What Does God Want From Me?

Pastor Sherry’s message for January 29, 2023

Scriptures: Micah 6:1-8; Ps 15; 1 Cor 1:18-31; Matt 5:1-12

I heard an interesting, true story this week: A high school student I know—Jake–was called down to the office and told another kid—Sam–had accused him of bringing drugs to school to sell. Now Sam had been caught red-handed with illegal substances. When the school authorities asked where Sam got the drugs, he falsely named Jake. They brought Jake in, told him what he had been accused of, and searched him. Jake defended himself by saying he doesn’t do drugs and he certainly would neither bring them to school nor sell them. Because they had Sam’s story 1st, the authorities seemed reluctant to believe Jake. They frisked him and searched his locker and backpack but found nothing. Finally, they let Jake return to class yet would not tell him the name of the student who had falsely accused him.

The grown-ups must have forgotten that this is a small town. Word got out—as it generally always does–and Jake learned the identity of his accuser. Jake’s parents were furious at Sam—and wanted to address the matter with Sam’s parents straight away–but Jake asked them to let him handle the situation. Jake calmly confronted Sam, asking him why he had lied about him. Sam “stone-walled,” would not answer Jake, and would not give him eye-contact.

I was appalled when I heard this and I wondered if this is indicative of the value system of most teens today. Jake, a Christian, has taken a wise stance: he is now praying for his false-accuser…Praying that Sam would come to know Jesus; and Praying that Sam would regret lying and trying to get an innocent person into trouble. I commend him and would only add my hope that Sam comes to know the 10 Commandments—bearing false witness is #9.

Thinking about this incident over the last few days, I realized Jake’s response is right out of our Micah 6:1-8 lesson, as well as our psalm and Gospel:

The prophet Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah in Judea, and of Amos and Hosea in Samaria, during the 8th century BC. It was a time of great prosperity and wealth in Judah. It was also a time of extensive apostasy. Political corruption was rampant; the rich and powerful felt free to exploit those who were weaker; and many had fallen away from God.

When they did worship Him, their worship was pro-forma, mind-less and rote. Mostly, they just went through the motions. And their moral behavior was despicable. Actually, they were behaving a lot like modern Americans today.

So God appointed Micah as a “whistle-blower” to his time period. His job was to challenge the people on their arrogance, dishonesty, and hypocrisy. He was also tasked with warning them of the judgment to come if they did not turn back to the Lord.

Chapter 6:1-8 forms the climax of Micah’s prophesy: He portrays God as confronting Judah, as though they were adversaries in a court of law.

Listen to Peterson’s paraphrase (The Message) of verses 1-2–Take your stand in court. If you have a complaint, tell the mountains [powerful nations]; make your case to the hills [smaller. Less influential nations]. And now, Mountains, hear God’s case; listen, Jury Earth—For I am bringing charges against My people, I am building a case against Israel. God is telling the world to watch and listen.

But instead of going on the offensive, God asks what He is guilty of that His people have all but abandoned Him. He reminds them of their salvation history with Him:

(1) He has rescued them slavery in Egypt.

(2) He provided them with good leaders like Moses, Aaron and Miriam.

(3) When the king of Moab, Balak, hired the false prophet Balaam to curse them, God protected them by blocking any curses.

(4) He also provided for them when Joshua assumed leadership from Moses (at Shittim), and protected them at Gilgal as they recovered from circumcision. (They had not circumcised anyone on the wilderness march, so all the adult males now needed to take the sign of their covenant with God. Doing so required about 3 days recovery time when they would have been too vulnerable to resist an enemy attack). God had been faithful while they have been faithless.

Then the prophet anticipates the people’s response to God’s indictment: (verses 6-7) —Should we bring an armload of offerings topped off with yearling calves? Would God be impressed with thousands of rams, with buckets and barrels of olive oil? Would He be moved if I sacrificed my firstborn child, my precious baby, to cancel my sin? They are essentially asking, “What do we do to make amends to God?” “Is God mad because we didn’t do enough?” “Should we do more to try to please Him?” But God does not want extravagant offerings from us. As if we can do something for God! A much later generation will ask the same thing of Jesus, and He will answer (John 6:28-29) —This is the work of God [that you can do], that you believe in Him Whom He has sent [faith in Jesus]. All we can do, and the best we can do, is to have faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

And in verse 8, Micah summarizes the issue: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. Listen to the way Peterson paraphrases it: But He’s already made it plain how to live, what to do, what GOD is looking for in men and women. It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously—take God seriously.

They are dwelling in darkness, as are many in our country today. . Psalm 15: 2-3 says [Those who please God are] the one whose walk is blameless, who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from their heart; whose tongue utters no slander, who does not wrong to a neighbor, and casts no slur on others. Sam’s behavior demonstrates he is dwelling in darkness. The folks back then—much like many “religious” folks today–are focusing on external religious practices, while neglecting their internal experience of God. They need to know and relate to God’s heart.

So what does Micah mean in verse 8? This side of the Cross, we know that we must believe in Jesus to be saved. What God wants from us is to demonstrate our faith by living a life that pleases Him:

(1) To act justly means to do what is right and truthful in God’s eyes. Sam lied to get the focus off himself—he threw Jake under the bus. If Sam had acted justly, he would have admitted his own fault and left Jake out of it. To act justly means exhibiting honest practices in business; not cheating on your taxes or your spouse; giving your employer a full day’s work for a full day’s pay (and employers should give their workers the pay they have earned; playing by the rules in sports and cards, etc; in other words, doing the right thing in God’s eyes.

(2) To love mercy means to offer others grace—i.e., treat them better than they deserve. Justice is a great starting point, but it’s not enough. Grace is Jake forgiving Sam for having tried to ruin his reputation and get him into trouble. God has saved us, through Jesus, when we did not deserve it. We offer grace to others because Jesus offered/offers it to us.

(3) To walk humbly with our God means to do God’s will instead of our own. Humility says “God made me and He knows what is best for me. I’m not as smart as He is, so I will submit to Him and follow His will.” Pride, on the other hand, says, “I’m in charge of me and I will do what I want to do.” It puts self ahead of God. In fact, it makes self a god instead of the One Who is God. Prideful people lack a “teachable spirit.” They are unwilling to admit they don’t always know what is best and are therefore unwilling to listen to someone who might be wiser or more experienced.

No wonder God says in Isaiah 66:2–But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My Word.

No wonder Jesus lists humility of spirit as the 1st characteristic to be blessed in the Beatitudes of Matthew. As Peterson phrases it, You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule.

So what’s God want from me, from us? What defines a life that pleases God? First, we must have faith in His Son, Jesus. Next, we try to live a life that is characterized by the following: Acting honestly and rightly; offering grace to others, even when they don’t appear to deserve it; and being humble with regard to God, remembering to be grateful to Him for all of His blessings, and to be obedient to Him, even when it’s hard. I believe Jake pleased God when he confronted Sam face-to-face, rather than castigating him on social media. This righteous behavior took courage and humility. That young man certainly set an example for Sam, and for us.

May we all remember to act justly, offer grace/mercy to others, and walk humbly with our God! Amen!

©️2023 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Advertisement

Our God Prefers Truth over Lying to Influence People

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 6, 2022

Scriptures: Haggai 1:15-2:9; Ps 145:1-5; 2 Thess 2:1-17; Lk 20:27-40

One of the things I most love about our God is that He is a straight shooter. He always speaks the truth, and nothing but the truth, even if folks don’t like it or don’t want to hear it. Truth, real truth, is often a scarce commodity. In this time of elections, for instance, we hear “facts” from a candidate that are called “disinformation”—or outright lies—by his/her opponent. Since they contradict each other, we end up wondering which one is telling the real truth. The same is true of newscasters. Remember the days of the great Walter Cronkite? He detailed the news without spin or opinion. We felt like we were hearing the truth and we trusted him. Telling the truth leads to trust in the person who tells it.

Two stories I read recently highlight this:

(1) The first concerns 2 outrageously wealthy and wicked brothers. They were consummate hypocrites, acting like they were such great Christians on Sundays, and contributing tons of money to various church projects—you know the type—while the rest of the week, they schemed and scammed at work, defrauded their friends and colleagues, and cheated on their wives. (These are the kinds of Christians that non-Christians point to, paint with a broad brush, and use to call us all hypocrites.)

A new pastor arrived who preached Biblical truths with passion and commitment. Under his leadership, the church grew so much that the congregation needed to enlarge their worship space. At about that time, one of these brothers died. The other brother approached the new pastor and offered to cover the entire cost of the building expansion, if the new pastor would claim at the funeral that the deceased brother had been a saint.

Now the new minister had discerned the truth about these two brothers. Nevertheless, he gave his word that he would call the deceased a saint. He took the check to the bank, where he immediately deposited it. He then said the following at the funeral the next day: “This man was an ungodly sinner, wicked to the core. He was unfaithful to his wife, hot-tempered with his children, ruthless in his business, and a hypocrite at church…but compared to his brother, he was a saint.”

(2) The 2nd story comes from a 4th grade class who wrote a letter to their teacher who was convalescing in the hospital from surgery: “Dear Mrs. Fisher, Your fourth grade class wishes you a speedy recovery by a vote of 15-14.”

(Both stories reported by Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.587-588.)

Two of our passages today demonstrate God’s preference for truth-telling over lying:

A. Haggai 1:15-2:9. The prophet Haggai, another minor prophet, proclaimed God’s word to the Israelite remnant when they returned to the Promised Land after their 70 year exile in Babylon. He ministered during the same period as Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Zechariah. His book is the 2nd shortest in the Old Testament (only Obadiah is shorter).

He gave five messages to the people and each is precisely dated based on the reigns of the kings of Persia. The challenge which proceeds today’s reading (1:1-11) was given on September 1, 520BC. The people had encountered resistance from Samaritans and Arabs around them in their efforts to rebuild the Temple. So when the process became difficult, they wrongly assumed it must not be God’s will to rebuild at that time. God rebuked and redirected the remnant’s erroneous assessment (1:12-15) on September 24, 520. Essentially, the Lord told them, “Au contrare, mes amis. [This is the last that I remember of my high school French.] You have deserted your work on My house to work on your own houses. I am not happy with this! Don’t worry about the resistance because…(v.13) I am with you.” So they jumped to it! (v.15b) on the 24th day of the 6th month in the 2nd year of King Darius.

After they had gathered material and begun again to rebuild, the Lord encouraged the people, (2:1-9) on October 21st, 520. The elderly folks—who had been around to see the grandeur of Solomon’s Temple—were dismayed by how pitiful (to them) the reconstructed temple looked. Solomon’s Temple, which Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had destroyed, had been a “jewel box,” and one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World. It had been constructed of marble overlaid with gold, silver and jewels. These poor refugees had no such gold, silver, or jewels; they rebuilt with just rock set upon rock. So God had the prophet tell the political leader, Zerubbabel, the religious leader, Joshua (a different Joshua from the one who had led the Children of Israel into the Promised Land), and all the people, Be strong…for I am with you. The Lord encouraged them by saying (vv.6-9) In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land [in other words, shock and awe everyone]. I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations [Jesus] will come, and I will fill this house with glory [because Jesus will be teaching within it]. The silver is Mine and the gold is Mine…the glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house…and in this place I will grant peace.

So God conveyed to them the stark truth: “You have abandoned building My house because you got scared, then focused on your own houses. You need to get cracking on My house!” Once they did begin construction, they were disappointed with the results. Again, God redirected them. “I’ve got this. This house will exceed the beauty of Solomon’s Temple, though plain, because Jesus, My Son, will grace it with His divine presence.” Notice: God is honest with them but also tender and encouraging.

2. Luke 20:27-40. In a way similar to that of God the Father, Jesus rebukes and redirects the Sadducees. Remember, the Sadducees were the rich, urbane, religious liberals of the day. They dismissed the Pharisees as fundamentalists, and they curried the favor of the Romans for power and influence. They approach Jesus with a ridiculous issue: How likely is it that a woman would marry one brother after his elder brother had died, on and on through 7 brothers? Brothers 3-7 would no doubt decide she was cursed and would avoid her, or barren and would avoid her.

We see this with Judah’s 1st two sons. Back in Genesis 38, Tamar married Judah’s 1st son, Er. He was so wicked he was put to death by God.

Then, according to the law intended both to provide for and to protect widows—as well as ensure descendants for the dead man–Tamar married Judah’s 2nd son, Onan. Onan was also very evil so the Lord put him to death as well. Judah refused to allow Tamar to marry his 3rd son, Shelah, believing she might somehow cause his death too. My maternal grandmother married five times (but not to 5 brothers). Each died a natural death. Nevertheless, we teased her claiming that marrying her was the “kiss of death” for her husbands.

These Sadducees should have been familiar with this Genesis story, so would have known their example was preposterous. Additionally, as Luke points out, Sadducees didn’t even believe in an afterlife or in a resurrection.

Matthew and Mark both report that Jesus told them they neither knew Scripture nor understand the power of God (they didn’t believe in the supernatural or in miracles). Jesus doesn’t really address their ridiculous case, but instead demonstrates from Exodus 3 that Our God is the God of living persons. He says to them (v.37) But in the account of the bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” [all present tense]. He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to Him all are alive. He is the God of all of us on earth and also of those who go on to heaven to dwell—in a different life form—with Him there. He rebukes them for their ignorance of God’s Word and their unbelief, but redirects them to the reality of resurrection.

So what is God saying to us today thru these passages? Among a number of possibilities are the following:

(1) I believe He is asking us, “Will we be honest with people?” Like our God is, like the new pastor in the story was, and like the children were. God the Father enjoined us not to lie, making slander or “bearing false witness,” the 9th of the 10 Commandments. We want to remember that Jesus called Himself the way, the truth, and the life. To our God, truth is not just a virtue or a concept, it is the person of Jesus! Jesus called the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth, so He too both embodies truth and can lead us to the truth. We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us discern what is true and what isn’t. We can also ask the Holy Spirit to give us the courage to speak the truth, in all situations.

(2) We want to speak truth, but we also want—as best as we can– to speak the truth in love. The Father rebuked the remnant, then also encouraged them. Jesus rebuked the Sadducees, then redirected them, addressing their core theological errors. In both stories I related, the folks involved told the truth, but without much love or compassion.

(3) Lying politicians, newscasters, and others need to beware. Jesus says of Satan, in John 8:44 that…[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lives. Lying helps us resemble the evil one in behavior. Lying is never a good idea. It offends God. Additionally, the truth generally always comes out, then the liar is shown for what he/she is.

This Tuesday, Election Day, let’s watch and see who the American people perceive are the liars, and may the truth-tellers win! And may we resolve always to speak the truth in love.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Antidote to Apostasy

Pastor Sherry’s Message for October 16, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 31:27-34; Ps 119:97-105; 2 Tim, 3:14-4:5; Lk 18:1-8

“In the sixteenth century, there was a protestant reformer in England by the name of Hugh Latimer. He was known as a great preacher of his day and as a result he had many opportunities to speak. Once he found that he was to preach before King Henry VIII of England. As he thought about his great responsibility to bring a message before the king he realized that the message that God laid on his heart was not the message that the king would want to hear.

“As he began his sermon he said, ‘Latimer! Latimer! Do you remember that you are speaking before the high and mighty King Henry VIII; who has power to command you to be sent to prison, and who can have your head cut off, if it please him? Will you not take care to say nothing that will offend royal ears?’

“He then paused and continued, ‘Latimer! Latimer! Do you not remember that you are speaking before the King of kings and Lord of lords; before Him, at whose throne Henry VIII will stand; before Him, to whom one day you will have to give account yourself? Latimer! Latimer! Be faithful to your Master, and declare all of God’s Word.’

“Latimer faced the choice: would he preach what man wanted to hear or would he preach what Christ would have him preach. Latimer did take his stand for truth and preached boldly. Eventually, he was martyred by Henry’s daughter the Roman Catholic Queen Mary.” (Borrowed from a website known as “Ministry 127”, 10/15/2022).

What a choice Hugh Latimore faced: Preach God’s word and offend a dangerous monarch; or preach what Henry the VIII wanted to hear and perhaps offend Jesus. Interestingly, he bravely chose to potentially offend the king. King Henry appears to have respected him for it, and had him made a Bishop. It was Henry’s daughter by his 1st wife (Catherine of Aragon), Queen “Bloody Mary,” who had him burned at the stake as a protestant heretic.

Last week, several of our readings focused on apostasy. You may recall that apostasy means turning your back on, or walking away from your faith in Jesus. You’ve been taught faith in Christ and accepted that Jesus is Lord; but you come to reject this faith, for any number of reasons.

I was a person of faith from my childhood until I attended college at 18. I became a Sociology major—sociology is the study of the influence our groups have on our behavior. My groups influenced me away from my faith. It didn’t help that I didn’t want to get up on Sunday mornings to go to church. And, with the arrogance of youth, I had decided I knew better than God, so I believed I could intelligently criticize Him. It was when I turned 28 however, was married, and had my first child that I realized I needed God’s help in raising that child. My husband and I came home from the hospital with this little boy, sat down on the couch, looked at each other, and said, “What now?” We didn’t know what we were doing. Both of us had come from dysfunctional homes. We knew what we didn’t want to do, but we did not know how to go about what we did want. Clearly, I wasn’t as smart or as competent as I thought I was. I had become what Scripture calls, “Humble /poor in spirit.” I realized I needed God. That’s the first beatitude from Matthew 5:3–Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Our Scripture passages today reveal how God’s Word serves as an antidote to apostasy:

1. In 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5, Paul is urging the young pastor Timothy to maintain church order through preaching God’s Word. Paul commends Timothy in verse 15, saying—…from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. He further asserts that (vv.16-17)—All Scripture is God-breathed [not just written by people, but inspired by God] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [and woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. So knowing God’s Word makes you wise. “Your work as a pastor, Timothy (and Sherry) needs to be based upon preaching and teaching God’s Word.” He then charges Tim–and all of us who are Christian ministers–to (v.2) —Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season [when it’s popular and when it isn’t]; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come [and is here, now] when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

I made a friend in Pittsburgh (where I went to seminary)—let’s call her Mrs. Watson—who was a nominal Catholic. She had grown up in the faith, but had fallen away as an adult. She then had created her own set of beliefs by picking and choosing elements from several religions. She called herself a Christian, but also believed in reincarnation. I asked her why she wanted to make her salvation dependent on her own effort–what if she were reincarnated as a cockroach!—when Jesus had already done the work for her?

Back before the Episcopal Church split from Bible-believing conservatives, forming the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA)—liberal theologians were telling people that God was “doing a new thing” (that is, ordaining active gay pastors and marrying gay couples). One heretical bishop from New Jersey told his congregation that it was all right for him to have an affair with his secretary because his wife was physically incapacitated. God may have been doing a new thing, but His new things will not contradict the whole counsel of Scripture. Scripture consists of God’s thoughts written down. It says in several places that He does not change His mind (for example, James 1:17–Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, Who does not change like shifting shadows.

I once had a young man come to me who told me God had said it was OK for him to satisfy himself sexually, outside of marriage. He may have heard a voice say that to him, but since that teaching disagrees with God’s Word, I did not think he was hearing from God. After all, Paul said that (2 Corinthians 11:14). —…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. This message was something this young man wanted to hear to justify what he wanted to do.

As a pastor and preacher, my primary duty is to preach passages from the Bible. The Truth is that sincere believers are hungry and thirsty for what God provides for us in His Word. I’ll never forget the results of an independent study I did in seminary on the history of the Christian Church in Vietnam since the war we fought there. Prior to the war, both the Catholic Church and the Christian Missionary Alliance Church were very active, making converts in Vietnam. After the war, the CMA especially redoubled its efforts. They evangelized a small tribe hidden away in the mountains, having learned their language. The chief confronted them after he heard of Jesus. He asked them, “How long have you known about this Jesus?” “For over 2,000 years,” they replied. “Then,” the chief retorted, “why has it taken you so long to bring this good news to us?” To people trying hard to appease ruthless gods of nature, the Gospel message of God’s deep, abiding love for us is truly Good News. Similarly, a seminary friend of mine took a small parish in North Carolina. After she had preached for several weeks, she was told by a parishioner at the door, “Thank God you preach from the Bible! I was sick to death of hearing sermons about saving the whales, or about championing the Green New Deal.” Paul knew we would get off course, drift away from Jesus, if we preached anything but God’s Word.

2. The psalmist (Psalm 119:97-105) predates Paul but says about the same thing: In verses 97-100 he declares that meditating on Scripture makes a person wiser than their teachers, their elders, or their enemies. If one is able to live by the wisdom he or she reads in the Bible, she or he is also able to discern wrong paths and understand right actions (v.104).

When I arrived at the church I served in New Orleans (around 2003), the staff was reading a book (The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown) that was popular at the time but filled with unorthodox and heretical nonsense. They did not know Scripture, so they had no way of knowing why what they were reading was untrue. My boss and I had to sit down with them and point out where the book departed from the Truth Scripture tells us about Jesus.

“John Wesley used to ask his young men whom he had sent out to preach on probation two questions: “Has anyone been converted?” and “Did anyone get mad?” If the answer was “No,” he told them he did not think the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel, and sent them about their business. When the Holy Ghost convicts of sin, people are either converted or they don’t like it, and get mad.” (Dwight L. Moody, Moody’s Anecdotes, Project Gutenberg, 2009, p. 123).

As the Psalmist writes (v.105)—Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. God’s word shows us the way to go. Like a flashlight in the dark, or a miner’s or fireman’s helmet, it helps guide us to safety.

3. Jeremiah prophesies (in 31:27-34)—even before the people are defeated by the Babylonians—that God will bring them back to the Promised Land. He did bring them back starting about 70 years after they were deported (516 BC). He also brought them back in 1948. They returned to the Land, and to the country Israel, but not to the Lord. That prophetic fulfillment awaits the End Times. Then, the prophet predicts, God will restore Israel—because He loves them—and they will come to know Jesus Christ as their Messiah. They do not as yet accept Jesus as Messiah; they have not discerned God’s Word rightly.

4. Jesus tells the Parable of the Unjust Judge in Luke 18:1-8. His purpose in telling the story is to encourage them…to always pray and not give up (v.1). However, He is not saying God the Father is like this crooked judge. On the contrary, God the Father is much more moral, much holier than this corrupt official. And He commends the persistent woman, and asks (v.8b) —when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth? He will if we are faithful to utilize our antidotes to apostasy: (1) To read and meditate on Scripture—so that it is almost written on our hearts–and (2) to persist in daily conversation (prayer) with God. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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

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

Becoming a Mature Follower of Christ

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 7/24/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Dire Warnings

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 10, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Have you ever noticed that sometimes authorities/experts misdirect us? Some examples of this include the following:

1. In my training as a psychologist in the late 1980’s, we were told not to talk to people about their spiritual beliefs. Supposedly, it was none of our business and not germane to emotional or cognitive struggles. But then I came to realize—thru experience—that at the root of most emotional problems is a misperception (or two or three) about God. True healing requires that we talk these through.

2. Consider the Covid advice and the mandates. We were told to close the churches so as not to spread the virus. But the history of the Christian Church in the first and second centuries demonstrates that the Church grew because Christians helped tend the sick through two vicious plagues. Scripture tells us (Hebrews 10:25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. And Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. That’s why we reopened so much sooner than most others around us.

3. You have probably heard the adage, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” This is good advice when raising teenagers. However, my son and I have each written 2 books mostly during the hours from 10pm-2:00 am. As “night owls,” we are most creative then. Additionally, no one else is awake to interrupt or to distract us.

4. I have also heard church authorities tell preachers not to touch on political issues in their sermons. It is often true that if you criticize one party, you run the risk of alienating those who favor it. But you may have noticed that I do criticize what appears to me to be corruption, collusion, and outright fraud and deception—in whichever party—because these behaviors are opposed to, are antithetical to the Christian life. There comes a time when, as a pastor, I have to point out for us how our culture is veering off into directions that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t want for you to be conned or misled. And I have to please the Lord, even if it “ruffles the feathers” of some.

Consider the current push toward Socialism—and ultimately Communism—by the “Progressives” in our culture today. This week I read a book called The Naked Communist: Exposing Communism and Restoring Freedom. It was written in 1958 by an FBI agent tasked with investigating communist efforts in the U.S., and updated/reprinted 7 more times (most recently in 2017) by W. Cleon Skousen (and his son, Paul). Dr. Ben Carson says it lays out the whole “Progressive” plan for America. I believe Skousen (and Carson) are right.

Skousen reveals 45 goals of Communism designed to take over the US, and asserts that 44 of them have already been at least partially achieved. Consider the following for example:

#15 Capture one or both of the political parties in US;

#17 Get control of the schools, especially through rewriting history;

#20 Infiltrate the press;

#25 & #26 Breakdown cultural standards of sexual morality; promote pornography, alternate forms of sexual expression, and promiscuity as normal, natural, and healthy.

#27 Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social religion;” discredit the Bible.

#28 Eliminate prayer or any type of religious expression in the schools, as a violation of the separation of church and state. I remember when I first arrived in Florida in the mid-1970’s and was teaching in public high school, we began each day with prayer and a Bible verse.

#29 Discredit the American Founding Fathers.

#40 Discredit the American family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce. Florida has “No Fault” divorce, which means a divorce can be granted if only one person wants the marriage to end. Traditional grounds like adultery or cruelty are no longer required.

#42 Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition.

If we examine current trends in the US, we can recognize, with Skousen, how many of these goals have already been achieved in our country.

This brings me to our Old Testament lesson for today: Amos 7:7-17. Amos was a farmer and herdsman, from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, who God ordained as a prophet and sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (His name, Amos, means burden-bearer.) He was a commoner, not of the priestly or political classes. He was an outsider. He prophesized during the reigns of King Ussiah—a good king–in Judah (790-740BC) and of Jeroboam II—a bad king– in Israel (793-753). This was a time of prosperity and security in both kingdoms. Biblical scholars tell us that luxury abounded; that making money had become more important than worshipping God; and that empty “ritual religion” and other forms of spirituality were popular, but belief in and obedience to God was waning. The rich exploited the poor. The judicial system was corrupt, offering one standard for the rich and the influential, and another for the poor. Injustice was rampant, as the peoples’ moral fiber had eroded. Sound familiar?

So God sent Amos to declare His judgment on Israel. He issued a call to repentance. He urged Israelites to seek God sincerely. His job was to warn the Northern Kingdom that God was losing patience with them. The Lord told him to prophesy that that God’s judgment was looming. He was to issue the dire warning that their end was coming. God always gives us plenty of warning before He enacts His judgment. Amos addressed Israel from 760-750BC. The Northern Kingdom was defeated and either killed or carried off by Assyria in 722BC.

In this morning’s reading, we have one of Amos’ warnings. God tells him His judgment is like holding a plumb line to a building or to a strip of wallpaper. If a line is plumb, it hangs vertically and is “straight.” I have hung wall-paper a number of times in my life, and I always snapped a blue chalk-line to ensure the first strip went up plumb. God uses this same image in the prophesies of Isaiah (28:16-19), Jeremiah (31:38-39), and Zechariah (2:1-5) to indicate that He is getting ready to render a judgment. The plumb line is God’s ethical standard, which the people have failed to meet.

Then the passage moves to communications between Amos and Amaziah, the pagan priest of Bethel (King Jeroboam’s Chapel): Amaziah reports Amos to the king, but distorts the prophet’s message (an early example of fake news). He accuses Amos of conspiracy against the King. He misquotes Amos, exaggerating and personalizing the prophet’s predictions. The prophet never says Jeroboam will be killed in battle; instead, Amos predicts Jeroboam’s “house” or dynasty will fall by the sword.

Amaziah brings the King’s message to Amos–>Go back where you belong. Amaziah was no doubt refined, well-educated, perhaps even charismatic and given to flowery speech—we recognize the type, slick and persuasive. He probably considered Amos a country “rube,” a “deplorable,” someone beneath his contempt. He implies Amos is a prophet for hire, being paid to bring bad news—or, worse yet, a fanatic. But Amos answers him, calmly, with modesty and moderation: No, I am not seminary trained nor the son of a prophet. I’m here because the God you no longer worship told me to come. Amos then pronounces God’s judgment against the real false authority, the pagan priest:

1.) Amaziah will die in captivity;

2.) His wife will be reduced to prostitution to survive;

3.) His sons and daughters will be killed (by the blood-thirsty and vicious Assyrians);

4.) His land will be divided (remember, a Levite never had land);

5.) And Israel will be exiled.

Notice that Amaziah had position, wealth, authority, and reputation—but was still dead wrong. Amos lacked these human credentials, but had the true word and the blessing of God Almighty!

If we compare this portion of Scripture with the Communist goals for America cited by Skousen, you can see that, first of all, we (America) are out of plumb with God. Tragically, our culture has wandered far from God’s will. In 2017, polls reported that 32% of US adults under 30 have no religious affiliation. In a recent interview of random strangers on the street in New York, I heard a guy say he did not know who the interviewer meant when he asked him about God. He’d not heard of God. Church attendance is down in most all denominations. Many of those who left with the quarantines/shutdowns have not returned.

Secondly, this means, I believe, that our country is headed toward God’s judgment. Please understand that the Progressive agenda is at best socialist and at worst communist. Both are anti-God and anti-Christianity. This is why we earnestly pray each Sunday for a revival of American faith in Jesus. This is why we pray that the crooks, the dishonest, and the ungodly in both parties in our country would be voted out of office and replaced with Godly persons who love Jesus and love the USA.

This is why we pray for a decline in violence and a rebirth of national respect for life and the rights of others.

Finally, we have to wonder what we can do. Our God issues dire warnings before He brings on His judgment. We need to consider ourselves warned. So, we can…

1. Refuse to be bullied by the progressive culture.

2. Decide, will you obey humans or obey God?

3. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana humorously says, “Eat your veggies and vote them out of office!”

4. Consider 2 Chronicles 7:14 …if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Ask God to forgive the sins of our country.

The Lord views us both individually and as a national group, so we can take it on ourselves to ask forgiveness for our national sins. Look around, think about it, and you will know what they are. We can also pray diligently and seek His face.

©️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

Packing Light, Packing Right

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 26, 2022

Scriptures: 2 Kgs 2:1-18; Ps 77:1-2, 11-20; Gal 5:1. 13-25; Lk 9:51-62

I would have liked to preach the passage about Elijah and Elisha, or the one from Galatians, but the Lord told me to preach the Gospel lesson today. I wrote my sermon, then looked back over my sermons for the past 6 years, and realized that I had preached this Gospel lesson (Luke 9:51-62) twice already, in 2016 and 2019. The Lord must believe we need to hear this lesson yet again.

The story is told of a dairy farmer who decided he needed a new pick-up truck: “He had seen an ad in the paper about discounts and factory rebates, so he decided to trade in his old clunker. [My farmer son-in-law just replaced his pick-up truck; it had 470,000 miles on it!] He chose a new model and was ready to write the check for the full amount. The salesman said, “Wait, I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” The farmer said, “Isn’t it the price I saw in the papers? The salesman said, “No, that’s for the basic model, all the options cost extra.” So after the options were added, the farmer reluctantly wrote a check and drove off in his new pick-up.

A few months later the car salesman called the farmer because he wanted to buy a cow for his son’s 4-H [or FFA] project. The farmer assured the car salesman he had several good milk cows for sale for $500. The salesman drove out and selected a cow and took out his checkbook. The farmer said, “Wait. I haven’t given you the final cost yet.” Then he handed the salesman a bill that read:

BASIC COW $500

Two-tone exterior $45, Extra stomach $75, Milk storage compartment $60, Straw recycle compartment $120, Four handy spigots @ $10 each $40, Leather upholstery $125, Dual horns $45, Automatic rear fly swatter $38, Natural fertilizer attachment $185.

GRAND TOTAL $1233.

Whether you’re buying cars or cows, it’s important to get to what we call “the bottom line.” What is the “bottom line” of following Jesus? You may go into sticker shock when you discover it. Many people are only interested in the basic model of Christian living. They want just enough Christianity to keep them out of hell without intruding on their fun. You don’t find the full cost of discipleship advertised very often these days. Few preachers discuss it because it is unpleasant; it doesn’t fill churches. It isn’t the prosperity gospel that says, “Believe and you will be rich and happy.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship [and he should know as he died for his faith], “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to die.” (borrowed from a sermon by David Dykes, Don’t Waste Your Life, 8/31/2011.)

Pretty sobering, isn’t it?

Now consider, if you felt called to follow Jesus (and I hope each of you does), how would you pack? You might take a change or two of clothing; your Bible; your toothbrush, comb, and some toiletries; and your prescription meds and any supplements you use. But Jesus doesn’t concern Himself with any of these practical items. Instead He tells you to count the cost, to be sure you are prepared to do what it takes to be His follower. He is more concerned with your priorities than your creature comforts. He is most concerned with your heart-attitudes.

Essentially the message of our Gospel lesson today is to “Pack Light and Pack Right” (Luke 9:51-62). Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and to His crucifixion. He knows His time left to disciple/train His followers is brief. So He takes the shortcut, from His 3rd tour of Galilee in the North to Jerusalem in the South–which involves walking through Samaria. He has sent messengers ahead to a village to prepare for His arrival. He now travels with a retinue including the 12 disciples and a number of women who help pay their expenses from their own wealth. Unfortunately, the messengers discover the Samaritans there don’t want Him to sojourn in their village. YIKES! They reject Christ!

John and James are so outraged that they ask Him to call down the wrath of God on that community. They must have forgotten His admonition to them at the beginning of Chapter 9, when He had sent out the 12, two-by-two to practice on their own what He had taught and demonstrated for them: (1) They were to pack light, depending on God for their provision; (2) They were to preach, heal the sick, and cast out demons in Jesus’ name; (3) And they were to shake the dust off their feet and leave behind any who rebuffed them. There was to be no punishing of those who rejected them or Jesus.

In a sense, rejecting Jesus embodies its own punishment: eternal damnation. Remember, the pig farmers from last week’s Gospel (Luke 8:26-39), preferred saving their livelihoods to saving their souls. Jesus didn’t even rebuke them. He just got back in the boat and returned to Galilee. Jesus’ way is not to take revenge, not to try to ruin those who disagree with Him—so counter to our cancel culture of today. Instead, Jesus modeled for us to be patient, and to pray for and offer grace and forgiveness to those who reject Christ, or who mock or spurn us because we follow Him.

In His subsequent encounters with 3 would-be disciples, Jesus teaches that following Him takes commitment. The 1st man says confidently (v.57) that he will follow Jesus anywhere. Perhaps he has in mind the idea of following a traditional rabbi. Students walked beside or behind him and absorbed his teaching. Later they would convey it to others, saying: Rabbi Hillel said this…Rabbi Gamaliel said that. Have you ever noticed that Jesus never referenced another rabbi, saying instead, you have heard it said ________, but I say ________. There was no more important authority than Jesus, the Father or the Spirit.

But the apostles could have told the man that following Jesus was more like following a prophet. It included a kind of peripatetic “home-schooling.” They learned from Him while they walked with Him, listening to His wisdom and witnessing His miracles. Additionally, a prophet lived off of donations from those who responded to his ministry. So Jesus tells the guy, I’m homeless. Can you commit to being homeless too? I’m rejected. Can you live with being rejected too? Interestingly, Scripture doesn’t tell us the guy’s answer.

Jesus Himself recruited the 2nd fellow (v.59), and the man seemed to have a legitimate reason for hesitating—First let me go and bury my father. Jesus’ reply seems severe: Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God. Biblical scholars believe the guy’s father may have been alive still and thriving (Jesus would know that). He was asking to delay until a later time, like…wait until my kids finish high school; until my daughter gets married (and I have paid off the wedding); until my health improves; or until I win the lottery. Jesus was nearly out of time, so this excuse didn’t wash with Him. Nothing, not even family obligations, should come before what we owe God. Whenever there is a choice, God comes 1st.

The 3rd man volunteers to follow Jesus, but wants a brief delay to bid farewell to his family. Again Jesus offers him what seems to our ears a harsh admonition (v.62) No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. (If someone pushing a hand-plow looks back, they are sure to plow a crooked row.). Jesus’ exacting sounding response means that the man cannot hang onto his old life and also adopt the new. Being Jesus’ disciple means not looking back but looking forward to what might be a rough road ahead.

Recently I read a true story about a preacher who was standing at the door shaking hands as the congregation departed. He grabbed one man by the hand and pulled him aside. The preacher said to him, “You need to join the Army of the Lord!” The man replied, “I’m already in the Army of the Lord, Preacher.” The preacher questioned, “How come I don’t see you except for Christmas and Easter?” He whispered back, “I’m in the secret service.”

Given what Jesus says in today’s Gospel, how many of you think our Lord would be pleased by what the guy in this story said? Jesus may have been amused, but I think He would then have taken the guy to task. The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us (10:25)–>Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another….We encourage each other when we worship together. We have also seen that there is power in corporate worship and power in corporate prayer. Furthermore, once you get into the habit of attending church, you feel like your whole day is amiss if you skip it. Times I have almost not come to church (before being ordained), I would discover something was preached or a Scripture was read that I was exactly meant to hear. If I had not attended that day, I would have missed out on something the Lord meant for me to learn!

When we follow Jesus, we sign on to more than the “basic model” of Christianity, which is…we love Him; we obey Him; and we love others. But we also pack Light—only the essentials—and we pack Right. We choose Jesus above all relationships and all things. He comes 1st. We follow Him, even if it means we suffer rejection and perhaps persecution (On Pentecost, 50 Nigerian Christians were killed while worshipping in their church—most likely by Nigerian Moslems. I know an Anglican Bishop there, Ben Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. He has for years slept on a concrete floor instead of a comfortable bed, anticipating the day his Moslem neighbors arrest and imprison him. We don’t experience that kind of persecution—yet. But you may have noticed increasingly negative remarks about Christians in the media, and you may have experienced being mocked for your faith.

A number of you have heard me say that I had a vision of Jesus right before I was ordained. He wore the crown of thorns and a white robe, and smiled at me. I believed then and still do that His smile meant He approved of my entering the ministry. He didn’t say a word, but He reached behind Himself and pulled out a crown of thorns for me too. Later, I realized He was warning me that the cost of discipleship is high. I thought to myself at the time, At least it wasn’t a cross! But recently a pastor friend told me one of our seminary professors said in class, If you want to be ordained, you should ask yourself, “How do I look on wood?” Ordained or not, following Jesus is not a walk in the park. it is a death to self. However, embracing Jesus and dying to self is the only route to God’s heart.

©️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