Praying with Humility and Gratitude

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 23, 2022

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

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

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

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

3. Not yet.

a. I am working out all the intervening variables;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He foretells that they will rejoice in the Lord because…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So why should we pray with gratitude in our hearts?

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

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

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

4.) Because He is present to us.

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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Where Do We Turn When Times Get Tough?

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 2, 2022

Scriptures : Lam 1:1-6; Ps 137; 2 Tim 1:1-14; Lk 17:5-10

While I was laid up with a bad back last Sunday—by the way, thank you for your prayers, and solicitous emails and texts—I listened to sermons by Dr. Ed Young, Sr. (an excellent expositor of the Bible), and Pastor Joel Osteen, a terrific encourager. They are both exceptional preachers. I noted that Joel tends to lead off with a joke, even if it’s not really relevant to his sermon topic. I thought I would share one of his I heard last Sunday that’s also not really relevant to what I intend to preach today—but it’s funny:

A young woman’s mother has died and she is greeting friends and family at the reception following her mom’s funeral. A cousin comes up to her and congratulates her on her recent inheritance of $10,000 from her deceased mother.

“Oh,” she replies, “didn’t you know Mom did not leave that to me?”

The cousin was shocked! The young women explained, “Mom never had much money, you know, so she wanted to be buried with that $10,000.”

The cousin was aghast! “You don’t mean to say you placed it in her coffin?

“Oh, yes. I wanted to honor her wishes so, before they closed her casket, I tucked into her hands a check for the full amount.”

This isn’t a sermon on tithing, so you can put away that worry. Instead, what I want to focus on is what the Lord has to say to us today about how to hold onto our faith when times get tough. Times are tough right now, aren’t they? In June, I reopened my counseling practice to offset the impact of inflation on my monthly budget. I’m now treating about 4 therapy clients over the internet. Many of us are also re-learning how to further economize. We take fewer trips in our cars or only fill our gas tank partway. We shop with coupons, search the sales, buy the BOGO’s, or change to cheaper products at less expensive stores. We are concerned about the increase in crime all around us and perhaps are worried about our safety.

Many have stopped watching the news on TV because the video images are so horrific, and the lying and conniving of so many government officials—and their family members—is so depressing. Thank God we love a Lord who knows our anguish and responds to our pain! He does not overlook unethical or immoral behavior on the part of our leaders.

I don’t know about you but I was encouraged this week when an Italian woman, Giorgia Maloni, was elected Prime Minister of Italy. The press tried to paint her as a fascist; but she bravely ran on the platform of “God, Family, and Country”—a conservative, but hardly a fascist! Good for her and good for the Italians! I hope this is the beginning of a new trend across the western world.

Let’s jump into our Scripture lessons and see if God would agree. (I believe He would.)

A. In 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Paul is writing to the young pastor, Timothy, who he has left in charge of the Church in Ephesus (around 67AD). Paul had led Timothy to Christ, so he is providing this dearly beloved [spiritual] son with instruction on church order and principles of church leadership so that he can become a successful minister of the Gospel. This letter is a kind of seminary tutorial from Professor Paul. He wants Timothy to note that he is at the top of Paul’s prayer list (Don’t we all wish we had been at the top of Paul’s prayer list?)

Especially in this 2nd pastoral letter (also his final letter before being beheaded in Rome), Paul warns Timothy about the afflictions that beset a congregation and its pastor—especially apostasy. In our context, the dictionary would define apostasy as the willful turning away from the principles of the Christian faith. This rejection of God is not due to ignorance, but to the human choice to turn one’s back on Jesus. To prevent this, Paul wants Timothy to continue to preach the Word of God and the Gospel: (1) No matter if people turn away; (2) No matter if congregational numbers dwindle; (3) No matter if people don’t feel sufficiently entertained; (4) No matter if folks don’t want to hear the teachings of Jesus. Paul is saying, in so many words, “Make it winsome if you can, but don’t skimp on presenting the reality of the Gospel. No matter what forces come against you, Timothy,” Paul exhorts him, “you remain strong!”

In verse 7, he famously reminds him, For God did not give us a spirit of timidity [fear], but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline [a sound mind]. When the world comes against you—and it will—remember that you have a spirit of power: the Holy Spirit is in you, to guard, guide, and strengthen you! The love of Jesus and of God the Father enfold you and stand behind you so that, rather than fearing people’s bad opinions or getting angry and becoming vengeful, you can operate out of Spirit-induced self-restraint and self-control. Paul knew Timothy (and we) lack self-confidence so he told him this to give him (and us) self-assurance and to help us recognize the true source of our strength.

Furthermore, like an excellent coach, he inspired Timothy with his own example of bearing up under persecution, travail, and trials. Consider how Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, suffered for the sake of the Gospel.

Don’t be caught off guard by tough days, weeks, or even tough seasons.

These happen to all of us—especially if we love and serve Jesus. The evil one doesn’t bother those he already holds in his hands, such as non-believers and the apostate. Make no mistake, as the enemy of
God, he comes after true believers, tooth and nail, trying to get us so discouraged that we abandon God. It would be naïve to think being a Jesus-follower protects us from tough times. Nevertheless, we don’t want to give him the victory over us. So Paul reminds Timothy (and us) to (v.14)—Guard the good deposit [of faith and love] that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

What are we to do when times get tough? Hold on to our faith in Christ Jesus!

B. Speaking of Jesus, He hits this very issue in Luke 17:5-10. He admonishes His disciples (and us) to hold onto our faith–even if it’s just a small amount–and perform our duties to God and others dependably. He wants us to remember that our salvation is a gift from God. We don’t work to achieve it. Therefore, our obedience to God is not a matter of earning merit but of dutifully expressing our gratitude. When we are born again, we demonstrate our appreciation of God by our service to Him and to others. Out of love and reverence for God, we behave toward Him as servants. The word in the Greek is doulos and it also means slaves. A friend from seminary planted a church in Gainesville, Florida, called “Servants of Christ,” to remind his congregation of this very fact. We are all servants of the Son of God.

C. Jeremiah shares with us what happens when a people dedicated to God at their inception as a nation turns apostate (Lamentations 1:1-6). The prophet is grieved! He weeps and laments for Judah and Jerusalem, personalizing the city as a woman. He witnessed the destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586BC. He saw his countrymen and women killed, wounded, and carted off into slavery. In his grief, he reveals to us the heart of God. God is heartbroken when we veer off into sin and apostasy. At God’s direction, Jeremiah had tried to call his people to return the Lord, but he was unable to deter their downward trajectory. God continued to love them but despised their sin and could not allow it to continue unpunished.

Commenting on the connection between God’s love and His righteous anger over our sin, Rev. Dr. G. Campbell Morgan–considered one of the best preachers and Bible teachers in the world in the early to mid-1900’s—wrote the following: “This is a supreme necessity in the interest of the universe. Prisons are in the interest of the free. Hell is the safeguard of heaven. A state that cannot punish crime is doomed [Are the “defund the police” folks and “Progressive DA’s” listening?]; and a God Who tolerates evil is not good. Deny me my Biblical revelation of the anger of God and I am insecure in the universe. But reveal to me this Throne established, occupied by One Whose heart is full of tenderness, Whose bowels yearn with love; then I am assured that He will not tolerate that which blights and blasts and damns; but will destroy it, and all its instruments, in the interest of that which is high and noble and pure.” (Studies in the Prophecy of Jeremiah, Fleming H Revell, 1969, p.248). God disciplines us because He loves us. His desire, like than of any good parent, is that we learn to do better and to make wiser life choices.

D. Psalm 137 paints a similar picture. It is written from Babylon.

The deported Judeans remember Jerusalem and the Temple with sorrow and grief. They appear to realize their continued sin and rebellion toward God brought them to this place. They insist they want to return to Jerusalem and honor God. And, as is so very human, they want God repay their enemies–the nations that mocked them in their defeat–by destroying their children. This last wish is not consistent with the teachings of Jesus, but rather an expression of their distress. They are particularly angry with the descendants of Esau, the Edomites. Remember, Esau was the carnal twin brother of Jacob, God’s choice to become a leader of Israel. The Edomites had ridiculed these Judeans in their defeat. This hurt! This would be like the betrayal of extended family members, or of cousins allied against cousins.

Again, seeking revenge is not a Christian response to tough times. Seeking out God is. We want to trust that God is for us and not against us. We want to trust that even when we disappoint Him, He still loves us.

However, we need to understand that He will not tolerate disobedience—and especially apostasy—forever. In tough times, we repent of our sins and trustingly lean into the loving and everlasting arms of Christ!

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Full-on Access to God

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 13, 2022

Scriptures: Gen 15:1-18; Ps 27; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 13:31-35

Children who have been taught about God have such lovely and simple faith in Him. Consider these letters written to God by kids (Google “Kids’ letters to God” to find more):

1. Dear Lord, Thank you for the nice day today. You even fooled the TV weatherman. Hank (7YO)

2. Dear Lord, Do you ever get mad? My mother gets mad all the time but she is only human. Yours truly, Kevin (8YO)

3. Dear God, How did you know you were God? Charles (9YO)

4. Dear God, I bet it is very hard to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only 4 people in my family and I can never do it. Nan (8YO)

5. Dear God, My brother won’t let me play with his video games. Will you make him share? Love, Janey (6YO)

6. Dear God, Thank you for my baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. James (8YO)

7. Dear God, Can you guess what is the biggest river of all of them? The Amazon. You ought to be able to because You made it. Ha, Ha. Guess who?

These letters are precious, aren’t they? The kids who wrote them have such simple faith. They see God as Someone to Whom they can take any complaint or concern. They think of God as Someone to Whom they can ask a question and expect an answer; Someone who will make things right;

Someone with Whom they can enjoy a joke or a riddle. They believe, rightly, that they have complete access to God—He is as close as a prayer, a letter, or a text. What happens to us in that we grow up and lose a sense of our full-on access to God? Maybe we think our concerns are too unimportant compared to those of the universe, or maybe we never developed the belief that we could just talk with God in the first place?

Nevertheless, Jesus applauded this kind of faith in us (Matt18:23) I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus wants us to have childlike faith in Him. He wants us to believe we have full-on access to Him.

Each of our Scripture passages today challenge us to believe in our full-on access to Jesus:

1.) In Genesis 15:1-19, God tells Abram (in what is His 4th appearance to him)—Abram who is still awaiting the Child of Promise—that He, God, is Abram’s shield and greatest treasure. In other words, God is Abram’s king or sovereign (shield)—as He is ours. God also wants Abram to know that He keeps His promises. The Lord reiterates that the heir, Isaac, is coming, as are many, many other descendants (v.3)🡪…look up at the heavens and count the stars—indeed if you can count them…So shall your offspring be. God also re-promises this wandering Aramean extensive properties of his own.

Abram has not yet seen either of these come true, but he believes in, trusts in God. In verse 6 we are told Abram believed the Lord, and He [God] credited it to him as righteousness. Jesus had not yet come to earth to redeem us, yet God saved Abram due to his faith (and his obedience). As I said here last week, our salvation is never due to our goodness or to our efforts, but always due to our God’s grace-filled response to our faith in Him. So, will we see Abraham in heaven? YES, we will!

Notice one other point: God reiterates His promises to Abram by literally “cutting a covenant” with him. In the Ancient Near East at that time, when you made a binding agreement with someone, you literally cut animal sacrifices in two and walked between them. You were saying, by so doing, “If I break this agreement, may I die as have these animals.” In this case, God was swearing an oath to Abram on God’s own life. Remarkable!

Also, the forms He used to represent Himself (remember, God is Spirit) are symbolic of the coming Christ: The smoking firepot represents the judgment Jesus will invoke at His 2nd Coming. The burning lamp represents Jesus as the light of the world. We could say, then, that God as the Pre-Incarnate Jesus, swore an oath with Abram. Jesus is surely our King and our greatest treasure!

2.) King David wrote Psalm 27. In the first 6 verses, David expresses his confident reliance upon the Lord. In verses 7-12, he then goes on to pray for deliverance from treacherous enemies. Interestingly, these enemies have leveled false charges against King David. As King Solomon would later write (Ecclesiastes 1:9)🡪What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. This is so like what we witness today, isn’t it, where politicians from one faction conjure up lies and conspiracy theories aimed at discrediting their opponents, and vice versa?

But in verse 4, David articulates his primary desire: One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple. King David desires full-on access to God. He’s got wealth and political power through his throne; He’s got either a land at peace, or military victories; He’s got wives and concubines as well as a bunch of kids (potential heirs). But more than these usual things people yearn for, before anything else, David desires intimate communication with the Lord.

3.) Our New Testament passage today is from Philippians. Just prior to today’s reading, in vv.13-14, Paul asserts🡪…but one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. What goal is he talking about? Intimacy with Jesus. He wants to be as close to Jesus as possible because as he goes on to say (v.20)🡪Our citizenship is in heaven. All that goes on here is a testing, a proving ground for rewards given us later in heaven. Those who don’t pass the test are what Paul calls (vv.18-19)…enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach [meaning satisfying their physical and emotional needs], and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things.

We don’t want to be like these folks. We want to keep our focus on the things of God, and the will of God.

4.) And if we were not clear on this, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem, in Luke 13:31-35. Jesus is praying as He overlooks the city from some height. He is grieved because He knows what is to come:

His betrayal, a series of kangeroo trials, beatings, having His beard torn out, spit upon His face, and crucifixion. The city He has come to die for will soon reject Him. He is grieved because he knows that Jerusalem—the capital city of God’s chosen people—were not desperate enough to seek His face. They preferred to protect their idea of God while refusing and discarding the One Who was God. By discarding Jesus, they gave up a prime opportunity for full-on access to God.

On this, the 2nd Sunday of Lent, as we continue our spiritual housecleaning, we should be asking ourselves, “Where are we in relation to Jesus?” Chuck Swindoll shares the following story of a couple driving home one night from having celebrated their 25th anniversary: The wife was seated across the car, near the passenger side door, and the husband was seated behind the steering wheel as he was the designated driver. The wife said, “with a bit of heartache, ‘Honey, remember when we used to sit really close together in the car?’ And without a hesitation, her husband replied, ‘Well, Honey, I never moved. I’ve been right here all this time.’ ” (Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, 1998, p.307.) That’s how Our God is with us. He’s not moved away from us; we have distanced ourselves from Him.

Like Abram, King David, and St. Paul, we need to adjust our sights or our postures and pursue full-on access to Him. Abram trusted in God’s promises to him. Like Abram we can believe what God has told us, and trust in Him to fulfill His promises to us. David trusted in God’s protection and desired emotional and spiritual closeness with the Lord. He trusted God to protect him because God had done so in the past. David desired to stick to the Lord like glue—again he knew from experience that this is the best of all places to be. Similarly, Paul pursued closeness to God before all things.

He describes this pursuit like an Olympic race. We can imagine him pumping his arms and legs, breathing quickly and shallowly, focusing completely on the finish-line, straining forward as he crosses over. Like Paul, we want to (v.12)…press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

May our faith be as strong as these “Biblical greats.” May we seek full-on access with God like the children whose letters I read. This Lent, may it be so. May we wholeheartedly press on toward full-on access to Our God.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Ash Wednesday Message: God’s Forgiveness

Pastor Sherry’s message for March 2, 2022

Scriptures: Joel; 2:1-2, 12-17; Ps 51:1-17; 2 Cor 5:20-6:10; Matt 6:1-6, 16-21

Chuck Swindoll relates a story about John D. Rockefeller, (worth 418 billion in 2020 dollars) who built the Standard Oil gas and oil empire of 1870-1911. He was told one day that one of his executives had made a $2 million mistake (a big deal today, but even bigger in the 1880’s-1890’s). As with many such powerful men, Rockefeller was a perfectionist and a workaholic. He worked hard himself, and he demanded hard work and perfection from his employees as well. All the other executives were sure he was enraged and would definitely fire the man who had made the costly error. They all did their best to avoid the boss the day the costly error came to light–except for one vice president who had a scheduled appointment with Rockefeller that afternoon.

When the associate entered the boss’ office, Rockefeller eyed him and asked if he had heard of the massive loss. The vice president steadied himself, said he had heard, and braced to witness the boss’ explosion.

Instead, Rockefeller, replied, “Well, I have been sitting here listing all of our friend’s good qualities on this sheet of paper, and I’ve discovered that in the past he has made us many more times the amount he lost for us today by his one mistake. His good points far outweigh this one human error. So I think we ought to forgive him, don’t you?” (The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.215).

How magnanimous of Rockefeller! Kind of reminds us of our God, doesn’t it? Let’s see what our readings tonight tell us of God’s forgiveness.

1. In Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 the minor prophet is prophesying to the Southern Kingdom that The Day of the Lord—the day of judgment –is coming. In the short term, Judah will be overrun by locusts, resulting in widespread famine. But this is also a metaphor for the long-term prophesy that the Babylonians will invade/take over the Promised Land, unless they change their ways. So his message—from the Lord—is that they need to repent while they still have time. They can avoid locusts, famine, and a Babylonian takeover if they will…

a.) Return to the Lord (stop their worship of idols);

b.) Confess their sins; and

c.) Declare a holy fast, to demonstrate their renewed commitment to God.

Joel reminds them—and us–that God will give them another chance: Verse 13b says He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love…[and] He relents from sending calamity. In other words, God loves them and wants them to draw near to Him, to avoid His judgment. Our culture today is in a similar fix: We have stopped worshipping the One True God. Instead, we have made idols of money, influence, power, materialism, our own intellects, sexual experiences, etc. Like them, if we want to please God, we need to humble ourselves before Him, admit our sins and failures, and ask His forgiveness.

Thankfully, it’s still not too late to avoid God’s wrath and discipline, but they—and we–need to get busy! We need to ask ourselves, in the past year, have we been more concerned with the things of this world than with the things of God? This past year has the Lord always taken 1st place in our hearts? Or have we allowed other priorities, or our worries, to crowd Him out? Have we been so focused on those priorities and fears that we have neglected to nurture our vital relationship with Jesus?

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a period of spiritual house-cleaning lasting 40 days. Scholars have traced its observance to the early 100’s (Irenaeus of Lyons wrote of it). The 40 days are a reminder of the time Jesus fasted in the wilderness. Ashes are applied to the forehead, in the sign of the Cross, to remind us of the truth from Gen 3:19 (as told to Adam and Eve by God) Remember you are dust and to dust you will return. The ashes are a sign of our repentance and our sorrow for our sins. As such, they remind us of the need to maintain our commitment to love and please Almighty God.

2. David’s sorrow for his sins is perfectly recalled in Psalm 51.

The prophet Nathan has confronted him about his sins of coveting Uriah the Hittite’s wife, the beautiful Bathsheba; and of his subsequent adultery with her and murder of her warrior husband. His lament to God provides a perfect example of how we should feel about our own sins. He takes personal responsibility—he doesn’t blame Bathsheba or any others. He humbly pleads with God to forgive him and to cleanse his heart (v.10) Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast [right] spirit within me. David ended his life as a man after God’s own heart. This means that despite his sins, he pleased the Lord. We too, following David’s humble and heartfelt example, restore ourselves into God’s favor.

3. Paul calls for us to be reconciled to God in 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10. We do this by remembering that Jesus, who was sinless, took on all our sins so that we could stand before God with clear consciences and clean hearts. Paul also tells us we do this by not allowing anything to displace our focus on God.

Do you recognize the theme running through these passages? Remember what Jesus has done for us. Keep God 1st in our lives. Humble ourselves, taking frequent inventories of our sins. Seek God’s face and ask His forgiveness.

4. In Matt 6:1-6, 16-21, Jesus tells us how to best go about fasting and doing good in God’s name. We are to fast and practice good deeds quietly, without fanfare. He assures us that even if no one else notices, God does. And that this is how we store up lasting treasure for ourselves in heaven. It’s not how we get ourselves to heaven because Jesus has already done that for us. But it both blesses God’s heart and draws us closer to Him.

Again, today we begin the season of Lent. Instead of the usual agreement to fast, I am asking us all to add something. This will involve a sacrifice of time and energy, but you will be amazed at how it will bless others, and at how God will bless you because of it. I am asking you to pray daily for the people on our prayer list; for the women, children, and elderly of the war-torn country of Ukraine; and that our country would return to Christ.

Rather than pray, you may choose instead to make a list of all those you have not forgiven, and make a commitment to forgive them–a practice that will draw you closer to Christ. Let’s please the Lord by being as magnanimous as John D. Rockefeller. Let’s please the Lord by praying for others. Let’s please the Lord by forgiving others as He has forgiven us. Amen! May it be so!

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Re-JOY-ce!

Pastor Sherry’s message for December 12, 2021

Scriptures: Zeph 3:14-20; Isa 12:2-6; Phil 4:4-7; Lk 3:7-18

Dr. Helen Roseveare, missionary to Zaire, told the following story: “A mother at our mission station died after giving birth to a premature baby. We tried to improvise an incubator to keep the infant alive, but the only hot water bottle we had was beyond repair. So we asked the children to pray for the baby and for her sister. One of the girls responded. ‘Dear God, please send a hot water bottle today. Tomorrow will be too late because by then the baby will be dead. And dear Lord, send a doll for the sister so she won’t feel so lonely.’ That afternoon a large package arrived from England. The children watched eagerly as we opened it. Much to their surprise, under some clothing was a hot water bottle! Immediately the girl who had prayed so earnestly started to dig deeper, exclaiming, ‘If God sent that, I’m sure He also sent a doll!’ And she was right! The heavenly Father knew in advance of that child’s sincere requests, and 5 months earlier He had led a ladies’ group to include both of those specific articles.” (source unknown)

Have you ever noticed that this is the way our God often answers prayer? The results appear to be instantaneous, but God had the request in mind—and answered it–even before someone asked. We have learned this often happens with the Christmas shoeboxes we so recently packed and shipped. My favorite example is of the young boy who wanted a black t-shirt and a black hat, and was overjoyed to find one in his gift box. (I would not have thought to send a black pair, but a hat and shirt that was colorful. Instead someone packed just what this child wanted and God saw to it that he was the one who received that shoe box. And isn’t it true that we who prayed are often shocked, amazed, and filled with joy when we witness how God has answered our prayers?

In discussing God’s answers to prayers, Bill Hybels, in his book, Too Busy Not To Pray (IVP, 2008, p.74), writes:

If the request is wrong, God says, “No!”

If the timing is wrong, God says, “Slow.”

If you are wrong, God says, “Grow.”

But if the request is right, the timing is right and you are right, God says, “GO!”

Hybels obviously believes God always answers our prayers; He just doesn’t always answer them in the way we desire.

Our Scripture passages, on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, all revolve around God’s response to the prayers of believers. Remember, today we lit the candle representing “Joy,” the joy the shepherds experienced when the angel choirs told them Messiah had arrived.

A. The prophet, Zephaniah (3:14-20), foretells Jesus’ 2nd Coming as a warrior God! When Christ returns, at some unknown future date, He will have the authority to set all things right! This will not be “Jesus, Meek and Mild.” Instead, He will come back to earth in all of his kingly glory. The first time He came, it was as a poor baby, born to a homeless couple. But when he comes back, it will be as the all-powerful King of Kings and Lord of Lords!

Zephaniah wants his Jewish audience–and us–to know we will then have nothing to fear! Non-believers will be shaking in their boots as they face judgment; but we who love Jesus will experience great joy! In verse 17, Zephaniah predicts we will never again be afraid or anxious! How wonderful is that?! Instead, we will experience God’s delight with us. It will be as if we are infants in His arms, as He quiets us with His love, and rejoices over us with singing. When has anyone rejoiced over you with singing? Maybe your mom or dad sang lullabies over you as a child, or perhaps people sing for your birthday, but otherwise, it isn’t often than anyone sings over us. But imagine, the Great God of the Universe will do this with each of us who has asked Jesus into her or his heart.

At His 2nd Advent, our long-prayed-for and triumphant Jesus will gather us and restore us. He will eliminate evil, sorrow, and all of our burdens. I believe He will explain for us the purpose of our trials and suffering on this earth. And He will raise us up to honor and fame!

Isn’t this the ultimate prayer of all of us? Come Lord Jesus, make all things new, including us. Heal us, restore us, help us to rest in Your love and Your peace.

B. The message of Isaiah 12:2-6 is very similar. In that day, the time of Jesus’ 2nd Advent, [we will] (vv.2-3)…trust and not be afraid. The LORD, the LORD is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. Our response to Jesus will be great joy! We will be so overflowing with gratitude, that we’ll be saying (as per Peterson’s Bible paraphrase, The Message, p.1228), verses 5-6🡪 Give thanks to God. Call out His name. Ask Him anything! Shout to the nations, tell them what He’s done, spread the news of His great reputation! Sing praise-songs to God. He’s done it all! Let the whole earth know what He’s done! Raise the roof! Sing your hearts out, O Zion! The greatest lives among you: The Holy One of Israel.

C. Paul’s message in Philippians 4:4-7 encourages us to act as if we believe in the prophesies of Zephaniah and of Isaiah. Since we trust that Jesus will grab us up in a joyous celebration at His 2nd Coming, we can (vv.4-5) Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!…The Lord is near. As we await Him, we want to put away all of our anxiety, our worry. Stated another way, Paul appears to be saying, Worry about nothing, pray about everything! That’s worth saying again: Worry about nothing, pray about everything! If you are afraid your prayer request– including parking places near the door to a store when it rains–is too little a thing to bother God about, remember that to God, every concern we have is a little thing! (not in value, but compared to His power).

Daily, we can send all of our worries to the Cross of Christ. That’s where they belong. Jesus is the only One who can redeem and transform them for us. So we present our requests to God with prayer and thanksgiving. Thanksgiving, because we know He hears us. Thanksgiving, because we know His answer will be either “No,” “Slow,” “Grow,” or “Go!”

Then because we have off-loaded our concerns to Jesus, we feel His peace come over us. It’s …the peace that passes all understanding (v.7) because it’s not dependent upon our circumstances–whether external to us, like jobs, relationships, news events, etc.–or internal circumstances, like our feelings, attitudes, health, and so on. It is dependent only upon our relationship with Jesus Christ.

D. Our Gospel lesson today, Luke 3:7-18, lands us right in the middle of John the Baptist’s sermon. He’s not a cuddly character, is he? He shoots form the hip and tells it like it is: Repent! Turn from pride, arrogance, greed, extortion, dishonesty. Ask God’s forgiveness for your sins. Be baptized with water, as an outward and visible sign of an inward spiritual truth: that we have been cleansed from our sins and have made a decision to behave differently. John the Baptist also exhorted the crowds coming to him to treat others with generosity, love, and respect. He was not Jesus, but only the forerunner to Messiah. He baptized with water. But Jesus baptized us with the Holy Spirit in His 1st Advent, and will baptize us with the fire of judgment in His 2nd.

For centuries, God the Father had had His prophets announce that Jesus was coming. John the Baptist says, Well, He’s here! Get ready! Be prepared! And, while you are at it, be ready for the Return of the King!

We can rest assured that our Lord is returning to earth to restore us and our world. We can trust that our Lord hears and responds to our prayers.

Listen to this very earnest call to prayer by a famous American leader:

Knowing that intercessory prayer is our mightiest weapon and the supreme call for all Christians today, I pleadingly urge our people everywhere to pray. Believing that prayer is the greatest contribution that our people can make in this critical hour, I humbly urge that we take time to pray–to really pray. Let there be prayer at sunup, at noonday, at sundown, at midnight–all through the day. Let us all pray for our children, our youth, our aged, our pastors, our homes. Let us pray for our churches. Let us pray for ourselves, that we may not lose the word ‘concern’ out of our Christian vocabulary. Let us pray for our nation. Let us pray for those who have never known Jesus Christ and redeeming love, for moral forces everywhere, for our national leaders. Let prayer be our passion. Let prayer be our practice. (Robert E. Lee).,

As we pray, we want to do so with the confidence of a long-ago professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, Rev. Dr. Harry Ironside. In its early days, the school needed $10,000 to remain open. During an emergency prayer meeting, Ironside prayed, “Lord, you own the cattle on a thousand hills. Please sell some of those cattle to help us meet this need.” Shortly after the prayer meeting, a check for $10,000 arrived at the school, sent days earlier by a friend who had no idea of the urgent need or of Ironside’s prayer. The man simply said the money came from the sale of some of his cattle!

I love stories like this! They deepen our faith and our trust in our Lord! We can be confident that, as believers in Jesus, we can await His 2nd Coming with re-joy-cing!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

There’s Something Bigger than Phil

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 14, 2021

Scriptures: 1 Sam 1:1-20; Ps 113; Heb 10:11-25; Mk 13:1-8

Some of us are old enough to remember the comedians, Rob Reiner and Mel Brooks. Some years back, they performed a comedy routine called “The 2,000 Year Old Man.” (Maybe you remember hearing/watching it?) Reiner takes the role of a TV news reporter and Brooks, the 2,000 YO man (As related by Revs. Fearless & Chilton, in their Lectionary Lab Commentary, Year B, p.361):

        Reporter:  Well, did you worship God in your village?

        Old Man: No, at first we worshipped this guy in our village                     named Phil.

        Reporter:  You worshipped a guy named Phil?  Why?  

Old Man: Well, he was bigger than us, and faster than us, and he was mean, and he could hurt you: break your arm or leg right in two; so we worshipped Phil.

        Reporter: I see. Did you have any prayers in this religion?

        Old Man: Yeah, want to hear one?  PLEASE PHIL, NO!                      PLEASE PHIL, NO!

        Reporter:  OK, so when did you stop worshipping Phil?

Old Man: Well, one day we were having a religious festival. Phil was chasing us and we were praying PLEASE PHIL, NO! PLEASE PHIL, NO! And suddenly a thunderstorm came up and a bolt of lightning struck and killed Phil. We gathered around and stared at Phil’s body awhile and then we realized: THERE’S SOMETHING BIGGER THAN PHIL!

    This story reminds me of an indigenous Indian missionary named Andrew Swamidoss.  He came to speak at my seminary and related how the people of India worship many gods.  He told us that a fellow had been run over by a bus at a particular street corner.  The next day, there was a shrine there to appease “the god of the bus-wreck.”  Imagine having to pray to thousands of gods who—like Phil—to keep them from harming us. Thank God there is someone bigger—and kinder—than Phil and the god of the bus wreck!

    Our God is bigger and more powerful—and more loving—and can and does see us though the many bad things that happen in our lives.  We can all probably think of many bad things that have happened to each of us during our lifetimes. We don’t want to ruminate over them because that can lead to depression and despair.  

    Our Scriptures this morning offer two categories of “bad things” for us to ponder.

    A. In 1 Samuel 1:1-20, the dilemma is childlessness or barrenness.  This would be a heart-break for any of us who wanted a child.

Think of the incredible stress and the multitude of disappointments and pain for couples undergoing in-vitro-and other fertilization treatments. Making love can be reduced to a baby-producing procedure; and the clinical interventions like calendar-and-temperature-watching, as well as giving the wife hormone injections begin to take a toll on a marriage. Consider childless couples anxiously awaiting adoptions. We probably all know of someone who cared for—even funded–a young woman throughout her pregnancy, only to have her decide at the birth to keep the baby. Or how about couples who spent thousands upon thousands trying to locate an adoptee in a foreign country.

Hannah knows she is barren, and—to make matters worse—she lives with her husband’s very fertile 2nd wife, Peninnah. We would probably characterize Peninnah as a “mean girl.” She knows Hannah is their husband’s favorite, but she can brag that she has more children. She can and does make Hannah feel less than. She can and does make Hannah feel miserable.

    But Hannah appears to know that our God is bigger and better than Phil, or any other gods.  She worships God in His Holy Temple and she cries out her despair and her heartbreak, asking God to give her a child.  Hannah, whose name means grace or favor, is such a great example to us.  She takes her misery to the Only One who can do something about it.  Notice how David takes all his fears and desires for revenge to God in some of the psalms he wrote.  You see, it’s OK to take our disappointments, anger, and despair to God.  It’s much less effective (and Christian) for us to share those with others. 

But Hannah appears to know from Ps 113 that God is our Creator and our Redeemer. Perhaps she held in her heart the knowledge that our God does not exalt the high and mighty—the bullies and braggarts, like Peninnah—but instead advances the cause of the humble and the lowly—people like herself, perhaps even people like us. Maybe she had memorized and camped on verse 9–He [God] settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children. At any rate, she cried out to the Lord in prayer. He heard the desire of her heart. He heard her promise to raise her child to serve the Lord as a priest. And the Lord gifted her with a son, Samuel, soon intended by God be an important prophet.

The story of Hannah speaks to the personal, the micro-level , while our Gospel lesson, Mk 13:1-8, addresses the global or macro-level. Jesus prophesizes the demolition of the Temple (not accomplished until about 35 years after His ascension, in 70AD). A disciple has called His attention to what a magnificent building it is. The folks of that day probably believed the Temple would endure forever, but my son, the structural engineer, tells me that buildings have a life span. Buildings require maintenance, don’t they? Materials rot, decay, or become bug-ridden or brittle, and must be replaced. Even marble can be destroyed. Jesus’ response to the disciple’s comment seems to imply, Don’t put your faith in buildings, no matter how spectacular. .

    Later, Peter, James, John, and Andrew draw Him aside and ask     what other events foretell the end-times.  Jesus cites the appearance of false messiahs; political turmoil, wars and rumors of wars, nations turning against nations; and physical calamities like earthquakes and famines.  Then, sadly, (verse 9) He predicts that Christ-followers will be persecuted by religious and political leaders. 

This passage is a “heads up” warning for us: Trouble is coming—some may say trouble is already here. Many of us cannot bear to watch the evening news anymore. We are sick and tired of multiple examples of lying, greed, power-grabbing, sexual abuse, drug abuse, murders, etc. Interestingly, Stephen King, the current master of the horror genre in fiction books, has said, Horror has not fared particularly well on TV, if you except something like the six o’clock news….It is very difficult to write a successful horror story in a world which is so full of real horror.” And I think many of us are also fed up with leaders who cannot or who will not take action to turn things around.

    The Good News is that there is something bigger than Phil. There is something greater than the bad stuff that occurs in our lives or in our communities.  That something is a Some One, Jesus who loves us.  That something is our faith that His reign over tomorrow will overcome whatever is going on in our todays and has gone on in our yesterdays.  Our God is bigger than our pain.  Our God is bigger than our sorrow.  Our God is bigger than our suffering.  Our God is bigger than our disappointments, betrayals, or abandonments.  Our God is bigger than whatever frightens us or holds us captive.  Our God’s promises are true.  Our God’s love never fails us.

We recently (at our Saturday “soup and cinema event) showed a movie about a high school football coach whose teams won 151 games in a row. That’s a true story. There is also a winning high school basketball coach, named Morgan Wooten, whose teams won 1274 games, losing only192 times (15%) during his career. His little 1st grade grandson, however, was not impressed. He told his teacher his grandpa didn’t know anything about basketball. The teacher was shocked and told the kid lots of folks think his granddad is a basketball genius. “Oh no,” the child explained, “He doesn’t know anything about basketball. I go to all his games and he never gets to play!”

    Sometimes we tend to believe God is like that…always watching, never getting into the game.   But our lessons today assure us that God knows (and foreknows) whatever we are dealing with or will deal with, the micro and the macro concerns of life.  He’s neither asleep at the wheel nor far away.  Remember that Baptist pastor who said, There is no situation that I can get into that God cannot get me out of.  If we trust God, we will be all right.

We serve someone bigger than Phil, or Joe Biden, or our Bishop, Mayor, the Pope, or whomever. We serve a mighty God! We worship a powerful Jesus! We can trust Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit to manage whatever troubles us—if we call upon them. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Where are We Left?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 10/19/2021

Scriptures: Job 38:1-7, 34-41; Ps 104:1-9, 24, 35c; Heb 5:1-10; Mark 10:35-45

Hudson Taylor (1832-1903), the great British missionary to China, spent 51 years in ministry there. Raised a Methodist, he went to China as a Baptist, founded the China Inland Mission—which targeted the interior of the country–brought 800 missionaries over the years to join him; founded 125 schools in 18 provinces, and led over 18,000 souls to Christ.

The story is told of his first voyage to China, aboard a sailing vessel. As it neared the channel between the southern Malay Peninsula and the island of Sumatra, the missionary heard an urgent knock on his stateroom door. He opened it, and there stood the captain of the ship. “Mr. Taylor,” he said, “we have no wind. We are drifting toward an island where the people are heathen, and I fear they are cannibals.”

What can I do?” asked Taylor.

“I understand that you believe in God. I want you to pray for wind.”

All right, Captain, I will, but you must set the sail.” “Why that’s ridiculous! There’s not even the slightest breeze. Besides, the sailors will think I’m crazy.” But finally, because of Taylor’s insistence, he agreed. Forty- five minutes later he returned and found the missionary still on his knees. “You can stop praying now,” said the captain. “We’ve got more wind than we know what to do with!”

Obviously, Taylor was a man of prayer. Additionally, he believed in God’s call on his life. He believed in God’s power to equip and provide for him. He also believed he would successfully make it to China and that God would do a mighty work among the Chinese through him. Similarly, I had felt convinced of God’s call on my life. Once, when I was in seminary, my school sent me to a conference in Jackson, Mississippi. On my return to Pittsburgh from Jackson, our plane hit some very bumpy weather. The woman in the seat next to me was a seasoned traveler. She flew frequently for work. But during this trip, she took out the “barf bag,” convinced she would lose her lunch before we crashed. I told her not to worry. I had prayed that angels would hold up our wings, the nose, and the tail of the plane and was convinced the Lord would save us because I was halfway through seminary and knew that God was not yet finished with me.

Taylor read the same Bible we do (probably the King James version.) Our passages today are all about faith. They appear to answer the question, “Where are we left?” Or, you may prefer, “Where does that leave us?” Or, as cynics might say, “What’s the point?”

I believe that question is best answered if we take our passages in order. Please pay attention to what our Lord is saying to us (The Bible is His love song to us).

A. In Job 38:1-7, 34-41, we find God revealing Himself to Job from the midst of a whirlwind, an impressive phenomenon of nature. Job has wanted an opportunity to put his case before the Lord. In our passage today, God shows up as Creator of the Universe. He begins by telling Job, in verse 2, that his complaints are unjustified because he argues from a place of limited understanding. Notice, the Lord does not explain why Job had to suffer, nor does he defend His divine right to let him. Instead, from verses 3-41, God asks Job a series of rhetorical questions about creation, all of which point to God’s power, sovereignty, and loving care. Essentially, God is saying to Job, “Who are you–My creation–to question, to critique Me–your Creator?” In a subsequent chapter, Job will admit that God is Sovereign over all things, including himself, and will humbly retreat from being angry with or making demands of God.

So, reading and understanding this passage, Where are we left? Like Job, we should stand in awe of God and His creative power. Like Job, we should trust in God because He is our creator and the lover of our souls.

Paul starts from the same place in Romans 1. Paul says God’s creation so demonstrates His greatness that unbelievers have no excuse to be atheists. Evidence of His goodness and His power surround us in nature. True, we are free to reject Him, but YIKES! He will allow us to do so, but we act to our detriment as He removes His “umbrella of protection” from us. Like Job, we want to trust in God’s goodness and love for us, despite our questions.

Remember the example of Hudson Taylor: When faced with cannibals, he didn’t get frustrated with God; instead, he trusted in God to see him through safely.

B. Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c continues the theme. Biblical scholars call this psalm a hymn of praise to the God of Creation. In fact, it appears to address the same questions God raised with Job. In Job 38:4, God asks Job, Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell Me, if you understand. Psalm104:5 says—He [God] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. In Job 38:8, God asks Job, Who shut up the sea behind doors when it burst forth from the womb?

The answer appears in Psalm 104:6-9–You [The Lord] covered it [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at Your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them. You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

Where are we left? Like Job, we should praise God for His power, His greatness, and His wisdom. Even when we don’t understand why things are going the way they are in our lives, we should praise God for His creation.

C. The writer to the Hebrews, in Hebrews 5:1-10, defines the function or purpose of a priest. Pastors are still referred to as priests in the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Episcopal traditions. In the Protestant Reformation, however, priests were renamed as “pastors,” “ministers,” or “reverends.” No matter what you call him or her, however, the duties of a pastor include: (1) Being a person of prayer; (2) Having been called by God (acceptable to God); (3) To represent the people to God; and (4) To explain God’s Word to people.

The writer to the Hebrews wants folks to understand that Jesus currently fulfills the role of our Great High Priest. He sits at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us. Some would say He fulfilled the role of Prophet as he taught and healed during His earthly ministry. He spoke the words His Father gave Him to speak. He communicated the Father’s love, will, and healing power to us. They also contend we will see Him as King when He comes again, in glory, to assume His rightful authority over all the earth. So we see His 3 roles as prophet, priest, and king.

Jesus did all the things an earthly priest would do: He was a man of prayer. He was called and ordained to ministry (at His baptism, the Father said, This is my beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased). He provided the sacrifice for our sins—the once and for all perfect sacrifice—not of animals but of Himself. He was totally submitted to the will of His Father, even unto death.

So, where are we left? Saved and secure! Saved and secure! Jesus paid our sin debt. Jesus’ sacrifice earned our salvation, our freedom.

Again, we should be grateful!

D. Jesus teaches the disciples, once again—in Mark 10:35-45–that ministry in His Kingdom is not about position and power, but about servanthood and humility. John and James are jockeying for favored positions in Jesus’ new administration. Jesus responds to them in two ways:

First, He asks in verse 38–Can you drink the cup I drink? This is an old Jewish expression which means, Can you share my fate? They appear to believe they can. Next, He tells them they will suffer and die, as He is going to, but that He does not have the authority to grant them positions of privilege—that prerogative is the Father’s. .

The angry response of the other 10 to John and James power ploy prompts Jesus’ teaching in verses 42-45–You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. What pleases God in His Kingdom is our each having a servant’s heart. Demonstrating humble and loving service to God and others is how we advance in the Lord’s eyes.

So, where are we left? Serving God and others, humbly rather than looking for recognition, bonuses, or rewards.

Where are we left? We want to trust in God, in spite of our circumstances. The God of Creation–the God who created us–deserves our adoration and praise. The author of our salvation, Jesus, deserves our gratitude and love. The Father is worthy. Jesus is worthy. The Holy Spirit is worthy.

Additionally, in God’s Kingdom, He responds favorably to prayer and humble service. He restored a humble and worshipful Job. He raised an obedient Son from the dead. He listened to and responded to the prayers of a humble missionary, Hudson Taylor.

As I see it, the following story seems to indicate where God might have us end up:

Some years ago, at the Seattle Special Olympics, nine contestants–all physically or mentally disabled–assembled at the starting line for the 100-yard dash. At the gun, they all started out, not exactly in a dash, but with a relish to run the race to the finish and win. All, that is, except one little boy who stumbled on the asphalt, tumbled over a couple of times, and began to cry.

The other eight heard the boy cry. They slowed down and looked back. Then they all turned around and went back… every one of them! One girl with Down’s Syndrome bent down and kissed him and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked together to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood, and the cheering went on for several minutes.

Stories like this warm our hearts, and may even make us cry. Those children showed all the adults watching how we are to love and to live—not left crying on the track, but uplifted, helped, and loved by our friends. We can be this loving and caring. Let’s practice having servants’ hearts this week. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Spiritual Wisdom

Pastor Sherry’s Message for August 15, 2021

Scriptures: 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14; Ps 111; Eph 5:15-20; Jn 6:51-58

About 30 years ago, before I attended seminary, I led a mental health team who treated residents of 4 nursing homes in and around Tallahassee, Florida. In this work, I learned a hymn I’d never heard before. My colleague who provided music therapy for those who had Alzheimer’s would play this hymn and the patients–even if they could not remember their children’s names–all remembered it and would sing along! I was amazed.

What can wash away my sins?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh, precious is the flow that makes me white as snow.

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Such a great hymn and so true.  We were bought with a price and redeemed by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Thank you, Lord Jesus!

    Our readings today have to do with gaining true wisdom, spiritual wisdom.  School began this past Tuesday here in North Florida.  The start of the school year always puts me in mind of our hopes that our children’s and grandchildren’s teachers and professors would…

    1.) Recognize and even appreciate their academic talents;     2.) Make allowances for and help them overcome their deficits. 

Some years back, I taught a male student at Santa Fe Community College who could not read.  He failed my first two exams.  After class following the second test, I asked him to verbally respond to the questions.  He knew the information completely.  He could remember the material but was sadly unable to “crack the written code.”  Some of my college students admitted they had never opened a book in high school; others realized, too late, they would have to study more to succeed in college. 

    3.) We also hope teachers and professors will not kill students’ desire to learn, nor their love for their God, their family, or their country.

We also hope that our kids/grandkids would be intent on being fully present; attentive; eager to learn; on time; well-behaved, and disciplined enough not to play games on their laptops or text on their cell phones. Wouldn’t it be great if students all sought wisdom in their educational endeavors? Similarly, wouldn’t it be wonderful if teachers/professors also exhibited wisdom in both the presentation of material in their classes, and in their evaluations of how much their students have learned?

    I don’t know about you but I find it interesting that, just as school is starting, our lectionary readings–which cycle around every three years—contrast the two forms of wisdom, academic or secular wisdom and spiritual wisdom?  It’s no coincidence, but rather a “God-incidence.”

    Our Old Testament reading comes from 1 Kings 3:3-14. It narrates events from 970 BC, almost 3000 years ago.   Having ruled from 1010-970 BC, King David has died.  His two eldest sons predeceased him:  As you may remember from last week, Amnon—son of David’s 3rd wife–was killed by Absalom—son of his 4th wife, for having raped Tamar, Absalom’s sister.  Nine years later, Absalom was slain in a Civil War he had started to wrest the throne from his father.  The next son in line was Adonijah, the son of David’s 5th wife, Haggith.  But God had selected, and King David had crowned Solomon—son of Bathsheba, his 8th wife—as his successor.  (Remember that  David had been the runt of the litter, youngest of 8 boys, when he was chosen by the Lord to be King).  Once again, God jumps the “normal” order of succession to bring about His choice.  After all, the King of Israel was both a political and a theocratic or spiritual king, who ruled at God’s pleasure.  So, despite his birth order, Solomon has assumed the throne.

In some verses skipped, he takes as his wife, in a political alliance, the daughter of Pharaoh and not a believer in the God of Israel. We are told in verse 3 that he loved the Lord. Initially, then, he lived according to the Law of Moses—he kept God’s Law. However, he also worshipped the Lord in Canaanite “high places” which had been set apart for pagan gods of fertility. From the get-go, Solomon seemed to be hedging his bets. He appears to have had a weakness for women, lots of women (having accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines—many of whom worshipped pagan gods–by the end of his reign). So, over the long run, he did not remain loyal to God. He appears to have thought: I’ll follow the God of my father, David; but what can it hurt to honor other gods as well?

    This practice of mixing pagan elements with worshiping the One True God is called syncretism and is abhorrent to our God.  When I was in seminary, my daughter and I had a friend named Mrs. Wilson.  She was kind and generous to us, but she mixed her Roman Catholic beliefs in with the Hindu concept of reincarnation.  I remember asking her why she would want to risk returning to earth as a cockroach or a rat.  I assured her that Jesus Christ had done all the work necessary for her to reach heaven if she only put her trust in Him.  Such syncretism violates the 1st Commandment.  We are told (verse 5) that the syncretistic Solomon offered a very generous number (1000) of sacrifices to Israel’s God, Yahweh—but in a place devoted to pagan worship.  Thus Solomon ignores the urging of the one who wrote Psalm 111 who says, (verse 1) I will extol the LORD with all my heart, in the council of the upright and in the assembly.  The psalmist implores us to worship our God with single-minded devotion.

    Nevertheless, despite Solomon’s lack of a steadfast commitment to God alone, notice that God still planned to use him and to bless him.  This is good news to him and to us.  Except for Jesus Christ, there are no perfect people.  We tend to align ourselves along a continuum from not at all committed to God to totally sold out to God, and on any given day, we land somewhere in between–and often moving toward one pole or the other.  Even so, God chooses to use us.  How amazing!

That night, God spoke to Solomon in a dream. In what strikes me as a beautiful act of grace, God says to the not-quite-committed new king, (verse 5) Ask for whatever you want Me to give you. If I had been God, I doubt I would have been so generous. This guy is all too human—not as whole-heartedly faithful to God as his father David had been. Why should God trust him? Solomon, though, gives a great answer: Recognizing his limitations, he admits (verse 7), I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. He honestly admits he knows he is not yet equipped or experienced enough to rule. As Eugene Peterson, in his modern paraphrase of the Bible, restates it, I don’t know the ropes, hardly know the ‘in’s’ and ‘outs’ of this job and the scope of it is intimidating. So please give me a God-listening-heart so I can rule your people well. He has asked for wisdom in judgment and in governmental leadership or statesmanship. He has asked to know what is the right thing to do as he rules. God is so pleased with this request that He rewards him. God notes that Solomon wasn’t moved by self-centered motives: a long life for himself, great personal wealth, or the deaths of his enemies. So the Lord grants his request, (v.12) I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be. Solomon will be the wisest king—other than Jesus—who ever lived!

However, he fails in moral leadership, in the way he lives his life. He asked for wisdom to govern well, not wisdom to guide his own personal life. That just occurred to me as I studied the passage this week. I had never seen it before. I always wondered how he could have messed up so badly and still been so wise. Under the influence of his foreign wives, he veers off into idolatry, and appears to have suffered from a sexual addiction. Perhaps Paul was thinking about Solomon as he wrote to the Ephesians in our New Testament lesson today (Ephesian 5:15-20). The apostle tells us Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise….Solomon had great wisdom for governing—oh, if we only had that in DC today! But he lacked a firm moral compass, rooted in faithfulness to the Lord. Believers who walk wisely, remain in the will of God. Jesus urges us in John 15:4 No branch can bear fruit by itself [“operating out of human wisdom”]; it [we, the branches] must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me.

King Solomon provides such a good lesson to us as someone who starts off pretty well, but ends up badly. Nevertheless, God knew he was inadequate and chose to work through him anyway. In a sense, all of us are inadequate to serve God. We can only go as far and as high as we do on our knees (in prayer and submission to God). We do best when we seek spiritual wisdom, God’s will. Again, the author of Psalm 111 writes, (verse 10) The fear of the Lord [awe, reverence for, respect of] is the beginning of wisdom. My Old Testament professor, Dr. Paul House, put it this way: Wisdom, even God-given wisdom, must be maintained by responsible human faithfulness. Serving God faithfully, according to Eugene Peterson, really is a long obedience in the same direction—us being obedient to accompany God in His direction.

    Jesus shocked His contemporaries by suggesting in today’s Gospel (John 6:51-58) that they feed on Him.  They didn’t understand that He meant spiritually.  We need to establish, nurse, and maintain a deep relationship with Him.  He is our source!  He is our Savior.  As the old hymn says, the shed blood of Christ protects and redeems us.  Recognizing and exhibiting gratitude for His great love for     us is true wisdom.

As your loved ones (or you yourself) begin the new school year, may you (and they) be endowed with Godly wisdom and an obedient heart, remaining faithful to the God who loves, equips, and blesses you.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Respect and Grace, Not Revenge.

Pastor Sherry’s message for June 27, 2021

Scriptures: 2 Samuel 1:1-27; Psalm 130

We live in a time when we are encouraged to get our revenge on our enemies, political or otherwise. Recently I heard a news commentator, Trey Gowdy, do a monologue on why he prefers sports to politics. (Gowdy used to be a US representative from South Carolina, but did not run for re-election due to his disgust over the corruption he encountered while serving in D.C.) He compared our national situation to a choice between golf, baseball, and professional wrestling: He said that in golf, players call penalties on themselves (The best golfers own their mistakes. No one respects the ones who lie or cheat.). In baseball, all agree to abide by the rulings of an umpire, and we all hope the umpire is fair to both sides. But in professional wrestling, there are no rules; no fairness; the end justifies the means (do whatever it takes to win); the outcome is fixed; and it is less a sport than entertainment.

Gowdy strongly implied that our national government is currently run more like professional wrestling than we might think or want. Political wrongdoers lack the integrity to hold themselves accountable or to admit and apologize for their wrongs. There is no national umpire/referee to enforce the rules fairly. And one’s political ends clearly appear to justify the means.

Nevertheless, Gowdy went on to opine that he has hope for America, due to how we tend to behave in sports:

1.) He reported having seen a woman in pro-golf recently pull for her opponent to sink a crucial putt.

2.) He related how another woman golfer–who had led the tournament only to lose at the end–did not blame others, the course, or her circumstances, but graciously thanked the fans for lifting her spirits.

3.) He shared how the Alabama softball team’s coach responded at the college world series. They interviewed him as his team was losing (This seems like kicking a guy when he is down, but reporters do this all the time). Rather than display anger or a vengeful attitude, the coach praised 2 other coach-peers who were retiring after the series.

The commentator hopes we will, as a nation, respond more like the sportswomen and the coach he referenced and less like politicians who do not congratulate or pull for their opponents; who only appreciate their followers but castigate those who disagree with them; and who blame anyone else for their defeat and desire revenge against their opponents.

A similar story is told about General Robert E. Lee, from about 150 years ago now. It appears that General William Whiting, a confederate peer, loudly and critically criticized Lee behind his back. You might think that Lee would wait for an opportunity to seek revenge upon the man. In fact, an opportunity presented itself one day when President Jefferson Davis summoned Gen. Lee to meet with him. The President asked Lee what he thought of Gen. Whiting. Without hesitation, Lee commended Whiting with high praise for his military abilities. Another officer who was present at the meeting called Lee aside to suggest that he must not be aware of the unkind things Whiting had been saying about him. Lee answered: “I understood that the President desired to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.” General Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity and a true gentleman—and a personal hero of mine. Lee could have potentially cost Gen. Whiting his career, but chose to take the higher road, instead.

Our Old Testament lesson today (2 Samuel 1:1-27) speaks to how our God wants us to take the higher road as well. The context finds Saul, his sons, and the Israelite army at war once again with the Philistines (about 14-15 years after David had defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath). David, not yet king and trying to maintain some distance from the murderous Saul, has been fighting the Amalakites.

As our passage opens, David has defeated his Amalakite opponents and returned to Ziklag, a town now unknown but reputedly somewhere south of Jerusalem.

It was there that he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed at Mt. Gilboa, in southern Galilee (to the north of David). Jonathan, as well as his two brothers, Abinadab, and Malk-Shana, was killed in battle. Saul himself had been seriously wounded but chose to fall on his own sword (to commit suicide) rather than being taken captive by the victorious Philistines.

David is severely grieved at the death of his dear friend Jonathan, but also very distressed at King Saul’s death. He had had 2 opportunities to kill Saul himself but had held off because he knew Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”. 1 Samuel 24:6 The LORD forbid that I should do this thing [kill Saul], to the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed. The Lord had agreed to Saul’s kingship. The people chose him and God had the prophet Samuel anoint him king. David reasoned the Lord would remove kingship from Saul when He, not David, determined. Notice: David waited on the Lord, the theme of our psalm today, Psalm 130.

Saul’s death was a big deal—he was the 1st King of Israel. We might equate his death with another: Back in March of 1991, one of the oldest and largest Redwoods in California died and fell to the ground. Locals called thetree “the Dyerville Giant,” and apparently it still lies where it landed. The tree had been 362 feet tall (the height of a 30-story building). They measured its diameter at 17 feet and its circumference at 52 feet. Experts somehow estimated its weight to exceed one million pounds and believe it was probably 2,000 years old. (My daughter has a degree in forestry and has told me that trees do have a life span. Like us, they grow old and die—no matter how well we water or fertilize them–just as this amazing redwood did.) When the Dyerville Giant hit the ground, people from a mile away said thought they had heard a train wreck. The vibrations were felt 10 miles away, and no doubt some thought they had experienced an earthquake. The death of this tree had a huge physiological impact on many. Additionally, people were touched and saddened at the demise of something so monumental.

But, sadly, in our contemporary view of things, there is no such respect—like for Saul or even for this tree–for those in authority with whom we disagree. We speak badly about them. We dismiss them or hold them in contempt when they fail to meet our expectations, or disappoint our hopes. And, in the extremes of “the cancel culture,” we target them for revenge, even when they are out of power, blasting them and castigating them in the press and on social media; trying to prevent them from getting new jobs, eating lunch peacefully, or just going about their lives; intimidating them with nuisance lawsuits and even threatening their lives.

Notice how David responds to the Amalekite man who brings him Saul’s crown and bracelet. (Obviously this guy does not realize that David has just been battling his own people.) Not understanding David’s godly forbearance for Saul, the guy mistakenly thinks David will reward him for falsely claiming he killed the king. Instead, David has the fellow killed, saying, (v.15)à Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, “I killed the Lord’s anointed.”

Then, David writes a lament which he intends for all the archers in Israel to memorize and recite as they each work on their bows. He expresses his grief:

1.) He curses Mt. Gilboa for being the site of Johnathan’s and Saul’s deaths. I looked this mountain up on the internet and saw where it is to this day only barren rocks and soil. Nothing seems to grow on it, over 3,000 years later.

2.) He praises Saul for the good he did, especially for bringing such prosperity to Israel that women could dress in red cloth (expensive due to dying techniques of that day).

3.) And he mourns for his close friend, Johnathan, who had proven more devoted to him (not in a homosexual way) than had most of his wives—including Johnathan’s sister, Michal, who Saul had given to him in marriage as a reward for killing Goliath.

4.) He seasons the lament with the repeated refrain, How the mighty have fallen! (which reminds me of the tree!)

I must admit, I am not always very respectful of those in power who make what I consider bone-headed decisions for our country, nor am I often kind to sports opponents. I wonder if the Lord is chastening me to be more respectful and grace-filled toward those with whom I disagree. I do believe that we are all called by Christ to offer grace and to respect the rights of those we consider our opponents. That’s part of the Gospel message, isn’t it? We are to love our enemies and pray for them. As Paul says in Romans 12:19-20àDo not take revenge, my Friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge. I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

While our culture may currently resemble professional wrestling, this is not God’s desire for us. This week, let’s try to be like a good golfer and admit our faults and correct our failings on our own. Let’s also remember we do have an eternal, heavenly, perfect umpire/referee who enforces the rules fairly; offers grace and forgiveness to us all; and who doesn’t miss a thing!

In closing, I would ask you to consider the former custom of a prehistoric tribe in New Guinea. When they prepared to confront an enemy tribe in battle, they would preface their attack with what they called “murder songs.” As they sang these songs, they named before their gods the specificpersons they wished to kill. However, once they converted to Christianity, instead of shouting the names any people they hated, they shouted the names of the sins they hated, and called on God to destroy these sins. We could take a lesson from these Paleolithic tribesmen! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

5

Depend Upon the Lord

Pastor Sherry’s message for May 16, 2021

Scriptures: Acts 1:15-26; Ps 1, 1 Jn 5:9-13; Jn 17:6-19

​Bishop Alf Stanway was the first Dean President of the seminary I attended in Ambridge, PA (just west of Pittsburgh).  He had passed away by the time I got there, but stories about him abounded.  I learned much that deepened my faith from his approach to life.  One of my favorites came from his tenure as the Principal of a Christian Boarding School in Kenya.  Besides teaching the usual academic subjects, this school also trained the students in skills they could use to make a living.  Alf had just assumed his position as principal when he ​learned they needed someone skilled to teach tailoring.  The only tailors anyone could think of in the area were Muslims.  Alf wanted only Christian instructors at his school, so he worked tirelessly to locate a Christian tailor.   None of his efforts, however, yielded an appropriate applicant.

He was soon called away to attend a conference but found he could not concentrate on the speakers due to his anxieties about locating a Christian tailor to teach his students. He knew he had to let go of his worry and so he prayed that God would take it away. What an interesting prayer. How often do we consider asking God to remove a particular worry from us? Aren’t we usually praying, instead, for the solution to what is plaguing us?

God so completely removed his worry that it was only as he re-entered his office at the school that he remembered he still had no one to teach tailoring. Classes were set to begin in 3 days! YIKES! He greeted his clerk, Joseph, and asked what he thought could be done about a Christian tailor. Joseph responded with a big smile—some Kenyans have very dark skin and very white teeth, so when they smile it is dazzling! Joseph smiled and replied, “There is now a tailor in the sewing workshop. Go see for yourself if you think he is qualified.” While Alf had been away, a Christian tailor had heard of the vacancy and had come to check it out. Joseph had asked for a demonstration of his skills. Alf took a look at the man’s tailoring and hired him on the spot.

Not only had God removed Bishop Alf’s worry, but He had sent him a Christian tailor. God answered the spoken prayer, and also met the attendant, unspoken need.

​Our Scriptures today all remind us that we can, like Bishop Stanway, safely depend upon the Lord:  

In our Acts 1:15-26 passage, Peter and the 119 other disciples are praying. Jesus has ascended into heaven after having told them to wait upon the baptism of the Holy Spirit. So, they obediently meet daily to pray together and to encourage one another. On this particular occasion, the topic of a replacement among the 12 for Judas Iscariot comes up. Peter addresses them all and explains both how Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and his subsequent suicide had been predicted in Scripture, as well as the consequent need for a replacement Apostle. This would be like having a JV or 2nd stringer elevated to Varsity status. They determined that the primary requirement was having been an eye-witness to Jesus and His work. The newly elevated candidate had to have been with Jesus from the beginning of His earthly ministry (His baptism), through His crucifixion and resurrection, and including His ascension–which we honor today. In other words, they were united in searching out a legitimate witness—just as Bishop Stanwaywanted only a Jesus-believing tailor.

The group no doubt talked it over and then arrived at two candidates, Joseph Barsabbas (also called Justus) and Matthias. Both men met the criteria. However, rather than taking a Roberts Rule of Order vote, they enlisted the guidance of the Holy Spirit through casting lots. The idea was that the Holy Spirit would superintend the process and lead them to the “right” person. I experienced how this works some years ago—prior to attending seminary–when I served on a “call committee” whose job it was to select a new pastor for our church. There were 12 of us and we decided all issues by unanimous vote—assuming the Holy Spirit would lead us all into agreement. Over a year, we narrowed our focus from 99 contenders to two. When we tried to take a vote on the final two, we were repeatedly stymied at 11-1. I was the lone dissenter. I believed firmly that I had been told by the Lord to “stand firm” for this particular nominee. Our committee took several votes, all of which resulted in the same impasse. Someone suggested we drop the unanimous rule for this decision, but I reminded them we would need a unanimous vote to do so and I would not agree to such a change until after this decision had been made. (Hadn’t we learned somewhere, “Don’t change the horse in the middle of the stream?”)

Finally, after much frustration and even anger expressed towards me, someone suggested we cast lots. Knowing this was both Biblical and that the Holy Spirit would guide this process, I was willing to go along with it. We agreed to fill a basket with 12 gold wrapped and 12 purple wrapped hard candies, the gold indicating the one candidate, the purple representingthe other. A clerk passed the basket around above our heads and we each had to reach up to draw out our selection. I was there and I saw all 12 of us draw the same color! The probabilities of this happening—without the guidance of the Holy Spirit—are so miniscule as to be impossible. The one we selected was the one I had held out for. But now all of us knew that candidate must have had the approval of the Holy Spirit.

So the lesson is clear, both from Scripture and from my experience 25some odd years ago, that we can depend upon the Lord to help us make a right choice.

Psalm 1àContrasts for us the behavior and destinies of godly and ungodly folks. The godly or righteous person does not…

(1) Listen to those who leave God out of their lives. Six years ago, I was teaching Psychology in a community college nearby. I noticed that my three sections each semester were loaded with the maximum of 35 students. I asked the department secretary why I had so many students when other adjunct professors had fewer. She told me it was because the kids had learned I am a Christian. Students knew of non-Christian professors who would ridicule them publically for their faith. They assumed I was safe, so they piled in. They wisely did not want to listen to—or be graded by—those who exclude God from their lives.

(2) Exclusively hang out with the godless. We need to interact with those who do not know Jesus so them we can tell them about Him. But if we hang only with them, we are likely to be brought down by our associations. Remember when we were either raising teens or when we were a teen. We knew that associating with “bad actors” would probably lead us into trouble. My college students who tried to quit smoking for their “Self-Change Project” I assigned each semester, soon learned they had to stop hanging out with the smokers in order to truly kick the habit. Associating with smokers just continually tempted them to smoke again.

(3) Join in with the jeering of atheists. Similar to point (2), it is all too easy to find yourself a victim of group think; that is of conforming with the dominant views of the group and becoming contemptuous of God if you hang out with a crowd who expresses contempt toward Him.

What the godly person does is meditate on Scripture. This word, meditate literally means chew the cud, like a cow. The godly person reads the Bible carefully and over and over again. Each reading is made with a view toward understanding both what it meant to the folks living in Jesus’ time as well as what it means for us now. As you read a passage, askyourself, “What is God saying to me through this passage?”

The godly person also derives his/her blessings from being planted in Christ, or being born again. This keeps us connected to the vineàJesus.

This keeps us drinking in living wateràJesus. The psalm goes on to state that the ungodly person does not do these things. The ungodly person does not stay connected to Jesus. The ungodly, or the wicked, therefore, will be judged and will perish.

So, the question Psalm 1 provokes is, “Are we going to live like godly persons or ungodly persons?” The choice is ours.

In 1 John 5:9-13, the Apostle John makes it abundantly clear that the key to eternal life is Jesus. We have life if we trust in the testimonies of 3 kinds of witnesses:

(1) People All of those who lived with and followed Jesus. 500 eyewitnesses encountered Him after His resurrection, and countless thousands during His years of earthly ministry. They knew He was/is the heaven-sent Son of God.

(2) God the Holy Spirit He was present at Jesus’ baptism (in the form of a dove hovering over His head), and at work in all of His miracles.

(3) God the Father He audibly affirmed Jesus at both His baptism and on the Mount of Transfiguration. He also restored Him to life in the Resurrection and empowered His ascension into Heaven.

According to John, we have life if we believe in Jesus Christ (verses11-12) And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.

This lesson is straightforward and clear. We can depend upon Jesus to honor our faith in Him. If we love and believe in Jesus, we are Heaven-bound.

Finally, in our Gospel lesson, John17:6-19, we are eavesdroppers on Jesus’ great intercessory prayer for us believers. He has completed the Last Supper and is probably on His way to the Mount of Olives when He prays to the Father for us (obviously out loud so that John could overhear).

He reports to His Father that He has been obedient to complete His mission: the Rescue Plan. He has said to His followers what the Father told Him to say. He has taught them what the Father told Him to teach. While He came to save the world, He is here praying only for those who believe in Him.

Verse 9 I pray for them [believers]. I am not praying for the world.

Amazingly, we are among His final thoughts before He goes to the Cross.

He also asks the Father to protect us…not to take us out of the world because we have ministry to do; but, rather, to be kept safe from the Evil One and from wicked people while we remain here. He asks the Father to sanctify us, consecrate us. Set us apart as those who believe in the Truth, the Truth He taught us. Jesus makes it clear that He continues to intercede for us and that we have a mission to the world. He defends us to the Father against the accusations of the Devil. He prays for our success with godly living, and in sharing with others what Jesus has done for us.

I hope that you, like me, find this tremendously comforting! Who better to plead our cause than Jesus? As Paul says in Romans 8:31à…If God is for us, who can be against us? And again, in verse 35àWhoshall separate us from the love of Christ? These are both rhetorical questions. They don’t require an answer because the answer is obvious:

no one!

We can depend upon our God because He meets our needs, both spoken and unspoken. He can and does lead us to make wise decisions. He teaches us, through His Word, how to remain connected to the Source of eternal life. He gives us eternal life when we choose to believe in Jesus. Jesus intercedes for us daily before the throne of His Father.

​We can, like Bishop Stanway—and many Christ-followers just like him—depend upon the Lord. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord, Jesus Christ! Alleluia, alleluia!

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams