Don’t Be A Fool!

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 11, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 4:11-12, 22-28; Ps 14, 1 Tim 2:12-17; Lk 15:1-10

The first verse of our Psalm appointed for today says The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Consider the following story:

An atheist was walking through the woods, admiring all the “accidents” that evolution had created. “What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals!” he said to himself. As he was walking alongside the river, he heard a rustling in the bushes behind him. Turning to look, he saw a 7-foot grizzly bear charging towards him. He ran away as fast as he could up the path. He looked over his shoulder and saw the grizzly was closing in. Somehow he ran even faster, so scared that tears came to his eyes. He looked again, and the bear was even closer. His heart was pounding, and he tried to run faster. He tripped and fell to the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up, but the bear was right over him, reaching for him with its left paw and raising its right paw to strike him.

At that instant the atheist cried, “Oh God help!” Time stopped. The bear froze. The forest was silent. Even the river stopped moving. As a bright light shone upon the man, a voice came out of the sky, “You deny My existence for all these years, teach others that I don’t exist, and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect Me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist looked directly into the light and said, “I would feel like a hypocrite to become a Christian after all these years, but perhaps you could make the bear a Christian?”

“Very well,” said the voice.

The light went out. The river ran. The sounds of the forest resumed. Then the bear dropped his right paw, brought both paws together, bowed its head, and spoke: “Lord, for this food which I am about to receive, I am truly thankful.”

(The source of this story is unknown.)

The Hebrew word for fool is nabal. Nabal is variously translated as madman; crazy; lacking in sense. Although our Lord Jesus told us not to call any man a fool, we can probably think of several serving in public office today. Perhaps you remember an Old Testament character from 1 Samuel 25 named Nabal. During the days when King Saul was chasing David and his men around the wilderness, trying to kill him, this man both insulted and denied food and water to David and his 400 men– even after they had protected his sheep and his fields. Last week we talked about “counting the cost.” This man foolishly did not anticipate what his contempt for David might have earned him. David was God’s anointed. Nabal, the fool, died of a massive stroke 10 days later.

The point is that God says those who do not believe in Him—we call them atheists–are fools. The guy in the bear story was a fool. Nabal was aptly named as he too was a fool. Obviously, we don’t want to be fools like those who deny God’s existence. You here in this congregation are all believers and thus are not fools. So why emphasize this point? Did you know that Karl Marx was an atheist and that Communism is built on a rejection of God. There are forces afoot in our culture today trying to drive us into Communism. This is not a direction a wise Christian can tolerate and about which we cannot remain silent.

Two of our Scripture passages today give us God’s perspective on unbelief or atheism:

A. The prophet Jeremiah speaks for God in Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28. In verses 11-12, he says the Lord is bringing judgment against Judah, the Southern Kingdom. God’s people there have run out of second, third, fourth, and tenth chances. They had the example of what happened to the Northern Kingdom in 722BC. God has sent them prophet after prophet to warn them. By Jeremiah’s time, the Lord is fed up with their casual and contemptuous treatment of Him. If they do still worship Him, their worship is half-hearted. They respond to God with rote, joyless ritual, rather than with hearts that love and praise Him. Most, however—just like in America today—no longer believe in God and no longer worship Him. The Sabbath is just a day like any other. They don’t know Scripture (Do you notice how often nonbelievers quote Scripture and quote it out of context? They don’t understand it because they have never studied it.) They don’t see the need for a personal relationship with the Lord; thus, they don’t develop one.

Therefore, in verse 22, God says of them My people are fools; they do not know Me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil; they know not how to do good. Every week it seems, conservative newscasters ask why our culture has gotten so corrupt, cruel, and violent. People with no knowledge of our God do not realize that it is Judeo-Christian values that have guided ethical and compassionate behavior for centuries. But many modern parents are not teaching their children about the Lord. Someone has said, “God has no grandchildren.” Each generation must teach the one following it. We don’t enter heaven because our grandparents were vital believers. Since teaching then next generation about Jesus has been neglected or overlooked, we in America have now become like the Israelites were at the death of Joshua (Judges 2:10-12)—After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers [the folks who entered the Promised Land with Joshua], another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They provoked the Lord to anger. If we don’t choose to worship the Lord, we will put something in His place: wealth, power, sexuality, addictions. We have kicked Jesus out of our schools, our courts, and our public life. And we wonder why there is so much lawlessness and evil stomping around our land today.

Consider this true story: Charles Bradlaugh was an outstanding atheist in England. Down in one of the slums of London was a [Methodist] minister by the name of Hugh Price Hughes [1847 -1902]. All London was aware of miracles of grace accomplished at his mission.

Charles Bradlaugh challenged Mr. Hughes to debate with him the validity of the claims of Christianity. London was greatly interested. What would Mr. Hughes do? He immediately accepted the challenge and in doing so added one of his own.

Hughes said, “I propose to you that we each bring some concrete evidences of the validity of our beliefs in the form of men and women who have been redeemed from the lives of sin and shame by the influence of our teaching. I will bring 100 such men and women, and I challenge you to do the same.

“If you cannot bring 100, Mr. Bradlaugh, to match my 100, I will be satisfied if you will bring 50 men and women who will stand and testify that they have been lifted up from lives of shame by the influence of your teachings. If you cannot bring 50, then bring 20 people who will say, as my 100 will, that they have a great joy in a life of self-respect as a result of your atheistic teachings. If you cannot bring 20, I will be satisfied if you bring 10.

“Nay, Mr. Bradlaugh, I challenge you to bring one, just one man or woman who will make such a testimony regarding the uplifting of your atheistic teachings.”

Again London was stirred. What would Mr. Bradlaugh do? In answer, Charles Bradlaugh, with great discomfiture and chagrin, publicly withdrew his challenge for the debate.

(Source: Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Bible Communications, 1996, Paul Lee Tan)

That’s right! Atheism does not uplift anyone! Instead, it robs folks of hope, peace, and joy. It encourages exactly the kind of self-centered, morally bankrupt and violent behaviors we are seeing more and more of today.

In verses 23-28, the prophet predicts what the land of the Israelites will look like after the Babylonians have besieged and overcome them. Things will appear to be a reverse of God’s acts of creation—(v.23) …formless and empty. There will be no people, as all will have died or been carted away into slavery. There will be no fruitful land, but only desert. And, by this point, God is very determined on this punishment for unbelief (v.28b) I have decided and will not turn back.

This passage and what subsequently happened to Judah in 587 BC demonstrate to us that there are limits to God’s patience.

B. King David speaks for God in Psalm 14. Read 1st and 2nd Samuel and you will find that David experienced humankind’s depravity on a number of occasions. He describes the fools who do not believe in God as follows: (v.1b) They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. He would have agreed with Jeremiah, who came after him. Much later, Paul, will quote David in Romans 3:12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. We see this today with godless men and women in control of our federal, state and even local government offices. As an example, consider the civil servant in Las Vegas this week who stabbed to death an investigative journalist who had uncovered and reported the man’s dishonesty and fraudulent practices. Corruption, wickedness, and just plain lack of good sense abounds at the highest levels in Washington, D.C. The Israelites have nothing on us—in fact, with social media, TV, and the internet, we have probably out-sinned them (certainly by greater numbers!).

I think we can safely conclude that God is as disappointed in us as He was with them. If we want to see a return to peace in our streets, a lowered crime rate, and more civil behavior, we need to be praying for a national return to Christ. Jesus Christ is the antidote/the corrective vaccine to all of the negative trends in our culture today. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

On this 21st anniversary of 9/11, we need to keep on praying for our country…not just that we will be safe from further terrorist attacks; but that we will relearn—or learn for the 1st time—Christian values and practice Christian virtues. And that we will vote for candidates in 2022 and 2024 who love God and love our country. May God bless us and may God bless America!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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True Disciples

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 4, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 18:1-11; Ps 139:1-18; Philemon 1-21; Lk 14:25-33

Back in the 1980’s, when I was first coming into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I looked to a set of commentaries to help me understand the New Testament. I had been asked to lead a women’s Bible Study and knew I needed help with understanding the difficult passages. My parish priest (I was an Episcopalian at the time) suggested I consult William Barclay’s commentaries. Rev. Dr. William Barkley, was a minister in the Church of Scotland and lived from 1907-1978. At that time, his volumes were paperback books with distinctive blue, green, or pink covers, each one explaining a given book of the Bible. Since I knew next to nothing—and my church had the whole set—I was grateful to delve into them.

Over time, however—and as my faith deepened—I began to see some problems. First, Barclay didn’t believe in the miracles of Jesus and, as a student of the Enlightenment, attempted to explain them away with science. In my heart of hearts, I knew this couldn’t be. The Gospel of Mark certifies that Jesus had power over nature, including the laws of nature; the supernatural, including angels and demons; and both physical illness and mental infirmity. Even more impressive, He had the authority to forgive sins and to bring dead people back to life. I loved Barclay’s wisdom and knowledge, but I began to believe his concept of God was too limited. I knew then (and now) that I wanted a God who is powerful enough to alter the very laws of nature that He has put into place. I wanted a God who can truly do …immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20)—and we have Him!

Secondly, I also discovered Barclay must have been what is known as a dispensationalist. These folks believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for a specific era, which ended before our time; that is, the miraculous works Jesus and the apostles did (healing, raising people from the dead, etc.) ended upon their deaths. But I have witnessed and experienced miracles of healing and perhaps you have too—these gifts are not passé.

Nevertheless, I would never suggest we dismiss all that Barclay had to say. Among many wise things he wrote, I believe his distinction between being a disciple and a follower of Christ is both profound and accurate:

It is possible to be a follower of Jesus without being a disciple: to be a camp follower without being a soldier of the king; to be a hanger-on in some great work without pulling one’s weight. Once someone was talking to a great scholar about a younger man. He said, ‘So and so tells me that he was one of your students.’ The teacher answered devastatingly, ‘He may have attended my lectures, but he was not one of my students.’ There is a world of difference between attending lectures and being a student. It is one of the supreme handicaps of the Church that in the Church there are so many distant followers of Jesus and so few real disciples.

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.162.)

I believe this is the consistent message of our Scripture passages today. All four lessons assigned for today are variations on a common theme: True Discipleship.

A. Our OT lesson is from Jeremiah (18:1-11). God has the prophet draw Judah’s attention to the work of a potter. Then, as now, potters worked moist clay on a wheel. As the wheel spun, the potter would use his hands to shape the clay into a bowl or pot to then be fired/hardened in a kiln. The image of a potter with wet clay is a metaphor for God’s relationship with them then and with us now. If the clay (us) is malleable, then the potter (God) can mold and shape according to His plan.

The power of the Potter is absolute! He has a plan/purpose as He works in and with us. Interestingly, He can rework pots or vessels that turn out wrong or are flawed. If we allow Him to do so, He has the power to shape us into vessels of honor. What a wonderful thought! But, this requires us to be totally cooperative and totally committed. Christ’s disciples say “yes” to this process. Barclay would suggest that distant Christ-followers, however, tend to walk their own way, paying little attention to what Jesus might desire of them daily.

A true disciple, then seeks out and cooperates with the will of our Potter.

B. Psalm 139:1-18 gives us a perfect rationale for surrendering our will to that of our Lord. In verses 1-4 He has searched us and He knows us. He knows who we are. He knows our thoughts. He knows what we intend to say before we say it. He knows our behavior too—what we are up to. Additionally, in verses 5-11, we learn there is nowhere that we can run to escape Him or His knowledge of us. He is omniscient, and also omnipresent. Where-ever we may go, He will be there too. He is the “with us” God, Immanuel. And, in verses 13-16, the psalmist declares: He made us (knit me [us] together in my [our] mother’s womb). He thought each one of us up and called us into being, regardless of what our parents planned. He ordained how long we would live. And He ordained a plan and a purpose for each of us.

This psalm assures us that God knows us, is with us, and has a plan and purpose for each one of us. Doesn’t it just make so much sense for us to want to fall into step with God’s plan? Those of us who have ignored God’s plan for our lives, and walked our own way, know from hard experience that pathway leads to turmoil and trouble. Again, you know you are a disciple—not just a follower—when you surrender to God’s plans for your life.

C. Philemon is such a beautiful little book! Paul is in prison, waiting to be executed, but he takes the time to write a dear friend in Christ. Paul had disciple Philemon, who now has a house-church meeting in his home. Paul, as Philemon’s mentor, could have demanded that he allow Onesimus, Philemon’s former slave, to remain free. But instead, Paul blesses him and entreats him to accept Onesimus back as a freed man. He is asking Philemon—out of love for Paul and as a disciple of Christ—to be obedient to Jesus. Scholars speculate that the population of the Roman Empire was about 120,000; 60,000 of those were slaves. Slavery was very common then. As people were conquered, they were enslaved. Nevertheless, Jesus had said in John 8:36: So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. Jesus would want Philemon to allow Onesimus to remain free, as the former slave is now his brother-in-Christ. This is no longer an economic or a political issue, but a moral and a spiritual one. True disciples do not hold on to the things of this world, but rather seek to please the Sovereign King of this world.

D. Finally, Jesus, in today’s Gospel lesson (Luke14:25-33) draws our attention to the cost of discipleship. Believers or followers should think ahead of committing themselves to being disciples, as the cost is high.

Nothing is to come before Jesus in our hearts–not spouses, children, parents, siblings, or self. Jesus is stating a strong contrast for effect. He does not really mean we have to hate these relationships. There is a place for them in our lives; but all of them should take a distant back seat to Jesus.

Just as a builder considers his/her resources before planning construction, and just as a king considers his resources before engaging in battle, so too must we estimate or count the cost. My son is a structural engineer in business by himself. He is now reconfiguring what he calls “boomerang” plans. He had designed, signed and sealed the plans, but the contractor then complained that he/she could not locate the materials called for—due to supply chain issues–or that the materials specified—due to inflation—were no longer financially feasible. The plans were then returned for my son to redesign with cheaper or more readily available materials substituted for the original ones. Back in Jesus’ day, builders tended to know the cost of wood and bricks for home building. But, even so, a home owner would need to estimate the cost of construction and have the money and building materials at hand before beginning a building project.

The point is, if you can’t commit all, then remain a believer, a follower.

But being Christ’s disciple, a true disciple, means being willing to give all of one’s self to the effort, including carrying a cross.

True disciples, then,

(1.) Allow God to mold and shape us.

(2.) Understand that since God made us, knows us, and knows all things, it makes good sense to cooperate with His plan for our lives.

(3.) Learn to “let go and let God”; or to honor God’s will over our own.

(4.) Have thought through the potential cost, and then commit to Christ no matter what.

Are we willing to do these things? Consider the following old illustration:

A hog and a hen sharing the same barnyard heard about a church’s program to feed the hungry. The hog and the hen discussed how they could help. The hen said, “I’ve got it! We’ll provide bacon and eggs for the church to feed the hungry.” The hog thought about the suggestion and said, “There’s one problem with your bacon and eggs solution. For you, it only requires a contribution, but from me, it will mean total commitment!” That’s the cost of true discipleship. (Source unknown.)

Let’s pray: Lord, you are asking of us a difficult thing. We want to be more than just Christ-followers or believers in Jesus. We desire to be Jesus’ disciples. Give us the grace and the courage to do so. Help us to trust in You and to let go our control over our lives and give it to You. We pray this in the precious and efficacious name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Gentle Correction

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 28, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 2:4-13; Ps 81:1, 10-16; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16; Luke 14:1-14

This week the Wednesday Afternoon Bible Study examined and meditated upon the passage from Philippians 4:4-9 where Paul exhorts us to Rejoice in the Lord always! Upon further musings that evening, what struck me anew, was his additional recommendation to (v.5) Let your gentleness be evident to all. Gentleness is the opposite of harsh or rough. To be gentle involves being kind, tender, calm, mellow, tranquil. The Bible Dictionary defines gentleness as sensitivity of disposition and kindness of behavior, founded on strength and prompted by love. How many of us can say we exhibit this kind of gentleness?

Essentially, Paul was describing a key quality of Jesus. Except for times when He became irritated with the hardheadedness and uncompassionate behavior of the Jewish religious leaders—who should have known better–Jesus was unfailingly gentle to the people He encountered.

Scripture teaches us to demonstrate this kind of gentleness:

Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. As a teacher, counselor, and pastor, I have seen that when I can control myself and not get mad in response to someone who is angry with me, my calm, gentle manner has the effect of letting air out of a balloon.

Being gentle can deescalate intense feelings. I learned this from a master teacher when I was teaching high school back in 1982. She and I came upon a big, burly, mentally handicapped child who was threatening to punch a substitute (This behavior was relatively rare in the early 80’s). My friend simply and calmly said to the guy, “You must really be angry; what’s made you feel this way?” He dropped his fists, and shared with her all of his frustrations of the day, culminating in what he perceived as the sub’s disrespectful, unfair treatment of him. My friend’s gentle response to him calmed him right down.

Proverbs 25:15 Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.

Jesus, Himself, said (Matthew 11:29) “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He characterized Himself as gentle. So it occurs to me that we should read the accounts of Christ in the Gospels through the lens of His gentleness.

Thinking back, I believe I always understood that Jesus was castigating the Pharisees in today’s Gospel passage (Luke 14:1-14). I believe I have misperceived Him. I thought of Him as taking a stand against them (they would have been seated around the banquet table); using a loud and disapproving tone of voice; and perhaps shaking His index finger at them. I really always believed He was letting them have it for their bad manners and their pride and self-centeredness.

But what if that were not the case? What if, instead, he had been correcting them gently? Jesus masterfully sets the stage with a Sabbath healing. Remember last week I said this was the 5th and final recorded Sabbath healing, which He did in full view of the scribes and Pharisees. The man, perhaps a plant, has dropsy. Dropsy, a fluid build-up in his legs, especially, probably resulted from circulatory troubles. They did not have Lasik in those days. Jesus had been invited to a meal at a Pharisee’s house. The man was there and Jesus saw him and had compassion on him. But before healing him, He asks the assembled diners if it is lawful to heal such a person on the Sabbath. They would have defined healing as work and would have said, resoundingly, “no.” However, by this point, they know Jesus does not agree. So, they remain silent, watchful, and condemning.

We know Jesus then heals the guy, despite their disapproval. He reminds them that they would not hesitate to rescue a child or an animal of theirs who might have fallen into a well on the Sabbath—this too is work! He is once again trying to teach them that compassion trumps their 506 rules for Sabbath-keeping. But sin can and does blind us to the truth. Additionally, even for Jesus, it is difficult to break through hard-heartedness.

But, instead of rebuking them for misunderstanding the nature of God and of His command for us to love one another, He begins a brief teaching on humility. (They were all puffed up with their knowledge of the 506 rules.) Notice, Jesus has witnessed the men invited to the dinner rush for the seats of honor. Typically, the host would be seated at the bottom of a U-shaped seating arrangement; honored guests would be seated to his left and right. Our Lord should have been offered one of those prime chairs (or couches). In fact, perhaps He watched the host have to ask a guest to move so Jesus could take the place of honor. At any rate, He then proceeds to tell them, gently, how to avoid such embarrassment in the future. If you are an honored guest, take the least prestigious seat. The host will then exclaim over the mistake and invite you to move higher. Never assume you are the one to be honored, as that’s prideful. In a shame/honor based culture like that of the Ancient (and even modern)Near East, you will be humiliated if you are asked to move.

Chuck Swindoll reported he had heard about a pastor who…”was voted the most humble pastor in America. And the congregation gave him a medal that said, ‘To the most humble pastor in America.’ Then they took it away from him on Sunday because he wore it.” Similarly, a comedian once said, “If you’re humble, you don’t write a book on how humble you are, with twelve life-sized pictures in it.”

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.279-280.)

But even more importantly, Jesus reiterates for them the Father’s view of human pride (v.11) For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. Considering who God is, and our standing before Him, none of us should be puffed up with pride. It is up to God to exalt or honor us, either for services we rendered to Him or for attitudes we have of which He approves. Given Jesus’ gentleness, I think He was remarkably kind to them. Being harsh or angry would have just generated further hostility and defiance in them. I believe Jesus was sufficiently calm, loving, and authoritative to issue a gentle correction. But He is also telling all of them that the way they (and we) treat others impacts how God treats them (and us).

Interestingly, He then goes on to address His host, a Pharisee, regarding who he/we should invite to dine with him (and with us). He is calling the man to humble himself and serve those who cannot repay him.

In Victorian England and in 19th century, upper class America, if someone visited you, you owed them a return call. This was the custom and it could be seen as an outworking of Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. But Jesus is not just talking about etiquette but is actually going deeper into the meaning of humility. Social paybacks increase social cache/ego. Jesus is urging them all to change their approach to the people among whom God has placed them. They and we are not to lord it over them, but rather to serve them. Jesus is gently telling them that true righteousness comes as a result of giving freely to others—without expectation of reward. Furthermore, the reward is issued to us by God, not by humankind.

Jesus’ gentle approach to the issues of pride and humility really provide an extreme contrast to the current values of our culture. The prideful exalt themselves, today, even above the law. They are self-focused and arrogant. They take care of themselves and appear not to care about the rest of us. This is not a Biblical way to live. It does not please God. And it does not ultimately result in happiness.

Instead we want to humble ourselves before the Lord (James 4:10), because He will lift us up. Let us stand gently corrected. Let’s follow Jesus’ teaching, and also the example of Dan Crenshaw, a junior Congressman from Texas: “In 2018, the comedian Pete Davidson appeared on the ‘Weekend Update’ segment of Saturday Night Live (SNL). Davidson made a crude joke about a former Navy Seal turned Congressman-elect Dan Crenshaw. Crenshaw had lost an eye in the line of duty, which became the butt of Davidson’s vulgar joke. The combination of mocking a person’s disability (especially a disability that came from serving his country in war) alongside a clear disapproval of Crenshaw’s political beliefs led to a burst of public outrage. While Davidson was making the joke, it became clear many found it in poor taste, and the vitriol aimed at the young comedian would ultimately lead him down a spiral of depression and self-loathing.

Davidson then took his anguish public, posting on the social media platform Instagram: “I really don’t want to be on this earth anymore. I’m doing my best to stay here for you but I actually don’t know how much longer I can last. All I’ve ever tried to do was help people. Just remember I told you so.”

When Crenshaw heard about Davidson’s condition, he didn’t do what many do when embroiled in a public tiff: tell the offender the public scorn served him right, or make some other cutting comment at Davidson’s expense. Instead, Crenshaw decided to extend an olive branch, befriending the comedian, and even offering words of life to a person who clearly felt lost amidst being stuck in the cross-hairs of the American public. Davidson recounts that Crenshaw reached out and comforted him: “God put you here for a reason. It’s your job to find that purpose. And you should live that way.”

Humor, it has often been said, is a coping mechanism to deal with the pain that life throws at us. But in the midst of the deep, unsettling pain of being publicly shamed, what Davidson needed was not a good joke, but forgiveness, and perhaps, even a friend who could share the good news of the Gospel with him. In some ways it is ironic that a man trained to kill and destroy his enemies could be so moved by compassion that he reached out to someone who publicly mocked him and his deeply held political beliefs. But that is the beauty of the Gospel, it enables us to look beyond our own reputation, our own pride, to care for others.”

(Stuart Strachan Jr. Source Material from Dino-Ray Ramos, “Texas Congressman-Elect Dan Crenshaw Reaches Out to SNL’s Pete Davidson After Troubling Instagram Post,” Deadline, December 18, 2018.)

That’s gentleness in action. Lord, help us to be gentle. Help us not to push or to compel, or to be arrogant in asserting our rights, but rather to be like Jesus, gentle, and always speaking the truth in love. Amen.

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

When Rule-Breaking is Justified

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 21, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; Heb 12:14-29; Lk 13:10-17

The story is told about… “Fiorello LaGuardia, who, when he was mayor of New York City during the worst days of the Great Depression and all of WWII, was called by adoring New Yorkers ‘the Little Flower’ because he was only five foot four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who used to ride the New York City fire trucks, raid speakeasies with the police department, take entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever the New York newspapers were on strike, he would go on the radio and read the Sunday funnies to the kids. One bitterly cold night in January of 1935, the mayor turned up at a night court that served the poorest ward of the city. LaGuardia dismissed the judge for the evening and took over the bench himself.

“Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia that her daughter’s husband had deserted her, her daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges. “It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor.” the man told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions–ten dollars or ten days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying: ‘Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Baliff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.’ So the following day the New York City newspapers reported that $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving grandchildren, fifty cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced grocery store owner, while some seventy petty criminals, people with traffic violations, and New York City policemen, each of whom had just paid fifty cents for the privilege of doing so, gave the mayor a standing ovation.”

(Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel, Multnomah, 1990, pp 91-2.)

This is a story of grace in action, isn’t it? The mayor exacted the lawful penalty, paid it himself–just as God has done for us through the saving work of Jesus Christ on the Cross. Then, by fining each person present 50 cents, he made everyone aware of the fact that no one should have to starve in NYC. It was a wise move by an elected official. It makes me wish we had more persons like him as mayors in big cities today. He didn’t break the rule; instead he enforced it and took it a step beyond.

In our Gospel lesson today (Luke 13:10-17), Jesus demonstrates for us a criterion for when rule-breaking is justified.

The Gospels mention 5 healings by Jesus on the Sabbath:

1.) The first (Luke 4:31+; Mark1:21+) is of a demon-possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum. Interestingly enough, the demons recognize that Jesus is the Son of God. He has to tell them to hush, as He sends them out of the guy. Everyone present is amazed at His power to heal and His authority over demons (the supernatural realm).

2.) The 2nd (Luke 6:6+; also recounted in Matthew and Mark), Jesus heals a man with a withered right hand. Again, the people are delighted; but, by now, the Scribes and Pharisees are feeling threatened by Jesus and are looking to discredit Him for violating their interpretation of what it means to keep the Sabbath holy. This time before healing the man, Jesus asks, Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it? He had just asserted in verse 6, The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath [He is uniquely qualified to establish and interpret the law]. Now He equates healing with doing good and saving life. It is alright to break the Sabbath rule about not working when it involves healing a person. He has challenged their interpretation of what can be done on the Sabbath and this infuriates the religious establishment.

3.) 3rd, John 5:1-18 the man at the Pool of Bethesda or Bethsaida. The religious officials do not see Jesus heal the man—remember He said, Get up! Pick up your mat and walk. Instead, they bust him, the man who had been an invalid for 38 years, for working on the Sabbath. Carrying his mat was construed by them as doing work. He tells them he is just doing as he had been told. They want to know who healed him, but he doesn’t know. He later learns it was Jesus and “rats Him out.” Such ingratitude!

4.) The 4th account is recorded for us in today’s Gospel. The poor woman has been bent over for 18 years. Did she have severe scoliosis? Or a bad bend like a “Widow’s Hump” from osteoporosis? We don’t know the nature of the affliction, but we can become quite vividly aware of what this would be like. Stand up, bend over half way, and take a minute to notice what this feels like. If you were out in public, you would not be able to see peoples’ faces. Your behind is pointed up, which would leave you feeling very vulnerable. And, just like with people in wheelchairs, you might be overlooked or dismissed due to your shortened stature. I once flew to a conference with a fellow named David who was wheel-chair bound. He had a Labrador named Zeus as his PAWS service dog. Zeus wore a small saddle with a handle by which he could tow David when the man tired. Whenever we approached an airline gate, I noted that the attendants usually spoke to me rather than David. He would then speak up and say, “I am right here and can respond to you about me,” to redirect them to his status as an adult.

In our Gospel lesson today, the Synagogue ruler is indignant: He insists, “Today is for worship; healing can take place the other 6 days of the week.” Jesus then addresses everyone who agrees (v.15) You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham who Satan has kept bound for 18 long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her? Her condition cries out for a healing, which Jesus graciously provides. Again, the rule can be broken when doing so might promote someone being healed.

The conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities now intensifies as (v.17) The people were delighted with all of the wonderful things He was doing. But the synagogue ruler and however many Pharisees and scribes were present … were humiliated.

5.) The 5th and last Sabbath healing occurs when Jesus is dining at a Pharisee’s house (Luke 14:1-6) A man with “dropsy” (accumulation of fluid in the legs; Elephantiasis?) appears. Before He acts, Jesus asks, Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? As any good teacher would do, He is reviewing with them what they may have learned. He is asking, “Have we learned anything new about how we apply the rules for Sabbath-keeping? Have your hearts changed at all?” The answer is “crickets.” They respond with silence. Jesus then heals the man and asks, If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out? Again, they do not answer. There was provision in the rules for such a rescue. Their Sabbath rules permitted loosing/untying a bound animal on the Sabbath so it could access water. However, Jesus knows their hearts are hard and that they are opposed to Him and to His teaching. I believe the man may have been a set-up, which Jesus would have ascertained.

Notice that Jesus acts compassionately, anyway. Like Jeremiah, called to preach an exceedingly unpopular message to Jerusalem (“Repent! The end is coming!”)—Jesus is now healing at his own peril. Don’t you admire His courage? They are even now plotting against Him, but He continues to go about doing the will of His Father.

Let’s look again at the Bent-Over Woman: She doesn’t approach Jesus. She’s been miserable and perhaps in pain for a long, long time.

Nevertheless, Jesus calls her forward (Remember, Rabbis typically did not speak to women). But Jesus participated in a theological discussion with the unnamed woman at the well (John 4:1-41); spared the unnamed woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); and forgave the unnamed woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). I believe these women are un-named because the Lord wants us to identify with them. Jesus correctly recognizes that she is crippled due to demonic activity. He has authority over the demonic, so He touches her and speaks a rhema healing word to set her free. In the original Greek text, this is a play on words: Satan has bound her but Jesus loosed her.

He uses a style of rabbinic argument they would have recognized if you would do this for your animals (the lesser) than why not for a person, a daughter of Abraham (the greater)? They are not logical in their zeal for the letter of the Law. They have let their focus on upholding the Law obscure their love for a neighbor. They have let their jealousy and envy of Jesus’ power blind them to the spirit of the Law. They seemed to have missed that God, the Lord of the Sabbath, sometimes works on the Sabbath.

People can still be bent over today due to disease, right? But what else keeps people bound? Habitual sins like alcoholism; drug-addiction; pornography and sex addiction; and choosing the pursuit of money, power, fame, etc, over pursuing God.

What is our response to them supposed to be? Respond with the compassion of Christ. Like the former mayor of NYC, we can keep the law but also exhibit compassion. Like Jesus, who created the Law, we may break a rule to mend a broken life. This week, look for any opportunities God sets before you to demonstrate compassion. Take the risk of being rejected or of looking foolish. You may be used by God to utter healing words. You may be used by God to demonstrate love to the unloved or unlovely (what Jesus called …the least of these). By doing so, you might just save someone’s eternal life.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Clouds! Oh My!

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 14, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 5:1-9; Ps 80:1-2, 8-19; Hebrews 11:29-12:2; Lk 12:49-56

College football gets underway in less than 20 days. But this year, without Mick Hubert, the sports announcing voice of the University of Florida Fighting Gators for 33 years, who just retired in May. Gator football will not sound the same without him.

According to Wikipedia, Mick “… first came to prominence after the Gators’ last-minute win at Kentucky on September 11, 1993. [The Gators went on to win the SEC Championship that season]. His energetic yelling of “DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! OHHHH MY!” in describing the game-winning touchdown pass from Danny Wuerffel [UF’s Heisman winning quarterback in 1996] to Chris Doering [a current announcer on ESPN] was extensively replayed on national sports networks and became so well known that it was featured in the ESPN films documentary “More than a Voice” almost thirty years later.”

If you ever listened to him broadcast a Gator football game, you know he got very excited. He would often single out good players for their contributions: “Touchdown! Taylor-Made!” when Fred Taylor, a running back from 1994-97, scored; or “Dallas Baker, Touchdown maker!” whenever Dallas, a wide-receiver from 2003-06, “took it to the house.” One of my favorite Mick-isms was his expression for when a Gator receiver caught the ball all alone in the end-zone. He would yell, “Oh My!’ paired with “Quarantined! All alone!”

If we could get as excited about Scripture as Mick did about football, our Hebrews lesson today truly deserves several “Oh My’s!” The writer to the Hebrews cites a long line of heroes as well as martyrs for the faith. Our passage today begins with the Red Sea Crossing. The 2 million-strong Children of Israel lacked faith. They saw they were trapped at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army behind them, and they wanted to run back to Egypt! But Moses trusted in God, spread out his staff over the water, and watched God part it so they could walk across on dry land!

Jericho, the first city they come to in the Promised Land, was fortified with thick walls designed to protect an arrogant but despicable group of pagans. Joshua, God’s military commander, is told to walk around it, once a day, for 6 days; then 7 times the 7th day…and the walls fell down! Joshua and the Israelites had the victory over the citizens of Jericho because Joshua believed in God. He believed enough to do what would seem ridiculous to other generals. And then he conquered the city, riding in on God’s efforts. Rahab, a prostitute of Jericho, is saved because she had heard stories of the Hebrew God, believed in Him, and hid the 2 Hebrew spies Joshua had sent in to scout the city.

The writer goes on to list other Old Testament greats who also lived out their faith in God: Gideon, a weakling from the weakest family in the weakest tribe, obliterated a huge Midianite army with just 300 men plus God. Some of those listed—like Samson and Barak–were not as faith-filled as others, but all allowed God to use them to accomplish His purposes.

Ultimately, they knew they could trust in God and they acted on that belief.

This kind of faith is not just a belief statement of faith, but it is belief in action (Faith or pistuo in the New Testament Greek, is not just a noun but it is also a verb, as in faithing). We don’t just have faith, but we do faith. We live it out. Oh My!

At the end of our Hebrews passage, the writer reminds us that we are …surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses. Hold it, hold it! Shouldn’t that word be crowd not cloud? Well, who are we to argue words with God? And think about the imagery of cloud in Scripture. It’s a theophany, a sign of God’s presence. The Israelites in the wilderness were led by a cloud, God’s presence, during the day. When they saw the cloud move out, they packed up their tents and followed it. When Moses went up Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments, he disappeared into a cloud because God was there. Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration, was enveloped by a cloud and also shone with blinding light—both signs of God’s presence. So a company of saints who have gone before us–along with God, Himself–are watching us from heaven. Are we going to be a faithful like the heroes of Hebrews 11? Will they exclaim, “Praise God!” or “Oh My!” over us?

Alternatively, the passage could mean, these folks all witnessed to us by the ways they lived their lives. They are models for us of how to live a life that exudes faith. Coach Bobby Bowden, the now deceased former coach of the Florida State Seminoles, used to respond to critics calling them “Play Station All Americans.” He meant that it was easy to play a football video game and think you were good enough to call plays. However, experience with video games does not quite equate with live experience on the field. This great cloud of witnesses were not armchair believers, but they put feet to their faith.

Notice that writer to the Hebrews then encourages us to (12:1-2) …throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus the Author and Perfector of our faith. We don’t want to allow anything to get in the way of our trust, our belief, our ”faithing” in Jesus. We want to be as trusting as any of those commemorated here.

Let’s now focus on how the Hebrews passage relates to today’s Gospel, Luke 12:49-56.

Jesus first talks about what our faith can cost us: It can and does divide us from our non-believing culture. There are times we clearly may feel out of step with what is going on around us. It is because we walk to the beat of a different drummer, Jesus Christ. Our faith may also divide us from those of our families who choose not to believe in Him. Nearly all of us can cite example of relatives who cannot or will not accept that Jesus is Lord. It introduces a painful separation. It can and does result in differences in the way we speak and in the ways we act—to such a degree that it can even be uncomfortable to be around each other. They may write us off as “Bible-thumpers,” “fanatics,” and “holier than thou” people. Or, worse yet, they may believe we are intolerant or bigoted.

Then Jesus goes on to tell them (and us) to be aware of signs that are important. They and we can sometimes interpret weather patterns. We know that dark clouds gather and the wind picks up just before it storms. A green sky and funnel clouds mean tornadoes are coming. The calm following a hurricane’s wind and rain does not mean the danger is past—just that they eye of the storm is overhead—and we have a blessed breather.

Jesus is not unhappy that we recognize the meanings of these kinds of signs. He just wants us to be able to also interpret the signs of the times as well (social and spiritual). Some examples of these include the following:

1.) The FBI raids a former president’s home—regardless of party affiliation. Politically, it appears to be an attempt to discredit and invalidate a political enemy. Spiritually it is motivated by anger, rage, the desire for revenge, and the urge to gain more power.

2.) The culture chides us to honor transgender athletes, then refuses to listen to a father who does not want his little girl undressing in the same locker room with an older male turned female. This practice is said to be about equal rights for transgender persons, a tiny minority (1%) in America today. However, it violates the rights to privacy and safety of our children and threatens to eliminate girls sports as we know it. Few girls can compete successfully against the larger stature and musculature of a male turned female. Spiritually, it is an attack on the family and on our children’s well-being.

3.) I have said before that the Progressive Agenda ultimately desires to replace our democratic republic with a form of communism. It is Marxist at its basic foundational principles. It is anti-Christian. If it’s so great a form of government, why do people try to escape it? Think of this: There is no place on earth, ever, where this form of government has led to freedom for the majority. Folks always say, “this time, we will do it better.” But remember God inspired Jeremiah to say (17:19) the heart is deceitful above all things; by this our Lord means we can and will justify anything we want to do. Pair this with what the British Lord Acton said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Together these two truths strongly state that probably only a perfect person, like Jesus, could be in total control of a country and not become an oppressor. Progressive ideology is a front for a Satan-inspired dictatorship.

Jesus asks us to look beyond the face-value of an event and view it from what it demonstrates—or plays out—socially and societally. What are its ramifications? He also wants us to consider what it means from a spiritual standpoint.

Our faith, unshakable faith lived out day to day, is our strongest bulwark against the rigid control and savage excesses of a socialist or communist regime. Who do communists take out when they first take-over a country? Pastors, preachers, and Christian leaders are told they can cooperate, or they will be killed. Next, educated persons, innovators, “the intelligencia,” are eliminated. After that, those in power believe they can control the rest. Take this from a former Government and U.S. History teacher, this same set of tactics has been replayed in all totalitarian movements of the past century.

Jesus warns us to be aware. We are not just to notice weather signs. But also to examine current events and detect the social and spiritual implications that lie within and behind them.

Then what are we to do? (1) We pray for our country and our leaders, as we have been. (2) We cast our votes in elections and vote out the selfish, the greedy, and those who disrespect God, our country, and us. (3) We ask the Lord to intervene in our country, transform our leaders, and to bring our hearts—as a nation–back to Christ. And, (4) like the great cloud of witnesses, we trust in the Lord to guide us and protect us, come what may. Oh my! May it be so!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Unshakable Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 7, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notice, with each patriarch, the verse begins with…

1.) oVerse 4–By faith, Abel…

2.) Verse 5–By faith, Enoch…

3.) Verse 7–By faith, Noah…

4.) Verse 8–By faith, Abraham….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Philosophy says: Think your way out.

Indulgence says: Drink your way out.

Politics says: Spend your way out.

Science says: Invent your way out.

Industry says: Work your way out.

Communism says: Strike your way out.

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

Militarism says: Fight your way out.

The Bible says: Pray your way out, but

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

God’s Generosity Towards Us

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 31, 2022

Scriptures: Hosea 11:1-11; Ps 107:1-9. 43; Col 3:1-11; Lk 12:13-21

The missionary, Jim Elliott, killed (in 1957 at age of 28) while attempting to witness to the Auca Indians of Ecuador, once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” What does this mean? Elliot lived this out, didn’t he? He gave up his life in service to God. We all know life is fragile. We act like we can control the number of our days, but the truth is that we could each—God forbid—be run over by a truck tomorrow. None of us knows for sure when we will die. So Jim Elliot gave up what he couldn’t keep (his life) to honor God and to gain–due to his heart-attitude—what he could not lose (his salvation/his position as an adopted son of God). This guy was sold out to God! Jesus said, Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends (John 15:13). If we can believe what others tell us about Jim Elliott, he was willing to die to help spread the Gospel. By the way, his widow, Elizabeth Elliott, continued Jim’s work with the Auca’s and ended up converting his murderer (and others) to Christ. Jim Elliot lived a short life of incredible generosity toward God and others.

Let me share another illustration of generosity:

“Two young men [were] working their way through Stanford University [members of its 1st class in 1895]. Their funds got desperately low, and the idea came to one of them to engage Paderewski for a piano recital and devote the profits to their board and tuition [There was no “GoFundMe” at that time]. The great pianist’s manager asked for a guarantee of two thousand dollars. The students, undaunted, proceeded to stage the concert. They worked hard, only to find that the concert had raised only sixteen hundred dollars. After the concert, the students sought the great artist and told him of their efforts and results. They gave him the entire sixteen hundred dollars, and accompanied it with a promissory note for four hundred dollars, explaining that they would earn the amount at the earliest possible moment and send the money to him. “No,” replied Paderewski, “that won’t do.” Then tearing the note to shreds, he returned the money and said to them: “Now, take out of this sixteen hundred dollars all of your expenses, and keep for each of you 10 percent of the balance for your work, and let me have the rest.” The years rolled by–years of fortune and destiny. Paderewski had become premier of Poland. The devastating war came [WWI], and Paderewski was striving with might and main to feed the starving thousands of his beloved Poland. There was only one man in the world who could help Paderewski and his people. {After appealing to this man], thousands of tons of food began to come into Poland for distribution by the Polish premier.

After the starving people were fed, Paderewski journeyed to Paris to thank Herbert Hoover for the relief sent him. “That’s all right, Mr. Paderewski,” was Mr. Hoover’s reply. “Besides, you don’t remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student at college and I was in a hole.” (True story, prior to Hoover serving as our 31st president from 1929-1933, from the website www.sermonillustrations.com).

Later in his life, the former college student from Stanford was able to repay the Polish Premier for his earlier generosity.

Three of our lessons for today center on the heart—attitude of generosity.

A. In Hosea 11:1-11, the prophet not only speaks for God, but he also lives out a metaphor of God’s love for His people. In chapter 1, which we read last week, God tells Hosea to marry a whore, a woman who will be repeatedly unfaithful to him. What a dreadful assignment! God used Hosea’s tragic marital life to demonstrate to the Northern Kingdom how He felt about their idolatry—or what God considers “spiritual adultery.”

Hosea’s wife, Gomer, humiliated him time and again by running around with other men. By Jewish law, Hosea was justified in stoning her to death. But God told him to break the law God Himself had created in order to make his life an object lesson for the people. So, Hosea remained faithful, as does our God, to a spouse who was a serial or repeated adulterer.

Gomer bore him 3 children, but he could not be sure they were his. God had him name his 2 boys and 1 girl names that reflected the Lord’s increasing disappointment with and distress over Israel:

1.) A son, Jezreel, whose name meant God scatters;

2.) A daughter, Lo-Ruhamah, whose name meant not loved; and

3.) A second son, Lo-Ammi, whose name meant not My people. God was saying to the people of the Northern Kingdom, I have faithfully loved you, but you have been consistently and blatantly unfaithful to Me. I am withdrawing from you. I will scatter you.

Now, 10 chapters later, God changes the metaphor from a marital relationship to a parent-child relationship. He poignantly recalls (vv.3-4) It was I who taught Ephraim [Israel] to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. He freed them, loved them, healed them, led them, and fed them. And how did they respond to His continuous, long-suffering, fatherly love for them? They left Him to take up with pagan gods.

So God names the nation He will use as His method of discipline: Defeat at the hands of the brutal Assyrians. This punishment, finally meted out in 722BC, was not simply meant as just retribution for their on-going betrayals. Rather, it was meant by God to be remedial. God used their defeat by the Assyrian army as a last resort to teach lessons they had rebelliously refused to learn. Our God means what He says. When I first taught high school (1970), my principal told me to always mean what I said to students and to say only what I meant. Otherwise, she said the students would not respect me or trust me. She was right. If I said a certain consequence would follow an act of disrespect or disruption, I had to enforce that consequence even if it meant punishing my favorite student. (Often I found the kids I liked the best were the first ones to try me.) Like a teacher who is firm and in control of her classroom, God loves us but will not tolerate our disobedience and disrespect forever. He is a God of love and mercy, but He will also act to bring about reformation of our character and our morals.

B. Psalm 107 celebrates the goodness of the Lord, in that He hears our prayers and saves us. The Psalm rejoices over God’s saving interventions on behalf of the Israelites in the past. Even though they were often disobedient, He provided for them, guided them, and protected them. He was justified in destroying them, but chose not to due to His love for them.

I believe this is a prophetic message for us today too. Due to His great love for us, our God continues to provide for and to protect us. He is extraordinarily patient with us. But as with the Israelites, there comes a time when He disciplines us to reform our characters.

This is why we pray for His continued mercy. This is why we weekly (and daily) pray for our nation to return to God.

C. In our Gospel passage, Luke 12:13-21, Jesus provides us with a lesson regarding those who are selfish and self-focused. We are meant by God to act generously toward God and others. Those who don’t, like the rich guy in the parable, will not be able to hold onto their wealth and possessions forever. He blithely assumed that he would continue to be blessed as he greedily horded all of his profits to himself. He probably never considered that it could all end for him at his sudden death. Jesus calls him a fool! Let’s think back to the Jim Elliott quote: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” We cannot trust we will keep our wealth. The stock market can crash; inflation cheapens what we have; expected inheritance checks fail to arrive (the deceased may have spent it all before dying; fire, rust, rot, floods, tornadoes, volcanos, and hurricanes can reduce what we own to nothing. While there are no u-hauls carrying our wealth with us in the afterlife, we can trust that God will reward us for being generous toward Him and others.

Our God is generous even as He disciplines us. He gave Israel—and He has given us—dozens and dozens of warnings of coming punishment. In the 350 years from 750-400BC, He sent 12 Minor Prophets and 4 Major ones to warn the people not to stray from Him. There was no social media then and no cable news networks, yet those folks cannot claim they were not warned. 16 prophets in 350 years amount to approximately one every 20 years. Most of them prophesied over a number of years, so their warnings overlapped. The people were not ignorant of God’s displeasure. They simply didn’t care. So He took them to the proverbial woodshed for a thorough thrashing.

And so that we know He means what He says—so that we discover that He is indeed trustworthy and true—He will eventually lower the boom on us as well. As much as we don’t want the discipline we have coming, He punishes us because He loves us: (Hebrews 12:5) My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves and He punishes everyone He accepts as a son [or daughter].

We are wise to trust in His generosity towards us. We are also wise to fight against any tendencies we have toward greed and selfish self-interest. We can learn to be content with what we have.

We can commit to give to others in need out of our excess; i.e., rather than stock-pile it, we can give it away to others. And we can discipline ourselves to gift God with a tithe of all He has given us. Scripture says He owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10). This means He owns all wealth. He gifts us with some of it. As a way to demonstrate our continued trust in His provision, and as a spiritual discipline, He wants us to give back to Him a portion…not because He needs it, but because we do.

Let’s pray:

Thank you, oh Lord, for Your incredible generosity towards us! We are exceedingly grateful. Help us to be generous toward You and toward others, we pray in the name of Jesus, our Messiah. Amen

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Becoming a Mature Follower of Christ

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 7/24/2022

Scriptures: Hosea 1:2-10; Ps 85; Colossians 3:1-11; Lk 11:1-13

As I looked through my former sermons this week, I discovered that I had preached on the Hosea passage in 2016, and on Luke 11 in 2019. So, I believed the Lord was calling me to tackle the Epistle lesson with you today. It wasn’t until the passage was read this morning that I realized I had messed up. The passage appointed for today was Colossians 2:6-19. I am a highly intuitive person, focused on the “Big Picture” and not much given to details, so I mistakenly addressed the passage appointed for next Sunday, Colossians 3:1-11. I apologize. Perhaps the Lord meant for someone to focus on chapter 3 instead of the last half of chapter 2 today.

Colossians is one of Paul’s 4 pastoral letters (including Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon) written from prison in Ephesus.

Apparently, Paul never met in person with the church in Colosse (75-100 mi east of Ephesus). It had instead been planted by a disciple of his named Epaphrus. We could say that Paul was like a spiritual grandfather to this church.

His focus in this letter is becoming a mature believer in Christ. Many folks in Colosse had become as sick of the immoral excesses of paganism as we have of what we see/hear happening in DC, NYC, LA, Chicago, etc. They were initially attracted to the high ethical standards offered by the Jewish faith. They looked at the Torah and were impressed with laws that said don’t do this or that, don’t taste this or that, or don’t handle this or that.

They saw these laws as a means of escaping the soul-killing, vapid, immoral world of paganism. It was as though they thought, Maybe keeping these rules will help us live a better life; and Perhaps keeping these rules will help us improve our spiritual lives.

But Paul tells them this way of thinking is an illusion, a dead-end. First of all, none of us can keep these rules perfectly. So we end up trading what Bishop. N.T. Wright calls, “a worldly self-indulgence of a sensual kind for a worldly self-indulgence of a spiritual kind” (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, N.T. Wright, Westminister John Knox Press, 2002, p.174.)

We reduce our faith to keeping a set of earthly rules, and avoid developing the deep relationship God desires with us. Additionally, contrary to popular thought, rule-keeping doesn’t lead to holiness. Holiness requires that we die to self. Rule-keeping keeps our focus on ourselves. Holiness requires that we die to self and are raised to live for God. The Good News is that by being in Christ, we have the supernatural assistance of the Holy Spirit—if we ask for it—to help us live out our lives at a higher moral standard. It’s not a matter of trying harder in our own strength, but rather of cooperating with the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.

Paul admonishes us to (verses 1-2) Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. And in verse 5, he adds Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. In verses 8-9, he adds to the list of behaviors to avoid, including anger, rage, wickedness, blasphemy, dirty talk, and lying. This is like putting aside an old set of tattered and soiled clothes and taking up and putting on your very best. In the 1st century church, folks being baptized showed up in their old clothes, were immersed in the waters of baptism, and then dressed in new, white garments, symbolizing their new status as followers of Christ Jesus.

If it’s not just rule-keeping, how do we proceed? We have to know what needs to be changed in order to cooperate with changing it.

Let’s look first at the main categories of sins that Paul lists here:

1. Sexual misbehavior–This one is tough because our culture today—like that of ancient Corinth or Colosse, is overly sexualized. Much of American advertising makes sexual appeals. It doesn’t take too many clicks on the internet before you stumble onto pornographic images. (I worry about what our children are being exposed to at too young an age.) But Paul means everything from sexual intercourse outside of marriage (fornication), to adultery, and even including sexual fantasies. Paul calls these behaviors idolatry because, as in all pagan worship, they require that you give your allegiance to something of this world rather than to our holy and supernatural Trinitarian God.

2. The 2nd category Paul cites are sins involving unedifying speech. This includes everything from angry, malicious speech to gossip, slander, and lying. Wouldn’t Paul have a fit over the way folks lie in Washington DC? When I taught Psychology at the community college in Gainesville, I heard my students punctuate their sentences with the “f” word. Reminding them that they were there to get a higher education, I challenged them to try to elevate their vocabulary by replacing that word with something more dignified. To my delight, they got the concept and did cuss much less in class.

Both sexual and verbal sins can tear a community apart. Years ago, before I went to seminary, I had a pastor with whom I was very close. He was like an older brother in the Lord. We met about once a month for breakfast, to talk over the Bible study I was leading and other leadership concerns of our church. I later discovered he had been fired by our bishop for having an affair with another woman in our congregation. He and I had met just the day before this took place. He had told me he had 3 things to tell me, but ran out of time to tell me the last. When I learned what had happened, I figured he was too ashamed to confess he had compromised his calling. His family was humiliated. We had a booming college ministry at the time. They were so disappointed in him that they said we were all hypocrites and left the church. Other adults left as well, and for the same reason. Our community was hurt by this one man’s sexual sin.

Paul presents the problem (these two very popular sin-groups) and their solution. In verse 10, he writes [since you have put on your new self]…which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…. Remember back to the 80’s and 90’s when people would ask, WWJD? What would Jesus do? It was a great slogan because it reminded us to stop and think before acting/speaking. It encouraged us to think about how Jesus might view our actions or our speech. Would He say, Well done, good and faithful servant? Or would He want us to, Go and sin no more? Again, as Bishop N.T. Wright says, “Being a Christian means learning to think harder, not to leave your brain behind in the quest for new experiences. Thinking straight and knowing the truth are part of what it means to be a truly human being, the sort of human being the gospel is meant to create. (Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters, pp. 179-180.) We think harder because we are not just considering what we want to do, but also what the Lord would desire of us. We know the truth because Scripture reveals it. Immoral behavior and malicious speech may feel good at first, but the truth is that they leave a bad aftertaste. Our consciences bother us. Then the Holy Spirit compels us to make amends, which humble and perhaps embarrass us further. In the long run, it is simply easier for us to train ourselves to avoid the behaviors Paul lists.

This is another way of saying we are growing in spiritual maturity. Consider these definitions of Christian maturity:

(1) Chuck Swindoll—One of the marks of maturity is the ability to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

(2) Fred Cook—Maturity is the ability to do a job whether supervised or not; finish it once started; carry money without spending it; and …bear an injustice without wanting to get even. If Cook is correct, his definition is quite an indictment of our current culture, isn’t it? We are trying to get along with a huge number of spiritually immature persons.

(3) John McNaughton—Maturity begins to grow when you can sense your concern for others outweighing your concern for yourself.

(4) Anonymous—Maturity is moving from a soft skin-tough heart to a tough skin-soft heart (This one requires some pondering).

When we are followers of Jesus Christ, trying to think like Jesus and live in ways that please Him, we might come to say like John Newton🡪 I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was, and I can say with the great apostle, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” (Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.370.)

The Apostle Paul wanted the Colossian Church—and us—to grow in spiritual maturity. This is not an easy task. It involves self-denial. It can and often does involve pain. The devotional, Today in the Word, printed a story years ago (1987) about how a mother eagle encourages her chicks to leave the nest:

Though many of us have seen pictures of a huge eagle’s nest high in the branches of a tree or in the crag of a cliff, few of us have gotten a glimpse inside. When a mother eagle builds her nest she starts with thorns, broken branches, sharp rocks, and a number of other items that seem entirely unsuitable for the project. But then she lines the nest with a thick padding of wool, feathers, and fur from animals she has killed, making it soft and comfortable for the eggs. By the time the growing birds reach flying age, the comfort of the nest and the luxury of free meals make them quite reluctant to leave. That’s when the mother eagle begins “stirring up the nest.” With her strong talons she begins pulling up the thick carpet of fur and feathers, bringing the sharp rocks and branches to the surface. As more of the bedding gets plucked up, the nest becomes more uncomfortable for the young eagles. Eventually, this and other urgings prompt the growing eagles to leave their once-comfortable abode and move on to more mature behavior.

It’s not easy to mature spiritually, but we can attain it—or at least move toward it—by cooperating with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit. Like the mother eagle, He can and does comfort us when we are afflicted (hungry, lonely, tired, etc); but also like her, He can and does afflict us when we get too comfortable. This side of heaven, we don’t attain perfection. Nevertheless, we want to be like John Newton, the former captain of a British slave ship, who repented, came to Christ, and was ordained. He is also the one who wrote the hymn, “Amazing Grace”. Remember he said, I am not what I might be, I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I wish to be, I am not what I hope to be. But I thank God I am not what I once was…. Hopefully, day by day, we are making progress in becoming more and more like Christ Jesus.

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Watchman’s Challenge

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 17, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 8:1-12; Ps 52; Col 1:15-28; Lk 10:38-42

Last week, I encouraged us to become like “watchmen” on the walls surrounding our country. By this I meant “Prayer Warriors” for the USA. We looked at Amos, chapter 7, and recognized how America—like ancient Israel—is out of alignment with the Lord. Amos’ image, given to him by God, was that of a plumb line. It is a simple device (a string with a weight at the end will do) to help insure a straight vertical line for a wall, or for hanging wallpaper. I’ve seen cabinet installers use laser beams to ensure they set the cabinets in straight; the laser is a new form of plumb line.) The prophet was telling the Northern Kingdom that they were out of plumb with God. Citing a number of examples, we could see where our country, too, is currently out of plumb with God.

This week, in Amos 8:1-12, God gives His prophet the image of ripe fruit. Ripe fruit is fruit taken at its peak. Prior to ripening, it is too sour or too hard to eat. By the same token, you don’t want to let ripe fruit sit around for very long. It gets mushy, brown, or soggy—it spoils; it also attracts fruit flies. God is saying to Israel that “the time is ripe” for them.

Either they change their sinful ways and return to sincere worship of God; or God will no longer spare them. This was God’s final image of warning to them in the book of Amos.

Again, I think this is a very relevant message for us in America today. Like with the Northern Kingdom, many Americans don’t worship the One, True God anymore. And some who do are only going through the motions: God condemned the Israelites for thinking about their businesses while at worship. What do we think about while here in church together? Are we focused on the Lord, or on what we’ll have for lunch after? What we might do later?

The Israelites were infamous at that time for corrupt business practices: Skimping on the quantity—providing less of what was wanted for the same or a larger price; inflating the price; cheating with dishonest scales (and other measures); and buying the poor (with silver or for a pair of sandals.) We tend not to think of ourselves as buying the poor, but what about engaging in sex trafficking, buying the sexual use of someone’s body. And while we no longer have debtors’ prisons, we do have a staggering number of homeless persons who cannot afford to live in today’s economy. It appears as though a surprising number of folks in America don’t realize that God sees all and knows all, and intends to hold them (us) accountable. In vv.7-10, God reminds Israel (and us) The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” The Pride of Jacob is a poetic name for the yet to come Jesus (as predicted by Amos around 750 BC). God is swearing by His Son, Jesus, that He will not forget their corrupt deeds (He sees and remembers all evil acts). If the Father makes a vow based on His Son, is there any question that He means to abide by it? No!

I have heard people joke about going to hell: they say they intend to party with all their friends who they think will be there too. YIKES! This is no joking matter! Humans in hell will not be partying! They will be eternally separated from God, as well as from any of their godly friends and relatives. Worse yet, they will experience unending, everlasting torment at the hand of demons who hate God and God’s people. This is not something to aspire to, even glibly.

Amos ends the passage with predictions of what is to come in the end times (the 7 year Great Tribulation): (1) There will be massive earthquakes. (2) Sunlight will be limited to ½ a day. (3) Those who rejoice now will be weeping then, in mourning, wishing they had chosen to follow Jesus while there was yet time. (4) And there will be a famine of hearing God’s Word.

Back then, God sent no more prophets, after Malachi, to declare His word for the 400 years remaining before Jesus’ birth and the appearance of John the Baptist. It appears that even now the Lord has lifted His hand of protection from us, so that we are already experiencing …an increase of evil (as predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:12).

If this alarms you, be at peace as our remaining Scriptures today are all very encouraging.

A. Our Psalm 52 describes King David’s fearless confidence in God when he was attacked by an arrogant and wicked enemy king. In vv.1-4, he declares there is no reason for evil ones to boast as God will bring them down. John Lawrence, in his book Down to Earth, reports how a city of wicked and sacrilegious people dared God to show Himself:

“On December 25, 1908—Jesus’ Birthday–a newspaper published in Messina, Sicily, printed a parody against God, daring Him to make Himself known by sending an earthquake. Three days later, on December 28, the city and its surrounding district was devastated by a terrible quake that killed 84,000 people.” (Cited in Today in the Word, October, 1997, p. 25). This foolish city went too far. They incurred the wrath of God. We can only hope that God separated out the scoffers and blasphemers for judgment and spared the righteous. At any rate, He clearly remembered their arrogance and their unbelief.

King David goes on to assert (vv.6-7) that the righteous will be ultimately vindicated–which David was, again and again. And those of us who love Jesus will be too. Verses 8-9 conclude with David asserting that he will trust in the Lord—an encouragement for us to do likewise.

B. In Colossians 1:15-28, Paul makes his case for the supremacy of Christ. Why should the believer trust in Jesus? Because Jesus…(1) created all things; (2) is set apart from and is superior to all created things; (3) holds all of creation together (Science has discovered that all human and animal connective tissue has at its heart a substance called lamina. This substance appears in cell bodies in it the shape of a cross. Literally, the Cross of Christ holds our bodies together. (4) He is the head of His body, the Church; and (5) because God had Jesus reconcile all things to the Father. (6) Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Father now looks at those of us who love His Son through the eyes of Christ. He forgives us our failings. He offers us grace, love, and mercy.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Luke 10:38-42) records Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha. God bless her, Martha is focused on the task of creating a meal for our Lord. Mary, her sister, has abandoned the task to deepen her relationship with Jesus. Jesus reassures Martha that she is not to worry, while affirming Mary’s focus on Him and His teaching. This is a lesson for each of us, too, isn’t it? We don’t want to be invested in doing things for God without spending time investing in our relationship with Him daily.

God’s judgment is coming for America, just as it did for ancient Israel. But we still have time to get right with our Lord: First, we can trust in Him…as a God who protects and defends those who love Him; because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross for our sakes; and because He desires a deep relationship with each one of us.

Last week, I encouraged us to stand as watchmen (and watchwomen), praying daily for our country to turn back to God.

This week, I challenge us to pray daily for America. We want to do this because we love the USA. We want to do this because prayer– and the ballot box–are the only means we have for encouraging a national return to Christ. Consider this story from Stuart Strachan, Jr., about Babe Ruth, the great professional baseball player from 1914—1935. For those not familiar with “the Babe,” he hit 714 home runs in his career, and was responsible for bringing another 2, 214 runners in to score. He also contributed to a phenomenal 12 World’s Series wins:

Most of us have heard of Babe Ruth, but have you ever heard of Babe Pinelli? Pinelli was an umpire in Major League Baseball who once called The Great Bambino (Ruth) out on strikes. When the crowd began booing in disapproval of the call, Babe turned to the umpire and said “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.” The coaches and players braced for a swift ejection, but instead, Pinelli responded coolly, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

In life it’s easy to get caught up in the opinions of others, but in the end, it’s not our scoffers or critics by whom we will be judged. The Only Opinion That Matters is God’s.

God may be ready to “lower the boom” on America. Whether His judgment comes tomorrow or 5 or 20 years from now, we should not be afraid. Instead, we are to be faithful until Christ returns. Instead, we need to function as praying watchmen as we wait and watch to see what God does.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams