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

Grown-ups or Parents?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 3/27/2022,

Scriptures: Jos 5:9-12 ; Ps 32; 2 Cor 5:16-2; Lk 15:1-32

A 5 year old girl asks her mother, “Is God a grown-up or a parent?”

The mother wants to be sure she understands where the child is coming from, so she asks, “What’s the difference between a grown-up and a parent?” The child says, “Grown-ups love you when you are good, but parents love you anyway.” So, based on the child’s understanding, God is… a parent.

In our Gospel this morning, the Scribes and the Pharisees are grown-ups, aren’t they? They are the guardians of the do’s and the don’ts. They are the arbiters of good and bad behaviors. So, they separate themselves out from tax collectors, who they see as sell-outs to their Roman oppressors. The Romans had these folks gather taxes for Rome, and then slowed them to add whatever they wanted for themselves. The Jews knew Rome had thus unleashed foxes into the proverbial hen house, and resented it mightily. They also viewed tax collectors as collaborators with pagans. Pharisees and Scribes also avoided contact with sinners, fearing contamination. Now it is human nature, isn’t it, for us to try to figure out who’s in and who’s out; who’s “hot” and who’s not; or who’s “cool” and who’s a fool. So we can cut them some grace for just being people. But isn’t it true that we in the Church, if we are not careful, can also become grown-ups? Like the Scribes and Pharisees, we too often judge others and decide they come up short. These fellows are judging Jesus and are seriously questioning His “Good Person credentials.” (They are judging God. YIKES!)

Now I am going to depart from my usual practice of trying to explain what God is wooing or challenging us to do in each passage assigned for today. Instead, I want to focus on what Jesus, knowing their “grown-up hearts” is telling the Scribes and Pharisees-–and us–in 3 parables Luke groups together as stories regarding “the lost.”

It is no accident that the “God-figures”—the people who act like God– in these first two are low status folks: In the 1st parable, the religious elite would distain shepherds because they lived a nomadic, outdoor life (didn’t attend Synagogue regularly). And, often lacking water, or having to bandage up injured, bloody sheep, they were unable to keep the purity laws. In the 2nd, no self-respecting rabbi or Pharisee would either see or speak to a woman. That’s why Jesus talking with the woman of the well (John 4:1-42) was so radical. The disciples were speechless when they found Him alone with her; not only that, but the two were discussing serious theological issues. Women of that day were not allowed to go to rabbinical school, or to study Torah. Ben Sirach, a noted teacher of the time, wrote the birth of a daughter is a loss. Jewish men of Jesus’ time often thanked God each day that they had not been born a woman. This is also why Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50), was so put out that Jesus would allow a woman to touch Him (she washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair). Women in that day did not touch rabbis, and women of low reputation certainly did not dare.

The son in the 3rd parable had high status until he severely disrespected his father. He asked for his inheritance. Then as now, sons only inherited at the death of their father. Asking so early was tantamount to saying, “Father, I wish you were dead!” Fathers in the Ancient Near East had life/death control over their children. The younger son is the lowest status member of this family; thus, his request would have been viewed as especially despicable and selfish. Friends, neighbors, and relatives–had they known–would have expected the father to drive this greedy son away with yelling and with blows. They would have further expected the father to banish him from the family forever.

Given this cultural understanding, let’s look 1st at the Parable of the Lost Sheep. We are well familiar with this wonderful story, aren’t we? The shepherd, the Good Shepherd, values His one lost sheep enough to spare no effort to locate it. Did you ever wonder who was looking out for the 99? Maybe Jesus just said to them, “stay,” and they did. Or probably some assistant shepherd remained behind to watch over them. We don’t know what He goes through to locate the lost sheep, but only that He rejoices when He finds it. The fabulous point is that God loves us all enough to go to great lengths to find us, and rejoices when He does. Consider John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Through Jesus, God saved all. Not all appreciate this, so not all will claim their salvation by saying “yes” to Christ. Paul writes in 1 Tim 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…. John insists similarly in 1 John 1:7 But if we walk in the light, as He [Jesus] is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.

The truth is that our chief, most important identity is not our gender, race, nationality, credentials, or our status. It is that we are loved by God. If we have accepted Jesus, we are each children of God the Father and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. We are sinners redeemed by the grace of Jesus Christ. Like St. Paul, we realize that before we ever did anything to merit God’s attention, regard, or affection, He loved us and desired intimate relationship with each of us. Our God is a loving parent, rather than a disapproving grown-up. So Jesus is saying to the Scribes and the Pharisees in this 1st parable, you should be like this Shepherd.

In the Parable of the Lost Coin, we find a female image to balance the (predominantly male) shepherd image, which is something St. Luke often tries to do (because Jesus did it). This good wife is perhaps searching for part of her dowry. The coin may have been set in a ring or an earring, or it may have belonged to a strand of coins worn across the forehead. The coin probably had high sentimental value to her. It may have been to her like losing the stone out of an engagement ring would feel to one of us. Or, alternatively, it might have been money given to her by her husband to buy necessities for their home. Those 10 coins probably represented 10 days’ income. She may have worried that losing it would demonstrate to her husband that she could not be trusted to be a good steward of their money. Whether dowry or income, she felt she needed to locate that missing coin.

Notice the lengths she goes to in order to locate the coin: She lights a lamp to see better. She sweeps what would have been a hard-packed dirt floor thoroughly. Like the Shepherd, she searches diligently. Consider, the sheep may have been found wounded or damaged somehow, but lost or found, the value of the coin is unaffected. Some of us may have believed we were without value before Christ came into our lives. That was me before God rescued me. My step-father never told me he loved me and my mother did not like women. YIKES! But when I learned my Heavenly Father loved me, I realized it almost didn’t matter that my earthly grown-ups (parental figures) did not. Or perhaps you feared that you had done so many bad things in your life so as to lessen your value to God. I have heard folks say they won’t come to church because they are such sinners that the roof of the building would fall in if they showed up. But this lost coin parable affirms that despite having been sinners in the past, Jesus Christ still values us. The roof would not cave in! As with the sheep, the search is on, the lost is found, and the woman rejoices.

This time, Jesus identifies with the woman. He is saying, I am like this woman. I diligently search for the lost. What about you, Scribes and Pharisees? And, as one of my seminary professors (Dr. Kenneth Bailey) said, in this parable and elsewhere in Luke, Jesus elevates the worth of women.

Now we come to the famous Parable of the Lost, or Prodigal Son. Let’s focus first on the Father’s Behaviors: Very unexpectedly (for the Ancient Near East), he offers grace to His greedy younger son. He doesn’t seem to take offense. Despite any pain over his son’s attitudes, he grants the request. He gives his son the freedom to leave town with his “inheritance check.” It’s helpful to know that this would diminish what the father and the elder son have left to live on. It’s also helpful to know that once word of this got around the village, the villagers would have wanted the son’s head (vigilante justice)! Remember the outcry against Queen Vasti, in the book of Esther? She refused to come when the King summoned her to his banquet. Even though the banqueters were all men, and even though they were probably all drunk and unpredictable after days of feasting and drinking, Vasti’s refusal shamed the king before his subjects. The other nobles pressured the King to “de-queen” her because they feared her “disrespect” would be a bad example to other married women in the empire. If they had known, the villagers may have feared a similar contagion effect. Already we notice this Father is more magnanimous than anyone then would have expected a Father to be. Jesus’ listeners would no doubt have been shocked.

Now let’s consider the Son’s Behaviors: He runs through his father’s money. He’s reduced to starvation. In desperation, he develops a plan return home and throw himself on his dad’s mercy.

Let’s shift back again to the Father’s Response: He watches for his son! He knows his son and probably suspects he’ll have spent it all. He wants to see him again, but also to reach the young man before the villagers get ahold of him. He runs to meet him! This would have totally shocked the Pharisees. Ancient Near Eastern patriarchs did not run! They moved at a slow and stately pace as befit their status. In addition, any exposure of the Father’s legs while running would have been considered shameful. The father deliberately risks ridicule and humiliation to reach his son.

When he reaches his lost son, he embraces and kisses him. Village observers would have expected the son to fall on his face and kiss his father’s feet.

But sonny-boy barely starts his apology when the father offers, “a costly demonstration of his unexpected love” (Do you hear a whisper, an intimation of the Cross?) Through His saving, redeeming love, the Father receives his lost son (us) back into the family. He honors him with the best robe, signifying cleansing and honor; he provides him a signet ring, indicating trust; he sees to covering his bare feet with shoes, a symbol of self-respect. Then he throws a celebratory party! The Father is delighted that his son has returned home. But, as Dr. Bailey taught, “The banquet is a celebration of joy in honor of the Father and his life-saving, costly love. (See Finding the Lost, by Kenneth E. Bailey, Condordia Press, 1992).

What then is Jesus saying, through these three parables of lost things, to His audience of Pharisees and to us? He is saying, (1.) “I hang out with sinners because I came to seek and to save the lost.” (2.) He says to the Scribes and the Pharisees, “So should you.” (3.) To us, “Even though we may believe God has given up on us He hasn’t. He simply waits for us to come to our senses, and realize we need Him.”

He is also telling us that our God is a loving and forgiving parent. His love for us is extravagant, generous, without compare. And He stands ready to forgive us and draw us to Himself if we but ask. May we always appreciate His life-saving, parental love!

©2022 Rev Dr Sherry Adams

Repent or Perish!

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 20, 2022

Scriptures: Isa 55:1-9; Ps 63:1-8; 1 Cor 10:1-13; Luke 13:1-9

Normally, I like to begin my sermons with a story, or a real life application of our Scripture passages. But on this 3rd Sunday of Lent, I want to review: Remember, our focus has been on using the 40 days of Lent as a time for “spiritual house-cleaning”–a time to consider and confess our sins; a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God. Two weeks ago, I preached about several ways the Bible suggests we can respond to temptation. Last week, I concentrated on how (and why) we want to pursue full-on access to God.

This week our Scriptures center on two additional but related themes: 1. How we attempt to meet our spiritual hungers; and 2, repenting or perishing.

A. Our Isaiah 55:1-9 passage reiterates the truth that we, ourselves, decide whether or not we will come to God. No one can do this for us. The prophet presents God’s offer of salvation as if He were extending to us free food to eat and no cost water, wine, and milk to drink. The food and drink he refers to are not the physical, material substances themselves, but are metaphors for the spiritual nourishment God has for us. St. Augustine (354-430) taught that there is a God-shaped hole in us (I think it is located somewhere in our chest area) that only God can fill. We work hard in life to fill it with other things (idols), but none of these truly satisfies or fills the hole up.

Given that truth, our God does not want us to pursue these false gods. “Rather,” He says in verse 3🡪Give ear and come to Me; hear Me that your soul may live. False gods—like materialism, money, sex, power, influence, popularity, and intellectualism—are all dead ends. They ultimately leave us feeling disillusioned, empty, and dissatisfied. The American millionaire, Jay Gould (1836-1892, his assets then converted to today’s values= $78.3 billion) said as he lay dying, “I suppose I am the most miserable devil on earth.” Similarly the poet, Lord Byron, had fame creative genius, money, position, and lived a life of pleasure, yet he wrote in his poem, “On my Thirty-Sixth Year,” “The worm, the canker, and the grief are mine alone.” (J. Vernon McGee’s commentary on Isaiah 55, p.130). The day I defended my doctoral dissertation, my committee turned to me and each one shook my hand and said, “Congratulations, Dr. Adams!” I walked out of that experience feeling ecstatic, proud of that achievement. About 2-3 days later, however, I thought to myself, “Now what?” That great feeling of accomplishment did not last. But God offers us, through Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and our Bible reading, food for thought and living water that truly sustains us, more than money, fame, pleasure, or accomplishments.

Isaiah also urges us to be ready for God’s deliverance from captivity in Babylon for the Jews (this was the short term prophesy, as Isaiah wrote this before the Jewish population was carried off into captivity). Before He “lowered the boom” on them (enacted punishment) for their continued idolatry, God was already promising them a return to the land (70 years later, allowing the generation of the idolaters to die off). The prophet also foresaw a coming redemption from sin and death with Jesus’ 1st Advent (this is a mid-range prophesy which unfolded 700-750 years later). Finally, he forecasts judgment for us at Jesus’ 2nd Coming (this is the long term prophesy, which has not yet been fulfilled). This is why he says in verse 6🡪Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. In God’s mind, our opportunity to choose Him is time-limited (there is an expiration date). We are to remember that we don’t think on the same level or in the same way as He does.

B. David wrote Psalm 63 from the desert, as he was being pursued by the jealous and murderous King Saul. You would therefore think his first plea would be for God to “save his neck” (protect him from his enemy). Instead, his first request of God is for greater intimacy with Him (verses 1-2)🡪…earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for You, my body longs for You. He wants to see God (as do we all). He desires full-on access to God. If he can be close to God, he insists that (v.50)🡪My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods….(another food/drink image).

He only refers to God’s protection of him by verses 7-8🡪Because You are my help, I sing in the shadow of Your wings. My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me. Even then, David does not ask for God’s protection and defense; instead, he regards it as a “given,” already believing that God will take care of him. Oh, if we all only had faith like that!

C. Paul gives us a history lesson in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13. He recounts how the ancient Israelites blew off (dismissed and ignored) God. Verse 1🡪…our forefathers were all under the cloud…they all passed through the sea. He is saying that they were guided by God (His cloud by day, His pillar of fire by night) as they escaped slavery in Egypt. He also miraculously opened the Red Sea for them to cross. God ordained Moses as their leader. So, in a sense they… were baptized into Moses, meaning they identified with him as their leader—just as we identify with Jesus as our leader and submit to His authority in our own baptism. He goes on to recount in verse 3🡪They ate the same spiritual food [the manna] and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Remember how Jesus offers the woman at the well (John 4:10) living water, free flowing water that never runs out? This is eternal life. Also recall that He refers to Himself as (John 6:35) the bread of life. He is both our spiritual food and our spiritual drink. In a sense, God gave the Israelites in the wilderness Holy Communion before Jesus would later invent it. They had God’s direction, protection, and provision. Nevertheless, as Peterson puts it (The Message, v.11) But just experiencing God’s wonder and grace didn’t seem to mean much—most of them were defeated by temptation during the hard times in the desert, and God was not pleased.

Paul then goes on to list the ways they rebelled against God:

1.) Some became idolaters (Golden calf) (Exodus 32);

2.) Some committed sexual immorality (during pagan fertility rites)—23,000-24,000 died (Numbers 15:1-9).

3.) Some tested God (regarding food) He sent a wasting disease one time; poisonous snakes another (see Psalm 78:18; 95:9; and 106:14).

4.) Some even complained against God He sent a destroying angel (Numbers 16:41; 21:5-6).

When I was a child, I wrongly assumed that God indiscriminately killed off (smote) a bunch of folks and I felt sorry for them. I have since come to realize that God knows our hearts. He was well aware of who, among the 2 million coming out of Egypt, was guilty of great sin against Him. He singled out only the guilty for punishment, punishment they had been warned would take place. There would have been no cases of mistaken identity or guys punished who were not guilty. Don’t we wish this were so in our court systems today?

Next Paul says (v.11) These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. We can learn vicariously from their experiences. Unfortunately, we are just as capable of messing up as they were and yet, we have Jesus—the fulfillment of the ages. Thank God for Jesus, the fulfillment of over 325 prophesies from the Old Testament! He is our divine rescuer.

Paul concludes that he doesn’t want us to become overly confident, to be naïve, or to think we are exempt from temptations. Instead, he wants us to realize that our Lord never allows us to be tempted without providing us a way out. He is for us, not against us. He will rescue us if we but ask.

D. Jesus is very clear in the Gospel of Luke (13:1-9) that the time for choosing Him is now—Repent or Perish! He lists 2 examples of folks who died untimely deaths. He says their deaths were not due to their sinfulness. His point is that their deaths were unexpected. Since we don’t know the day or time that we will die, we want to get right with God and remain right with God. His fig-tree parable is a metaphor for the nation of Israel. God planted them and provided for them, but they had not gotten themselves right with God. Jesus was implying they still had time. God was/is mighty patient with them/us; but their time was running out, as is ours. For them, time ran out 35 years after Jesus’ ascension into heaven, when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and dispersed the population

We don’t want to run out of time! We want to turn away from the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil and choose God’s free gifts of spiritual food and drink for our souls. This is the only thing that fills up the God-shaped hole in our lives. We want to see God and to be satisfied with intimacy with Him. We don’t want to rebel from God, taking His grace for granted, and sinfully cut ourselves off from Him to perish.

Perhaps you have heard this story: The captain of the ship looked into the dark night and saw faint lights in the distance. Immediately he told his signalman to send a message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south.”

Promptly a return message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north.”

The captain was angered; his command had been ignored. So he sent a second message: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am the captain!”

Soon another message was received: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a seaman third class.”

Immediately the captain sent a third message, knowing the fear it would evoke: “Alter your course 10 degrees south—I am a battleship!”

Then the reply came: “Alter your course 10 degrees north—I am a lighthouse.”

(As read in Chuck Swindoll’s The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, pp.539-540.)

There is no safety or peace in rebellion from God. I believe we want to repent and to choose life, not perish!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Kiss of God

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/13/2022

Scriptures: Jer 17:5-10; Ps 1; 1 Cor 15:12-20; Lk 6:17-2

The following story comes from an anonymous source:

At age 16 Andor Foldes (1913-1992) was already a skilled pianist, but he was experiencing a troubled year. In the midst of the young Hungarian’s personal struggles, one of the most renowned pianists of the day came to Budapest. Emil von Sauer was famous not only for his abilities; he was also the last surviving pupil of the great Franz Liszt. Von Sauer requested that Foldes play for him. Foldes obliged with some of the most difficult works of Bach, Beethoven, and Schumann.

When he finished, von Sauer walked over to him and kissed him on the forehead. “My son,” he said, “when I was your age I became a student of Liszt. He kissed me on the forehead after my first lesson, saying, ‘Take good care of this kiss–it comes from Beethoven, who gave it to me after hearing me play. I have waited for years to pass on this sacred heritage, but now I feel you deserve it.”

How delightful! The master pianist, Sauer, passed on his blessing to the amateur, Foldes, with a kiss to the fellow’s forehead. Emil von Sauer, a German (1862-1942), had received the blessing from the famous Hungarian composer, Liszt (1811-1886); just as Liszt had received his blessing from the fabulous German composer, Ludvig van Beethoven (1770-1827).

I think several of our Scriptures today represent a kiss to our foreheads by our heavenly Father. One of my seminary professors used to greet me with a kiss to my forehead whenever we encountered each other at large church meetings after I had graduated. I always felt that his kiss represented God the Father’s blessing to me. In today’s lessons, God the Father and Jesus are telling us how to live a life that pleases Them. Their words, in Scripture, provide a pathway for us to God’s approval. Let’s examine them together:

In Jeremiah 17:5-10, the prophet shares with us the Father’s distinction between blessed and cursed people. Those who want to be blessed—kissed on their foreheads, as it were, by God—trust in Him. These folks are like trees planted by a consistent source of fresh water (lake, river, pond, or swamp). They don’t have to worry about heat or drought conditions. And—all things being equal, and given enough nutrients–they bear fruit at the appropriate season. In other words, they thrive!

Jeremiah contrasts these with the person who trusts instead in humankind, thinking they don’t need the Lord. We all know people like this. I have some in my extended family. They don’t believe they need God. Such a person, God says in verse 6 …will be like a bush in the wastelands; He [she] will not see prosperity when it comes. He [she] will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

We’ve all seen at least pictures of trees in such barren places. Their growth is stunted. They are but scraggly versions of what they could have become in a more hospitable environment. Surviving takes so much energy—using up all their resources– that they do not achieve their potential. Instead of receiving God’s kiss of blessing, they are cursed.

Jeremiah follows this contrast up with a warning: (v.9) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? He is saying that we humans are adept at justifying what we want or desire, even to the point of lying to ourselves and others to get it. We may fool ourselves, and we may fool others, but we never fool God. Scripture tells us He is…the same, yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:6). God asserts, in verse 10 I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve. He reads our hearts, our motives, our thoughts like we might read a book on our Kindles or Notebooks. Psalm 139:3-4 tells us that nothing about us (thoughts or actions) is hidden from His sight.

Psalm 1 re-states the same message, as it contrasts the behaviors of a blessed or happy person with an ungodly person.

The wise person chooses to align his/her life with God’s teaching, not the culture’s. The foolish person, on the other hand, is captured by wickedness/sin or slavishly complies with cultural dictates. The righteous ultimately prosper; while the lives of the foolish are ultimately—in the words of Peter, Paul, and Mary or Bob Dylan, from the 1960’s–“blowing in the wind.” The much more stable, wise person finds joy in God’s Word and walks by faith in Him.

Paul’s passage from 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 explains why blessed persons believe in Jesus: because of His Resurrection. Paul was preaching against 3 philosophical views of death common to the folks of Corinth:

1. The Epicureans believed there was no existence beyond this life (therefore, no resurrection).

2. The Stoics believed the soul, at death, merged into the divine, losing all individuality and personality. Somehow we were all to merge with the universe.

3. The followers of Plato believed the spirit was immortal but the body (which was seen as evil and not worth saving) did not rise from the dead. Paul rightly preached the Christian view that there is a bodily resurrection.

The Greek words he used for resurrection were anastasis nekron. which iterally means the standing up of a body. When we die, our body is resurrected with our spirit. Furthermore, as proof, the resurrected Jesus appeared in His human body, complete with nail-holes and the spear wound to His side.

Paul says we can trust that Jesus truly did overcome death because He was seen after His resurrection by so many eye-witnesses:

1. Cephas (Peter); Paul doesn’t mention Mary Magdalene (John:20:10-19); the other Mary or Joanna (Luke 24:9-10); Salome (Mark 16:1); or the two on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35);

2. “the Twelve” to represent the 11 remaining disciples (Judas had already hanged himself);

3. 500 disciples who traveled on to meet Him in Galilee;

4. James, His brother;

5. and finally, the Apostle Paul.

Jesus’ resurrection is a well-supported historical fact. There is more evidence, from Christian as well as non-Christian sources of the day, to prove Jesus came back from the dead than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar.

Finally, in our Gospel today, Jesus preaches what have become known as the Lucan Beatitudes (as opposed to those cited in Matthew, chapters 5-6), from the Sermon on the Plain (vs. Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount). He promises that the poor, those who are hungry, those who grieve, and those who are persecuted for His sake will all be blessed. As in Psalm 1 and in Jeremiah 17, He then contrasts between those who are blessed and those who at their deaths will be afflicted, despairing, and anguished (cursed): He says, Woe to the rich because they have already received their rewards on earth. Woe to the well-fed for they will go hungry later. Remember Jesus’ parable of Lazarus (the beggar) and Dives (the rich man)? The rich man died, went to hell, and implored of Abraham in heaven that he tell Lazarus to give him some water.

Abraham replied (Luke 16:25-26) …Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. Woe to those who laugh now (the mockers) for they will mourn later. And woe to those who are highly regarded by the culture as this was true of the false prophets. They received the acclaim of unwise people but did not impress God.

So how might we anticipate receiving the kiss of God? I thank God it’s not based on how well we play the piano, as I can’t play a note! Rather, it appears that God is willing to bestow His blessing, His kiss, on those who…

1. Put their hope, their faith, their trust in God and Jesus rather than in people.

2. Try to live their lives according to God’s Word (the Bible), rather than what’s popular in the culture.

3. Believe in Jesus.

4. And look to Jesus, rather than to their own efforts, to fulfill them.

Holy Spirit, help this to be the case with all of us! May we each receive a kiss from God on our foreheads because we trust Him, love Him, and seek to do His will. May we each one day arrive in Heaven to hear from Him, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

When Life Sends us Disappointment

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/30/2022

Scriptures: Jer 1:4-10; Ps 71:1-6; 1 Cor 13:1-13; Lk 4:21-30

The story is told that the devil was going out of business and would offer all his tools for sale to whomever would pay his price. On the night of the sale they were all attractively displayed—and a bad looking lot they were: Malice, Hatred, Envy, Jealousy, Lust, Deceit and all the other implements of evil were spread out, each marked with its price. Apart from the rest lay a harmless looking wedge-shaped tool, much worn and priced higher than any of the others. Someone asked the devil what it was.

“That’s Disappointment,” was the reply.

“Why do you have it priced so high?”

“Because,” replied Satan, “it is more useful to me than any of the others. I can pry open and get inside a man’s consciousness with that when I could not get near him with any of the other tools. When once inside I can use him in whatever way suits me best. It is so much worn because I use it with nearly everybody, as very few people yet know it belongs to me.”

It hardly need be added that the devil’s price for disappointment was so high that it was never sold. He is still using it

This story puts disappointment in an interesting light, doesn’t it? We tend to think of it as a fact of life, something that happens to us from time to time. Those of us who are resilient, bounce back from disappointment; while those of us who aren’t may get so discouraged we give up and quit trying.

Our Old Testament and Gospel passages today have a lot to say to us about how we might deal with disappointment. Let’s take a look at them together:

A. Jeremiah 1:4-10 lays out God’s call to the young man, Jeremiah, to serve Him as a prophet. Jeremiah was probably somewhere between17-20 when God ordained him. He had already been serving as a priest in his home town of Anathoth, located just a few miles north of Jerusalem. King Josiah was on the throne then. He was just 22, in 626 BC, and reigned until he died at age 39. He and Jeremiah were contemporaries and probably friends. Jeremiah served all during the remainder of Josiah’s reign, and also during the reigns of kings Jehoahaz, and Jehoiakim (sons of Josiah), Jehoiachin (Josiah’s grandson), and Zedekiah (a third son of Josiah). Josiah was a good and godly king, and had led his people in a revival which turned their hearts back to God. His sons, however, were another story. Because of their idolatry and wicked behavior, God allowed the last to be defeated and carried off into slavery by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.

Notice how God called Jeremiah into His service: Verse 5: Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I set you apart. This verse gives me chill-bumps! It states that God knows us before we are even conceived, and that He has a plan for our lives. This is true for all of us, not just Jeremiah! The Lord tells Jeremiah He had determined–even before the young man’s birth–that he would become a prophet and deliver to His people God’s words.

Jeremiah is a humble young man who tells God, (v.6) I am only a child. He essentially says, “Yes, I will do it, but I am young and inexperienced; I won’t know what to say!” God’s response must have been very reassuring (v.7) Do not say,’ I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you. In other words, the Lord was telling Jeremiah that He would supply the words he was to speak. Furthermore, God promised to take care of him, even though He was calling him to prophesy divine judgment on Judah and her heretical kings.

If we skipped ahead 40 years to the end of Jeremiah’s life and career, we would find that he apparently never made a single convert. After Josiah’s death, the people ignored or ridiculed his preaching entirely. He was rejected by his own countrymen, hated, beaten, put in stocks, trown into a dry well, imprisoned, and charged with being a traitor. He was later called “the prophet of the broken heart” because God’s judgments on his people—and their rejection of God–were so distressing to him. Once, King Jehoiakim cut his painstakingly hand-written, prophetic scrolls up. The king then destroyed them by throwing them into the fire (but God just retold the contents to Jeremiah so he could write them down again).

I don’t know about you, but though I would have been honored to speak the Lord’s words to His people, I would also have been very disappointed that my ministry would have had such little effect. What is noteworthy, though, is that Jeremiah may have gotten depressed, but he persisted! He may have been disappointed, but he kept on giving out God’s messages. He may have gotten discouraged, but he never gave up!

I think that he stands as an excellent example to us: He trusted in God’s promise to him and he persevered at a thankless task. Even though the apostle Paul wrote some 600 years later, I think what he said in 2 Timothy 4:7 was very appropriate for Jeremiah I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

B. Our Gospel lesson from Luke 4:21-30 picks up where we left off last week. Jesus had read His job description from Isaiah 61:1, and told the Nazarites, His friends and neighbors, that He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophesy. At first, they were impressed–until someone spoke up who reminded everyone that Jesus was the carpenter’s son. This man had placed Jesus in a box and would not consider that He might in fact be “more than a carpenter.” The nay-sayer was limited in his understanding and recognition of Jesus as the Messiah due to his own prejudices. The crowd in the synagogue were eager to see Him work some miracles, but they too were unwilling to alter their perceptions of Him. Mark tells us (Mark 6:5) He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them…due to their lack of faith. Perhaps the ones He healed had had long term illnesses and were desperate enough to put their faith in the “hometown boy” turned itinerant rabbi. What a blessing they got when He healed them but not the others.

Jesus really gets the crowd riled up when He reminds them (v.24) I tell you the truth…no prophet is accepted in his hometown. He is claiming He is a prophet. Again, this was outside the box they had constructed for Him. Then He further incenses them when He gives them two examples of “outsiders,” non-Jews God had provided for. There were many widows in need in Israel during the famine and drought of Elijah’s day, but God sent the prophet to minister to a Phoenician woman instead of an Israelite. Similarly, there were lots of Israelite lepers, but God chose to heal the Syrian general, Namaan. In other words, Jesus is warning them that God will not bless them if they do not believe in His Son. They became so angry by this point that they attempted to kill Him by tossing Him off a cliff.

The fact that He could just disappear from an angry mob should have expanded the box in which they had confined Him.

I could be wrong, but I would bet that Jesus was disappointed with their reaction to Him. He was obviously willing to heal many, but their contempt and anger, their lack of faith, limited what His heavenly Father would allow Him to do. Just as with Jeremiah, His own had rejected Him. So, He moved His base of operations to Capernaum.

What is the example Jesus gives us in the face of disappointment and discouragement? Respond honestly, if given the opportunity. Then move on, move ahead with your ministry.

Jeremiah’s great example to us is to persist. Persist in being faithful. Persist in loving God and others. Persist in the office or role to which you have been called, whether that is as a Parent (be sure to watch the Christian movie, “Mom’s Night Out”), a Spouse; a Sibling, a Friend, a Pastor, healer, counselor, caregiver, etc. I remember as a young adult rebelling against the idea that we should “bloom where you are planted.” I strongly believed we should work hard to change the environment in which we found ourselves. I did not realize then that God has us each where He wants us. We are to do our best in that situation until He sovereignly leads us into a different environment. Like Jeremiah, we should persist in believing and trusting that God will and does care for you.

Jesus’ provides several great examples for us in today’s Gospel:

1. Speak the truth in love. He told them some truths they didn’t want to hear. He loved them as He told them, but they got angry and rejected His right, as God, to speak into their lives, and His true identity, because it was outside their usual way of thinking of Him. If we are to tell someone a tough truth, we need to be sure we can convey it from a place of love. If not, we are …only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). If not, we are meeting some ego needs and not treating the other with love.

2. If people are disinterested or belligerent, let them be.

Jesus didn’t argue with his former friends and neighbors. He ministered to those who were open to Him, and He moved His base of operations to Capernaum.

3. If/when people disappoint us, we can respond like Abraham Lincoln. In 1858 the Illinois legislature, using an obscure statute, sent Stephen A. Douglas to the U.S. Senate instead of Lincoln, although Lincoln had won the popular vote. When a sympathetic friend asked Lincoln how he felt, he said, “Like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.” Lincoln didn’t hold a grudge. He didn’t seek revenge. Instead, like Jesus,

He trusted God and quietly and calmly went about his business. Then, 2 years later in 1860, he was elected President of the United States. We don’t know if he prayed for the Illinois legislature, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had as he was a great man of God. May we each be as gracious and Christ-centered. Amen!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Knowing Who We Are and What We Are Called to Do

Pastor Sherry’s message for 1/23/2022

Scriptures: Neh 8:1-10; Ps 19; 1Cor 12:12-31a; Lk 4:14-21

The story is told of a man who found a young eagle that had fallen from its nest ….

“He took it home and put it in his barnyard where it soon learned to eat and behave like the chickens. One day a naturalist passed by the farm and asked why it was that the king of all birds should be confined to live in the barnyard with the chickens. The farmer replied that since he had given it chicken feed and trained it to be a chicken, it had never learned to fly. Since it now behaved as the chickens, it was no longer an eagle.

Still it has the heart of an eagle,’ replied the naturalist, ‘and can surely be taught to fly.’ He lifted the eagle toward the sky and said, ‘You belong to the sky and not to the earth. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle, however, was confused. He did not know who he was, and seeing the chickens eating their food, he jumped down to be with them again.

‘The naturalist took the bird to the roof of the house and urged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ But the eagle was afraid of this unknown self and world and jumped down once more for the chicken food. Finally the naturalist took the eagle out of the barnyard to a high mountain. There he held the king of the birds high above him and encouraged him again, saying, ‘You are an eagle. You belong to the sky. Stretch forth your wings and fly.’ The eagle looked around, back towards the barnyard and up to the sky. Then the naturalist lifted him straight towards the sun and it happened that the eagle began to tremble. Slowly he stretched his wings, and with a triumphant cry, soared away into the heavens.

‘It may be that the eagle still remembers the chickens with nostalgia. It may even be that he occasionally revisits the barnyard. But as far as anyone knows, he has never returned to lead the life of a chicken.” (Theology News and Notes, October, 1976, quoted in Multnomah Message, Spring, 1993, p. 1).

The eagle had a case of confused identity. He didn’t know who he was—a chicken or an eagle. He didn’t know his purpose—to peck for food on the ground, like a strange domestic; or to soar the heavens as a magnificent raptor. We can often be like that, can’t we? We can limit who we are, and we can miss out on our purpose.

Let’s see what our Scripture passages today have to about our identity and our purpose.

A. Our Old Testament lesson comes from Nehemiah 8:1-10, and takes place in Jerusalem in 445BC, roughly 2500 years ago. Jewish POW’s of first the Babylonian, then the Persian Empires, had been set free by the Persian king, Artaxerxes, to return to their homeland. Under the oversight and direction of their governor, Nehemiah, they had completed the massive rebuilding of the city walls in just 52 days. Ezra, their priest had begun the sad reconstruction of the Temple, which would take many more years. We find them today assembled–on the equivalent of their New Year’s Day—inside the Water Gate (1 of the 12 refurbished gates of the city). You may recall that business, legal, and political matters were debated and decided, in those days, at the city gates. So this wasn’t just some narrow passageway, but a gate opening into a sizeable square or assembly area.

Again, they had to meet there because reconstruction of the Temple was not accomplished.

Ezra and Nehemiah had convened a “solemn assembly” of all the returning citizens. Scholars estimate some 49,000 men, women, and children of an age to understand [perhaps ages 8-10 and above], had gathered there—with someone providing child care for the younger ones. After 70 years of exile in a foreign nation, they may have held Bible studies there, but chances are good that they had not really been formally taught the Torah (the Law). The word has gotten around, however, that someone had found a copy of the Law of Moses during the Temple rebuilding project. The People wanted to know what it said. They realized they had been punished by God for their idolatry and for not obeying His Law. They wanted to be sure they didn’t err in the same way their grandparents had.

Notice what happens. Ezra proclaims God’s word, in a loud voice, from a raised platform (perhaps the first pulpit). The people remain standing, and quiet, and as they listen for some 4-6 hours! This is where the synagogue tradition of standing for the reading of Scripture began. In Eastern Orthodox congregations—and in the middle ages in Europe–people stood for the entire service. That’s why we find there large cathedrals with no pews. Today, we stand for the reading of the Gospel, the Creed, and communion. Standing is a sign of respect, a sign of reverence. These folks are hearing God’s word read to them—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy—perhaps for the first time.

Additionally, there are Levites available to walk among the crowd and explain what God’s Word means. Scholars believe the people may not have understood the Hebrew, as they had probably been speaking Aramaic or even Persian/Farsi. So the teachers of the Law were there to answer questions and to explain. This is probably the most important job we pastors now do—explain the meaning of Scripture, as best as we can. The pre-Reformation Catholic Church had moved away from this important duty. The Protestant Reformers were thus insistent that we preach and explain God’s Word. This is why I park on the Scripture passages appointed for the day in all of my sermons. Like the people of Nehemiah’s day, we cannot obey God’s Word if we don’t know or understand it.

The people respond with AMEN, AMEN! May it be so, hands lifted, praising God. We say, Thanks be to God! following our reading of Scripture and hopefully we mean it. They then became convicted of their sinfulness. They now knew the standard. They also realized how far short of God’s standard they had lived, and how the sins of their forebears had led to the destruction of their country, and to their 70 year exile as a subjugated people. So, they prostrate themselves and cry tears of repentance. But Ezra, Nehemiah, the 13 on the platform, and the Levites among them, tell them not to grieve or mourn. For a time they had lost their identity and their purpose! But God brought them out of captivity. He once again delivered them and restored them. He hadn’t turned His back on them. And now they had a new chance to get it right. This, then, is an occasion to celebrate, to rejoice about the goodness and mercy of the Lord.

Nehemiah tells them, (v.10)—Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Just what does that mean? It doesn’t say, I bring God joy when I praise Him (though we probably do). It doesn’t say, My joy about God makes me strong (though it may). Both of the above statements begin in the wrong place: with ME. The true starting place, always, is with GOD. God’s joy is the foundation for our strength. So, what brings Him joy? When we remember our identity begins with our belief in Him, as His beloved children, and our purpose is to be obedient to Him.

B. Our Gospel lesson today comes from Luke 4:14-21. Jesus has returned home to Nazareth (following His baptism, 40 days in the wilderness, and probably the wedding at Cana. He goes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath, as was His custom. The synagogue at Nazareth would have been His “home church.” When I visited my home church in Tallahassee from seminary in Pittsburgh, it was always such a blessing and a celebration to greet old friends. This must have been true for Jesus too as they invited Him to read the Scripture appointed for the day and to preach.

Now Jesus knows Who He is—the beloved Son of God. He also knows His mission–to redeem the world—which He no doubt came to grips with during His time of prayer, meditation, and temptation in the wilderness.

And He would have realized the Scripture, Isaiah 61:1-2a, was His mission-statement. He reads aloud for the congregation what Isaiah had predicted about Him 700-750 years before His birth: Anointed by the HS, He would…

[1] Preach good news to the poor (God loves you and has sent Me to save you);

[2] I will proclaim freedom to prisoners (people whose own sin has captured them);

[3] I will recover sight for the blind;

[4] I will release those who have been captured and injured by the sins of others;

[5] And I will proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor: This is it! God has sent you the Messiah!

Then He sat down (the traditional posture of a teacher) and told them that what the prophet had predicted has now come true in Him. In other words, Jesus knows His identity and His purpose. Do we each know who we are and what we are called to do?

This week, let’s try to remember our true identity comes from our relationship with Jesus Christ.

1. Not from our profession;

2. Not from our marital status;

3. Not from our family name or our friendship circle;

4. Not from where we live;

5. Not from what sports team or political candidate we support;

6. Not even from our gender orientation.

7. No, we are children of God and inheritors of His Kingdom through Christ Jesus. That is our prime and most important identity.

And our purpose derives from that: We are here on earth, at this time and place, to know, love, and serve God. Christians means little Christs. We are to imitate Jesus in the way we behave.

Allow me to close with a story regarding the 19th century French artist Paul Gustave Dore, taken from Our Daily Bread, 01/06/1993. (Dore was famous as an illustrator of books, including the Bible, fairy tales, and other poems and novels of the day:

The renowned artist Paul Gustave Dore (1821-1883) lost his passport while traveling in Europe. When he came to a border crossing, he explained his predicament to one of the guards. Giving his name to the official, Dore hoped he would be recognized and allowed to pass. The guard, however, said that many people attempted to cross the border by claiming to be persons they were not. Dore insisted that he was the man he claimed to be. “All right,” said the official, “we’ll give you a test, and if you pass it we’ll allow you to go through.” Handing him a pencil and a sheet of paper, he told the artist to sketch several peasants standing nearby. Dore did it so quickly and skillfully that the guard was convinced he was indeed who he claimed to be. His work confirmed his word!

This week, let us remember, we are eagles called to be eagles, not chickens. May what we say and do reflect who we are. AMEN! (May it be so!)

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Filled Back Up

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 31, 2021

Scriptures: Ruth 1:1-18; Ps 146; Heb 9:11-14; Mk 12:28-34

This morning, we encounter as our Old Testament lesson, the lovely story of the friendship of Ruth and Naomi. (Various verses from the book of Ruth are often quoted at weddings.) The context is provided right off the bat, in the first verse in the days that the Judges ruled…. This means it was after the Israelites had entered the Land of Promise, and after the death of Joshua, Moses’ successor. It was a very dark period of Hebrew history (1380-1050BC). It was dark because, just a few generations after entering the Land—and after 40 years of wandering in the desert, and after seeing God’s signs and wonders—another generation grew up, who knew neither the LORD nor what He had done for Israel. Then the Isaelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals (Judges 2:10-11).

In other words, they would sin mightily against all the commandments, but especially the first 4. They rejected God and got involved in idolatry (Baal worship=spiritual adultery). God would then say, OK, have it your way…(Ro 1:28-29) Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity (sins against the last 6 commandments). God would then also remove His hand of protection from around them: He would allow Moabites to terrorize them; the Amalekites, Ammonites, or Philistines to subjugate them; the Midianites to raid them and cart off their crops, animals, and even their women and children. Sometimes God would not command rain to fall, which resulted in famine. They would then repent, beg for His help, swear again their allegiance to Him, and He would graciously rescue them. This would happen in about 40 year cycles, time for one generation to die off and be replaced by another.

When the story of Ruth begins, God has allowed a famine in the land. Scripture tells us that famine, locusts, or plagues are evidence of God’s judgment! So what should have been Israel’s response? 2 Chronicles 7:14 If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Even if they did not yet have 2 Chronicles to read, they had the 40 year cycles playing out in the book of Judges. The lesson, again and again, is Repent, pray, ask for God’s mercy.

Naomi and her family lived in Bethlehem in Judah, which means house of food/bread; in Judah which means praise. But, unfortunately, Naomi’s husband Elimelech (my God is King) decides not to repent, pray, and ask for God’s mercy, but rather to leave and head to Moab. YIKES! Understand that Elimelech leaves God’s protection and provision to move in with Israelite enemies/God’s enemies. He leaves the house of bread, in the region of praise, choosing not to wait on a miracle from God, but to leave the covenant community of Israel, and trust in his own resources; to do as he saw fit. He moves his family to the land of the Moabites, who were descended from Lot, born of incest. In Psalm 108:9, God says, Moab is my washpot garbage can. Willful Elimelech leaves the house of bread for the garbage can.

He takes with him Naomi (pleasant; Merry Sunshine!) and their two sons, Mahlon (sickly; weakling;) and Kilion (puny). Because of this fateful and foolish move, Naomi is reduced from fullness to emptiness: With 2 sons and a husband, Naomi leaves Bethlehem feeling “Full.” But, during their sojourn in Moab, she begins to empty. She has no additional children; her husband, Elimelech, dies; her two sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah—who are both lovely and loving, but who appear to be barren. Then, both young men die! Naomi winds up empty in Moab!

What does she decide to do? Like so many of us when life leaves us frustrated and alone, we either strike out for a new place/new beginning or we go back home, don’t we? She’s already done the former. So now it’s time to try the latter. She probably thought to herself, When was I last full? In Israel, when I lived among family; in Israel, where I had women friends; in Israel, where I lived under God’s protection. She may have even thought, Maybe the Lord allowed all of this because we didn’t trust Him

Did Naomi repent for having fled from the Promised Land? Did she pray? Did she ask for God’s forgiveness? It doesn’t seem like it because at first she returns to Bethlehem and tells the women there, call me Mara (bitter). Like a lot of us, rather than taking responsibility for being out of God’s will, she blames God for her misfortunes.

But our lesson today points to one benefit she has gained from her sojourn in the garbage pail: Ruth. Through Ruth, God begins to fill Naomi back up:

1.) First, consider Ruth’s character: She is compassionate. She knows Naomi is grieved and depressed, so she puts Naomi’s need for companionship and assistance ahead of her own comforts. This is what St. Paul would later define as agapao, a 1st Corinthians 1 type of love. She is also loyal. Maybe she had experienced first-hand Naomi’s kindnesses to her as a young bride. Perhaps Naomi had consoled her in her childlessness. Maybe Naomi had been very helpful to her during Mahlon’s illness and death. Scripture is silent on these points. Whatever had happened between them, it was enough for Ruth to prefer leaving her own homeland to venture to a land where she might be forever an outcast. I think that tells us she was courageous.

2.) Second, Ruth had become a God-follower, v.16–Your God will be my God…may the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separate you and me. How had that happened? Probably because of Naomi’s example: Naomi tells the women of Bethlehem that she knows God has brought me back empty (Hmmm, that implies she prayed), and to call her Mara. But she seems also to have practiced St. Francis’ (much later advice: Preach the Gospel at all times; if necessary, use words. Even if her depression was talking most recently, Ruth had seen the true Naomi, before all of her misfortunes. Maybe God was telling Naomi, through Ruth’s presence, I have blessed you with a true-blue friend!

And that was just the beginning, wasn’t it? If you know the story of Ruth, you know that Naomi still held a deed to a family-owned, but mortgaged, tract of land. God supplies a kinsman redeemer (a foreshadowing of Christ), Boaz, who generously pays off the mortgage and marries Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law. We know God designed this because there was another fellow in the family who wanted the land, but not Ruth. Also, Boaz, an older guy, was rather amazed that this lovely young woman would desire him over guys her own age.

The childless Ruth bears a son to Boaz, Obed (servant of the Lord.) Obed is the father of Jesse, and the Grandfather of King David. More importantly, we know that Ruth and Boaz establish the line of Jesse of the tribe of Judah, out of which comes the Messiah, Jesus. The Lord fills Naomi back up–just like Job–really beyond anything she can ask or imagine.

Psalm 146 echoes the theme: Verses 5-6 say, Blessed is he [or she] whose help in the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his [her] God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them—the Lord, who remains faithful forever. Verses 7-9 almost seem to have been composed for Naomi in particular: He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry…the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down…the Lord…sustains the fatherless and the widow….

Hebrews 9:11-14 exhorts us to trust in Jesus’ saving power. While Naomi and Ruth’s time predated Christ’s by centuries, nevertheless they were redeemed by a prototype of Christ. The writer to the Hebrews wants us to know and to appreciate the fact that the blood Jesus shed to pay the penalty for our sins far surpasses the blood of animals to make atonement for us. Jesus is our Kinsman Redeemer.

Mark 12:28-34 presents us with a lawyer (or teacher of the law) who confesses that loving God and loving our neighbors is more important to God than making burnt offerings (to remove the blot of sin) or sacrifices. Jesus commends him for his wisdom. Love of God—trust in God—and love of people are what most please God.

There are some wonderful lessons for us, given current events as well as our personal dilemmas and calamities:

1.) You may remember from last week, There is no situation I can get into that God cannot get me out of. If we trust in God, we will be all right. Elimelech and Naomi should have trusted in God. They could have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they had humbled themselves, repented, sought God, and prayed. He promises in 2 Chronicles 7:14 to hear, forgive, and heal if we do. However, because God is a redeemer, even though Naomi returned to Bethlehem minus a husband and two sons, she was richer for having a loyal, generous, and loving daughter-in-law. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and is included in the lineage of Jesus. Surely Naomi is in heaven rejoicing that that is the case!

2.) I am convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to our personal dilemmas. No matter what be-devils you—health issues, depression or crippling anxiety, family quarrels, money problems, unpleasant situations at work or in the neighborhood—bring all these issues to God’s attention. Repent of your sins. Ask for His help. Trust in His love. Then watch and see what He does.

3.) I am also convinced that 2 Chronicles 7:14 is God’s answer to the trouble our country is in now. We need to confess our sins as a nation, to repent, and to return to our foundational beliefs in God. America was meant to be a “City set on a hill,” an example to the rest of the world of what a country can look like when it is focused on loving God and obeying His will. What we see now is a country that is suffering the consequences of being out of God’s will. He has lifted His hedge of protection from us. We are encountering all manner of troubles because we have walked away from Him. The answer, the antidote, is not to throw more money on our problems, but to return to the God who has purchased us with His own blood! Thanks be God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

PASSING MARKS

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 10, 2021

Scriptures: Job 23:1-17; Ps 22:1-15; Heb 4:12-18; Mk 10:17-31

The story is told of an Ohio State University student who was academically competent but tended to need time to complete assignments (smart but not speedy).  You may know the type.  They do know the material, but think things through carefully until they have the right answer.  Others may come to the answer more rapidly but few are as careful as this.

The student was troubled by a Calculus class he needed to pass—and wasn’t—with a demanding, annoying professor.  The guy seemed to delight in frustrating his already discouraged students.  During exams, he would walk around, watching them like a hawk, expecting to discover someone cheating.  He would frequently announce the amount of time left—30 minutes, 20 minutes, 10 minutes, etc.- just to interrupt their trains of thought and to agitate everyone.  In a class of 1,000 students, the slow-but-steady young man was the only one not to turn in his exam when time was called.

The prof waited impatiently and then, an hour later, when the young man finally finished his test, the prof asked him what he thought he was doing.  The kid answered, “Turning in my exam.”  The prof replied, “Your exam is an hour late. Congratulations!  You’ve failed it.  So, I will see you next term when you repeat my class.”  The student smiled and asked, “Do you know my name?”  The prof replied gruffly and incredulously, “What?” The student rephrased his question, “Do you know what my name is?” With irritation, the prof replied, “There are 1,000 students in this class.  What makes you think I would know your name?”  The student then smiled, and, lifting up a tall stack of test booklets, placed his completed test in the middle of the pile and casually exited the huge lecture hall.

Life sometimes presents us with tests–and authority figures– like that one.  We may think our prospects are slim and we don’t have much of a chance of succeeding. But the truth is that if we have a relationship with the Lord, we can make it through any trial that might come.  Let’s see what our passages today have to add to this issue:

A.  Our OT lesson comes from Job 23:1-17.  You may recall that the Lord is so confident of Job’s righteousness that He allows Satan to strip him of his family, his wealth, and his health.  Satan is sure Job will turn against God if his blessings are all removed.  But Job is such a faithful believer that he does not, even though his wife advises (Job 2:9), Curse God and die (Great advice, right? Horrible!).

Instead, Job spends much of the book trying to figure out how he has offended God.  He believes he is being punished, but stops short of blaming God (This is such a good lesson for us!).  In today’s chapter, he begins to believe his faith is being put to the test.  So he wants an opportunity to speak to God face to face.  In verse 3 he admits he doesn’t know where to find Him; in verses 4-7, he is sure that if he could locate God, and confront Him, God wouldn’t find any problems with him.

YIKES!  Don’t you just want to tell Job 3 things:

    #1, None of us is without sin—as Paul says, except for Jesus, No, not one!  As J. Vernon McGee says, No one can go into the presence of God to defend himself.  We must all go before God to plead guilty before him.  Every one of us is guilty (commentary on Job, p.125).  We are only made righteous—we only have passing marks– because we have been cleansed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

    #2, So, if we think we can defend ourselves before God, we need to remember to approach Him with humility.  He is God; we are not! 

    #3, Finally, anyone who seriously wants to find God will do so.  Our God is not hiding from us.  In fact, He calls us to Himself.  If we really want to meet up with Him, He will make Himself known to us—through Scripture, dreams, billboards, overheard conversations, song lyrics, and life events (to name a few means at His disposal).  And unlike the calculus professor at Ohio State, God is for us, not against us.

But praise God!  By the time Job arrives at verse 10, he realizes he is being tested for some purpose.  Like us, he doesn’t yet know what the purpose is.  Like us, he doesn’t understand why he needs testing.  But—hopefully also like us—he does believe that God is using this testing to somehow bring about His good purposes in Job’s life.  If we let it, trouble strengthens our faith.  If we let it, trouble improves our moral character.

If we let Him, God will comfort us and equip us as we move through our difficulties.  Some unnamed wise person once said, You know that God has never promised that we would miss the storm, but He has promised that we would make the harbor.

B.  Psalm 22 is known as “the Psalm of the Cross.”  Written by King David (around 1,000BC) before the Romans invented crucifixion, it provides us a clear window into Jesus’ thoughts as He hung on the Cross.  Some scholars believe Jesus recited this psalm from memory while nailed to the Cross.  In verses 1-2, Jesus essentially cries out to His Father, My God, where are you?  He is feeling deserted and abandoned.  In verses 3-5, He reminds Himself that His Father is the Holy One in whom the patriarchs of Israel put their trust…they trusted and You delivered them…in You they trusted and were not disappointed.

Unlike Job or us, Jesus was entirely without sin.  He had personally done nothing to merit death.  In verses 6-8, He states that He knows He has not provoked the attacks of vicious and vindictive men; and that, thus far, God has not delivered Him from their cruelty.  He reminds His Father that He has trusted in Him from birth.  Finally, verses 12-15 describe His deep physical and emotional distress.  Here is indeed a portrait of unjust suffering.  By the end of the psalm, however–as by the end of the book of Job–we find that the truly righteous, despite their suffering, still maintain their faith in the Lord.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Mark 10:17-31) relates Jesus’ encounter with a rich young man.  The fellow mistakenly believes in his own righteousness.  He says he has kept the last 6 commandments all of his life, the ones that have to do with how we relate to others.  We are told that Jesus loved him, even though He realized the man has probably not kept the first 4.  How did Jesus know?  He recognized the man’s wealth was an impediment to his relationship with God.  Jesus asks him to give it up.  The young man walks away from Christ because he cannot (his wealth was his idol); and both he and Jesus are saddened by his decision.

The message is to give up whatever keeps us from remaining close to Jesus.  At one time with me, it was my children.  I didn’t trust God to care for them.  I had to give that up and then noted how much better they did than when I tried to control them.  Later, I learned that God was not selling my house because I was not willing to pastor a church.  I thought I had been called to ordained ministry, as a psychologist, to do therapy with the clergy.  But the Lord made it clear I had to give that goal up too.  The day that I agreed to do whatever God asked of me, my house sold.  My realtor brought a couple by to see it at 5:00pm and I had a signed contract by 8:00pm.  Jesus promises us we will receive blessings 100 times greater than whatever we have to give up for His sake.  He promises us eternal life, despite any and all persecution.

D.  The writer to the Hebrews (4:12-18) wants us never to forget that God’s Word activates us/energizes us to hold firm to our faith.  Scripture is more than words on a page.  It comes with power to help us achieve what God has for us.  Secondly, it exposes us to God’s sight.  If we compare ourselves to the biblical standard, we see where we fall short.  We can’t really get away with slipping our exam booklet into the middle of the pile.  God knows all about us.  Thirdly, Jesus’ example, and His once and for all perfect sacrifice for our sins, allows us now to approach God’s throne of grace not with fear of condemnation, but with confidence in God’s loving grace and mercy.

None of us wants to suffer, do we? Nevertheless, we have to realize that following Christ does not give us a pass to avoid problems.

Rather it is a guarantee—as we see in the outcomes of Jesus and of Job—of blessings and God’s favor following our faithfulness through trials.  Because of God’s grace and mercy, we are all like calculus students who have gotten away with not finishing on time by putting our test booklets in the middle of the pile.  Chuck Swindoll has written (in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p.35), “Every problem is an opportunity to prove God’s power.  Every day we encounter countless golden opportunities, brilliantly disguised as insurmountable problems.”

Let us pray:  Lord, we know we make better than passing marks when we remember that You do not promise to save us from trials, but You do promise to be present with us as we endure them.  We ask Jesus to tattoo on our hearts the reminder that He suffered untold agonies to atone, in advance, for our sins.  Help us to recognize that there is nothing we can do to achieve or earn our salvation.  Our money will not get us to Heaven, just as our good behavior or our generosity toward others will not.  It is only by loving You and Jesus, and accepting our grace-filled redemption at Your hands, that we are saved.  Assist us to let go of all and any impediments or roadblocks to having a satisfying, deeply faithful, intimate relationship with You.  Amen! 

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Keeping the Faith

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 29, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Those who are upright/righteous;

2. Those who speak truth;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Sexual immorality;

2. Theft;

3. Adultery;

4. Greed;

5. Malice;

6. Deceit;

7. Lewdness;

8. Envy;

9. Slander;

10. Arrogance and folly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Armored Up!

Pastor Sherry’s message for August 22/2021, 

Scriptures: Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69

In his 2013 book titled Did the Devil Make me Do It?, Mike McKinley asks us to consider what would happen if the Devil told us the truth when he tempted us. He says it might sound something like this:

    Satan:  You should cheat on your spouse with that good looking gal/guy at the office/coffee shop/church, etc..

    Us:  I don’t think so.  It’s wrong and it would hurt my spouse.

    Satan:  Fair enough, you make a good point.  But look, I’ve run a cost-benefits analysis for you.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

        Benefits:  

            1.) A few moments of physical pleasure;

            2.) A temporary boost to self-esteem.

        Costs:  

            1.) Disobedience to God;

            2.) Sin, so separation from God;

            3.) Ruin or possibly even end your marriage;

            4.) Humiliate your spouse;

            5.) Mess up your kids’ lives;

            6.) Public embarrassment and exposure;

            7.) Could cost you your job (especially in a church);

            8.) Might mess up the life of your partner in sin;

            9.) You might get a sexually transmitted disease;

            10.) There could be an unwanted pregnancy;

            11.) Wreck your Christian witness to others…

    Us:  Wow, hmmm, a ratio of 2:11…No thanks!

But the problem for us, unfortunately, is that Satan is never honest with us. Jesus tells us in John 8:44 [The devil]…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 lies. Later, in John 10:10, Jesus contrasts Himself, the Good Shepherd, with the devil, “the thief”, saying The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they [the sheep; us] may have life, and have it to the full.

    Both Jesus and Paul were very concerned that we believers would not be done in by the evil one.  In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul reminds us that we who love Christ are always, daily, sometimes moment to moment, in a spiritual battle!  The devil doesn’t have to work hard with those who belong to him anyway.  Instead he works tirelessly to pull the Lord’s faithful away from Him.  Thus, when we are frustrated in life, we need to consider not just what we see with our eyes or understand with our minds.  We also need to remember we live in a spiritual realm, in which both angels and demons operate.

C.S. Lewis wrote, in The Screwtape Letters: There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors ….. So, one mistake is to deny the existence of Satan and his demons. We may think he is a myth, a superstition, a made up entity—like the “Boogey Man”– intended to scare us into doing right. This is a grave and a naive blunder! A second error is to see demons, the Devil’s minions, behind every bush, and to deny our own personal responsibility for our actions. When Satan fell from heaven he took 1/3 of the angels with him. These became the demons he now commands. We need to remember, then, that God is both more powerful than he is—after all, God cast him out of heaven– and that the legions of angels outnumber demons by at least two to one. Regardless, we can’t just excuse ourselves by saying, “the Devil made me do it.” We have to remember that the Devil tempts us to sin, but we only sin when come into agreement with him and succumb to the temptation.

    To me the best proof for the existence of the Devil is that fact that Jesus, Peter, Paul, James and the Church—up until the Age of the Enlightenment, about 250 years ago–all believed that Satan and his demons were real:

    1.) I have already quoted to you from the Gospel of John what Jesus had to say about Satan.

    2.) After having been reconciled to Christ, Peter wrote (1 Pet 5:8) Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith….

        3.) Paul Ephesians 4:27-27: In your anger, do not sin.  Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.

        4.) James, the brother of Christ Submit yourselves, then, to God.  Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.  Come near to God and He will come near to you.           

    So let’s look, verse by verse at what Paul is telling us in our New Testament passage today (Ephesians 6:10-20):

    Verse 10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.  Our strength, in any conflict, in any attack from the evil one, comes from God.  We do not have the power to fight Satan on our own.  But God does!  Jesus does!  We know that Jesus does because He continuously cast out demons during His earthly ministry, and because as Paul reminds us in  Philippians 2:10 the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, in heaven and on the earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Satan and all of his demons must submit to Christ’s authority.  This is why we daily tell Satan to cease and desist from any temptation by calling upon the name of Jesus.

    Verse 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.  God has given us spiritual armor because we are in a spiritual battle.  He has not left us defenseless.  He has provided protection for us.  We are to appropriate the armor and STAND We don’t have to beat a retreat.  We don’t have to engage in combat in our own strength.  We just have to take on a stance of strength and wait upon the Lord.  So often in the Old Testament, we see how God won the battle.  Numerous accounts of Israeli forces during the 1967 “Six Days War” tell of how they were outnumbered, but became invisible to their Arab foes; how they caused superior numbers of Arab soldiers to surrender, even though the Israelis were out of ammunition; how large angels dressed as soldiers protected them, etc.  The battle belonged to the Lord.

    Now why are we to stand?  Verse 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of wickedness.  Our battle is not against flesh and blood people!  Or even events!   It’s against the demonic.  As in any army, there are organized ranks in the demonic realm:

    1.) Rulers (principalities; king/princes) They have oversight of nations.

2.) Authorities (generals, lieutenants) demons who operate through seduced individuals and plague humankind;

3.) Powers of this dark world Satan; the power behind darkness;

    4.) Spiritual forces of wickedness these are pagan gods; witchcraft; wiccan; and voo-doo.

    Despite this army of evil, God expects us to stand verse 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when [not if] the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground and after you have done everything, to stand.  We are meant to utilize the armor He gives us (I put it on daily, in the name of Jesus).  We are told to stand 4 times in this passage.   

    Next Paul names the components of our protective armor:

    Verses14-15 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  The Belt of truth is The Word of God (the Bible).  To be armored up, we need to be reading our Bibles.  The Breastplate of Righteousness guards our heart.  Jesus Christ is our righteousness.  In baptism and in confirmation, we have put on Christ, we have been clothed in His righteousness.  As Peter says in today’s Gospel reading, (John 6:68-69)…Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We believe and know that You are the Holy One of God.  It’s only in and through Jesus that our hearts are protected.  Our feet are shod with the readiness or preparation that comes from the Gospel of peace.  In other words, our feet are anchored when we stand upon the firm foundation, the Solid Rock, Jesus Christ, as revealed to us in Scripture.

    Verses 16-17 in addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  The Shield of Faith probably refers to the shields carried by Roman soldiers of the time.  They were about the size of a door and made of leather that was soaked, before battle, in water so as to douse any flaming arrows that flew at them.  Similarly our faith keeps all of us fully protected against the “fiery darts” which are all of Satan’s schemes to defeat us.  The Helmet of Salvation is meant to protect our mortal minds.  When we are under spiritual attack, we want to focus on our faith in Christ, not on what Satan whispers or mutters in our ears.   The Sword of the Spirit, again, refers to the Word of God written.  Scripture and prayer are our only offensive weapons!  In His temptations, Jesus modeled for us defeating Satan’s attacks by quoting God’s word.  We can do this too.

    Verse 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.  With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.  Again, prayer is our second offensive weapon in our spiritual battles.  It is truly the Christian’s nuclear option.  We are to pray for our families, our friends, our church, our state, our nation,

We do this each Sunday when we offer up our “Joys and Concerns” at the beginning of our worship service.  But we can also pray while driving our cars, taking a walk, cooking, washing dishes, weeding the garden, taking a shower.  This week, please be sure to pray for our soldiers and citizens stranded in Afghanistan, as well as those Afghani civilians who partnered with us over the past 20 years.  Pray for their safety and their rapid rescue.  Also, I urge you to pray for the protection of Afghani women and children under the control of the militant and often abusive Taliban.

    This side of heaven, we are in a spiritual battle.  This week, let’s take a look at our personal struggles.  Think about whether they are due to our own poor choices, or to some attack from the evil one.  Then, put on the full armor of God and stand firm, using your spiritual weapons, Scripture and prayer.  Amen!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams