peaceful order. Our Scriptures today speak to both of Advents or Comings:

1. In Jeremiah 33:14-16, the prophet reminds us that the promised Messianic King (Jesus) will be coming. He will come from a righteous branch of King David’s family tree (a promise God made to David 1000 years earlier). This Messiah will save His people. Jumping ahead to the End Times, Jesus will be called “The Lord Our Righteousness.” At His Second Coming, Jerusalem will Live in safety. It doesn’t now, but it will then.

2. Our Psalm 25:1-10 is a plea from King David for God’s protection and love. In it David suggests that God has a purpose as He makes us wait: Waiting provides time/opportunity

a. To learn His ways more clearly (v.4) Show me Your ways, O Lord, teach me Your paths.

c. To ask for His mercy, love, and forgiveness;

b. To trust in Him more deeply;

d. And to cling to hope due to His great faithfulness.

We can develop these skills by reading Scripture daily; by frequently praying to or talking with God; by remembering those times when God has shown up in our lives (These are usually pretty unique to each of us. I think it’s important to write them down on a 3×5 card and tape them to your bathroom mirror or to your car dashboard so you remember them—especially when you feel discouraged); and by hearing/reading the experiences others, like George Muller, have had with God. Remember our encounters with Christ, and those of others, helps to deepen and strengthen our faith, resulting in certain hope.

3. Our lesson from 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 teaches us two other benefits of waiting: God uses the time to strengthen a heart of holiness in each of us. Waiting has been called “the crucible of the saints.” As we wait, God is molding/shaping our characters. He is also teaching us to abound in love; that is, to love Him and to love others better.

4. In our Gospel lesson, Luke 21:25-36, Jesus gives us a few more clues as to what we can expect before His 2nd Coming: Just as buds on trees broadcast the coming of spring, we will know the end is near when, according to Peterson’s The Message It will seem like all hell has broken loose—sun, moon, stars, earth, sea, in an uproar and everyone all over the world in a panic, the wind knocked out of them by the threat of doom, the powers that be quaking. Heavenly bodies [stars, planets, our moon], will be shaken, doing never-before-seen things. Worldwide, people will fear the roaring and tossing of the sea. This may mean an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis. While God has promised never again to flood the whole earth, He still might allow frightening incursions of water into previously dry territory. I remember learning, when I lived in New Orleans, that the state of Louisiana tends to lose about 2.5 feet of beach to the Gulf of Mexico per year!

No matter what means He uses to signal the end, everyone—but especially non-believers–will be freaked. The Son of Man (Jesus’ favorite name for Himself) will come on a cloud. He will arrive with power and with great glory. Believers can and should rejoice!

We have every reason to Hope in Christ! Additionally, our hope can be certain, sure, accurate.

Our Lord Jesus taught in parables, stories, so let me share two stories of hope:

The first comes from the pen of Bernard Baruch (financial advisor to 2 wartime US presidents, Wilson and FDR) “A man sentenced to death obtained a reprieve by assuring the king he would teach his majesty’s horse to fly within the year–on the condition that if he didn’t succeed, he would be put to death at the end of the year. “Within a year,” the man explained later, “the king may die, or I may die, or the horse may die. Furthermore, in a year, who knows? Maybe the horse will learn to fly.” The story is funny, but the man did see 4 possible reasons for a reprieve from death. Despite how improbable each was, he had hopel

The second is from Bits and Pieces, 1991 The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city’s hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the [homebound] program received a routine call asking her to visit a particular child. She took the child’s name and room number and talked briefly with the child’s regular class teacher. “We’re studying nouns and adverbs in his class now,” the regular teacher said, “and I’d be grateful if you could help him understand them so he doesn’t fall too far behind.”

The [homebound] teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. No one had mentioned to her that the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, she stammered as she told him, “I’ve been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs.” When she left she felt she hadn’t accomplished much.

But the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. “No, no,” said the nurse. “You don’t know what I mean. We’ve been worried about that little boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He’s fighting back, responding to treatment. It’s as though he’s decided to live.”

Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the [homebound] teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: “They wouldn’t send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?” The boy interpreted the arrival of the homebound teacher as a reason to hope. As the old hymn states, Our hope is set on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness!

We can, with confidence, hope in Jesus Christ because we know He came to rescue us from the penalty for our sins and to gain for us eternal life. Out of His great love for us, He left His heavenly prerogatives and became incarnate—took on flesh! So, this Advent Season, we celebrate His incarnation, His birthdate, at Christmas.

And because He accomplished these Biblical promises on His first trip here, fulfilling about 325 Old Testament prophesies, we can, with confidence, trust that He will come a second time, in glory, just as He predicted. In other words, if He fulfilled 325 prophesies about His earthly life on the first go-round, we can have certain hope that he will come again to fulfill the remaining 25 Old Testament prophesies. Amen and amen!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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The Alpha and the Omega

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 21, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 23:1-7; Ps 132:1-12; Rev. 1:1-8; Jn 18:33-37

Let me begin by sharing two stories about kingship:

1.) Chuck Colson related this one in his book, The Faith: What Christians Believe, Why They Believe It, and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008, p.90). In 1990, he was in Russia, preaching at the Moscow Baptist Church, just blocks from the Kremlin, “He told a packed crowd of worshipers that all through human history, as far back as recorded time and doubtless before, kings, princes, tribal chiefs, presidents, and dictators have sent their subjects into battle to die for them. Only once in human history has a king not sent his subjects to die for him, but instead, died for his subjects. This is the King who introduces the Kingdom that cannot be shaken, because this King reigns eternally.”

Colson was, of course, referring to Jesus Christ, comparing Jesus’ selfless reign and rule to that of all other world leaders.

2.) In another story—so old there we do not know to whom to credit it—we have an anecdote concerning the King of England from 1014-1035, who was actually a Danish royal and a Christian, named Canute. “King Canute tired of hearing his retainers flatter him with extravagant praises of his greatness, power and invincibility. He ordered his chair to be set down on the seashore, where he commanded the waves not to come in and wet him. No matter how forcefully he ordered the tide not to come in, however, his order was not obeyed. Soon the waves lapped around his chair. One historian tells us that, therefore, he never wore his crown again, but hung it on a statue of the crucified Christ.” King Canute knew he lacked the power of Christ the King. He probably also realized he would not be willing to die for his subjects, as Jesus did.

Today is the last day of the church calendar, called Christ the King Sunday. Next week we begin our Christmas focus on the Advent or the 1st and 2nd Comings of Jesus. But for today, we close out the Church’s calendar year by focusing on the Kingship of Jesus. Jesus truly is Christ the King.

A. In our OT reading, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, the prophet Samuel records the last words of King David. David credits God with elevating him to the position of king from being a shepherd son of a peasant farmer. He admits the Holy Spirit worked through him—and spoke through him–during his lifetime, probably especially though the music he wrote and played (his psalms), his phenomenal military success, and the fact that he tried to rule righteously.

In verse 5, he alludes to the Covenant agreement David had with God—There would always be a descendant of his to rule Israel, as long as that descendant was obedient to the Lord. Those who did evil would be cast aside; but the Righteous One to be—Jesus—will reign forever and ever.

B. Psalm 132:1-12 was apparently written by King Solomon, King David’s son and immediate heir to his throne. In it, Solomon asks God to remember that David wanted to build an earthly dwelling suitable for the Lord. Solomon has just completed construction of the Temple in Jerusalem and is celebrating having moved the Ark of the Covenant from “the tent of habitation” to the Holy of Holies (a goal of his father’s). This psalm was probably sung at the Temple’s dedication service. Solomon asks God to come and dwell in this Temple—which He does. And then Solomon reminds God of His promises to his father, David:

1.) To always keep a descendant of David upon the throne of Israel, providing that descendant obeys the Lord.

2.) Solomon probably doesn’t realize it, but inspired by the Holy Spirit, he has just prophesied the kingship of Jesus in verse 11–The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath that He will not revoke: One of your own descendants I will place on your throne…The last of the Davidic kings was the rebellious Zedekiah (597-586BC). There is, at present, no king of Israel. But Jesus rode into Jerusalem as a kingly figure on Palm Sunday. He admitted to Pilate that He is a king. And He will be enthroned in Jerusalem when He returns to earth a 2nd time.

C. Our Gospel lesson is from John 18:33-37. It records a portion of Jesus’ trial before Pontius Pilate, the Roman ruler of Judea. It is said that Pilate hated Jerusalem and really disliked the Jews. He spent most of his time at Caesarea, on the Mediterranean coast. He made it his habit to visit Jerusalem during the great feasts, like Passover, when Jews from all around the world would crowd into the city to worship God. He hoped to impress his superiors by keeping the peace in a volatile country. Not truly understanding the Jewish religion, he finds himself having to adjudicate Jesus’ case.

Now Pilate was a pragmatist, a Roman military officer, not a philosopher. He probably thought Jesus was a nut-case if He claimed to be Israel’s king. Afterall, Israel was then under the rule of a Roman-appointee, Herod Agrippa, who owed his authority and privileges to Rome. What right would an itinerant rabbi have to call Himself King?

So he enters into the dialogue with Jesus:

PILATE. Are you the King of the Jews?

JESUS. Essentially, what prompted that question?

PILATE—Not me; your own folks say this of you.

JESUS—Yes, I’m a king, but not of this world, or more correctly, out of this world. He will not be a political king, rising out of the political system. He will be a true king, not a political hack. He will be—and is—a theocratic king and will come to earth again as King of King and Lord of Lords (but Jesus doesn’t explain all of this to Pilate).

D. However, this is where our NT lesson from Revelation 1:1-8 picks up. The year is somewhere in the 90’s (near end of 1st century). John is the oldest living apostle (in his late 80’s, early 90’s). Peter has been crucified, upside-down, at his own request! John’s brother James has been put to the sword by King Herod Agrippa. Paul has been beheaded in Rome.

John has outlived them all—some say he is the only apostle to die a natural death.

We find him in today’s narrative, confined to the prison isle, Patmos.

It was a rocky, inhospitable island, about 6 X 10 miles, in the Aegean Sea.

Inmates there were sentenced to hard labor in the mines and quarries, exposed to elements. Our passage tells us (verse 10), On the Lord’s Day, I was in the Spirit. Here he was, in harsh circumstances, isolated from friends, but worshipping God on Sunday, the Lord’s Resurrection Day.

He was praying, in the Spirit, when he has a Holy Spirit assisted vision.

John sees and hears from Jesus.

But I am getting ahead of myself here—Return to verses 1-3:

John tells us God the Father gave this revelation to Jesus Christ. The word, revelation comes from the Greek word, apokalupsis which means an UNVEILING, a REVEALING. In this god-forsaken place, Jesus Himself comes to John. What a comfort that must have been to the apostle:

John, I have not forgotten you! Even though you are elderly and in exile,

I have a job for you to do.

So Jesus is speaking this unveiling, this revealing to John, as the Ascended Lord, the King of the Universe! Jesus is in heaven, seated at the right hand of the Father. This means He is installed right next to God the Father, at God’s right hand of power. Jesus conveys the revelation to John thru an angel (messenger). And John obediently writes for us all that he saw and heard.

Whoever reads it, and hears it, and takes it to heart will be blessed.

So who is that? Us! Yes, it’s complicated and uses a lot of figurative language, (Old Testament allusions) but if we persist/puzzle through Revelation, we will be blessed! We will be blessed because it tells us how our great cosmic history turns out! The Good Guy wins! Through Him, we also win! (We are vindicated).

John greets the 7 churches in Asia Minor (Turkey):

These were specific church groups, but also types/representatives of churches. In verses 4-6, he states, Grace and peace to you from.

Him who is and who was and who is to come [the eternal Father], the 7 spirits before His throne [The Holy Spirit; the Complete Holy Spirit given all of His characteristics], and from Jesus Christ. Jesus is then called by several titles:

1.) The faithful witness— Jesus has told us truth and so He continues to tell us truth (I am the way, the truth, and the life, John 14:6).

2.) The firstborn from the dead—During His earthly ministry, Jesus resurrected 3 persons: His friend Lazarus; the son of the widow of Nain; and he synagogue ruler’s 12 year old daughter. But they all went on to die, again, later. Jesus is the first One resurrected to eternal life!

3.) The ruler of the kings of the earth—In Phil 2:9-11, we are told…at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Ultimately, at the end of time, all Caesars/kings, presidents, premiers, despots and dictators everywhere will acknowledge the lordship of King Jesus. Their eyes will be open to the Truth of Who Jesus is.

4.) V. 8. I am the Alpha and the Omega…who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty. Alpha is the 1st letter of the Greek alphabet; Omega, the last. Jesus is saying, I am the A through Z. He is the full revelation of God the Father. He is the beginning and the end, eternal, unchanging. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it (13:8) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever?

The final outcome is ultimately a good one! God has the last word! We serve Christ the King. The resurrected Jesus Christ is alive and on His heavenly throne. The Alpha and the Omega will come again in glory to rule and reign upon the earth. I can hardly wait, can you? Amen! Maranatha! Come King Jesus!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Where are We Left?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 10/19/2021

Scriptures: Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Ps 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Heb 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Hudson Taylor (1832-1903), the great British missionary to China, spent 51 years in ministry there. Raised a Methodist, he went to China as a Baptist, founded the China Inland Mission—which targeted the interior of the country–brought 800 missionaries over the years to join him; founded 125 schools in 18 provinces, and led over 18,000 souls to Christ.

The story is told of his first voyage to China, aboard a sailing vessel. As it neared the channel between the southern Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, the missionary heard an urgent knock on his stateroom door. He opened it, and there stood the captain of the ship. “Mr. Taylor,” he said, “we have no wind. We are drifting toward an island where the people are heathen, and I fear they are cannibals.”

What can I do?” asked Taylor.

“I understand that you believe in God. I want you to pray for wind.”

All right, Captain, I will, but you must set the sail.” “Why that’s ridiculous! There’s not even the slightest breeze. Besides, the sailors will think I’m crazy.” But finally, because of Taylor’s insistence, he agreed. Forty- five minutes later he returned and found the missionary still on his knees. “You can stop praying now,” said the captain. “We’ve got more wind than we know what to do with!”

Obviously, Taylor was a man of prayer. Additionally, he believed in God’s call on his life. He believed in God’s power to equip and provide for him. He also believed he would successfully make it to China and that God would do a mighty work among the Chinese through him. Similarly, I had felt convinced of God’s call on my life. Once, when I was in seminary, my school sent me to a conference in Jackson, Mississippi. On my return to Pittsburgh from Jackson, our plane hit some very bumpy weather. The woman in the seat next to me was a seasoned traveler. She flew frequently for work. But during this trip, she took out the “barf bag,” convinced she would lose her lunch before we crashed. I told her not to worry. I had prayed that angels would hold up our wings, the nose, and the tail of the plane and was convinced the Lord would save us because I was halfway through seminary and knew that God was not yet finished with me.

Taylor read the same Bible we do (probably the King James version.) Our passages today are all about faith. They appear to answer the question, “Where are we left?” Or, you may prefer, “Where does that leave us?” Or, as cynics might say, “What’s the point?”

I believe that question is best answered if we take our passages in order. Please pay attention to what our Lord is saying to us (The Bible is His love song to us).

A. In Job 38:1-7, 34-41, we find God revealing Himself to Job from the midst of a whirlwind, an impressive phenomenon of nature. Job has wanted an opportunity to put his case before the Lord. In our passage today, God shows up as Creator of the Universe. He begins by telling Job, in verse 2, that his complaints are unjustified because he argues from a place of limited understanding. Notice, the Lord does not explain why Job had to suffer, nor does he defend His divine right to let him. Instead, from verses 3-41, God asks Job a series of rhetorical questions about creation, all of which point to God’s power, sovereignty, and loving care. Essentially, God is saying to Job, “Who are you–My creation–to question, to critique Me–your Creator?” In a subsequent chapter, Job will admit that God is Sovereign over all things, including himself, and will humbly retreat from being angry with or making demands of God.

So, reading and understanding this passage, Where are we left? Like Job, we should stand in awe of God and His creative power. Like Job, we should trust in God because He is our creator and the lover of our souls.

Paul starts from the same place in Romans 1. Paul says God’s creation so demonstrates His greatness that unbelievers have no excuse to be atheists. Evidence of His goodness and His power surround us in nature. True, we are free to reject Him, but YIKES! He will allow us to do so, but we act to our detriment as He removes His “umbrella of protection” from us. Like Job, we want to trust in God’s goodness and love for us, despite our questions.

Remember the example of Hudson Taylor: When faced with cannibals, he didn’t get frustrated with God; instead, he trusted in God to see him through safely.

B. Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c continues the theme. Biblical scholars call this psalm a hymn of praise to the God of Creation. In fact, it appears to address the same questions God raised with Job. In Job 38:4, God asks Job, Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Psalm104:5 says—He [God] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. In Job 38:8, God asks Job, Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?

The answer appears in Psalm 104:6-9–You [The Lord] covered it [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at Your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

Where are we left? Like Job, we should praise God for His power, His greatness, and His wisdom. Even when we don’t understand why things are going the way they are in our lives, we should praise God for His creation.

C. The writer to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 5:1-10, defines the function or purpose of a priest. Pastors are still referred to as priests in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Episcopal traditions. In the Protestant Reformation, however, priests were renamed as “pastors,” “ministers,” or “reverends.” No matter what you call him or her, however, the duties of a pastor include: (1) Being a person of prayer; (2) Having been called by God (acceptable to God); (3) To represent the people to God; and (4) To explain God’s Word to people.

The writer to the Hebrews wants folks to understand that Jesus currently fulfills the role of our Great High Priest. He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. Some would say He fulfilled the role of Prophet as he taught and healed during His earthly ministry. He spoke the words His Father gave Him to speak. He communicated the Father’s love, will, and healing power to us. They also contend we will see Him as King when He comes again, in glory, to assume His rightful authority over all the earth. So we see His 3 roles as prophet, priest, and king.

Jesus did all the things an earthly priest would do: He was a man of prayer. He was called and ordained to ministry (at His baptism, the Father said, This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased). He provided the sacrifice for our sins—the once and for all perfect sacrifice—not of animals but of Himself. He was totally submitted to the will of His Father, even unto death.

So, where are we left? Saved and secure! Saved and secure! Jesus paid our sin debt. Jesus’ sacrifice earned our salvation, our freedom.

Again, we should be grateful!

D. Jesus teaches the disciples, once again—in Mark 10:35-45–that ministry in His Kingdom is not about position and power, but about servanthood and humility. John and James are jockeying for favored positions in Jesus’ new administration. Jesus responds to them in two ways:

First, He asks in verse 38–Can you drink the cup I drink? This is an old Jewish expression which means, Can you share my fate? They appear to believe they can. Next, He tells them they will suffer and die, as He is going to, but that He does not have the authority to grant them positions of privilege—that prerogative is the Father’s. .

The angry response of the other 10 to John and James power ploy prompts Jesus’ teaching in verses 42-45–You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. What pleases God in His Kingdom is our each having a servant’s heart. Demonstrating humble and loving service to God and others is how we advance in the Lord’s eyes.

So, where are we left? Serving God and others, humbly rather than looking for recognition, bonuses, or rewards.

Where are we left? We want to trust in God, in spite of our circumstances. The God of Creation–the God who created us–deserves our adoration and praise. The author of our salvation, Jesus, deserves our gratitude and love. The Father is worthy. Jesus is worthy. The Holy Spirit is worthy.

Additionally, in God’s Kingdom, He responds favorably to prayer and humble service. He restored a humble and worshipful Job. He raised an obedient Son from the dead. He listened to and responded to the prayers of a humble missionary, Hudson Taylor.

As I see it, the following story seems to indicate where God might have us end up:

Some years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants–all physically or mentally disabled–assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry.

The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back… every one of them! One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes.

Stories like this warm our hearts, and may even make us cry. Those children showed all the adults watching how we are to love and to live—not left crying on the track, but uplifted, helped, and loved by our friends. We can be this loving and caring. Let’s practice having servants’ hearts this week. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

PASSING MARKS

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021

Scriptures: Job 23:1-17; Ps 22:1-15; Heb 4:12-18; Mk 10:17-31

The story is told of an Ohio State University student who was academically competent but tended to need time to complete assignments (smart but not speedy).  You may know the type.  They do know the material, but think things through carefully until they have the right answer.  Others may come to the answer more rapidly but few are as careful as this.

The student was troubled by a Calculus class he needed to pass—and wasn’t—with a demanding, annoying professor.  The guy seemed to delight in frustrating his already discouraged students.  During exams, he would walk around, watching them like a hawk, expecting to discover someone cheating.  He would frequently announce the amount of time left—30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.- just to interrupt their trains of thought and to agitate everyone.  In a class of 1,000 students, the slow-but-steady young man was the only one not to turn in his exam when time was called.

The prof waited impatiently and then, an hour later, when the young man finally finished his test, the prof asked him what he thought he was doing.  The kid answered, “Turning in my exam.”  The prof replied, “Your exam is an hour late. Congratulations!  You’ve failed it.  So, I will see you next term when you repeat my class.”  The student smiled and asked, “Do you know my name?”  The prof replied gruffly and incredulously, “What?” The student rephrased his question, “Do you know what my name is?” With irritation, the prof replied, “There are 1,000 students in this class.  What makes you think I would know your name?”  The student then smiled, and, lifting up a tall stack of test booklets, placed his completed test in the middle of the pile and casually exited the huge lecture hall.

Life sometimes presents us with tests–and authority figures– like that one.  We may think our prospects are slim and we don’t have much of a chance of succeeding. But the truth is that if we have a relationship with the Lord, we can make it through any trial that might come.  Let’s see what our passages today have to add to this issue:

A.  Our OT lesson comes from Job 23:1-17.  You may recall that the Lord is so confident of Job’s righteousness that He allows Satan to strip him of his family, his wealth, and his health.  Satan is sure Job will turn against God if his blessings are all removed.  But Job is such a faithful believer that he does not, even though his wife advises (Job 2:9), Curse God and die (Great advice, right? Horrible!).

Instead, Job spends much of the book trying to figure out how he has offended God.  He believes he is being punished, but stops short of blaming God (This is such a good lesson for us!).  In today’s chapter, he begins to believe his faith is being put to the test.  So he wants an opportunity to speak to God face to face.  In verse 3 he admits he doesn’t know where to find Him; in verses 4-7, he is sure that if he could locate God, and confront Him, God wouldn’t find any problems with him.

YIKES!  Don’t you just want to tell Job 3 things:

    #1, None of us is without sin—as Paul says, except for Jesus, No, not one!  As J. Vernon McGee says, No one can go into the presence of God to defend himself.  We must all go before God to plead guilty before him.  Every one of us is guilty (commentary on Job, p.125).  We are only made righteous—we only have passing marks– because we have been cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

    #2, So, if we think we can defend ourselves before God, we need to remember to approach Him with humility.  He is God; we are not! 

    #3, Finally, anyone who seriously wants to find God will do so.  Our God is not hiding from us.  In fact, He calls us to Himself.  If we really want to meet up with Him, He will make Himself known to us—through Scripture, dreams, billboards, overheard conversations, song lyrics, and life events (to name a few means at His disposal).  And unlike the calculus professor at Ohio State, God is for us, not against us.

But praise God!  By the time Job arrives at verse 10, he realizes he is being tested for some purpose.  Like us, he doesn’t yet know what the purpose is.  Like us, he doesn’t understand why he needs testing.  But—hopefully also like us—he does believe that God is using this testing to somehow bring about His good purposes in Job’s life.  If we let it, trouble strengthens our faith.  If we let it, trouble improves our moral character.

If we let Him, God will comfort us and equip us as we move through our difficulties.  Some unnamed wise person once said, You know that God has never promised that we would miss the storm, but He has promised that we would make the harbor.

B.  Psalm 22 is known as “the Psalm of the Cross.”  Written by King David (around 1,000BC) before the Romans invented crucifixion, it provides us a clear window into Jesus’ thoughts as He hung on the Cross.  Some scholars believe Jesus recited this psalm from memory while nailed to the Cross.  In verses 1-2, Jesus essentially cries out to His Father, My God, where are you?  He is feeling deserted and abandoned.  In verses 3-5, He reminds Himself that His Father is the Holy One in whom the patriarchs of Israel put their trust…they trusted and You delivered them…in You they trusted and were not disappointed.

Unlike Job or us, Jesus was entirely without sin.  He had personally done nothing to merit death.  In verses 6-8, He states that He knows He has not provoked the attacks of vicious and vindictive men; and that, thus far, God has not delivered Him from their cruelty.  He reminds His Father that He has trusted in Him from birth.  Finally, verses 12-15 describe His deep physical and emotional distress.  Here is indeed a portrait of unjust suffering.  By the end of the psalm, however–as by the end of the book of Job–we find that the truly righteous, despite their suffering, still maintain their faith in the Lord.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-31) relates Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man.  The fellow mistakenly believes in his own righteousness.  He says he has kept the last 6 commandments all of his life, the ones that have to do with how we relate to others.  We are told that Jesus loved him, even though He realized the man has probably not kept the first 4.  How did Jesus know?  He recognized the man’s wealth was an impediment to his relationship with God.  Jesus asks him to give it up.  The young man walks away from Christ because he cannot (his wealth was his idol); and both he and Jesus are saddened by his decision.

The message is to give up whatever keeps us from remaining close to Jesus.  At one time with me, it was my children.  I didn’t trust God to care for them.  I had to give that up and then noted how much better they did than when I tried to control them.  Later, I learned that God was not selling my house because I was not willing to pastor a church.  I thought I had been called to ordained ministry, as a psychologist, to do therapy with the clergy.  But the Lord made it clear I had to give that goal up too.  The day that I agreed to do whatever God asked of me, my house sold.  My realtor brought a couple by to see it at 5:00pm and I had a signed contract by 8:00pm.  Jesus promises us we will receive blessings 100 times greater than whatever we have to give up for His sake.  He promises us eternal life, despite any and all persecution.

D.  The writer to the Hebrews (4:12-18) wants us never to forget that God’s Word activates us/energizes us to hold firm to our faith.  Scripture is more than words on a page.  It comes with power to help us achieve what God has for us.  Secondly, it exposes us to God’s sight.  If we compare ourselves to the biblical standard, we see where we fall short.  We can’t really get away with slipping our exam booklet into the middle of the pile.  God knows all about us.  Thirdly, Jesus’ example, and His once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins, allows us now to approach God’s throne of grace not with fear of condemnation, but with confidence in God’s loving grace and mercy.

None of us wants to suffer, do we? Nevertheless, we have to realize that following Christ does not give us a pass to avoid problems.

Rather it is a guarantee—as we see in the outcomes of Jesus and of Job—of blessings and God’s favor following our faithfulness through trials.  Because of God’s grace and mercy, we are all like calculus students who have gotten away with not finishing on time by putting our test booklets in the middle of the pile.  Chuck Swindoll has written (in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p.35), “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power.  Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”

Let us pray:  Lord, we know we make better than passing marks when we remember that You do not promise to save us from trials, but You do promise to be present with us as we endure them.  We ask Jesus to tattoo on our hearts the reminder that He suffered untold agonies to atone, in advance, for our sins.  Help us to recognize that there is nothing we can do to achieve or earn our salvation.  Our money will not get us to Heaven, just as our good behavior or our generosity toward others will not.  It is only by loving You and Jesus, and accepting our grace-filled redemption at Your hands, that we are saved.  Assist us to let go of all and any impediments or roadblocks to having a satisfying, deeply faithful, intimate relationship with You.  Amen! 

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

True Security

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 5, 2021

Scriptures: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

The following story was included in an edition of Our Daily Bread:

A group of botanists went on an expedition into a hard-to-reach location in the Alps, searching for new varieties of flowers. One day as a scientist looked through his binoculars, he saw a beautiful, rare species growing at the bottom of a deep ravine. To reach it, someone would have to be lowered into that gorge. Noticing a local youngster standing nearby, the man asked him if he would help them get the flower. The boy was told that a rope would be tied around his waist and the men would then lower him to the floor of the canyon. Excited yet apprehensive about the adventure, the youngster peered thoughtfully into the chasm. “Wait,” he said, “I’ll be back,” and off he dashed. When he returned, he was accompanied by an older man. Approaching the head botanist, the boy said, “I’ll go over the cliff now and get the flower for you, but this man must hold onto the rope. He’s my dad!”

A story from an anonymous source recalls the initial construction on the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently, no safety devices were used and 23 men fell to their deaths. For the final part of the project, however, a large net was used as a safety precaution. At least 10 men fell into it and were saved from certain death. Even more interesting, however, is the fact that 25% more work was accomplished after the net was installed. Why? Because the men had the assurance of their safety, and they were free to wholeheartedly serve the project.

These stories illustrate so beautifully the source of our security in life. The boy could have trusted in the scientists as they were eager to obtain the rare bloom. But he knew he could feel true security only in his own father’s hands. The Golden Gate construction crew could have trusted in their own prowess and skills. Nevertheless, they performed more efficiently and effectively with the security provided by a safety net.

Last week, we looked at what it takes to dwell with God. This week, our Scriptures assert that God is our sure hands and our safety net.

A. Our OT lesson contains 6 Proverbs. Together these assert for us our God created all of us. Rich or poor, or in-betweens, He brought us into being; however, this doesn’t mean that He views all of us the same way. As verse 8 tells us, He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed. The Bible divides the people of this world into two camps: the righteous and evil-doers, sheep and goats. Those who are evil-doers will reap what they sow. God will both repay their evil with evil (Boomerang effect), and ultimately thwart/stymie/interrupt their ability to continue their evil practices. The righteous, on the other hand, will be blessed.

This point is reiterated in verses 22-23: Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them. Yikes! Again we see the principle of reaping and sowing, of “what goes around comes around.” God oversees the world and punishes evil-doers, either in this world or the next. Even if we don’t see the evidence of this at present, the principle still holds—our God is in charge and we can count on His justice!

B. Psalm 125 is called the “Song of Security.” It asserts that

God protects and provides for us, and that the wicked, in eternal terms, have short shelf-lives. Think of the worst tyrants in history. Many were assassinated; many others went mad or took their own lives. True security comes from our intimate relationship with God. It is as rock solid as the mountains around Jerusalem. As Peterson paraphrases (The Message, p.1072), we can trust ultimately that God will round up the backsliders, corral them with the incorrigibles.

C. James 2:1-17 continues this theme. If he were present with us today he would tell us there is no “brotherhood of all humankind.” Instead, there are two kinds of folk: Good people and evil-doers, those who love God and those who reject Him. The “woke folk” would assert that this is intolerant and bigoted, prejudicial and inequitable. But the Bible asserts over and over again that we chose our path. God doesn’t coerce us to take one direction or the other. Our own choices place us on His team or off. We choose whether or not to join the “fellowship of believers.”

So, given this Biblical truth, James spends 11 verses telling us to be sure to demonstrate/live out loving our neighbor. We’re not to show favoritism to rich people over poor, attractive over unattractive folks.

If we are unmerciful and judgmental toward others, God will respond that same way toward us. In verse 13, James reminds us: Mercy triumphs over judgment!

D. Finally, John Mark (probably writing for Peter) shares with us two examples of Jesus’ mercy:

In the first, Jesus treks up to Tyre, north of Israel, to find respite and rest from the crowds following Him. Nevertheless, a Greek woman (according to Matthew) born and living in Syro-Phoenicia, tracks Him down. We don’t know if she believes in the Hebrew God, but she appears to have faith that Jesus can heal her demonized daughter. She garners His attention then enters into a debate with Him. He appears to tell her He isn’t meant to offer healing and salvation to non-Jews (the children at the table). She may not see herself as a dog–like the Jews of the time would have–but she argues that even they get the crumbs that the children drop while eating. In other words, she believes Jesus offers enough to go around to even her. (I remember how my toddler son, from his highchair, would take a bite then hand his cookies or biscuits to our German Shepherd. As a partner in crime, the dog would gently take and eat these offerings.) Jesus is impressed by her humility, her faith, and her perseverance. He assures her that her daughter is healed. He says she is healed from the distance, and Mark reports that the woman returned home to find it was true. As James would say, Mercy triumphs over judgment. Unlike His disciples, Jesus does not overlook the needs of the non-Jews who approach Him in faith. Our God’s mercy transcends the man-made boundaries of race, nationality, political affiliation, and gender.

Next Jesus travels back south to the Sea of Galilee–imagine how many miles He put on His sandals!–and east to the area known as the Decapolis (10 towns). Folks there ask Him to heal a deaf-mute man. Jesus takes the man out of the limelight (off TV, away from phone cameras). He puts His fingers in the guy’s ears first; then, in a way that seems very unsanitary to us, He places some of his spit on the man’s tongue. (This puts me in mind of “mom spit.” How many of us have had spots on our faces washed with mom-spit applied to her finger or thumb? They should examine its chemical properties to discover how it cleans.) Jesus exclaims Ephpatha! Open up! And the man’s hearing and his speech is restored. We don’t know if the guy was a believer, but his friends had faith in Jesus’ ability to heal. This is yet another example of Jesus’ mercy.

Intent on discovering His “healing method,” I once did a review of all of Jesus’ healings recorded in the 4 Gospels. I had to conclude there was no one method we could imitate. He healed some with a word, others with touch, still others with spit or the command to do something (pick up a mat, go see the priests, go wash, etc.). He even insisted that some healings came about due to prayer and fasting. Though His methods varied, what He did appears to have been tailored to meet the needs of each individual.

In conclusion, we can truly rest secure in the fact that our God loves us, protects us, and provides for us. Again the story is told from a daily devotional:

There is a monastery in Portugal, perched high on a 3,000 foot cliff, and accessible only by a terrifying ride in a swaying basket. The basket is pulled with a single rope by several strong men, perspiring under the strain of the fully loaded basket. One American tourist who visited the site got nervous halfway up the cliff when he noticed that the rope was old and frayed. Hoping to relieve his fear he asked, “How often do you change the rope?” The monk in charge replied, “Whenever it breaks!”

Thank God our God is more proactive than that group of monks!

Let us believe in what the psalmist asserts (125:1-2): Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be shaken but endures forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore. Jesus Christ is our safety net. Jesus Christ—not our bank accounts, our human contacts, our personal power, our intellect, our degrees, our influence, or safety features like security systems, guns, or non-frayed ropes–provides our true security. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams