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

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Good Friday Message

Pastor Sherry’s message for April 15, 2022.

Scriptures: Isa 52:13-53:12; Ps 22; Heb 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

Our Scripture passages today are all very solemn, fitting this day we remember the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ, on the Cross. The Passion narrative according to John takes us through Jesus’s “kangaroo trials” to His crucifixion.

First, He is arrested. He had made Himself disappear suddenly, in the past, when He did not intend to be captured. In Nazareth, after He had read the passage from Isaiah (61:1-2) that contains the job description of the Messiah and said Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing, His hometown friends tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:29-30). However, He walked through the midst of them and vanished. This time, though, He chose to remain and to face what was coming.

Did you notice that those who came to arrest Him fell back when He identified Himself as Jesus of Nazareth (v.6)? He seemed firmly in control as He calmly surrendered. They had sent a group of some 500 men to capture Him, armed with clubs and weapons, but He wouldn’t allow a fight to ensue. He tells them to let His disciples go. Luke tells us He even healed Malchus’ ear after Peter had cut it off (Luke 22:50-51). This should have made some impression on those who came to arrest Him. Surely they might have wondered if He were not someone special.

From the garden, they take him to the palace of Annas, the former high priest. Out of favor with the Romans, Annas was still the religious power broker of Jerusalem. Biblical scholars say he was both brilliant and satanic. Many credit him with this plan to eliminate Jesus; they had just awaited the “right time” and a Judas to appear. So they arrest Him under the cover of night, when all those who loved and believed in Jesus would be at home.

Jesus challenges Anna’s court honestly, confronting the guy who hit Him (v.23) If I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike Me? Jesus, again calmly but firmly, reminds them they are out of line: by Jewish law,

1.) No court trial could begin at night/be held at night;

2.) No one could strike a person on trial without a verdict;

3.) Furthermore, Jewish Law prohibited sentencing a man on the day he was brought to trial.

But this trial at Annas’s was a mockery of justice.

Annas then sends Him to Caiaphas, the Roman’s choice for “high priest,” as well as Annas’s son-in-law (a 1st century example of nepotism). John reminds us that earlier (John 11:50), Caiaphas had said to the Sanhedrin You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. Caiaphas did not realize at the time that he was speaking prophetically. Nevertheless, Jesus knows He is laying down His life for the sins of Israel and for us. Caiaphas and Annas both find Jesus guilty of blasphemy, because He admitted He is the Son of God. He–the Way, the Truth, and the Life– is accused of lying even though He told the truth. How ironic! They would have liked to have stoned Jesus, but the Romans forbade any nation to invoke capital punishment but them.

So Jesus is next sent to the Roman, Pontius Pilate. Pilate tries every which way to free Jesus. He knows the Jewish religious hierarchy is just jealous of Him. Even though Pilate believes Jesus is innocent, he still has Him scourged (39 lashes with a whip), hoping this will satisfy them. He offers to set Jesus free due to the Passover Holiday. He can find nothing wrong with Jesus, but hands Him over to be crucified when the Jews threaten to tell Caesar that Pilate has released a man claiming to be king of the Jews.

And so, trading the sinless Son of God for a murderous insurrectionist, the Jewish leadership have their way and Jesus is crucified. Ironically, the sign on His cross identifies Him as King of the Jews: It is written…

1.) In Hebrew—the language of religion;

2.) ,In Greek—the language of culture and education;

3.) And in Latin—the language of law and order in the Roman world.

The Jews want it adjusted, but Pilate will not bend.

Notice that John does not tell us much about the crucifixion. None of the Gospel writers do. They highlight Jesus’ dignity. They did not want us to focus on Christ’s agony. In fact, the Bible commentator J. Vernon McGee says the Father deliberately made darkness come over the land from noon until 3:00pm so watchers could not see Jesus’ intense suffering as He took on all the sin of the world, past, present, and future; and as the Father turned His back on Him. We are told that soldiers gamble over who will get His clothes. John then relates three of the 7 statements Jesus makes as He is dying:

1.) He asks John to care for His mother, Mary;

2.) He says He is thirsty;

3.) And, lastly, He asserts, It is finished [meaning the work of salvation He was sent to do]. Finally, we learn He was taken down and buried just before the Sabbath began at sundown.

To get a sense of what the crucifixion was like for Jesus, we have to turn to Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22. Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the 4th and final Suffering Servant Song, a Messianic Prophecy, often referred to as the Gospel in the Old Testament. Isaiah tells us Jesus will be raised high, lifted up (on the Cross) but also highly exalted (when it is all over). No one would think so as they observed Him carrying His Cross. He will in fact startle or surprise the whole world—even render them speechless—because it will be through the loss of all things that He gains all things.

Seven hundred years before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah accurately predicts the kind of death Jesus will endure. An ordinary man to begin with—not a Rock Star–He will be (v.3) despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…; beaten beyond recognition; pieced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted; killed in the worst possible way–like a common criminal–hung between true felons; he will die childless—“cut off,” to the Hebrews, evidence of a tragic, futile existence. People will think He got what He deserved, but He didn’t…verses 4-5 Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows….the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. In verse 9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth.

The Father will richly reward Him (verse 11) After the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life [resurrection], and be satisfied…Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong.

God intends to reward Him as though He were a king sharing in the spoils of a great victory, because He went willingly to death, and because He interceded for our sins.

Psalm 22 reveals to us Christ’s thoughts on the cross: He feels forsaken by His Father: The Father was with Him when He was arrested. The Father was with Him during His ludicrous trials. The Father was with Him when He was beaten. The Father was with Him when He was nailed to the Cross. But the Father turned His back on Him when He became sin for us, from noon until 3:00pm.

He admits to feeling like a worm. The word for worm in the Hebrew is the Coccus worm, which emitted a substance used to make red dye. This is symbolic of Jesus’ blood poured out for us. From the Cross He feels surrounded by His enemies: The soldiers are many bulls…the strong bulls of Bashon. His tormentors from the foot of the Cross—scribes, Pharisees, the hostile mob—resemble (v.13) roaring lions tearing their prey; and verse 16 dogs have surrounded Me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. Nevertheless, He trusts in the love of His Father.

Biblical Scholars tell us Jesus fulfilled 28 prophecies of the Messiah from the Cross. We can recognize them in our Psalm and Isaiah passages. The sinless Son of God laid down His life for us, paying the penalty for our sins; reconciling us to God the Father; and clothing us in His righteousness. These Sacred writings prove to us that Jesus—and only Jesus—was and is the Messiah, the Son of God. Let us ponder His sacrifice and offer Him our gratitude and love.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Resisting Temptation

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 6, 2022

Scriptures: Deut 26:1-11; Ps 91:1-16; Ro 10:8-13; Lk 4:1-13

Oscar Wilde, the Irish poet and playwright once wrote, “I can resist everything but temptation.” The story is told of a pastor who stayed in a moderately-priced Bed and Breakfast (B&B). He noticed at breakfast that the table was set with a lovely pewter salt and pepper set and with a matching pewter cream pitcher. He coveted the beautiful items before him and thought to himself how easily he could hide them away in his suitcase. He told himself the inn would hardly miss them. Then he thought some more and decided–if his theft became known–that it would…

1.) Definitely damage his Christian example to the inn-keeper,

2.) Scandalize his congregation,

3.) Form a terrible example to his children,

4.) And embarrass his wife and himself.

So he talked himself out of pilfering the items. Later, on a Sunday like today, when the Gospel centered on Jesus’ temptations, he told of his own temptation at the B&B. He wanted his congregation to know that we all–even including their pastor–could be tempted, but that the Christ-like response was to turn away from the seductions of the world, the flesh, and the devil.

A week later, a package arrived addressed to him. It contained that very set of dining accessories that he had been tempted to steal. Some kind soul in his congregation wanted him to have the pewter items he had loved at the inn, purchased them from the BNB, and sent them to him. The next Sunday he mentioned how grateful he was that someone had sent him the items from the BNB…and then went on to state that he had recently seen a new Lexus he loved (as recorded by Chuck Swindoll in The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.560).

Temptations are all around us, aren’t they? Are we like Oscar Wilde, unable to resist any? I hope not…and yet some temptations are very difficult to overcome.

Last year, on the First Sunday of Lent, I focused on how Jesus’ temptations were aimed by Satan at Jesus physically (turn stones into bread), psychologically (impress the crowd by jumping from a great height and being saved by angels), and spiritually (worship the devil, not God)—and that the evil one targets us in these ways also. This year, I want to focus on what Scripture tells us about how to overcome temptations:

1. Our Old Testament lesson, from Deuteronomy 26:1-11, focuses on our need to express our gratitude to God. In this passage, Moses was reminding the Israelites to offer to God always the first and finest of their harvest. This was a tangible means of expressing to the Lord their gratitude for all He had done for them:

a. He had fashioned them into a nation — Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were not Israelites (until God changed Jacob’s name to Israel). They were wandering Arameans (Syrians). 90 + Joseph, his wife and their 2 sons, or 94 of them sojourned in Egypt, where the Egyptians referred to them as He-bar-ew. 400 years later, they exited that country numbering 2 million Israelites.

b. He had led them out of slavery through Moses’ leadership at God’s direction.

c. He had tested and strengthened them during their wilderness wanderings.

d. And He had brought them, after 40 years, into (v.9)…a land flowing with milk and honey. As a kid, I took this literally and envisioned rapid rivers of milk and sluggish rivers of honey all over the Canaanite landscape. This phrase is metaphorical, however, meaning a peaceful, prosperous land. Cows don’t produce milk in chaotic conditions. Bees don’t settle in and manufacture honey when agitated. God was leading them to a new (to them), peaceful land where they could unpack their belongings and set down roots.

If they couldn’t think of anything to thank God for, Moses was suggesting they express gratitude to God for rescue and deliverance; for gracious provision (manna from heaven and water from rock); for His guidance and protection; for His love for them as individuals and as His chosen people.

Gratitude is a very fine place to hang our hats. To be grateful forces us to remember when God has met us and cared for us. Gratitude is also a good means of overcoming temptation. Temptation always focuses on what we do not have at the moment and creates an appetite for it. Gratitude reminds us to be content with what we have—you could say it helps settle cravings, whether physical, psychological, or spiritual.

2. Psalm 91 lays out for us beautifully how extensive is God’s protection of us. J. Vernon McGee talks about how many servicemen he knew in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam who would meditate upon and pray verses from this psalm daily—and then lived to tell their story.

Verse 3 asserts Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare [this can be any kind of trap], and from the deadly pestilence [Covid 19, poisonous gases, and other biological warfare]. Verse 5 declares You will not fear the terror of night [bombing, shelling, saboteurs] nor the arrow that flies by day [bullets or missiles]. Verse 13 proclaims You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent [any fierce enemy known for its strength/lethality]. How reassuring, how comforting to quote to self or comrades the following:

Verse 4 He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. This brings to mind how some bird mothers will cover their chicks as fire sweeps over them. The mother sacrifices her life to keep her babies alive.

Verse 7 promises ten thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. Why? The answer if found in verse 14 “Because He loves me,” says the Lord, ‘I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name.’ Here are 2 keys to God’s protection: Loving God, and having respect and reverence for, faith in His name. We can pray these same verses for the Ukrainians currently fighting to save their country. On a less drastic front, we can pray these same verses asking God to protect us from our many temptations.

3. In Romans 10:8-13, Paul is telling us that Jesus’ resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel. He points out how easy it is to be saved: Verses 9-10 avow …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. It’s not a matter of impressing God with your goodness or your ability to keep the rules. It’s not even a matter of regular church attendance or of receiving the sacraments—though both are very helpful to us. The thief on the Cross may never have attended Synagogue, nor was her probably baptized, yet Jesus told him his belief in Christ would place him in paradise that day. It’s a matter only of saying yes to Jesus: Believing He was resurrected from the dead, and inviting Him into your heart. And, if we aren’t already convinced, Paul reminds us (v.13) …for everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. As I have said here before many times, God has made it easy. It is only skeptical people who want to make it more difficult than it is.

4. Jesus’ temptation by Satan is covered in 3 of the 4 Gospels– Matthew, Mark, and Luke—who were all concerned with demonstrating Jesus’ humanity. Each gospel assures us that Jesus was tempted as we are. We are only told of 3 major temptations, but we can be confident that our Lord was constantly bombarded by the evil one for 40 days–and did not succumb.

He is our model for overcoming temptation. First, He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. Remember, He was filled with the Holy Spirit at His baptism just prior to His 40 days in the desert. We too are empowered by the Spirit. We can’t often overcome temptation just by our own will-power. When I worked as a psychologist at a residential treatment center for alcohol and drug addiction, I often told the clients that if will power were sufficient to free them, they would already be free. For many people, will-power is not enough. We need the power of God to break free. The right thing to do is often the difficult thing to do…we need God’s help to do the right thing. Who did the pastor in my opening story think reminded him of the consequences of his proposed theft? That wasn’t just his own thinking. That was the Holy Spirit bringing to his mind all of the negative consequences of his proposed theft.

Second, Jesus was committed to following the Father’s will. This is a tough one for many of us. To discover God’s will for us, we need to read the Bible often to learn God’s general will for us; and then pray and listen to learn God’s will for us in a specific situation. The Rev. Mike Flynn, a famous American faith healer, says he envisions Jesus on His heavenly throne, looks to His face, asks if he should take a certain action, and looks to see if Jesus nods “yes” or shakes His head, “no.” Then he does what he believes the Lord has told him.

Third, Jesus quoted Scripture to Satan! Jesus countered every test with a verse from Scripture. Satan can cause us—like Eve in the garden when he asked, “Did God really say…?”—to mistrust God if we do not know His Word well. The Bible teaches us to know God’s character, and to recognize His Word, so that if someone tells us something is OK to do, we can extrapolate correctly what God would want us to do or to avoid. A lot of contemporary fictional works (novels, TV shows, and movies) promote sex outside of marriage as normative and right—just as they excuse abortion and encourage curses that abuse God’s name. These are sins. But we know that while God loves the sinner, He still is the final word on what constitutes sin, and He wants us to avoid these actions/behaviors/attitudes.

I remember when I first moved to assist at a church in New Orleans in 2003. The church clerical staff was reading Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, and thought it was true. I was appalled! Brown was raised a Christian, but totally misrepresents the truth of Christ in his novel. Skillfully weaving in fact with fiction, the author claims in his novel that the Catholic Church has for centuries tried to cover up the “fact” that Jesus bore a child with Mary Magdalene. Lord have mercy! Jesus Christ was sinless! He would never had had sex with a disciple only to abandon her and the child—afterall, he made provisions for His widowed mother from the Cross. My boss and I spent time with the staff to point out to them the errors and heresy in the novel. It became clear to me then that it is difficult to discern truth from error if you don’t know Scripture.

So how might we overcome temptation? We can…

1. Express our gratitude to God for all He has done for us.

This involves being mindful of and thankful for our many blessings. Each day recently, I awake, turn on the news, and praise God that the Ukrainians have held out against a massive aggressor for another day. Pray that these brave Ukrainians might have water, heat, food, electricity, medicine, and safety—all things we take for granted.

2. Pray for the Ukrainians to be protected and pray that God would continue to protect us from the assaults of our enemies, both human and demonic.

3. Rest in the knowledge that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus.

We can also look to Jesus’ example: He was empowered by the Holy Spirit. He was obedient to God’s will. And He responded to Satan’s temptations by quoting Scripture. As we work on our spiritual inventory this Lent, let’s put into practice the strategies our God has given us to overcome temptation. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory [over temptations] through our Lord Jesus Christ!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Trouble With Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/20/22

Scriptures: Gen 45:3-15; Ps 37:1-11, 39-40; Lk 6:27-38

Corrie ten Boom was a Holocaust survivor, a Christian, and a member of the Dutch underground resistance during WWII. Scott Sauls (in his book, A Gentle Answer, Thomas Nelson, 2020, pp.19-20) tells the following story to demonstrate the trouble with forgiveness:

“After the defeat of Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II, Corrie returned to Germany to declare the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. One evening, after giving her message, she was approached by a man who identified himself as a former Nazi guard from the concentration camp at Ravensbruck, where she had been held and where her sister, Betsie, had died.

“When Corrie saw the man’s face, she recognized him as one of the most cruel and vindictive guards from the camp. He reached out his hand and said to her, “A fine message, Fraulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea! You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk. I was a guard there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, will you forgive me?” About this encounter, Corrie writes:

‘I stood there—I whose sins had again and again been forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place. Could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking? It could have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I ever had to do . . . I had to do it—I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. . . . But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently.’

“As she reached out her hand to the former guard, Corrie says that something incredible took place. She continues: ‘The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’ . . . I had never known love so intensely, as I did then. But even then, I realized it was not my love . . . It was the power of the Holy Spirit.’”

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is easy to talk about but difficult to do. It feels at the time like the emotional equivalent of having your toe-mails curled backwards.

Remember the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons by Bill Watterson? In one of them, Calvin—about 6YO–is sharing his guilt with his tiger friend, Hobbes. He admits he feels bad for calling someone named Susie names and for hurting her feelings. He says he is sorry. (Good for him!) Hobbes, a wise toy tiger, suggests Calvin apologize to Susie. After thinking it through for a moment, Calvin replies, “I keep hoping there’s a less obvious solution.” Isn’t that just the truth for most of us? We know that apologizing or asking for forgiveness is going to require that we humble ourselves and admit our fault. We also suspect that this action will be emotionally painful for us.

Jesus gives us His take on forgiveness in this famous portion of the Gospel of Luke (6:27-38). It is a continuation of the Sermon on the Plain. Jesus directs us to (v.27)love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. YIKES! This is such a tall order! Foundational to the ability to do as He directs is a willingness to forgive. Corrie ten Boom found it very difficult to extend a hand of forgiveness to the former Ravensbruck guard.

She knew she had just talked about it publically, and hated to be seen as a hypocrite—if she could not. And she wisely asked Jesus to help her. Such forgiveness is beyond our human abilities. It requires the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Additionally, in verse 29, Jesus commands us to famously “turn the other cheek.” Rev. Dr. J. Vernon McGee tells the story of an Irish prize fighter who was converted and became an itinerent pastor. “He happened to be in a new town setting up his evangelistic tent when a couple of tough thugs noticed what he was doing. Knowing nothing of his background, they made a few insulting remarks. The Irishman merely turned and looked at them. Pressing his luck, one of the bullies took a swing and struck a glancing blow on one side of the ex-boxer’s face. The former boxer shook it off and said nothing as he stuck out his jaw. The bully took another glancing blow on the other side. At that point the preacher swiftly took off his coat, rolled up his sleeves, and announced, “The Lord gave me no further instructions,” Whop! ( As related by J. Vernon McGee in Charles Swindoll’s Tale of a Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p 214.)

Clearly this is a joke as Jesus told Peter the trouble with forgiveness is that we are to forgive the same person not 7 but 77 times (Matthew 18:22). Jesus sums it up by charging us to (v.31)Do to others as you would have them do to you. We are not to seek revenge or repay evil with evil. Instead, we are called to treat everyone– even enemies– with love and mercy.

Furthermore, He exhorts us (vv.37-38)Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For, with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The story is told of the famous artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. He was painting “The Last Supper,” (in oils on a plaster wall in a convent in Milan, Italy) and had fashioned the face of Judas at the table to resemble one of his greatest detractors. Then, when he approached painting the face of Christ, he found he could not get it right. He tried and tried unsuccessfully, until he repented of how he had depicted the Judas figure. As soon as he painted over his enemy’s likeness with one more anonymous, he found he could then depict Jesus’ face.

Notice how God withheld blessing Da Vinci’s great work until the artist let go of avenging himself. The trouble with un-forgiveness is that it blocks our ability to receive God’s blessings. The “Cancel Culture” today tells us it is OK and even expected of us to get revenge. But according to Christ, we are blessed in the measure to which we bless others.

Jesus’ admonitions to forgive, not judge, and not condemn are so beautifully lived out by Old Testament Joseph (Genesis 45:3-15). Joseph is probably the most Christ-like person described in the Old Testament. Recall that his 10 brothers from another mother had sold him into slavery (he was about 17). They fully expected him to die in Egypt, as slaves were not treated well. They compounded their sin by lying to their father about Joseph’s supposed death, and causing him great grief. His grief was so profound and so agonizing that his brother Judah ended up leaving the family camp to live among Canaanites for a time.

But because of Joseph’s supernatural skill as a “seer,” he was rescued from prison by Pharaoh to interpret (see the meaning of) his ominous and perplexing dreams (by this point Joseph was 30YO). Previously, he had been able to see into the motives of his brothers, which got him sold into slavery. He had also correctly read the motives of Potipher’s wife, but received a prison sentence anyway. And, finally, his ability to see into the future of his prison roommate’s life had brought him to the attention of Pharaoh.

Now, with his brothers gathered around him in all his splendor (aged 39, having lived in Egypt for 22 years), as Vizier of Egypt, he sees as well as discerns and reveals God’s purposes in what his brothers had done to him. Prior to this passage, he has tested his felonious brothers twice to see if their character has changed at all in the 22 years since he last saw them.

It appears they have come to regret their past actions toward him, as well as the inconsolable grief they have caused their father, Jacob.

So, as per Peterson’s The Message, he tells his kin–>I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt. But don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives. There has been a famine in the land now for two years; the famine will continue for five more years—neither plowing nor harvesting. God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance. So you see, it wasn’t you who sent me here but God. He set me in place as a father to Pharaoh, put me in charge of his personal affairs, and made me ruler of all Egypt.

The trouble with forgiveness is that it is difficult for us to offer. Our sinful human nature wants us to pursue revenge. But God will bless our efforts to forgive others. Joseph’s forgiveness results in a Jew, rising to the #2 power position in all of Egypt. It fulfills the prophetic dreams he had had as a young man. In addition, God uses Joseph to save his Father, all 11 of his brothers, and his extended family (approximately 90 people in all). He also saved unnumbered thousands of Egyptians and other Gentiles.

Joseph also demonstates the truth of Psalm 37, which is “Do not fret.” No matter what our circumstances, we do not need to worry.

Verse 3 tells us to Trust in the Lord and do good. Verse 4 encourages us to delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. It took 22 years, but Joseph—despite being sold into slavery and falsely accused of rape– does not appear to have lost his trust in God.

He did not get angry with God, he forgave his brothers, and God delivered him.

I think that examples like that of Old Testament Joseph and of Corrie ten Boom validate for us that it is possible for us to forgive others and to extend love to our enemies. Even though difficult for us, we can do it with God’s help.

We want to forgive because…

1. Christ commands it of us.

2. Christ demonstrated it to us, by forgiving us through His saving death on the Cross.

Stuart Strachan Jr. relates a tale written by Ernest Hemingway in this way: “The story revolves around a father and his teenage son Paco, set in Spain. Paco was an extremely common name in the Spain of that time. With desires to become a matador and to escape his father’s control, Paco runs away to the capital (from which the title is derived) of Spain, Madrid.

His father, desperate to reconcile with his son, follows him to Madrid and puts an ad in a local newspaper with a simple phrase: “Dear Paco, meet me in front of the Madrid newspaper office tomorrow at noon. All is forgiven. I love you.” Hemingway then writes, “the next day at noon in front of the newspaper office there were 800 “Pacos” all seeking forgiveness.” The world is full of people in need of forgiveness and reconciliation. The model for such forgiveness is most profoundly found in Jesus Christ.”

3. And because God gives back to us as good as we give.

This week, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to bring to our minds those people we need to forgive. Then let us go before the throne of God and offer up our desire, our intent to forgive them. God can work with the fact that we may only want to want to forgive. Pray for those persons daily for 30 days and watch and see what our Lord does to them and to us.

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

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Changing our Lives for the Better

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 2, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 31:7-14; Ps 147:12-20; Eph 1:3-19; Jn 1:1-18

The story is told….of a guy named Bill who called his folks to wish them a Happy New Year. His dad answered the phone. Bill said, “So, dad, what’s your New Year’s Resolution for 2022?” His dad answered, “To make your mother as happy as I can each day of this new year.” When Bill’s mother got on the line, he asked her the same question: “Mom, what’s your New Year’s resolution?” His mom replied, “Why, to make sure your dad keeps his New Year’s resolution.”

An unknown wit has added, “Dear Lord, my prayer for this New Year is to develop a fat bank account and a thin body. Please don’t mix these up like You did in 2021.”

This is the time of year that we resolve to begin again to make a better person of ourselves: Perhaps we resolve to be less critical of others and more grace-filled. Perhaps we choose to tame our tempers or our frustrations with others. We may decide to count to 10, to perfect deep breathing (inhale through the nose to a count of four; hold for a count of 4; exhale from the mouth to a count of 5). It is a robust finding in both psychological and medical research that these techniques lower our blood pressure and our respirations, and help us to relax. We may try to breathe out anger, then breathe in peace. Maybe we resolve to read a Bible passage each day, or to pray more regularly. Maybe we aim to become less self-focused and more loving towards others, more Christ-like.

Whatever resolutions you have made—and I hope you have made some—our Scriptures today focus on changing our lives for the better.

A. Jeremiah 31:7-14, our Old Testament lesson, is derived from a dark time in the history of Judah/Jerusalem (around 587 BC). A wicked nonbeliever, a puppet king, Zedekiah rules. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) has already been destroyed and dispersed by the Assyrians (722 BC). As onlookers, the citizens of the Southern Kingdom have learned nothing from Israel’s example. So now King Nebuchadnezzar of the Babylonians is attacking Jerusalem. His 30 month siege resulted in horrible deprivation. Those within Jerusalem’s walls had plenty of water from a natural spring. What they began to lack, though, was food. By the time the Babylonian king broke through the city walls, some had been reduced to eating their children. Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city and the Temple, and carted off all the able-bodied to Babylon.

In the midst of this awful set of circumstances, Jeremiah is prophesying beyond this horrible time to reassure the people of God’s love. Yes, their idolatry (spiritual adultery) has brought upon them God’s just punishment. But the Lord wants them to know—that at some future date– He will gather them up from wherever they are and return them to “the Holy Land.” Furthermore, embedded in this message of comfort are indications of Jesus’ 1st and 2nd Comings. Yes, God will punish the idolaters; but because He still loves them, He will not abandon them. God says, through the prophet, (v.13) I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow

History tells us God did not give up on His Chosen People! God has not abandoned we true believers either! He sent Jesus Christ to change their lives for the better. He has sent Jesus Christ and He has changed our lives forever! Think back to when you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Haven’t you changed? I have. A show of hands in our congregation confirms that you too have changed, often radically, since being “born again” in Christ.

B. Ps 147 is a hymn of praise to God, the Creator, for His special grace extended to Israel (and by extension to us). It affirms that God controls the universe and all that is in it. Verse 2 reaffirms that the Lord loves Israel, His Chosen People. Just as in the Jeremiah passage, the psalmist prophesies that God will re-gather His people. He also states that God… heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds

A time is coming (2nd Advent of Christ) when God will again visit His people. He will then bless us with peace, plenty, and protection/safety. These actions will certainly change their lives (and ours) for the better.

C. In Ephesians 1:3-19, our New Testament lesson, Paul prays for this church out of his love for them (which he models for us). He wants the Holy Spirit to strengthen them (and us) internally, spiritually, so that they might be rooted and grounded in Christ and rooted and grounded in love. Paul wants them to be so firmly established as Christians that they never doubt God’s love for them.

Finally he prays that they (and we) might be (v.19) filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. If they—and we—are internally strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit, rooted in Christ and grounded in love, as well as filled with the fullness of God, we are going to be radically different, phenomenally better persons! And the impact we have on others will also generate positive changes in them.

D. Finally in the Gospel lesson appointed for today, John 1:1-18, the apostle John wants us to be assured that Jesus Christ was not just present at Creation, but that He spoke Creation into existence. This is why He is called “The Word,” or “the Word made flesh.” The Word spoke and creation came into being. Additionally, John wants us to know that Jesus both brings forth life and is Himself light. John admits that not everyone—then or now–will believe in Jesus, but for those of us who do, we will become/we are children of God. We will have seen God the Father in the face and in the actions of Jesus, His Son.

And, by implication, this faith of ours in Jesus will change our lives for the better.

As we say goodbye to 2021 and embark on what will unfold in 2022, let’s be intentional about changing our lives for the better.

Let’s follow the advice offered by Frances Ridley Havergal in his poem entitled “New Year’s Wishes”:

What shall I wish thee? Treasures of earth?

Songs in the springtime, pleasure and mirth?

Flowers on thy pathway, skies ever clear?

Would this insure thee a happy New Year?

What shall I wish thee? What can be found

Bringing thee sunshine all the year round?

Where is the treasure, lasting and dear,

That shall insure thee a happy New Year?

Faith that increaseth, waking in light;

Hope that aboundeth, happy and bright;

Love that is perfect, casting out fear;

These shall insure thee a happy New Year.

Peace in the Saviour, rest at His feet,

Smile on His countenance, radiant and sweet.

Joy in His presence, Christ ever near!

This will insure thee a happy New Year

In 2022, we have a new opportunity to change our lives for the better. Really, it all hinges on loving God and loving others more. I know I must sound like a broken record to you, as I say this to you repeatedly. But God is love and we worship Him, the God of love. He wants us to become more loving. By being grounded in the love of Jesus, we can change ourselves for the better; and our demonstrations of love will make a more positive impact on the people with whom we interact. If you doubt your ability to do this, remember, I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me. Amen!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Epiphany

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

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

The Law of Sowing and Reaping

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/26/2021,

Scriptures: Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22; Ps 124; Jas 5:13-20; Mk 9:38-50

For several weeks we have examined the choice between living righteously for God and living foolishly for self. The story is told of two missionaries to a town called Efulan, in Cameroon, Africa, who became ill and had to return home to the US. They felt bad about abandoning their work and wondered what would become of the 6 men they had been able to convert to Christ. Two years later, they were able to return and were shocked to discover:

1. The 6 Jesus-followers had met weekly for prayer and Bible study;

2. They had witnessed to others about Jesus, to the extent that they became known as “the Jesus men.”

3. 25 years later, that church had grown from 6 men to 7000! Additionally, 3 indigenous ministers had been raised up and trained. And at a special service, 24 native elders helped distribute communion to the 7000 members.

It sounds shocking, I’m sure, that so much growth could take place without the 2 missionaries being there to mentor and teach. I had a similar lesson myself, about 30 years ago. Before going to seminary, I left a group counseling practice to set up an office on my own. It was a true financial risk, one I did not share with my clients. Instead, I closed down for a week to paint and decorate my new space, then launched into private practice. All of my clients moved with me, I was gratified to learn. What I had not expected, however, was how much they would grow and change without me. Each one had made some sort of break-through while I had been out of pocket. It was such a lesson in humility for me. As I discussed it with the Lord, I apologized to Him for thinking He needed me to heal my clients. I learned that week that He did the healing and I was just an instrument He could use or do without.

Those two unnamed missionaries lived for God. They worked faithfully in the mission-field of Cameroon. God grew their initial labor into a church in their absence. Like me, they had sown to the good, and God multiplied and blessed their efforts (as He did mine).

Paul states for us “The Law of Sowing and Reaping” in Galations 6:7-8–Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. This is not one of our Scripture passages appointed for today, but it does present the foundational theme common to them.

Once again, we are presented with the choice: if we do ungodly things, they tend to boomerang back on us; whereas, if we do good things—like the missionaries—blessings come back to us.

A. Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22 explains why the Jews celebrate the feast of Purim. It is meant for them to express their gratitude for God’s divine deliverance. Queen Esther, an undercover Jewish woman, was chosen by King Xerxes of Persia to become his new wife/queen. (He had divorced the beautiful Vasti for having disobeyed s summons.) Now Haman, the King’s “Prime Minister,” hated the Jews–especially Esther’s Uncle Mordecai, a palace scribe. Haman sneakily encourages the King to pass an edict that would allow citizens of his entire empire to attack and kill Jews, all over his empire, on a certain, future date. Not realizing his queen was a Jewess, Xerxes signs the edict into law. Once he did so, according to Persian custom, his edict could not be rescinded.

Uncle Mordecai gets a message to Esther encouraging her to ask her husband to overrule his original edict with another which would allow Jews to defend themselves. Our passage today divulges her strategy: She invites the King and Haman to two banquets. During the first, she does not make her request. Xerxes is so pleased—and Haman is so flattered—that the King is willing to give her up to half his extensive kingdom. But, having primed the pump, she simply invites the two men back to a second banquet.

At the second, she reveals that she is Jewish and asks that the king spare her people who are set to be annihilated (by his own order). The King has a short memory. He fails to realize he signed a death warrant for all the Jews in Persia. Until Esther confronts Haman, Xerxes also fails to remember that Haman had initiated the idea. The King is furious over his dilemma and “takes 5” to mull over a response. In his absence, Haman appears to attack the Queen as she is reclining on her eating couch. Perhaps he is fearful and enraged, but maybe he is frantically entreating her forgiveness and mercy. Whatever Haman’s motives, Xerxes returns, and believes Haman intends to rape his wife in the king’s own palace. Ironically, Haman is sentenced to death—for abusing the queen–on the very gallows he had erected to hang Uncle Mordecai!

I think all of us would agree this is a dramatic example of the boomerang effect of the Law of Sowing and Reaping. There are other scriptural examples, as well: Old Testament Jacob tricked his blind father, Isaac; later Jacob’s 10 sons tricked him into believing his favorite son, Joseph, was dead. Additionally, Jacob cheated his brother, just as Uncle Laban later cheated him, again and again. Paul appears to have authorized the stoning of the first Christian martyr, Stephen; later, after his conversion, Paul himself is stoned, almost to death, on his 1st missionary journey. If we choose to do the devil’s work, the same kind of evil often later boomerangs back to us.

B. Psalm 124, on the other hand, recounts what happens to those who choose to love God—He protects them! King David recalls how God rescued the Israelites time and again. He is quick to give God the glory in his famous last line: Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. When we choose to honor God, to trust in God, He blesses us—a positive boomerang.

C. In James 5:13-20, the practical disciple reiterates King David’s point. God is trustworthy and takes care of us. If we love and serve Him, He answers our prayers and rescues us from trouble; He desires to heal us and to forgive us when we ask; and He delights in our praise. James gives us the example of Elijah whose God-directed prayers prevented rain in Israel for 3.5 years. Then, when again directed by God, his prayers brought on the rain. James reminds us in verse 16b—The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

There we have it: Righteous living results in prayers that are effective. What a fantastic positive boomerang! Incidentally, when I discover God withholding an answer to prayer I have repeatedly placed before Him, I have to consider what I may have done that might pose a sin-based-impediment to His taking action. Many of us get angry when God appears not to answer our prayers. Instead of being angry with Him, we might be better off examining our own hearts. It is, afterall, the prayers of a righteous person that are powerful and effective.

D. In Mark 9:38-50, Jesus spells out both a positive and a negative result of the Law of Sowing and Reaping. In verses 39-41, Jesus implies that blessings come to those who do miracles and provide physical refreshment to others in Jesus’ name. In other words, good deeds result in blessings. Conversely, in verses 42-48, Jesus states what happens to those who cause children (or “little ones”, perhaps “innocent ones”) to sin—it would be better for [them] to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around [their] neck[s]. It brings to mind pedophiles, doesn’t it? And people like sex traffickers and the Jeffrey Epstein’s and Harvey Weinstein’s of the world. There may be a special level of hell reserved for those folks. Again, if we perpetrate evil, it will boomerang back on us.

Jesus then goes on to exaggerate for effect. He says to cut off or gouge out any body part that leads us to sin. We are not meant to take this literally, blinding or mutilating ourselves. Instead, we want to make every effort to not cooperate with the evil one by sinning, especially in a habitual way. We want to remain committed to Christ and to ask His forgiveness when we stray.

Someone has composed a poem which summarizes the positive side of the Law of Sowing and reaping:

Life’s Mirror

There are loyal hearts, there are spirits brave;
There are souls that are pure and true;
Then give to others the best you have,
And the best will come back to you.

Give love, and love to your life will flow,
A strength in your inmost need;
Have faith, and other hearts will show
Their faith in your word and deed.

Give truth, and your gifts will be paid in kind,
And honor will honor meet;
And a kindly smile will surely find,
A smile that is just as sweet.

Give a helping hand to those in need,
And a harvest of golden grain
You’ll reap some day from the love-sown seed,
If you sowed in the Master’s Name.

For life is the mirror of king and slave—
‘Tis just what we are and do;
Then give to others the best you have,
And the best will come back to you.

This week, let’s try to be aware of which direction we are sowing toward. The Law of Sowing and Reaping is, like King Xerses’ edicts, immutable. Once our actions have put evil into play, we run the dire risk of having it return to us. However, on the other hand, when we put blessings into play, blessings come back to us. With a thought toward reaping God’s best, let’s be aware of doing our best toward Him and others. Amen! May it be so!

© 2021 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Edifying Speech

Scriptures: Prov 1:20-33l Ps 19; Jas 3:1-12; Mk 8:27-38

Pastor Sherry’s message for 9/12/2021

A wife at a party was overheard saying the following (As reported by Karen Ehman, Keep It Shut, 2015, p. 45, published by Zondervan):

My husband says my ability to talk is what first attracted him to me. He loved how I could work a room, making the shy ones feel included. I could converse with the college president and yuck it up with the grocery store bag boy all in the same afternoon. Yep. My college sweetheart loved how I could talk. So this rather shy guy bought a ring, slipped it on my finger, grabbed my hand, and off we proceeded down the church aisle and into marital bliss.

My proficiency at all things linguistic hadn’t bothered him before. In fact, he had felt it was an asset. I talked and talked. He smiled and listened. And it really didn’t seem to bother him. Then, about three days into our honeymoon, he had this thought: “When is she ever gonna shut up?” In fact, if I make it to heaven before he does, he’s decided just what should go on my tombstone: A period. Ask him why, and he’ll declare, “Well, she’ll finally be done yacking!” (He insists my language has no periods — just commas, colons, and semicolons — because there’s always more to come!)

Isn’t it interesting how the trait we most appreciated about our spouse, before we married, becomes the one that most drives us nuts after we say, “I do.”?

Be that as it may, have you noticed that our lessons lately have had a very practical bent?

1. 5 weeks ago, just as school was starting, they had to do with acquiring spiritual wisdom.

2. 4 weeks ago, St. Paul schooled us in the wisdom of realizing we are in a spiritual battle that requires us to put on spiritual armor and to take up our spiritual weapons: prayer and Scripture.

3. Next we examined the need for us to persevere in the faith so carefully handed down to us by generations of Christ-followers/true believers.

4. And last week, we acknowledged the source of our real security, the Lord.

5. This week, our Scriptures are speaking loudly to us about the wisdom involved in watching our tongues.

The wife in my illustration seems oblivious to the fact that it is possible to talk too much. I have known people like that, haven’t you? They hardly take a breath and leave no space for you to responds. Yet, even if you and I don’t talk too much, we can and do err by sometimes saying the wrong thing.

Let’s look at how our Bible passages today address issues of speech:

A. Proverbs 1:20-33 warns us against rejecting wisdom. The choice these verses set out for us is one we’ve seen before: will we seek wisdom or folly? My son had an older, single roommate once who declared he’d had it with dating and that dating was “foolishness, just a bunch of foolishness.”

While you and I may disagree with his conclusion about dating, we can certainly sympathize with his frustration. But the point is that we can often recognize foolish behavior when we see it in others or when we are guilty of it ourselves. In these proverbs, wisdom is personified, viewed as a person, not just a concept.

In verse 22, she mocks those who persist in foolishness: How long will you simple ones [The Hebrew here is “simpletons”] love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? YIKES! This is a flat out condemnation of foolishness.

We have noted the boomerang effect a number of times in Scripture (we reap what we sow). In verse 25, the consequences of choosing to be foolish are dire—[Wisdom is saying,]—since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke, I in turn will laugh at your disaster; I will mock when calamity overtakes you…. In other words, we are free to choose to act foolishly, but there is a price to pay, verse 31–they [the foolish] will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. But if we choose wisdom, verse 33–…whoever listens to me [the voice of wisdom] will live in safety and be at ease without fear of harm.

So what does this have to do with our talk? It implies, by extension, that we need to be wise about what we choose to say. Someone has claimed that trying to take back something unwise we once said is like trying to put feathers back on a plucked bird, or toothpaste back into the tube. Once we’ve spoken something, we can’t take it back. The cancel-culture has been nailing people for things they said way back in their past, assuming they never changed in the intervening years. Thank God our God is willing to forgive us—if we ask Him– for things we said in the past that were less than wise.

B. Psalm 19 outlines three reasons we should revere God:

1. He is Elohim, the Mighty Ones who planned and brought into being all of creation (Notice the plural, Trinitarian reference). Verse 1 reminds us so beautifully—The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands. God formed and fashioned the stars, the moon, and the sun. Daily they provide evidence that God exists. The wise person realizes this while the fool denies it.

2. Secondly, Jehovah, our Rock and our Redeemer, gave us His commandments, to guide us in the wise way to live. While we often end up breaking them and needing His forgiveness, nevertheless God’s Law convicts us of sin, and it is trustworthy and unchanging, true, uplifting, cleansing, and right.

3. Third, we should worship and praise God because of Jesus’ redeeming work on our behalf.

When we consider the words that come out of our mouths, we need to bear in mind that God hears it all, from all of us. Is what we say godly? Is it edifying? Is it uplifting?

C. In James 3:1-12, Jesus’ brother really takes us to task about what comes out of our mouths. First he uses several metaphors to explain how something so small—our tongue—can and does have such a huge effect:

Our tongue is like the bit on a horse, a small appliance of metal that controls a thousand pound animal. Or it’s like the relatively small rudder of a ship that directs the huge vessel.

Then he goes on to state that our tongues can have the destructive power of a forest fire. Verses 7-8–All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. Wow, James, how do you really feel about our tongues?

He sounds overcome and defeated, doesn’t he? Even so, it is as though he has circled back to our Proverbs today: We have a choice between wisdom and folly. We have the capability to praise God or to curse folks made in His image. But we really shouldn’t allow two such opposite sentiments to come out of our mouths. Foolish, destructive speech is critical, condemning, and gossipy. My kids once asked why a relative of theirs was so negative about others all the time. Trying to be truthful without condemnation, I told them that some folks believe the only way to rise up in this world is by stepping on the reputations of others. By contrast, speech that pleases God is uplifting, true, and edifying.

D. Finally, Jesus, in our Gospel lesson (Mark 8:27-38), both praises and rebukes Peter for what he says. First He praises Peter because, as spokesman for the 12, he states that Jesus is the Messiah, (in the Greek, this is His title, the Christ). They are now trekking up to Caesarea Philippi, North of Galilee (present day Jordan). It is about 6 months before His crucifixion. Perhaps as they are walking along, Jesus wants to know who they have come to believe He is. But when He goes on to state what will happen to Him as Messiah, Peter rebukes Him—No, no, that cannot be! Peter has just proclaimed Jesus is God; but when he hears Jesus say something he cannot abide, Peter tries to change God’s mind. How absurd! As if a person can tell God what He can and cannot do. If we could, then we would be God instead of God. However, Jesus recognizes that Peter’s words are actually inspired by the willfulness of the evil one. Remember, Satan majors in rebellion against the plans and the will of God. Just as the evil one can and did manipulate Peter—a man who spent 3 years with Jesus—so too can he tempt us to say things we later regret.

This week, let’s try to follow the example of Johnathan Edwards, the colonial preacher and theologian from the 1700’s who wrote several resolutions for himself. We tend to remember only his sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” We often forget that his church youth group inspired the first great revival in America and that he was noted for his sincerity and his passion that people would come to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Apparently, he once wrote out a number of resolutions for himself concerning his speech:

31. Resolved, Never to say anything at all against any body, but when it is perfectly agreeable to the highest degree of Christian honor, and of love to mankind, agreeable to the lowest humility, and sense of my own faults and failings, and agreeable to the golden rule; often, when I have said anything against any one, to bring it to, and try it strictly by, the test of this Resolution.

34. Resolved, In narrations never to speak anything but the pure and simple verity [truth].

36. Resolved, Never to speak evil of any, except I have some particular good call to it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence in all that I speak.

This week, and always, let’s be conscious of what we say to and about others. Remember, God is listening. Kids are listening.

Non-believers are listening. As a contemporary sign I once saw in Hobby Lobby says, “Grace and mercy spoken here.” Amen! May that be our goal!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Keeping the Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 29, 2021

Scriptures: Song of Songs 2:8-13; Ps 15; Jas 1:17-27; Mk 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Recently I read Michael Youssef’s book, Saving Christianity (published in 2020). In it, he describes the factors that have led to a serious decline in membership and Sunday attendance in mainline Christian churches such as ours. Youssef is a naturalized US citizen from Egypt. He is the lead pastor of the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta, Georgia (the Buckhead neighborhood). He left a mainline denomination to found his church in 1987. He departed because his superior (a Bishop or Superintendent, unnamed in his book) had rejected the Biblically-faithful notion that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father. Like too many mainline church leaders, that fellow (Youssef’s boss) did not believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God. He also didn’t believe in salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and only Jesus Christ. (I have served under several such leaders. Like Youssef, I had to walk away from their apostasy.) This leader mocked Youssef as he withdrew to plant the Church of the Apostles. Youssef started with fewer than 40 souls. But, through faithful Biblical preaching and teaching–and a vigorous, Christ-centered outreach to the surrounding community–His church has now grown to over 3000 members.

He believes–and I agree—that we cannot cherry-pick the Scriptures, taking in what we agree with and rejecting what we disagree with. There is no integrity to that. Just as Jesus is either God or a madman–but not simply a moral leader or a good teacher–there is also just one choice with the Bible. Either we accept the Bible as God’s word written, in its entirety, or we reject it.

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we are told in 2 Peter 2:1-2–But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Even as far back as the first century, the Church was infiltrated by heretics who sought to either alter or water down the faith. Here Peter is warning the infant church to be wary of those who preach or teach false doctrines. Similarly, Jude, Jesus’ brother, warned in Jude 3-4–I…urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints. For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ as our only sovereign and Lord. The apostle John cautioned, in Revelation 22:18-19–And I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city which are described in this book. Clearly, we are not to add verses or subtract verses from the Bible. As I have urged before, if we don’t understand a Scripture passage, or don’t like it, we are to trust in God’s purposes for us, study the opinions of reliable Bible scholarly and commentators, and patiently wait upon the Holy Spirit to make its meaning clear. As Paul counsels Timothy, (2 Timothy 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Our passages assigned for today substantiate this approach. They also demonstrate to us the wisdom of Scripture:

A. Song of Songs 2:8-13–reaffirms to us that Jesus loves us.

This book is God’s endorsement for love and sensuality in the marital context. Like the “Beloved,” the newlywed wife depicted here, we are to eagerly anticipate being reunited with Christ. We don’t know where her groom had disappeared to, whether to military deployment, a business trip, or hospitalization, but she waits to hear his voice alerting her to his return. Similarly, Jesus is now physically separated from us, as He sits at the right hand of God the Father in heaven. But we can and do hear the Bridegroom’s or Jesus’ voice through God’s Word. We who believe in Jesus as our Savior, await his call to us—either from the grave or at the rapture—Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with Me. Our Lord wants us to dwell with Him in heaven.

B. Psalm 15–is a description of those who will dwell with God.

Verse 1 asks the question, Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill? The remainder of the psalm provides the answer:

1. Those who are upright/righteous;

2. Those who speak truth;

3. Those who do not slander others or hold grudges;

4. Those who despise vile actions but honor righteous behavior;

5. Those who keep their oaths, even when it costs them;

6. Those who make an honest living and never accept a bribe.

The psalmist, King David, predates Jesus but nevertheless describes Christ’s character. We are to be like Jesus. Those who revere the Lord and who order their lives in accordance to His will can look forward to living with Jesus in heaven. Those who love Him and act like Him will dwell with God.

C. In our Gospel lesson (Mark 7:1—8, 14-15, 21-23), Jesus distinguishes between outward ritual (religion by rote) and heart attitudes. The Pharisees have come to listen but also to find fault. They fault Jesus because His disciples are not following one of their traditions, hand-washing before meals. This practice is wise, a fact which has certainly been reemphasized in this era of Covid. But in the arid Ancient Near East, water was hard to come by. However wise it is for one to wash hands before eating, Jesus reminded them that it is not mandated by Scripture.

Jesus then takes them to task and calls them hypocrites! He points out that they adhere to man-made rules but neglect their relationships with God and their family members. Jesus then goes on to list the sins that come from a wrong heart-attitude toward God and our relatives and neighbors:

1. Sexual immorality;

2. Theft;

3. Adultery;

4. Greed;

5. Malice;

6. Deceit;

7. Lewdness;

8. Envy;

9. Slander;

10. Arrogance and folly.

Notice, these behaviors and attitudes are nearly the opposite of those recommended by our psalmist, David. Jesus is saying, essentially, it’s not rule-keeping or going through the “holiness motions” that allows us to dwell with God, but rather the condition of our heart. Do we love Jesus? Do we ask the Holy Spirit to help us to think and to live like Jesus? Are we surrendered and obedient to the will of God?

D. Finally, James, the brother of Christ–ever offering us practical advice—reminds us in James 1:17-27–(verse 17)—Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

In other words, all good things come from God, who desires to bless us.

We can trust in Him because, unlike humans, He is always faithful and true.

James continues in verse 19–My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry. He advises us to listen to God and others carefully. Truly hear someone out before composing a rebuttal or a come-back in your mind. Then take time to consider your response before speaking. We all know that once words are spoken, they are difficult to take back. Be careful about becoming angry, and careful with your anger expressions. It is not a sin to become angry, but so often it is what we do with our anger that offends God.

In verse 22 James admonishes us—Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says! We are not to be consumers of church services. We are to use what we learn on Sundays to guide the way we operate in our world. We need to “walk the walk.” If a nonbeliever were watching us, would they see enough evidence to assume we are followers of Jesus Christ?

Our passages today confirm for us that (1) Jesus loves us.

(2) We can believe that if we love Jesus, and behave like Him toward God and others, we will join Him in heaven. (3) Christ-like heart attitudes matter more to God than empty ritual and non-biblical tradition. (4) Our faith is evidenced in action.

Youssef believes the broader Christian Church is being decimated by “enemies from within,” by apostasy (false doctrines), and by our lack of respect for the Word of God. Our foes are those who call themselves Christians while divorcing themselves from the Biblical faith.

These folks are being deceived by the evil one (Remember from last week that we are in a spiritual battle). Youssef writes (p.93), If you abandon the foundation of Christianity—the Scriptures and the atoning death and resurrection of Christ—and replace the Christian gospel with the secular left agenda of Darwinism, climate change, identity politics, victim oppression politics, LGBTQ politics, and on and on, you will become the darling of the media and the leftist political establishment. You’ll be interviewed on CNN, MSNBC, and NPR, and you’ll write for the “Washington Post” and “New York Times,” and you’ll be praised by the “Daily Beast” and “Huffington Post.” You can call yourself a “person of good news,” but it won’t be the Good News of salvation by grace through faith in Christ.

NO Sir, our hope is set on nothing less than Jesus and His righteousness! It is not politically correct these days to be a faith-filled, Bible-believing follower of Jesus Christ (Remember, we are in a spiritual battle). But I would rather be out of step with the power-elites, the politically correct, and all the woke folks, than turn my back on Jesus Christ as revealed to us in Scripture, and as faithfully passed remembered and passed on to us by generation after generation of believers in the apostolic faith.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams