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

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Why the Wait?

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 30, 2022

Scriptures: Hab 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Ps 119:137-144; 2 Thess 1:1-4,11-12; Lk 19:1-10

Habakkuk is one of the Minor Prophets (a short book at the end of the Old Testament, only 3 chapters long) whose major theme is faith/believing/trusting in God. Habakkuk was a contemporary of Jeremiah and lived from approximately 640-570BC. Instead of writing warnings to sinful Israel to repent, he delivered a series of dialogues between himself and God. In our reading today, he asks God (Chapter1),

1.) Why is there so much violence and injustice?

2.) How come You tolerate wrong-doing, LORD?

3.) Why don’t You do something?!!

Then, in Chapter 2, he asks, Why would you use an unjust nation (Babylonia) to punish us? True, I get that we are sinners who deserve punishment; but why would You use them? They are worse than we are, and they aren’t even believers!

Let’s focus on how God answers Habakkuk, because both the issues the prophet raises–and God’s responses–are very contemporary. To the question of why God permits evil, the LORD says, (v.5) Look at the nations and watch—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. What could that be? In the short run, He is going to allow them to be chastised by/taken to “the Biblical woodshed” by being defeated and captured by the pagan Babylonians. This happened in 587BC. Jerusalem and the Temple were burned; the people who were not killed were chained and led off to Babylon as slaves. However, as the books Ezra and Nehemiah later attest, they were freed to return to the Land after 70 years of captivity. In the long run, however, it is a subtle prediction of the coming of Messiah. Jesus, God Himself coming to earth in human form, is indeed… something in your days that you would not believe. Jesus, Emmanuel—God with us–will be breaking into human history to both demonstrate God’s love for us and to save us from our sins.

To the question of why God uses sinful nations to punish His people—and bear in mind that we Christ-followers are His People, and that we do currently deserve punishment for a multitude of national and personal sins—the prophet says, (2:1) I will stand at my watch and station myself at the ramparts; I will look to see what He [God] will say to me. As a person of great faith, the prophet states essentially, “I don’t understand so I am going to wait on the LORD to make it clear to me.” Notice, he doesn’t say, “This is nuts! I’m just going to do what I need to do to take care of me and mine.” Instead, he waits in faith, trusting in God’s purposes for him and for us.

God does answer him: (2:2-3) …though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. What’s God mean by this? It is as though the Lord is saying, “Yes I am using a corrupt, immoral nation to discipline My People, but the day will come that I discipline them too.” Nebuchadnezzar was puffed up and arrogant. History reports that Babylon fell in 539 BC, overtaken by the Medes and the Persians. No nation lives outside God’s purview, not then and not now. The Lord truly is sovereign over all things. King Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 8:11 When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. People wrongly assume that God is not watching, that He doesn’t know what’s going on. When it looks like He is tolerating evil behavior, it’s not an invitation to continue to do wrong. He is instead giving a nation time to come to its senses and repent.

So what is Habakkuk saying to us today? I believe he is making at least four important points:

1. Our God is very aware of all the sinful behavior around us (ours and others’).

2. God’s judgment may not come speedily, but it does come eventually.

3. In the meantime, our Lord is exceedingly patient, not wanting anyone to perish. He gives us all plenty of time and multiple opportunities to come to Him in repentance. And don’t we love and appreciate that about Him!

4. When we don’t understand why God is doing what He is doing, we should follow the example of Habakkuk: Be a watchman or watchwoman, and Trust in the Lord; Pray; and Wait.

Now, let’s turn our focus to today’s Gospel lesson, Luke 19:1-10, a perfect example of why God often chooses to wait.

Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem to be crucified. He enters Jericho, a town 20 miles NE of Jerusalem. Just prior to entering the city, Jesus restores the sight of the blind man, Bartimaeus. Next, He is on the lookout for a notorious sinner, Zacchaeus. Always guided by the Father’s will, Jesus goes looking for this man. This is a divine appointment.

Zacchaeus (ironically his name means pure) is…

1. The Chief Tax Collector for the region— As I explained last week–in reference to the prayers of the Pharisee versus those of the tax collector—tax collectors were despised by their countrymen because they were perceived as Roman collaborators/sell-outs/traitors, as well as thieves. The Mishna, a Jewish commentary on God’s Law, pairs tax collectors with murderers and robbers.

2. He was also very rich because, in a pyramid system, he took a percentage of what every tax collector under his authority pocketed;

3. He was a man who had forsaken his religion in a quest for wealth;

4. Lastly, he was short in stature.

Zacchaeus learns Jesus is coming and wants to see Him (He appears to have a spiritual hunger, like the blind man, Bartimaeus). He runs ahead and climbs a sycamore-fig tree. This tree would have been between 30-40 feet high, with slick bark, and low, broad limbs that ran parallel to the ground. He could have viewed Jesus from that vantage point without being observed—or so he thought! Jesus, of course, knows he is there, stops, and calls to him to come down. Again, this is a divine appointment. Jesus’ mission has always been to reclaim the prodigals (Luke15:11-31—the Parable of the Prodigal Son), and to welcome the humble into God’s kingdom (Luke 18:9-14—the humble. praying tax collector of last week’s Gospel). Notice Jesus says to him, (v.5) Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today. Now I ask you, what’s with the must? Who can make Jesus do anything? Only God the Father has that kind of influence.

The people murmur….Jesus does not stay at the home of a Pharisee; nor does He appear to visit the most influential persons of the city. Instead he chooses to hang out with the most notorious and despised man there. The crowd considers him outside the possibility of redemption; but thank God Jesus does not write off any who are open to God. There appears to be a time lapse—we don’t know how long they conferred at Zach’s house. But Jesus (and His Father) recognized Zach’s spiritual bankruptcy. Jesus probably talked with Zacchaeus about our need for God and God’s willingness and ability to meet that need.

But whatever was said, Zacchaeus is transformed! He admits he has been robbing the poor and says he will give ½ of his wealth to make amends (compare this with the Rich Young Ruler who could not let go of his money to follow Jesus, Matthew 19:16-24). The Law required giving back what was taken and adding 20%. So a “fine” of 20% was considered generous. Zacchaeus is going to gift the poor with 50% of all he has. He also promises to give back 4 times what he defrauded others. He actually penalizes himself by meeting the standard expected of rustlers: In Exodus 22:1, if a person stole an ox, they had to replace it with 5 cows; if one sheep, 4 sheep were required. Zacchaeus demonstrates his new faith with his works (James 2:18). Jesus affirms his transformation by saying (v.9) Today salvation has come to this house….He also points out that Zacchaeus is a son of Abraham—no matter how bad a sinner; and that Jesus came (v.10) to seek and to save what was lost. (Remember the parables of Luke 15 one lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son, all of whom were located).

So why the Wait? Because God may be doing a new thing. So that sinners like Zacchaeus (and us) can be saved. So that we might fall in love with Jesus and desire to please Him. So that we become magnanimous, forgiving, and grace-filled toward Him and others. Thanks be to God Who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Praying with Humility and Gratitude

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 23, 2022

Scriptures: Joel 2:23-32; Ps 65; 2 Tim 4:6-8, 16-18; Lk 18:9-14

I have preached here before on the fact that our God answers our prayers. He tends to answer in one of the following ways:

1. Yes, that’s something I am happy to do for you right away.

2. No, I am omniscient and know that would not be good for you.

3. Not yet.

a. I am working out all the intervening variables;

b. Or, I am waiting on you to develop further.

He also likes for us to have an humble attitude toward Him when we pray. In our Gospel Lesson today, Luke 18:9-14, Jesus contrasts the opposite attitudes of the Pharisee and the publican/tax collector.

The Pharisee was a man at the top of the religious ladder of the day. Was he praying out loud or silently? If out loud, how arrogant of him! He appears to be talking to himself, about himself, rather than dialoguing with God. His prayer is a soliloquy, a speech made by himself to himself. Lord, I’m thankful that I am not like other men (v.11)…YIKES! There’s his first mistake. He should have said, “Thank You that You called me to be a Pharisee; I am so happy to serve You and Your people, Lord!” He might have added, “Thank You for keeping me from becoming a robber, an evildoer, an adulterer, or anyone who mistreats others. I know that there, but for the grace of God, go I.” And he would have been very Christ-like to have requested of God, “Lord, I ask you to bless this tax collector and bring him to repentance for any theft or fraud he has committed.” Instead, being very self-focused and lacking humility, he considers himself a cut above other sinners.

The Publican or tax collector, was considered a low-life in that culture (definitely a sinner!). Unlike the Pharisee, however, he seems to have been very well aware of his deficiencies/his sins. He knows that he has denied his nation (as a Roman collaborator); he knows he has alienated himself from his countrymen. The Romans let tax collectors set their own salary, which they did by demanding a certain percentage above what he was required to collect for them. So typically, tax collectors charged extra, taking care of themselves at the expense of their own fellow citizens. Additionally, they didn’t think they needed God or were too ashamed to approach the Lord (We’ve all known people who have said, “If I entered the church, the roof would fall in.)

But notice his prayer, and contrast it with that of the Pharisee: The tax collector admits he’s a sinner! He is humble and humiliated by his past, his present, his bad choices, his wrong actions. He is so aware of his deficiencies before God, he cannot even raise his eyes toward heaven. His prayer is one sentence (v.13): God have mercy on me, a sinner, or God be merciful to me a sinner. This is where we derive The Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” It is a famous old prayer uttered from foxholes, places of danger, and traumatic situations.

I once was visiting some friends when someone they knew asked me to minister to their adult daughter. She had been car-jacked at night, kidnapped, and pistol whipped by two men. She feared for her life, sure she would be raped and murdered. She was a believer and knew to pray “The Jesus Prayer” throughout her entire ordeal. The felons took her to a deserted area, blind-folded her, and told her to remove her clothing. She was sure this was the end for her. Suddenly, however, she heard the sounds of the two men running away. She suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress afterward but also knew that God had saved her in answer to her prayer. We believe the men must have seen a large angel behind her who frightened them away.

So what is the right heart attitude? From what attitude should our prayers arise? Not that of the Pharisee—arrogant, going on about how great we are, how much we’ve done for God, how much better we are than others. Rather, Jesus says the right heart attitude, especially when we pray, should be one of humility–and of gratitude. He says in verse 14–For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted. We want to approach God humbly, acknowledging and confessing our sinfulness. And, we want to approach God with gratitude for His mercy and love:

Our other lessons today explain why we should pray to God with gratitude:

A. 800 years before Jesus, the prophet Joel warns the Southern Kingdom (Joel 2:23-32) that the Great Tribulation of God’s Judgment is coming. Actually—even now—we haven’t yet seen the End Times. The prophet assures the people that if they repent and turn back to the Lord, He will respond, take pity on them, and call off the conquering Babylonians.

He foretells that they will rejoice in the Lord because…

1.). He will bring life-giving rain (v.23);

2.) He will repay them (v.25) for the years the locusts [enemies; evil-doers] have eaten.

3.) He will provide them with plenty to eat (v. 26);

4.) He will “pour out His Spirit on all people (v.28), empowering them and us to accomplish miraculous things we could never produce in our own.

5.) Best of all (v.28), Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. This prophesy predates the saving work of Jesus Christ, but it does infer that redemption is coming.

B. In a similar vein, Psalm 65 is called a “Restoration Psalm” and also prophesies what will occur at Christ’s 2nd Coming: King David wrote it in celebration of God’s goodness to him/us. He knew, historically and personally, that God saves His people from our enemies. He also experienced God’s forgiveness for his (and our) sins. Furthermore, God also draws us near to Him—He wants to be with us!

David recognized that God answers our prayers with what he called (v.5) —awesome deeds of righteousness, and addressed the Lord as, O God our Savior, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas…. As a former Sociology major, I believe our younger American generations now—who do not know God—are suffering from what the French Father of Sociology, Emile Durkheim, called, anomie. This is a sense of purposelessness, of alienation. It occurs when people’s lives lack meaning, when they fail to see they have a reason for living. If unrelenting, it leads people to suicide and to other acts of desperation, like running people over in a parade, or shooting strangers in a grocery store. But for those of us who know and believe in God, we always have meaning and purpose in life (See Psalm 139), and, we are never alone!

Finally, David praises God for His loving provision for us.

C. 2 Timothy 4 constitutes Paul’s farewell address: He wants Timothy, his spiritual son, to know he has—(v.7)…fought the good fight, like a loyal soldier; I have finished the race, like an Olympic runner; and I have kept the faith—remember in our Gospel lesson of last week (Luke 18:8), Jesus wondered, When the Son of Man comes [when Jesus returns], will He find faith on the earth? Paul has kept the faith. He was, in fact, martyred for his faith. Paul is encouraging Timothy and us to keep our faith in Jesus, no matter what comes.

Why? Because death for us is not the final word/final chapter! It is a release:

1.) From the battles of life—or, “the rat race;” and

2.) From the frailty and failings of our mortal bodies. It is like a ship being untied from a wharf, freed to sail out to sea.

3.) And it is a release that frees us to accept our final reward, what Paul calls a crown of righteousness (v.8). It’s not a wreath of olive leaves, like the original Olympic winners got, or even a medal, like present day athletic stars. It is something Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, gives to each one of us who loves Him. Truthfully, I don’t know what it is, but I do know that I want it when my time comes. Death is not the end for those of us who love Jesus.

So why should we pray with gratitude in our hearts?

1.) Because our God is our creator, our provider, and our protector.

2.) Because He loves, forgives, and redeems us.

3.) Because He gives our lives meaning and purpose.

4.) Because He is present to us.

5.) Because He hears our prayers and responds to us

6.) And because He rewards us with a new and a better life—and some special reward–on the other side of death.

The next time you are feeling downhearted, discouraged, or alone, grab onto any one of those reasons to feel grateful to God. Remember, our God is for us, not against us. Thanks be to God!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Gratitude Like The One In Nine

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 9, 2022

Scriptures: Jer 29:1-7; Ps 66:1-12; 2 Tim 2:8-15; Lk 17:11-19

A Jesuit priest has said, “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” That bears repeating: “It’s not joy that makes us grateful, it’s gratitude that makes us joyful.” Modern psychological research has shown that finding things to be grateful for is a key to good mental health. People who can think of 3 things for which they are thankful, daily, are less likely to be depressed and more likely to be happy.

A cartoon in a magazine shows a couple, at the church door, saying goodbye to the pastor following the service. The man says, “Wonderful sermon! Thanks for not mentioning my name.” We can be grateful for not having our sins shared from the pulpit. (I promise you, I will never name you and your personal sins from this pulpit.)

I can think of two other examples of grateful people:

(1) The leader of our denomination, John Wesley, “…was about 21 years of age when he went to Oxford University. He came from a Christian home, and he was gifted with a keen mind and good looks. Yet in those days he was a bit snobbish and sarcastic. One night, however, something happened that set in motion a change in Wesley’s heart.

“While speaking with a porter, he discovered that the poor fellow had only one coat and lived in such impoverished conditions that he didn’t even have a bed. Yet he was an unusually happy person, filled with gratitude to God.

“Wesley, being immature, thoughtlessly joked about the man’s misfortunes. “And what else do you thank God for?” he said with a touch of sarcasm.

“The porter smiled, and in the spirit of meekness replied with joy, ‘I thank Him that He has given me my life and being, a heart to love Him, and above all a constant desire to serve Him!

“Deeply moved, Wesley recognized that this man knew the meaning of true thankfulness.

“Many years later, in 1791, John Wesley lay on his deathbed at the age of 88. Those who gathered around him realized how well he had learned the lesson of praising God in every circumstance. Despite Wesley’s extreme weakness, he began singing the hymn, ‘I’ll Praise My Maker While I’ve Breath.’”

(From a sermon entitled “True Thankfulness” by Donnie Martin, July 26, 2010)

(2) Albert, the fellow who manned a drive up window at a Café DuMonde in New Orleans, where I stopped most mornings to get a CafeAuLait. He lacked most of his teeth but the ones he had were gold. He probably worked for minimum wage, but when I asked him each day how he was, he always replied, “I’m blessed!” The Lord used Albert in my life just as he used the porter in John Wesley’s. Two “simple” but wise—though economically disadvantaged persons–knew the value of daily expressing their gratitude to God.

Let’s see what our Scripture lessons today have to say about daily expressing gratitude to God:

A. Our Psalm (66:1-12) instructs us to praise God because of His deliverance, His preservation, and His provision for us.

B. In our Epistle (2 Timothy 2:8-15), Paul instructs us thank God for our redemption through Jesus Christ.

C. In our Old Testament lesson (Jeremiah 29:1-7), the prophet has written a letter to the Jewish captives in Babylon. They had been carted away, in defeat, to a pagan foreign nation. Surprisingly, instead of commiserating with them, Jeremiah essentially tells them that they are to “bloom where they have been planted.” This sentiment was often pictured on posters in the 1960’s and I remember thinking as a young person, “I don’t want to bloom where I am planted. I want to, instead, change my environment.” I didn’t realize then that God often calls us to do our best where we are, as He intends us to be transformed there, as well as to influence others to be transformed. So, Jeremiah encourages the deportees to build homes for themselves and their families. They are to settle in where they have wound up. Further, he encourages them to plant gardens, so they can feed themselves. Obviously, the Lord intends that they will be there for a while.

They are to marry and have sons and daughters. Again, this implies they will be there for some time. This side of the Cross, we know they were there for 70 years, or for most of 2 generations. Rather than being frustrated or resentful (hateful), they were also to contribute to the peace/prosperity of the city of Babylon. In fact, the Lord says, through the prophet, (v.7) —Pray to the LORD for it [Babylon], because if it [Babylon] prospers, you too will prosper.

They were not to be grateful for their captivity, their deportation to a foreign land. God used that experience to punish them because He is holy (and cannot abide sin). They were guilty of idolatry, greed, lust and sexual perversion, and multiple abuses of power. They had been grossly out of line for a long time. We know from Hebrews 12:5-11 that God disciplines those He loves. We also realize that if He didn’t, we could not really trust Him. He means what He says in Scripture, and He says what He means. The Lord has punished them, hoping they will change their sinful attitudes and improve their behavior in the future. The point is that—even though they are captive in a foreign land—which seems terrible to them, it comes as no surprise to God—He engineered it. They can and should be grateful to Him because they are alive and He has not abandoned them.

We want to be grateful to God for what He teaches us through our trials. When we go through trials—emotional pain—we are molded and shaped by God. Years ago, I was counseling college students at Florida State University as part of a pre-doctoral psychology internship. While there, I encountered a “trust fund baby,” a young man who had been handed everything. He told me that he drove a brand new BMW; all his expenses were paid by his parents; he had a job waiting for him, in his father’s firm, when he finished school; and he had never had to mourn the loss of someone he loved. In other words, he had never suffered, he had never had to struggle. He asked me to help him develop some motivation for life. I suggested he volunteer at a soup-kitchen for the homeless, or spend time with disadvantaged kids in daycare. I have never known anyone to have compassion for others who has not observed or experienced suffering. When we go through trials, we learn compassion for others. We learn to have patience. We learn to trust in God despite our circumstances.

D. In our Gospel lesson (Luke 17:11-19, Jesus heals 10 lepers.

Our Lord is headed to Jerusalem to die. At the fringe of some unnamed village, 10 lepers appeal to Him for healing. He gives them what they want, freely, graciously. Notice: they had faith in Him and in His ability to heal them. He says to them, (v.14) —Go, show yourselves to the priests.

Leviticus 14:1-10 describes all the things a leper who had been healed had to do: (1) Show him/herself to the priest. (2.) The priest would then perform a detailed ritual to ensure the person was cleansed spiritually as well as physically; (3.) Then the healed person was to wash his/her clothes; shave off all his/her hair, even eyebrows; and bathe with water.

So, the ten obey Jesus and scurry off to begin the cleansing process. It is on their way that they are healed. They had stepped out in faith. They had trusted in Jesus. And unlike Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5), they were immediately compliant. But only one guy notices his healing and returns first to thank Jesus. Maybe the other nine were just too overjoyed to focus on gratitude. Or maybe they believed they deserved it (they felt entitled). Most likely their attention was on remembering and performing the religious requirements, or on the anticipated happy reunions with their families. We don’t really know why they didn’t think to thank the LORD.

The one guy who does was a hated Samaritan! We would say today that he wasn’t raised right; that he was not well bred; that he was “sorry from way back.” But the fellow who wasn’t raised right knew enough to express his gratitude. Maybe he was shocked that Jesus would heal even him. Maybe he was aware that he didn’t deserve this kind of grace from a Jewish rabbi. Jesus’ response to the Samaritan’s gratitude was fantastic—v. 17–Rise and go; your faith has made you well. This implies that the fellow was kneeling at Jesus’ feet; or maybe he had prostrated himself, in adoration. Jesus is so pleased that he commends him for his faith and for his manners. This guy has received the same physical healing as the other 9; but he has also received a complete healing. In addition to the physical, he received a spiritual healing as well–forgiveness for his sins. Both healings merited eternal gratitude.

Today’s lessons go beyond issues of disease or misfortune and healing: They challenge us to be mindful of all that God has done for us and to be grateful to Him. Too many of us are like a demanding guy in the Post Office. A guy with a broken right arm goes into the Post Office. The lady at the counter asks how she might help him. He proceeds to ask for a post card and a stamp. Then he asks her to write out his message on the card, and finally to address it to his friend. She asks again if there is anything else he needs. He looks at the card and says, “Yes please add an apology to my friend for the bad handwriting.”

(Borrowed from John Fairless and Delmer Chilton, The Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year C, 2015, p.310.)

Are we like that—or like the 9 who were healed, but didn’t express their gratitude? It’s all too easy, isn’t it, to take God’s grace for us for granted and to forget to express to Him our grateful thanks. This week, let’s remember to express to our Lord our thanks and praise. Even better, try to think of three things daily for which you are grateful to God. Do this for a month and watch and see what happens. You should find yourself being more joy-filled.

©️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

The Law of Sowing and Reaping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life’s Mirror

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

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

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

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

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

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

© 2021 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

The Dangers of Pride

Pastor Sherry’s message for Jul 11, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 6:1-23; Ps 24; Eph 1:3-14; Mk 6:14-29

Last week, we looked at what Scripture had to say about humility…about how frustration and disappointment—if we will depend upon God–can teach us patience, deepen our faith, and develop our character. This week, as the Lord would have it, our readings demonstrate how our God deals with pride, the opposite of humility.

The following are three illuminating stories of pride:

1. There is a fable of two ducks and a frog who lived together happily in a farm pond. The three were the best of friends. When the hot, dry days of August and September came, however, their pond began to shrink, and it soon became evident they would have to move. This was no problem for the ducks, who could easily fly to another, bigger pond, but the frog was out of luck. One of them developed the bright idea to put a stick in the bill of each duck that the frog could hang onto with his mouth as they flew to another pond. The plan worked well, so well, in fact, that–as they were flying along–a farmer looked up in admiration and mused, “Well, isn’t that a clever idea! I wonder who thought of it?” The frog said, “I did….” Poor frog! Taking credit for the idea led to his death! If he’d kept his mouth shut, he might have survived.

2. During the Battle of the Wilderness in the Civil War, Union general John Sedgwick was inspecting his troops. At one point he came to a parapet in the fort, over which he gazed out in the direction of the enemy. His officers suggested that this was unwise and perhaps he ought to duck while visible to the enemy. “Nonsense,” snapped the general. “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist–.” A moment later Sedgwick fell to the ground, fatally wounded. This General was arrogant. His prideful dismissal of his subordinates’ wisdom cost him his life.

3. Finally, A young woman asked for an appointment with her pastor to talk with him about a habitual sin about which she was worried. When she saw him, she said, “Pastor, I have become aware of a sin in my life which I cannot control. Every time I am at church I begin to look around at the other women, and I realize that I am the prettiest one in the whole congregation. None of the others can compare with my beauty. What can I do about this sin?” The pastor replied, “Mary, that’s not a sin, why that’s just a mistake!” The young woman had developed “the big head” about her looks. She was blinded by her pride and failed to consider that she might not have been, as they say, “all that.”

Some well-known proverbs reveal to us what God thinks of our pride:

1. Proverbs 16:18 Pride goes before destruction [certainly true of the frog and the general], a haughty spirit before a fall [true of the young woman].

2. Proverbs 19:23 A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit [a humble man] gains honor.

3. Isaiah 25:11 Speaking of one of Israel’s enemies, the prophet announces, God will bring down their pride despite the cleverness of their hands.

Our Scripture passages today reveal more about how God responds to the proud (and to the humble):

A. Our Old Testament reading, 2 Samuel 6:1-23, describes King David’s two attempts to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Back in 1 Samuel 5, we learned that the Philistines had captured the Ark of the Covenant. This was a trunk-sized wooden box, made of acacia wood, and covered with gold. It is said to have been a foreshadowing of Christ. Its wood represented Jesus’ humanity; its gold, His divinity. Thus, the box signified God’s earthly throne or reign and His presence with His people (Immanuel, God with us). So when the Philistines captured it, they thought they had control over Israel’s God and thus over Israel.

But God had other ideas. When the Philistines put the Ark in the temple they had built to their god, Dagon, they were shocked to discover the first morning thereafter that the stature of Dagon had fallen on its face before the Ark. They set Dagon back upright only to discove, on the 2nd morning, that the idol had again fallen before the Ark, this time with its head and hands broken off. God was signifying to them that their idol was witless and powerless before Him.

Next, they tried placing the box in different Philistine cities. But each time, the citizens there broke out in a plague characterized by gross tumors all over the body; and the city was overrun by a horde of rats. Totally freaked out, these citizens would then rush the Ark to another city. In each of the 5 major Philistine cities, the same thing happened. Finally, the Philistines decided it was dangerous for them to hold onto the Hebrew “God-in-the-box.” Respectfully, they placed the box on a cart and let it loose. The cows pulling the Ark “miraculously” traveled back to Israel. Interestingly, the Philistines were not killed for the handling the Ark, due to their ignorance of Torah.

This is where we find ourselves in today’s passage King David wants to bring the Ark to Mt. Zion (highest point of Jerusalem, but with no Temple as yet). So, with all the best of intentions, he takes 30,000 men, 7 choirs, an orchestra and priests, and goes to retrieve the Ark. Obviously, he made of this a big deal. David recognizes that he reigns at the pleasure of God Himself. His government is less a monarchy than a theocracy, with God at the top. Thus, bringing the Ark to Jerusalem would indicate that the Lord was sovereign over both David and all the people.

Again, let’s remember that David’s intentions were the best.

But the way he went about it infuriated God. With our God, the end never justifies the means. The Ark had settled on the property of a man named Abinadab. King David brought a new cart and had Abinadab’s sons, Uzzzah and Ahio, guide the oxen. But, when it looked like ruts in the road might cause the Ark to slide off the cart, Uzzah put his hands on it and was killed…YIKES! Everyone was shocked! Their joyous worship immediately ceased! David is stunned and becomes angry at God. No doubt he experienced colossal embarrassment and humiliation. But he also lacked understanding: Just because he is king doesn’t give him license to approach God any old way! The Lord wants him to realize and model reverence to God the way God wants to be reverenced.

In his wounded pride, King David withdraws and sulks. The procession leaves the Ark at the farm of Obed-Edom—for 3 months–and retreats to Jerusalem. Thankfully, the king humbles himself and studies Scripture to learn from Torah how God desires His Ark to be approached. Maybe David reread Numbers 4:15 in which God gives His specific instructions re how to carry His Ark After Aaron and his sons [the high priest and priests at the time of the Exodus] have finished covering the holy furnishings and all the holy articles, and when the camp is ready to move, the Kohathites [Cohans] are to come to do the carrying. But they must not touch the holy things or they will die. Levites from the family of Kohan were to carry it. They were not to lay their hands on it, but to place poles through the rings on is corners, and carry those poles on their shoulders. God is not harsh, He is HOLY! There are right and wrong ways to approach Him. In other words, for the Israelites, ignorance of the Law is no excuse.

Notice, David pouts for a while, but he does not turn from God when he doesn’t understand His actions—he doesn’t let his pride get in the way of his relationship with the Lord. Instead, he humbles himself and tries to understand the Lord. So, after 3 months, David goes back to get the Ark. Notice what he does differently: He had the Ark carried as God required. After 6 steps, he had the procession stop and make an offering for their sins. He admitted his sin and the sins of the people. Hebrews 9:19-22 tells us that all true worship of God is predicated on sacrifice: David sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. (But we have Jesus, the once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins…no more animal sacrifices, Praise God!) Then King David lead the procession, worshipping God with total abandon. Our psalm appointed for today was written by David to celebrate bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. By dancing, without his royal robes, He was showing his people that even their king humbled himself before the Lord.

However, his wife, Michal (Saul’s daughter), was scandalized!

Filled with pride, she judged her husband‘s behavior as demeaning and vulgar. But David would not be deterred, saying, (v.21) I will celebrate before the Lord. He apparently then separated himself from her, keeping her in the palace but never again visiting her. She died childless, an indication to the Hebrews of having not been blessed by God.

B. Let’s also consider the cost of pride in today’s Gospel, Mark 6:14-29. Herod Antipas, a Roman puppet and not a true believer, is serving as ruler of Judea. Believing enough to seek and dabble in religion, but not enough to commit or change the way he lives, he is respectful of, maybe even intimidated by, John the Baptist. His wife, Herodias, hates John the Baptist because he has publicly denounced them both as adulterers; and he has also called them to repent of their moral and leadership failures. Some scholars believe Herod may have had JtB arrested to protect him from his Herodias’ vengeance.

Nevertheless, she gets a chance to gain revenge when Herod makes a rash promise to her dancing daughter, the alluring Salome. Herod is so pleased with her performance that he offers her whatever she wants, up to ½ his kingdom. What a foolish boast! At Herodias’ advice, she asks for the head of JtB. What a senseless jam Herod has put himself in! He has sought to protect John from Herodias; but, if he rescinds his boast to Salome, he stands to lose face before his guests. In the choice between righteousness humility and foolish pride, he chooses pride. JtB is immediately beheaded,

Salome is later married off to Herod’s brother, her uncle—YUCK! This could have been quite the punishment. Finally, the Romans eventually banish Herodias and Herod to Gaul, the primitive outer-beyond of those times.

So what is our Lord telling us about pride through these Biblical folks? We want to avoid the dangers of pride because pride is costly. At best, it costs you your reputation, your influence, your marriage.

At worst, it can cost you your life. Ben Franklin, in his autobiography wrote, “There is perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive. Even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”

We also want to recognize when we are acting out of pride, then apologize to God and humble ourselves. When we humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up (James 4:10).

Honestly, most of us need the assistance, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to overcome our pride. But remember, King David got it and so can we!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

It’s Good to be Humble

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 1, 2020

Scriptures: Joshua 3:7-17; 1 Thess 2:9-13; Matt 23:1-1

Back before the Civil War, there was an exchange in the US Senate that went something like this: The senator from North Carolina pontificated,I come from North Carolina, a great vale of humility, lodged between two mountains of conceit.” The two mountains of conceit he was referring to were his neighboring states of Virginia and South Carolina.While there is nothing new under the sun regarding human nature, how gentlemanly an insult that was compared to the way our politicians attack one another today. Not to be outdone, the senator from Virginia stood and replied,“That is true but only because North Carolina has a lot to be humble about.” The Virginian meant his remarks as a slur, thereby missing the point that, according to our Lord, It’s Good to be Humble.

Several of our Scriptures today testify to this point. In our Old Testament lesson, Joshua 3:7-13, the people of Israel are poised to enter the Promised Land. As we read last Sunday, Moses has died and has passed on the mantle of leadership to his assistant, Joshua. Now Joshua announces to the people how the Lord intends for them to proceed into Canaan: The Jordan River, massively swollen from Spring rains, is at flood stage. Rivers at flood stage flow quite quickly and carry a lot of debris. You don’t want to step into one as you might be swept off your feet by the current or hit by a floating tree truck. Nevertheless, the priests are to carry the Ark of the Covenant into the midst of the river. Once they do, the river’s flow will stop and the people will pass over on dry land. From the time the Ark had been constructed, it had been carried on two long poles supported by priestly shoulders and suspended from golden loops—i.e., it was not to be touched by human hands. The Ark of the Covenant was holy—set apart—for the Lord.

Now remember how God had parted the Red Sea: Moses held out his staff and a strong wind separated the ocean. Crossing the Jordan perhaps took more faith as there was no such demonstration. Those poised on Jordan’s banks had only heard the stories of the Red Sea Crossing and the 10 Plagues upon Egypt.

Only Caleb and Joshua had actually experienced these miraculous events. So, what was God demonstrating by leading His people with His Ark? All throughout the wilderness wanderings (40 years), the Ark had traveled, or rested, in the middle of the camp. This had signaled to them that God was in their midst. Now, though, the Ark was to go first, signifying:

(1) God is leading His people (as Hebrew shepherds do).

(2) He is more powerful than the gods of Canaan. Baal, chief of the Canaanite gods, had—by legend–defeated the gods of the sea. So the Canaanites believed the flood waters of the Jordan were Baal’s efforts to prevent the Israelites from entering what they considered to be their land. God is going to demonstrate to everyone that flood waters are no barrier to Him.

(3) Additionally, God will assist them in overcoming the tribes who now occupy the land (Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites, and Jebusites). No doubt the folks in Jericho thought they had plenty of time to prepare for a big fight. It would never have occurred to them that the God of the Israelites could or would stop and cross a flooding Jordan.

(4) And since God was leading the Israelites, He is claiming Canaan—the Promised Land—as His own (which of course it was). The people were to pass by the Ark about 3,000 feet distant. Scholars tell us the Ark is a “type” (symbol) of Christ; after all, Jesus is Emmanuel, GOD with US. (By the way, when the Israelites camped, they arranged the members of 3 tribes to the North, three tribes to the South, 3 tribes to the East, and 3 tribes to the West of the Ark, which was in the middle of all 12 tribes.)

(5) Finally, since it occurred just as Joshua predicted, God is demonstrating His confidence in Joshua as Moses’ successor. Joshua is actually a great example of a humble leader. He does not assert himself as God’s choice, but instead obediently follows through on God’s instructions; and he allows God Himself to confirm him as God’s choice of a leader.

Our Epistle lesson today is from 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13. In it, Paul expresses his gratitude to the church at Thessalonica for their faithful obedience to the Word of God. Paul had brought them this word. He thanks God for them because they believed the Gospel. He commends them for faithfully serving God, and for being humble and obedient to Jesus. He reminds them that he was simply doing God’s will and God’s work when he came among them. Paul claims to have ministered to them in humility and encourages them to follow his example.

Our Gospel lesson from Matthew 23:1-12 shows Jesus publically denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees for their overweening pride. Remember, they have dogged Him as he has attempted to teach in the Temple, and have asked numerous questions to try to entrap Him so they could have Him arrested. The role of the Pharisees and the Scribes was supposed to have been to teach the people how to live in relationship with God. They were to explain who God is, what God expects of us (the Law), and how to talk to Him and hear from Him. That’s pretty much what the job of a pastor is today.

Jesus first commends them, saying (v.1) theysit in Moses’ seat….

Moses collected and taught the meaning of the 10 Commandments. They are continuing his function as teachers of the Law. Jesus is saying they have authority to do so. However, He goes on to qualify this in (v.3) So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. You see, the Scribes and the Pharisees made two mistakes:

(1) They preached religiosity (live by the rules) rather than relationship;

(2) And they didn’t live up to the standards they taught–like the politicians and news commentators who have condemned us for not wearing masks, then were caught on camera not wearing masks themselves.

We look at folks like that and say, “Hypocrites!” Rather than remaining humble and obedient to God, the Pharisees wore large symbols of their special office, to draw attention to themselves. They also enjoyed special treatment, privileges, and deference. Furthermore, they gave themselves special titles: Rabbi/teacher when only Jesus is our Rabbi; and Father when only God is our Father.

Now I wear robes and you call me Pastor—is that bad? No, some terms and clothing help us both to remember the duties of the office. What Jesus has a problem with is pride that comes from such things. He clarifies this when He says, (vv.11-12) The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Jesus does not want us to get carried away with pride. Jesus wants us to stay humble. Jesus wants us—like Joshua, Paul, and the Thessalonians—to remain obedient to God’s authority.

Today the Christian Church celebrates All Saints Day. I believe one of the marks of a true saint is not so much holiness (who of us is truly holy?) as the recognition that we are set apart for God. God has done this for us. Our appropriate response is our humility. We are all called to be humble servants of God. In our country today, we have replaced our belief that we all have equal rights and opportunities with the secular notion that–no matter how we behave–we have the right to be proud of ourselves and to demand that others respect us. Even in the Church today, we have replaced an awareness of our sinfulness and our need for a Savior—and gratitude for the great gifts of Jesus’ sacrifice and of His forgiveness and grace–with the simplistic notion that “God loves you no matter your behavior.” He does love us just the way we are, but He also loves us too much to leave us that way. So, unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, or any other proud and puffed up religious leaders, we want to be humble. We want to remember and emphasize loving the person over the rule. We don’t want to be “all show and no go.”

Today, All Saints Day, let us humbly remember that God’s love for us is more a function of His grace andmercy than of anything we have done or deserve; that we are all called to love and serve others—not as arrogant or proud persons–but as Servants of Christ. And let us remember that it’s good to be humble!

Copyright 2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams