The Antidote to Isolation and Alienation

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 22, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 9:1-4; Ps 27:1-9; 1 Cor 1:10-18; Matt 4:12-23

John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, of “Two Bubba’s and a Bible” fame share the following story:

“Back in the 1980’s there was a man named Larry Trapp living in Lincoln, Nebraska. His name was doubly ironic: He was a man trapped in his own hatred and trapped in his own body. Larry Trapp was suffering from a fatal disease and was confined to a wheel chair; he was nearly blind; he was also the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan in Nebraska. He truly was a man trapped in darkness.

“Larry Trapp became obsessed with driving Michael Weisser out of town. Weiser was Jewish and the cantor of the Lincoln Synagogue. Trapp barraged Weisser with hate mail, at home and on the job [Remember, this was in the days before cell phones and internet]. He made incessant threatening phone calls, he organized demonstrations; he did everything he could to make life a living hell for Michael Weisser and his family.

“Cantor Weisser was truly intimidated and scared. He had a wife and children he wanted to protect. But Michael Weisser was also a man who was unwilling to let another person’s hate prevent him from showing love. So he started calling Larry Trapp’s home, always getting the answering machine. So, he always left a message. He said, ‘This is Michael Weisser. I’d like to talk to you. I want to know why you are doing this to me.’ Finally, one day, Larry Trapp answered the phone, screaming and cursing and threatening, ‘WHAT DO YOU WANT? YOU’RE HARASSING ME!’

“And Michael Weisser said, ‘I know you have a hard time getting around and can’t drive, and I was wondering if you might need a ride to the grocery store or something?’ After a very long stunned silence, Larry Trapp quietly replied, ‘Uh, no, I’ve got that covered, but thanks for asking.’

“Larry and Michael kept talking by phone. After a while, Larry Trapp started going over to the Jewish Cantor’s house for dinner, they became friends, and when it became apparent he had nowhere else to go the Weisser family invited Larry to move in with them and he did, dying there in Michael’s arms some months later.

“Somewhere along the way, Larry Trapp left the KKK. He spent his last time on earth spreading a message of love in a world of hate; Larry Trapp became an apostle to Klansmen and other hate groups, trying to let them see the great light of love and forgiveness he has seen and experienced.”

(Originally reported in Time Magazine, February 17, 1992)

I wish I could tell you that Michael Weisser was a Christian. He was not a Christian, and yet he offered Christ-like love, compassion, and mercy to someone who had been thoroughly hateful to him. Obviously he lived by God’s admonition in Leviticus 19:18: Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD. What a great example for us! We overcome hate not by repaying it in kind. We overcome hate not by exacting revenge—as the culture advises us. We overcome hate with a calm manner and a loving heart.

The plain truth is that disconnectedness — isolation and alienation (way too common in our nation today) is at the root of most human problems. We are disconnected from God, from each other, and even from our true selves. Think about those who instigate mass shootings—or even those who suicide. They tend to be loners, people who feel like outsiders. They lack genuine, open, trusting, and loving relationships. They don’t feel a sense of community and envy those who do. Over time, they become angry, disappointed, without hope and, I believe, then fall prey to acting on Satan-inspired thoughts like killing or destroying.

Now think about how we are to function as a church: We are to gather together to (1) Worship God; (2) Learn more about Him so we can love Him; (3) And to form a community that demonstrates His love for us to others. The church should be the antidote to the poison of disconnectedness, isolation, and alienation.

This is the clear message of three of our passages today.

A. Our Gospel is from Matthew 4:12-23, and describes how Jesus began His public ministry: Matthew 1st tells us Jesus’ motivation for moving His base of operations from Nazareth to Capernaum. We know from the prophesies of Isaiah in 9:1-2 and 42:6-7, that Jesus was/is meant to be a light for the Gentiles (a corrective for what the Israelites had failed to do). Additionally, Luke 4:14-30 tells us that Jesus was rejected by His friends and neighbors in Nazareth when He essentially claimed He was the Messiah. So, He moved His base of operations NE to a larger town, Capernaum. It was a fishing town on the banks of Sea of Galilee. Peter, Andrew, James, John and Matthew all came from there. It was also a busy border town with a customs house meant to regulate trade from two major trade routes: One running East and West; a second, “The Way of the Sea,” joined Arabia and Egypt with nations north of Israel. It was a region which contained a large number of Roman citizens (there for vacations, retirement, and “peace-keeping” purposes) and other folks from all over. As a result, Jesus could teach and interact with many, but without the scrutiny He would have received in Jerusalem.

There He enlisted His first disciples…out walking on the shoreline. First, He calls brothers Andrew and Peter (Remember, Andrew had been JtB’s disciple, an probably heard John call Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Then He calls brothers James and John. All four guys fish for a living, but He promises to make them fishers of men. Apparently they drop everything and follow Him. Jesus is picking the original leaders of His as yet to be formed Church.

The Church was/is His strategy for reaching us, the Gentiles. We know He lived and traveled with these guys for 3 years. They learned from His teachings; their observations of Him; and the practice opportunities He gave them. Jesus could have established His church any number of ways, but He gathered together a small group of committed followers. He developed deep, personal relationships with them. He then sent them out to transform the world–to carry His light to Jews, and to rescue Gentiles from the darkness of paganism or unbelief.

B. St. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian Church (1 Corinthians 1:10-18) emphasizes 2 points: He wants us to be as unified as we can be…Not to argue the merits/strengths of different pastors; not to hold a special allegiance to the ones who baptized us, married us, or buried our mothers, etc.; not even to come to church to make ourselves feel better. Rather, we must remember we are in the church in order to learn to know and to love Jesus, and to offer love to those who don’t yet know Him.

Paul wants us to follow Jesus—just like James, John, Andrew, and Peter. Rather than competing with each other, we need to keep our focus on Christ. Our loyalty is not to this church building—though we may love it–or even to our denomination. Our loyalty is to Jesus.

I reviewed my old sermons and realized I preached what I am about to say three years ago. We are at a cross-road in our denomination: Those who favor ordaining active gay persons and allowing same sex marriage are once again bringing that issue up for a vote. I said then and I think it is still true: I believe the United Methodist Church as we know it, will soon split, with those who hold to Scripture separating from those who appear to be following the dictates of the culture. We will be holding a parish meeting this Wednesday, January 25th, to discuss what we feel called to do. If we want to remain true to Biblical teachings, we may opt to leave the UMC and either join another denomination or remain independent. I urge you to pray about this, and to remember that Paul is urging us to remain faithful to Christ above all things. If the denomination is bowing to pressure from the culture—and chooses to depart from the teachings of Scripture–we may want to disassociate ourselves from the denomination. I was ordained an Episcopal “priest,” and left that demonination when the same split arose in favor of the Anglican Church. Please note I don’t take such a move lightly. In fact, I find it heart-breaking.

Meanwhile, it may seem like a big disconnect to consider a denominational split while also speaking of building relationships. When we pursue the Truth, sometimes we have to walk apart from the culture, from the denomination that nurtured our faith, and even sometimes from our families, or members of our families. Nevertheless, we strive to build relationships when we focus our spiritual energies on loving God and loving our neighbors.

May God give us His wisdom in this hour. Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Advertisement

Leading Others to Christ

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 15, 2023

Scriptures: Isa 49:1-7; Ps 40:1-11; 1 Cor 1:1-9; Jn 1:29-42

Do you remember who led you to Christ? Perhaps it was a Sunday School Teacher when you were a child? Maybe a godly parent or relative, or even a Christian neighbor, a teacher, or a coach you admired? It might have even been someone you met in the pages of a book—like the Bible or the Chronicles of Narnia? Or someone from TV? A television evangelist someone recommended you watch? Or a series, like the very popular current series, “The Chosen”? If you haven’t tuned into it on a streaming service or YouTube, I would highly recommend that you do. I have long loved Jesus, but I am finding The Chosen’s portrayal of Gospel stories has deepened my faith in Him.

I credit my grandmothers with teaching me about Jesus. They were both church-going, Bible reading women with personal relationships with Jesus. My father’s mother saw to it that I was baptized at age three. Both taught me that Jesus loved me, and saw to it that I attended Sunday School when in their care. In the days before Christian cartoons, movies and internet, I remember those old flannel-board presentations of cut outs of Noah and the animals making their way into the ark, and of David going up against Goliath. My mother’s mother cleaned her church and took me with her as a child, teaching by example the idea of serving God with our hands and our hearts.

Think back to who introduced you to Jesus and be sure to thank them in person, or thank God for them if they have already gone on to Glory.

Our Gospel lesson today (John 1:29-42) describes how John the Baptist (JtB) pointed two of his followers to Jesus. JtB sees Jesus passing by and comments to them (v.36) Look, the Lamb of God! The first is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. We don’t know the identity of the second guy—though tradition tells us it was John, the author of this Gospel account. (He is always so modest, never naming himself in his Gospel account, but often calling himself “the disciple Jesus loved.”)

These two come alongside Jesus, Who then asks them, What do you want? He’s not being rude; He just wants to know what is motivating them to connect with Him. Perhaps they are nervous, or feel put on the spot, but they respond, (v.36) Rabbi, where are you staying? I think this is such a curious question. I would have asked about His knowledge and/or His credentials: “Are You indeed the Christ?” “May we ask You some questions?” “May we follow You to find out more?” Instead, it sounds as if they want to know about His accommodations—“Are you staying here Capernaum? “ “At the Holiday Inn or the Hilton Courtyard?” But Jesus isn’t put off and replies, (v. 39) Come and you will see an echo of Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him. He very simply invites them. He encourages them to Come and…see for themselves, and they do spend the rest of the day with Him.

At some point—maybe that day or the next—Andrew leads Peter to Jesus. Andrew rightly believes that he and John—thanks to JtB—have met the One believed to be Messiah. Andrew then urges his brother, Simon Peter, to come meet Jesus as well. Jesus greets Simon with “a word of knowledge.” Without having previously met Simon, Jesus says his name, and cites his lineage ”You are the son of John” [Simon bar Jonah]. Then He proceeds to change Simon’s name: Cephas is the Aramaic form of rock or stone; Peter is the Greek word for rock. Peter was at that point anything but a rock! Jesus is renaming him not to describe his current state, but to inform who he was to become.

So let’s consider this: JtB, Jesus’ cousin, identifies Christ to Andrew and John. They have JtB’s word for it that Jesus is the Lamb of the God (a title with Messianic implications). They spend time with Him and are convinced He is the Messiah. Andrew brings Peter to Christ (just as John brings his brother James, and his father, Zebedee.) We are each individually introduced to Jesus, very often one-by-one, almost like exposure to a virus (meaning no disrespect).

We can also “catch the fever” by reading Scripture. Some pretty famous Christian authors were nonbelievers prior to reading the Bible: The English professor and subsequent theologian, CS Lewis, was converted by reading Scripture, as were the journalists become Christian writers and apologists, Philip Yancey and Josh McDowell.

Our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 49:1-7 is the 2nd (of 4) Servant Songs, all prophesies of Jesus. Last week, we read the 1st Servant Song from Isaiah 42, which talked about the character and mission of Jesus. He would be humble, gentle, and compassionate; He would be completely righteous or sinless; And he would be thoroughly dedicated to the task God placed before Him–He would redeem Israel as well as the rest of humankind.

Isaiah 49 speaks again of His task/His ministry of Salvation. God had meant the nation of Israel to be “a light to the Gentiles…,” a good example meant to attract pagan nations to God. But they had focused on themselves and had insulated themselves from other nations, thinking of them as unclean. So the Father would send Jesus Christ to take on the sinfulness of the world (i.e., clean us up). He was God’s plan from the beginning.

In verse 2, the prophet states He [God the Father] made My mouth [Jesus’] like a sharpened sword…. This means that Jesus’ teachings and pronouncements would be truthful and accurate. While His death might look to some like defeat, it would in fact fulfill God’s purposes for Him. The prophet predicts that the Father will be pleased with Jesus’ efforts–and Jesus did effect our salvation! Additionally, this Servant Song predicts, rightly, that Jesus the Messiah will be a light for the Gentiles and will save us all from the penalty for our sins.

Psalm 40:1-11 reiterates the same message. The death of Jesus might look like a catastrophic defeat, but His death and resurrection are in fact a great victory. The Psalmist, King David, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, defines Christ’s victory as a New Song, the Song of Redemption. He further asserts that (v.4) Blessed is the man [woman] who makes the Lord his [her] trust. That is what JtB, Andrew, John, and Peter each did. That’s what my grandmothers modeled for me. It’s what we all need to do…fully put our trust in Jesus.

Verse 6 is quoted in Hebrews 10:5 Sacrifice and offerings You did not desire, but a body you prepared for Me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. In the Old Testament sacrificial system the burnt offering was an atonement for sin. A lamb, bull, goat, or pigeon was killed then burnt whole as an aroma pleasing to the LORD. It was a costly and extravagant offering. No part of it was to be eaten by any human. The life of the animal took the place of the life of the person, in order for the person to gain forgiveness for their sin.

Now, remember, JtB called Jesus the Lamb of God. Way back in Genesis 22:7-8 Abraham is obedient even to the extent of offering his long-awaited son to God, when Isaac asks, Father…the fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” Later on, in Exodus 12 (think back to the 1st Passover) The Israelite slaves in Egypt were to select a 1 year old male lamb without defect. They were to kill it, then sprinkle its blood over their doorways, so when the angel of death swept through Egypt, claiming each first born son, those Israelites who had been obedient were spared. They had been saved by the blood of the lamb. Still later, in Isaiah 53:7 He [the suffering Servant, Jesus] was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. This is part of Isaiah’s predictions of how Messiah would die (3rd Servant Song); the prophet refers to Messiah as a lamb. Jesus is the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins. His right standing with God is now applied to us.

Our readings today not only demonstrate how we learn about Christ—often one person teaching another—but also how precious is the gift Jesus made of Himself for us. We can and should be grateful to whoever led us to Christ. We can and should, as well, be grateful to Christ for His saving work on our behalf—how incredibly vital this is!

Furthermore, we can and should be about the business of leading others to Christ! Ask the Lord to set before you this week those He desires you to tell about Jesus. Trust in Him to prepare their hearts to hear what you have to say. Trust also in Him to give you the opportunity, the courage, and the words to say.

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

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Pastor Sherry Adams

Waiting for Christ’s Return

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 13, 2022

Scriptures: Isaiah 65:17-25; Isaiah 12; 2 Thess 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19

Does it seem to you that we are often called upon to wait? We wait to be called in at the doctor’s, the dentist’s, or the vet’s office and in lines at Walmart, the grocery story, and the airport. How about waiting on the final results of this year’s elections? Florida had 7.5 million votes tabulated mere hours after the polls closed. Why has it taken Las Vegas—a place known for skillfully counting cards and numbers—and Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona, days and days to tally theirs?

Often we may feel like the old guy in the following story:

A very old man lay dying in his bed. In death’s doorway, he suddenly smelled the aroma of his favorite chocolate chip cookie wafting up the stairs. He gathered his remaining strength and lifted himself from the bed. Leaning against the wall, he slowly made his way out of the bedroom, and with even greater effort forced himself down the stairs, gripping the railing with both hands.With labored breath, he leaned against the door frame, gazing into the kitchen. Were it not for death’s agony, he would have thought himself already in heaven. There, spread out on waxed paper on the kitchen table were literally hundreds of his favorite chocolate chip cookies. Was it heaven? Or was it one final act of heroic love from his devoted wife, seeing to it that he left this world a happy man? Mustering one great final effort, he threw himself toward the table. The aged and withered hand, shaking, made its way to a cookie at the edge of the table, when he was suddenly smacked with a spatula by his wife. “Stay out of those,” she said. “They’re for the funeral. Source Unknown

That joke is awful! The wife certainly isn’t behaving like a Christian, is she? But it does bring home the point that we can wait with great expectation but be disappointed in the results. We might even wish we hadn’t gotten our hopes up.

However, Christ’s return will not disappoint those of us who love Him. It seems like it’s taking forever, and we wonder when it will happen. In 2 Peter 3:8-15a—Peter reminds us that God himself is patient. He calculates time differently than we do (vv.8-9)–>With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. A Smart aleck once read these words and went on to have a conversation with God that sounded like this:

“Lord – is it true that a thousand years for us is just like a minute to you?”

“Yes.”

“Then a million dollars to us must just be a penny to you.”

“Yes.”

“Lord, would you give me one of those pennies?”

“All right. Wait here a minute.”

(Source =Lifeway website; sermon by Rick Ezell on Wednesday, January 01, 2014)

Today’s Scripture passages all deal with either how to wait or signs to help us discern if the end is truly near.

A. Paul has much to say in his letters to the Thessalonian church about recognizing and awaiting the End Times. In our passage from last week, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17, Paul is writing in about 52 or 53AD, just twenty years or so after Jesus’ ascension into heaven. Some in the church thought they were in the End Times due to the Roman persecution. They worried that Christ had already returned and they had missed Him. Paul declares they have not and tells them what should reassure them: First of all, there will be a huge, active falling away from Christ—international apostasy—out of which will arise, “the man of lawlessness” (the Anti-Christ). We are seeing this already in America. We are now a post-Christian nation, with many not even knowing who Jesus is and with others who couldn’t care less. They dabble in the occult, they look to horoscopes and mediums, they may even worship Satan, but they tend to have no interest in pursuing the Christian God.

But back to “the man of lawlessness.” He will become a dictator, taking military, political, and religious control of the world. The big key to his identity is that (v.4) —He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. Right now, the Holy Spirit is holding him back/restraining him/preventing him from appearing. But when he arrives on the scene, he will mimic Jesus, claim to be Him, and perform counterfeit miracles based on Satan’s power. Right now, dictators come, ascend to power, fall and die. But the question to ask is, “Do they take over God’s temple and claim to be God?”—and— “Can they work miracles?” Nevertheless, take heart! Whatever he says or does, Jesus will overcome him.

What will help us stand firm until Jesus comes again is…

1.) Knowing Scripture so we can’t be fooled;

2.) Holding onto our faith, despite hard times;

3.) And prayer.

In today’s passage, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Paul gets after those believers who have stopped working as they wait. “No” he says! Look at his example: he worked as a tentmaker when he was among them. In verse 10, he is adamant—If a man [or woman] will not work, he [she] shall not eat.

So, how do we wait on Jesus’ Second Coming?

1.) Study Scripture, so we are aware of the signs.

2.) Hold onto our faith, no matter what happens in the culture.

3.) Pray.

4.) And work—even if we are retired (we can do acts of service and always pray for others).

B. Jesus, in Luke 21:5-19, forecasts some other signs that the end is coming. He predicts (v.8), first, there will be what He calls “false Christs,” false Messiahs. They will make claims that they are gods, but we must measure them against what we know of our One, True, Lord Jesus Christ. Also, they will bring with them indoctrination into false religions (perhaps like Progressive ideology, Critical Race Theory, and distortions of gender and sexuality, involving sex-change surgeries and hormonal therapies for children and the belief that men can have babies).

Next, He says we can look for wars, revolutions, and rumors of wars. It will be a time of turbulence all over the globe. These will precede the end, but are not the end itself. In verses 10-11, He describes worldwide chaos: Nations aligning with or fighting against each other; widespread earthquakes, famines, and plagues; fearful events and great signs from heaven—whatever those will be.

But even before these happenings arrive, Christ-followers will be persecuted. Even now, Christians are being raided and arrested by the FBI. The MyPillow®️ guy was stopped at a Hardee’s drive through and had his phone confiscated by FBI agents serving a subpoena. These violations of our civil rights will only increase. But Jesus assures us that we are not to worry about what to say when brought before judges or governmental officials. Instead of being horrified, we are to consider this our opportunity to witness to them. Instead of being tongue-tied or worried about what to say, Jesus assures us that He—through the power of the Holy Spirit–will give us the words to say, words that no one can dispute. We will become objects of hate to non-believers, perhaps including our family members and friends, but Jesus will protect us. He wants us to trust Him, despite whatever happens to us, including being martyred. This is a difficult truth to preach, but it is what Jesus predicted. May we have the courage and be strengthened to endure it if it comes to that.

C. Isaiah 65:17-25 reminds us of why we should stand firm in our faith, no matter what persecutions or trials we face in the End Times.

After Jesus defeats the forces of evil at Armageddon, God (v.17) will create new heavens and a new earth. If you read through Revelation, you can tell our world will be pretty beaten up by the time Jesus appears a 2nd time. We will probably need a new earth, at a minimum. God tells us, through His prophet (v.19) —The new Jerusalem will be delightful! God will be overjoyed with His people there; and they too will be very happy, with no weeping or crying. Premature death will be an event of the past (no cancers, illnesses, strokes, or heart-attacks). People will be able to enjoy the fruits of their labors (which assumes no warfare or taxes). All of God’s people will be blessed! God will answer our prayers before we even finish praying them. And all animals will become plant-eaters—no more carnivores devouring prey—and will be at peace with each other. Nonbelievers say it is certainly impossible for carnivores to become herbivores. However, if God created them, He can certainly alter their digestive systems and their food preferences.

Isaiah paints a great picture of what is to come while we wait for Christ’s return. But, like so many times in life, it appears to be going to get pretty rough for us before it eases up. I think of the three times I gave birth. Labor is truly hard work, but the birth at the end makes it all worth the travail. Our Lord promises us that it will smooth out and the end will be great!

The challenge for each of us is to hold on to our faith while we wait. In the meantime, we don’t want to get discouraged over political, economic, or social hardships. Instead we want to hold on to Jesus with both hands, trusting in Him no matter what comes. We want to be like Paul, who exhorted us (in Philippians 3:13-14) … straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. Amen! May that be so for all of us!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Don’t Be A Fool!

Pastor Sherry’s message for September 11, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

“Very well,” said the voice.

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

(The source of this story is unknown.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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

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 Hates Pride (Proverbs 16:18)

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 3, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 5:1-19; Ps 30; Galatians 6:1-16; Lk 10:1-20

The following is a true story. I shared this with you some years back, but it’s a good one that I think is worth another hearing:

A Granny-lady from Florida approached her car and was shocked to see two men sitting in it. She pulled her pistol out of her pocket-book, pointed it at them, and said, “I have a gun and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!” They immediately jumped out of the car and ran like mad! Relieved—and somewhat proud—she put her key in the ignition only to find it did not fit. Looking around in frustration, she then saw her own car several spaces away (You know how all silver or white SUV’s look the same!) Later, a booking Sargent at the local police station doubled over, laughing, as the 2 pale men reported a car-jacking by a “crazed, white-haired elderly woman, Caucasian, 5’ tall, wearing glasses, and carrying a large handgun. When questioned, the granny pleaded a “senior moment;” No charges were filed.

This is a funny story, isn’t it? It’s amusing precisely because it’s unexpected. The woman had to admit she was wrong—some find this very hard to do. The men were smart to remove themselves quickly. This is the kind of thing that their family and friends probably teased them about later. The lady was elderly. She was no doubt smaller and frailer than either one of them, but they wisely recognized her power differential. They were not too proud to run.

Our Old Testament and Gospel lessons today both demonstrate our Lord’s view of human pride. Let’s look at them together.

2 Kings 5:1-19 relates the story of Naaman, the Syrian general.

We begin in the year 852 BC. Israel and Syria (Aram) had been at war for most of that decade. At the time of this passage, they are enjoying an uneasy truce. Naaman was the very competent commander of the Syrian armies. He had the respect of his King, Ben Haddad II. He was viewed by those who knew him as an honorable man, an effective leader, and a valiant warrior. But he was also afflicted with leprosy. In Israel, he would have had to have quit the military to live in seclusion. Gentiles, however, did not tend to separate out those with skin diseases in those days. Did he actually have Hansen’s Disease, or what we today call “Leprosy?” Scholars are not sure. He may have had a chronic skin rash, like eczema or psoriasis, or even some sort of allergic reaction, like hives. Whatever the cause, he was dogged by this condition and apparently seemed eager to acquire a healing. He learns from his wife, who has a Hebrew slave girl, that there is a prophet in Israel, Elisha, to whom he could go to ask for his healing. So we have a proud, accomplished, but desperate man going along with the suggestion of a little slave girl.

His King gives him leave to go to Israel. He carries with him a letter saying words to the effect that, Here’s my general who comes in peace.…He also brings along a generous payment: 750# of silver; 150# of gold; and 10 sets of clothing. Relying on the usual diplomatic channels (go to the king 1st), he presents himself to the Joram, the King of Israel. Joram is Ahab’s and Jezebel’s son (he ruled 11 years, from 852-841BC. He was not as evil as his father and mother, but also not a true believer in God. King Joram freaks out when this very successful, powerful enemy warrior shows up! Joram, in his panic, forgets Elisha. He mistakenly believes Naaman expects him to heal him, saying Am I God? He is afraid his inability to effect a healing will become a reason to break off diplomatic relations and will precipitate a renewal of war. He tears his garments not in grief, but in frustration and despair. Elisha hears of the General’s visit (the Northern Kingdom was a small country).

Elisha chides the king (verse 8) Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know there is a prophet in Israel. Joram should have prayed, rather than freaking out! He should have called upon the prophet as God’s spokesperson.

In verse 9, Chariots blazing, Naaman arrives at Elisha’s like a rock star! He has the retinue, the diplomatic power, and the wealth of a famous person. He proudly expects to be treated quickly and effectively. But, God intends to heal him as well as to humble him: (1.) The prophet does not even come to greet him, or to offer the barest of hospitality—water, oil, a kiss of greeting; (2.) He instead sends him a message by a servant (v.10) Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed: The grand man feels disrespected! He was used to being accorded what we refer to today as “all due respect.” He was expecting some religious ceremony (verse 11) I thought he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the LORD his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. And why should he wash in the piddley, muddy Jordan when there are cleaner, clearer, grander rivers in Damascus? He explodes into a fit of temper!

Notice that once again, a servant intervenes. Trusted underlings urge restraint and obedience: (verse 13) …if the prophet had said do some great thing, would you not have done it? So, in verse 14 he obediently and humbly washes 7 times in the Jordan and is cleansed/healed of his skin disease. Naaman then praises God (verse 15a) Now I know there is no God in all the world except in Israel. The great man has been humbled. He now has some new attitudes and has taken on some new behaviors.

His obedience, not the prophet’s ritual, had led to his healing. He was healed when he put aside his pride, his prejudice (against the Jordan), his preconceived notions (the prophet must perform some sort of ritual); and his pushback against simplicity. He was healed when he decided to trust in what his servants told him about the Hebrew God. He suddenly became so devoted to the God of the Hebrews that he carts back a wagon-load of Israelite soil to Syria. Many ancient peoples believed their gods were territorial, to be powerful only on their own soil. He does not yet know that the Hebrew God is God of all the earth, unlimited by country boundary-lines. And he promises that when he has to attend his king in Baal-worship, he will instead be praying in secret to the One True God. Naaman has been healed, humbled, and converted.

Our Gospel lesson today is from Luke 10:1-20 and it reveals a lesson similar to that of our passage from 2 Kings. 72 disciples are sent out in pairs to preach, teach, heal and deliver folks from demons. Jesus tells them to go where they are received (the way has been prepared); and to depend entirely on God for their provision. They come back rejoicing in their success, even over demons. There is a natural tendency to rejoice in our successes, isn’t there? But Jesus reminds them that they belong to God; that is, they are doing God’s work through the power of His Holy Spirit. We don’t want to get “the big head,” thinking our successes in ministry come from our own efforts.

Jesus then goes on to prophecy the future judgment of 3 Jewish communities: Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. Unlike Sodom, Tyre, and Sidon, they have each had the opportunity to see Jesus and witness His teachings, healings, and miracles. Nevertheless, He knows they will have each rejected Him following His death on the Cross. As He says, rejecting Him is the same as rejecting God the Father. This is a case of hanging onto human pride (I know what is best for me.), leads to losing an opportunity for salvation.

Our God hates human pride: We are to put it to death. We are to stomp it out in ourselves. We are to smother or crush it. We are to be humble. Someone has once said, “Pride is the difference between what you are and what you think you are.”

It turns out that Samuel Morse was originally a painter of some renown. He was painting a portrait out of town when his wife became ill. Sadly she died before he’d even learned of her illness. Heartbroken, he set aside his painting and dedicated himself to developing a means of communicating, rapidly, over great distances. He eventually invented both the telegraph and the means to transmit messages on it, Morse Code. Even though he became very famous for these inventions, he remained humble, saying, “I have made a valuable application of electricity not because I was superior to other men but solely because God, who meant it for mankind, must reveal it to someone and He was pleased to reveal it to me.” Morse had the right heart attitude.

Consider the following poem by A. Dudley Dennison, Jr.:

Sometime when you are feeling important,

Sometime when your ego’s way up;

Sometime when you take it for granted

That you are the prize-winning “pup”;

Sometime when you feel that your absence

Would leave an unfillable hole,

Just follow these simple instructions,

And see how it humbles your soul.

Take a bucket and fill it with water,

Put your hand in it up to your wrist.

Now pull it out fast and the hole that remains

Is the measure of how you’ll be missed.

You may splash all you please as you enter,

And stir up the water galore,

But STOP and you’ll find in a minute,

It’s back where it was before.

Borrowed from Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.467).

Let us Pray: Lord, we humbly ask You to help us to give God the glory for whatever we do of merit. We also ask, in Jesus’ name, that You would please save us all from the sin of pride! Amen!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Worn Out and Done In

Pastor Sherry’s message for 6/19/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams