Our God Prefers Truth over Lying to Influence People

Pastor Sherry’s message for November 6, 2022

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

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

Two stories I read recently highlight this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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Why the Wait?

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 30, 2022

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

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

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

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

3.) Why don’t You do something?!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Zacchaeus (ironically his name means pure) is…

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

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

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

4. Lastly, he was short in stature.

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Becoming a Mature Follower of Christ

Pastor Sherry’s Message for 7/24/2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

The Watchman’s Challenge

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 17, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 8:1-12; Ps 52; Col 1:15-28; Lk 10:38-42

Last week, I encouraged us to become like “watchmen” on the walls surrounding our country. By this I meant “Prayer Warriors” for the USA. We looked at Amos, chapter 7, and recognized how America—like ancient Israel—is out of alignment with the Lord. Amos’ image, given to him by God, was that of a plumb line. It is a simple device (a string with a weight at the end will do) to help insure a straight vertical line for a wall, or for hanging wallpaper. I’ve seen cabinet installers use laser beams to ensure they set the cabinets in straight; the laser is a new form of plumb line.) The prophet was telling the Northern Kingdom that they were out of plumb with God. Citing a number of examples, we could see where our country, too, is currently out of plumb with God.

This week, in Amos 8:1-12, God gives His prophet the image of ripe fruit. Ripe fruit is fruit taken at its peak. Prior to ripening, it is too sour or too hard to eat. By the same token, you don’t want to let ripe fruit sit around for very long. It gets mushy, brown, or soggy—it spoils; it also attracts fruit flies. God is saying to Israel that “the time is ripe” for them.

Either they change their sinful ways and return to sincere worship of God; or God will no longer spare them. This was God’s final image of warning to them in the book of Amos.

Again, I think this is a very relevant message for us in America today. Like with the Northern Kingdom, many Americans don’t worship the One, True God anymore. And some who do are only going through the motions: God condemned the Israelites for thinking about their businesses while at worship. What do we think about while here in church together? Are we focused on the Lord, or on what we’ll have for lunch after? What we might do later?

The Israelites were infamous at that time for corrupt business practices: Skimping on the quantity—providing less of what was wanted for the same or a larger price; inflating the price; cheating with dishonest scales (and other measures); and buying the poor (with silver or for a pair of sandals.) We tend not to think of ourselves as buying the poor, but what about engaging in sex trafficking, buying the sexual use of someone’s body. And while we no longer have debtors’ prisons, we do have a staggering number of homeless persons who cannot afford to live in today’s economy. It appears as though a surprising number of folks in America don’t realize that God sees all and knows all, and intends to hold them (us) accountable. In vv.7-10, God reminds Israel (and us) The Lord has sworn by the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.” The Pride of Jacob is a poetic name for the yet to come Jesus (as predicted by Amos around 750 BC). God is swearing by His Son, Jesus, that He will not forget their corrupt deeds (He sees and remembers all evil acts). If the Father makes a vow based on His Son, is there any question that He means to abide by it? No!

I have heard people joke about going to hell: they say they intend to party with all their friends who they think will be there too. YIKES! This is no joking matter! Humans in hell will not be partying! They will be eternally separated from God, as well as from any of their godly friends and relatives. Worse yet, they will experience unending, everlasting torment at the hand of demons who hate God and God’s people. This is not something to aspire to, even glibly.

Amos ends the passage with predictions of what is to come in the end times (the 7 year Great Tribulation): (1) There will be massive earthquakes. (2) Sunlight will be limited to ½ a day. (3) Those who rejoice now will be weeping then, in mourning, wishing they had chosen to follow Jesus while there was yet time. (4) And there will be a famine of hearing God’s Word.

Back then, God sent no more prophets, after Malachi, to declare His word for the 400 years remaining before Jesus’ birth and the appearance of John the Baptist. It appears that even now the Lord has lifted His hand of protection from us, so that we are already experiencing …an increase of evil (as predicted by Jesus in Matthew 24:12).

If this alarms you, be at peace as our remaining Scriptures today are all very encouraging.

A. Our Psalm 52 describes King David’s fearless confidence in God when he was attacked by an arrogant and wicked enemy king. In vv.1-4, he declares there is no reason for evil ones to boast as God will bring them down. John Lawrence, in his book Down to Earth, reports how a city of wicked and sacrilegious people dared God to show Himself:

“On December 25, 1908—Jesus’ Birthday–a newspaper published in Messina, Sicily, printed a parody against God, daring Him to make Himself known by sending an earthquake. Three days later, on December 28, the city and its surrounding district was devastated by a terrible quake that killed 84,000 people.” (Cited in Today in the Word, October, 1997, p. 25). This foolish city went too far. They incurred the wrath of God. We can only hope that God separated out the scoffers and blasphemers for judgment and spared the righteous. At any rate, He clearly remembered their arrogance and their unbelief.

King David goes on to assert (vv.6-7) that the righteous will be ultimately vindicated–which David was, again and again. And those of us who love Jesus will be too. Verses 8-9 conclude with David asserting that he will trust in the Lord—an encouragement for us to do likewise.

B. In Colossians 1:15-28, Paul makes his case for the supremacy of Christ. Why should the believer trust in Jesus? Because Jesus…(1) created all things; (2) is set apart from and is superior to all created things; (3) holds all of creation together (Science has discovered that all human and animal connective tissue has at its heart a substance called lamina. This substance appears in cell bodies in it the shape of a cross. Literally, the Cross of Christ holds our bodies together. (4) He is the head of His body, the Church; and (5) because God had Jesus reconcile all things to the Father. (6) Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Father now looks at those of us who love His Son through the eyes of Christ. He forgives us our failings. He offers us grace, love, and mercy.

C. Our Gospel lesson (Luke 10:38-42) records Jesus’ interactions with Mary and Martha. God bless her, Martha is focused on the task of creating a meal for our Lord. Mary, her sister, has abandoned the task to deepen her relationship with Jesus. Jesus reassures Martha that she is not to worry, while affirming Mary’s focus on Him and His teaching. This is a lesson for each of us, too, isn’t it? We don’t want to be invested in doing things for God without spending time investing in our relationship with Him daily.

God’s judgment is coming for America, just as it did for ancient Israel. But we still have time to get right with our Lord: First, we can trust in Him…as a God who protects and defends those who love Him; because of Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross for our sakes; and because He desires a deep relationship with each one of us.

Last week, I encouraged us to stand as watchmen (and watchwomen), praying daily for our country to turn back to God.

This week, I challenge us to pray daily for America. We want to do this because we love the USA. We want to do this because prayer– and the ballot box–are the only means we have for encouraging a national return to Christ. Consider this story from Stuart Strachan, Jr., about Babe Ruth, the great professional baseball player from 1914—1935. For those not familiar with “the Babe,” he hit 714 home runs in his career, and was responsible for bringing another 2, 214 runners in to score. He also contributed to a phenomenal 12 World’s Series wins:

Most of us have heard of Babe Ruth, but have you ever heard of Babe Pinelli? Pinelli was an umpire in Major League Baseball who once called The Great Bambino (Ruth) out on strikes. When the crowd began booing in disapproval of the call, Babe turned to the umpire and said “There’s 40,000 people here who know that the last pitch was a ball.” The coaches and players braced for a swift ejection, but instead, Pinelli responded coolly, “Maybe so, Babe, but mine is the only opinion that counts.”

In life it’s easy to get caught up in the opinions of others, but in the end, it’s not our scoffers or critics by whom we will be judged. The Only Opinion That Matters is God’s.

God may be ready to “lower the boom” on America. Whether His judgment comes tomorrow or 5 or 20 years from now, we should not be afraid. Instead, we are to be faithful until Christ returns. Instead, we need to function as praying watchmen as we wait and watch to see what God does.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Who’s On First?

Pastor Sherry’s message for 8/1/2021

Scriptures: 2 Sam 11:26-12:13a; Ps 51; Eph 4:1-16; Jn 6:24-35

    I’m dating myself, now, but do any of you remember a comedy routine by Bud Abbott and Lou Costello called “Who’s on first”?  The premise is that Bud [the smart, serious guy] is trying to explain the location of the baseball players—Who, What, and I Don’t Know–to Lou [the less smart but funny one]:

        Lou:  Who’s on first [base]?

        Bud: Yes, Who’s on first.

        Lou: That’s what I want to know, who’s on first?

        Bud: Exactly, Who’s on first.

        Lou (by now getting exasperated):  That’s what I want to know. What’s the fella’s name on first?

        Bud:  No, no.  What’s on second, Who’s on first.

        Lou (now pulling his hair, getting angry):  Let’s try something different.  Who’s on third?

        Bud:  No, no, no.  Who’s on 1st.  I Don’t’ Know’s on 3rd.

        Lou (now angrily shouting): If you don’t know, who does?

        Bud: Yes, Who knows, he’s the captain.

        And it continues as Lou gets increasingly upset and confused.

    This famous comedy routine is somewhat reminiscent of our Gospel lesson today, John 6:24-35.  It appears that Jesus, and some spokespersons from the crowd following Him, are talking from completely different perspectives/understandings. The crowd wants another free meal. But Jesus is not so much interested in feeding their bellies as He is in saving their souls.  It seems that Jesus and the crowd are speaking at cross-purposes with each other 

It’s just like the woman at the well (John 4:1-26). Jesus offers her “living water,” which she assumes means flowing [not stagnant] water. She’d like a private source of water that was clean and not algae-infested. Then she wouldn’t have to fill her pail at the public well and encounter the women who taunt her about her lifestyle. Like Lou in “Who’s on first,” she isn’t getting it. Jesus is actually offering her something better than clean water; He is offering her eternal life.

    The same is true of the Pharisee, Nicodemus, in John 3:1-18.  He is puzzled about what Jesus means by “rebirth,” thinking Jesus is requiring him to re-enter his mother’s womb as an adult.  Instead, Jesus is instructing him in what it takes to enter God’s Kingdom:  belief in Jesus as God’s Son.

    How patient our God is with them and with us.  Jesus is concerned foremost with our salvation—our deepest spiritual need; while they and we so often are more concerned with our physical and relational needs—hunger, thirst, healing, restored relationships, etc. 

    Let’s try to enter into God’s perspective on what’s most important in our lives by looking at our Gospel and our Old Testament readings:

    In John 6: 24-35, the crowd follows Jesus in order to obtain more food.  But He wants them to know that He is the Bread of Life.  They don’t get it.  They want to know what they must do to be fed.  Who’s on first?

They and we don’t have to do anything to be fed spiritually except to believe in Jesus.  It’s a free gift, but they can’t take that in.

So they ask for a sign. They’ve just had a sign. Jesus fed anywhere from 5,000-15,000 from next to nothing, the multiplication miracle I preached about last week. They want to see Him do it again. They ask him, How about producing manna, like Moses did? Jesus tells them that God, not Moses, was responsible for the manna. Now, God has sent His Son, Jesus. Manna sustained the Israelites for 40 years in the wilderness. Jesus knows what they really need is the true manna, God’s spiritual provision, in Jesus—which will sustain them eternally

    The question then strikes me, How much proof do we need?  Will another miracle be the event that tips us, them, into belief?  They had the Old Testament as their Scripture; we have the Old and the New.  What else do we need?  Often we need a personal experience of Christ, reaching inot our lives.  They have just witnessed Jesus feeding a horde of folks from 5 small loaves and two small fish.  He is not going to perform for them like a trained seal.  They need to realize that Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  He is the Living Water, the Manna from Heaven, the Only Way to the Father.  He is our Salvation!

    Our Old Testament Lesson, 2 Sam 11:26-12:13a, provides such a great example of why we need Jesus.  You may remember from last week that King David has sinned by 

        1.) Coveting and entering into an adulterous relationship with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife;

        2.) And by arranging for Uriah’s death when she becomes pregnant by David.

    Though his sins are state secrets, several of the psalms he penned tell us he has not really gotten off scott-free.  Only Bathsheba, the servants who David sent to gather her, and Joab, his general, know of his treachery, and they are not talking!  They know he could have them arrested and executed.  Nevertheless, King David feels wretched.  Several of the psalms he wrote, including today’s psalm, Psalm 51, tell of his great, private shame, remorse, and misery: (v.4) For I know my transgressions, and my sin in always before me.  In Psalm 31:10, he wrote—My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak.  Similarly in Psalm 32:3–When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  We would say the Holy Spirit has brought him under conviction and he is suffering the resulting emotional anguish.

The only One who knows–besides those who refuse to talk—is the Lord. Notice that God does not abandon King David to his sin. Instead, He sends the brave prophet, Nathan, to call him to account. Nathan tells David a story about a poor man taken advantage of by a rich man. David, thinking this is a report about someone in his kingdom, is outraged! He wants the rich man brought to justice! So Nathan confronts him (v.7)—You are the man! The story was only a metaphor. Nathan conveys God’s disappointment in David. God had given him so much. The Lord has in fact “blessed his socks off!” But David’s sinful actions convey to God that he lacks gratitude to and has contempt for the Lord. (What a novel way to consider sin: Our sins show our contempt for God. YIKES!)

    David has 3 choices in the way he could respond:

        1.) He could deny his sin altogether—as they do in DC today;

        2.) He could have Nathan executed—as any despot would;

        3.) Or he could admit the truth.

This is how King David is a man after God’s own heart:  He admits his sin, he repents, and he asks God to forgive and restore him.

    Remember, this is a saga from the Old Testament.  It predates the saving work of Jesus Christ.  God graciously forgives David and Bathsheba, but He does not prevent the grave consequences of David’s sin from affecting him.  Notice the boomerang effect of the Law of Sowing and Reaping:

        1.) The child born to Bathsheba, a firstborn son, dies after birth (his death for a death?).

        2.) Later, one of David’s other sons, Amnon, covets and rapes his beautiful step-sister, Tamar (a sexual sin—rape–for a sexual sin–adultery). 

        3.) Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, kills Amnon in revenge (another death for a death).

        4.) Still later, Absalom will try to wrest the throne from David (lawlessness and rebellion against David for lawlessness and rebellion against God).

As God proclaims through the prophet Nathan, (v.16)—Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own. 

Psalm 51, is David’s great plea to be made right with God again, and is such a great model for us to follow when we sin. First, he makes it very clear that he regrets what he has done. Second, he admits that he knows what God requires of him. Third, he states his conviction, his faith, that God can forgive and renew him: Verse 7–Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Verse 10–Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Verse 17–The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.

    David begs for God’s forgiveness and God grants it.

    What would our Lord want us to learn from these passages? We too can get at cross-purposes with God when we come to Him always and only to meet our physical or emotional needs.  First and foremost, He is concerned with our spiritual life.  He wants to save us.  He wants our trust, our love, and our obedience.

God’s greatest concern is that we draw close to Him. When we sin and cut ourselves off from Him, what are we to do? Like King David, we want to confess our sins to God. Like King David, we want to ask for God’s forgiveness. Thanks be to God that we don’t have to worry about who’s on first. Jesus Christ, our outstanding Coach, has all the bases covered.

©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Broken Promises and Second Chances

Pastor Sherry’s message for October 4, 2020

Scriptures: Ex 20:1-21; Matt 21:1-14

The story goes that a Jewish medieval astrologer, named Moshe, prophesied that the king’s favorite horse would die soon. The king got really angry with Moshe, both because his horse did die shortly after Moshe had foretold, and because the king believed Moshe’s prophecy had brought about his horse’s death.  So the angry king summoned Moshe to present himself immediately and demanded of the astrologer, “Prophet, tell me when you will die.”  Being a shrewd man, Moshe figured out this meant that the king intended to kill him, so he thought fast and replied, “I don’t know when I will die, but I do know that whenever that happens, the king will die 3 days later.”  Needless to say, the clever Moshe lived a long life.

In our Gospel today (Matt 21”33-46), Jesus is similarly prophesying the future fate of His enemies, the Jewish religious leaders, through a parable.  Jesus tells them and us that the King (God) created a lovely vineyard (the nation of Israel).  Referencing the Song of the Vineyard (Isa 5:1-7), which I read last week, Jesus’ listeners in the Temple would have known He was talking about the nation and God the Father.  They would have remembered the passage and its description of the loving care with which God established His vineyard:  He terraced the land;

  • He removed the rocks and stacked them to form walls around the vineyard;
  • He planted the vines, watered, fertilized and pruned them. 
  • Additionally, He built a watchtower within it from which to see thieves trying to steal His grapes, or anyone who would want to damage or destroy the vineyard.

But despite all God’s loving concern, the vineyard only yielded sour/wild grapes. So, fed up, God allows ruin to come the His vineyard.  He removes His “umbrella of protection” over it.  The wall is broken down; the vineyard is trampled; no rain falls to irrigate it; and thorns and thistles compete with and eventually replace the choice vines.  In fact, Israel was destroyed by Assyrian invaders in 722 BC, and Judah by Babylonian invaders in 587 BC.  They had by then enjoyed many more that second chances.

Now Jesus essentially retells that story with some new details:

Jesus says the King was absent.  We know that God is omnipresent, always around/with us.  But the Jewish religious leadership had encouraged a distant relationship with God in which obeying rules substituted for personal contact.  Consider how the people at the end of our Exodus passage today want God to remain far from them.  His thundering and lightnings scared them, so they asked Moses to speak to God so they did not have to deal with Him directly.  They felt safer having an intercessor speaking to God for them.  (By the way, don’t many of us also fear intimacy with God?)

Now, the King had entered into a sharecropping kind of arrangement with the tenants (Jewish religious leadership).  They were to manage the vineyard, but also pay Him a certain percentage every year; i.e., they were to worship only Him, in a heartfelt way, and give Him the tithe off the top.

Because God provided sun, rain, protection, and blessing, they should have been willing to give Him what He asked.  However, they beat one prophet, killed a 2nd, and stoned a 3rd.  It’s bad enough that they were ungrateful; but they also abused the very ones God sent to set them straight, to hold them accountable.  Nevertheless, our longsuffering God then provided them a second chance and sent another delegation of perhaps more noteworthy prophets.  But the result was the same.  These leaders abused them as well.  Finally, in a surprising move, God then sends His Son.  Perhaps they thought the King was dead?  With a weird sort of logic, they decide they can kill the Son and inherit the vineyard.  If there is no heir, they reasoned they could claim the land because they had worked it (assuming possession is 9/10ths of the law). So they indeed kill the Son–Jesus is now, within the parable, predicting His death at their hands.

Then Jesus asks the crowd (including the leaders), …when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will He do to those tenants?

They knew.  They knew and replied that, (v.41) He will bring those wretches to a wretched end…and He will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give Him His share of the crop at harvest time.

These new tenants will be Gentile believers and Jewish ones too. These will be the yet to be birthed Christian Church.

Now Jesus lowers the boom:  He reminds them of the capstone, the cornerstone from Psalm 118:21-22.  There is a foundational rock that will carry the weight ofthis Church.  That Rock is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  And He prophesies, Therefore, I tell you that the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but He on whom it falls will be crushed.   The Jews who reject Christ as Messiah will lose out.  Christ will invest instead in those who follow Him, Messianic Jews and non-Jewish “Christ-followers.”  Accepting Jesus is the watershed choice, the crucial decision-point.The religious leadership rejected Jesus and one generation later, divine judgment was meted out upon them:  Titus of Rome staged a 3 year siege of Jerusalem.  Historians believe there were by then as many as 1 million personswithin the walls of the city.  Titus cut off their food supply, hoping to starve them into surrender.  Historians report some were reduced to cannibalism.  When the Roman forces did eventually break through the city walls and gates, Titus’ forceskilled the sick, the very young, and the elderly, and enslaved and deported the remaining inhabitants.  He also totally demolished the Temple,even to plowing up the Temple foundation and burning the marble stones.  Everything Jesus foretold came to be.

I could be wrong, but I think the Christian Church needs to consider long and hard how similar we have become to those ancient Jewish leaders.  Have we moved to a cultural faith, going through empty motions?  Or are we maintaining a vibrant, living relationship with Jesus?  I don’t believe God will spare us any more than He did Jerusalem, if our sins are similar to theirs.  This is why I have called upon us to pray for revival in our country.  This is why I have urged us to become aware of our sins and to confess them daily to God.  This is why I have encouraged us to ask God to forgive us for walking so far from Him.  We have broken our promises to God and badly need another, second chance.

There is a song, “The Heart of Worship” that bears on this issue:

         When the music fades and all is stripped away,

And I simply come, longing just to bring something that’s of worth,

That will bless Your heart…

I’ll bring You more than a song for a song in itself is not what You have

required.

You search much deeper within…You’re looking into my heart…Thru the way

things appear.

I’m coming back to the heart of worship,

Cuz it’s all about You, it’s all about You, Jesus.

We don’t have to be shrewd, like Moshe.  We won’t be able to out-think God anyway.  We just need to love our God and serve Him as He desires.

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

Difficult Choices!

Pastor Sherry’s Message for June 21, 2020

Scriptures: Gen 21:8-21; Ps 86; Romans 6:1-11; Matt 10:24-39

Happy Father’s Day!  It must be God’s sense of humor that our OT lesson relates a difficult choice for a loving father.  Scripture tells us that Abraham had two sons:  The first born, Ishmael, was born through human expediency.  Sarah had despaired of getting pregnant and had offered for Abraham to impregnate her slave, Hagar.  It was the custom of the day that a barren woman could adopt as her own a child born to her husband and her slave girl (an authorized adultery strategy that Rachel, Jacob’s wife and Leah, her sister-wife also employed).  The other child, Isaac, was born to Abraham and Sarah by the miraculous and incontrovertible intervention of God.  Both Abraham and Sarah were well beyond childbearing years when they conceived and bore Isaac.  In fact, his name means “laughter” as they were both so amazed and delighted with his birth that they rejoiced with laughter.

The problem arose when Ishmael’s true character was revealed.  You may recall that his mother had had contempt for Sarah.  Earlier God revealed to Hagar that Ishmael would be …a wild donkey of a man, his hand will be against everyone, and everyone’s hand will be against him.”  So, at 15-16 years old, Ishmael ridicules or demonstrates contempt for his younger half-brother at the feast surrounding Isaac’s weaning (Isaac was probably about 3YO)–(vv.9-10)But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, and she said to Abraham, “get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”  He may have been making fun of Isaac’s childish antics; or he may have said something like, “That little idiot will be my father’s heir.”  At any rate, Sarah correctly sees him as a threat to Isaac and insists Hagar and Ishmael be disinherited and run off.  (Remember, both Abraham and Sarah were well into their 100’s and would not have been around to see to it that Ishmael did not later take from Isaac his rightful inheritance.)

No doubt this was a difficult choice for Abraham as he loved Ishmael.  God tells him to do as Sarah suggests (vv.12-13)–Do not be so distressed about the boy of your maidservant.  Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.  I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.  How difficult for Abraham!  Ishmael was the only son he had had for years (ages 85-100)!  Imagine having to choose between your children.  (Remember the book and movie, Sophie’s Choice?  The mother, Sophie, had to choose between saving her baby daughter or her young son as they faced the gas chamber in WWII.  She chose her daughter but was never psychologically healthy after realizing she had consigned her son to certain death).  At least in this instance, God is promising to care for Ishmael.  He grows up to become, with Esau (Isaac’s son), the father of the Arab nations.  God does prevent him and his mother from dying of thirst in the desert.  Ishmael eventually becomes known as a great archer.  He experiences divine blessing and protection.  He lives in the wilderness and his mother finds him a wife from among the Egyptians.

 Dads, how would you feel if the Lord asked you to separate yourself from one of your children?  It had to have been really tough on Abraham!

In a number of ways, Isaac foreshadows Jesus:  (1) The births of both Jesus and Isaac were foretold in advance–Abraham/Sarah were told 25 years earlier by God; Jesus had been predicted 1,000 years earlier in a promise by God to King David–the promise of a Messianic king who would come from David’s lineage.  (2) Both births were miraculous: Isaac’s due to his parents’ ages (99, 90); and Jesus’s due to virgin birth/divine conception through the Holy Spirit.  (3) Both were named before they were bornàSarah laughed (Gen 17); Joseph, told by an angel in a dream …you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins (Matt 1:21).  (4) Both sons were obedient to their fathers, even unto death.  (5) Isaac’s birth to parents far beyond the years of childbearing pictures the resurrection of Jesusàlife coming forth from death.  And (6) both are a joy and delight to their fathers.

 

Paul’s arguments for justification in Romans 6 make a point similar to that which God makes with Isaac/IshmaelPaul explains that God declares us good (guilt for our sin is removed) even Jesus’ death doesn’t make us good.  Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our sins.  Nevertheless, we can still live wild, worldly, and sinful lives (which incidentally makes us look like hypocrites to nonbelievers and gives Jesus a black eye)!  We have to agree to surrender our wills to God.  We have to cooperate with the transformative power of the Holy Spirit to live godly lives.  Why?  Because God—not me–declares it to be so.  Surely Ishmael and his mother thought he, as first born, would be Abraham’s heir.  But God makes a decision contrary to the will or tradition of humankind.  And He often asks us to make decisions contrary to our logic, tradition, or intuition.

 Our Gospel lesson from Matthew (10) contains a number of difficult teachings of Jesus’.  Again, in a way that defies human logic or tradition, Jesus makes some bold and troubling statements:  Just as Abraham had to obey God and put aside his elder son, so too is Jesus telling us no one person can come before Him in importance in our lives.  We cannot love a son or daughter, or a spouse, or a mother or father, more than we do our Lord.  Remember in another Old Testament story, God asks

Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, long after having sent Ishmael away.  Now God himself provides the substitutionary sacrifice, so Isaac’s death proves unnecessary.  Nevertheless, the point is that no human relationship can be more important to us than our relationship with Jesus.  Additionally, we are all subservient to Jesus.  Since the very hairs of our heads are numbered, we are not to worry about being murdered for our faith.  If we do deny Christ, He will later deny us before the Father.  YIKES!  And, in His first coming, Jesus did not arrive to institute peace on the earth.  Actually, human beings are incapable of creating lasting peace on earth; true peace is only available when Jesus comes again, or when we find ourselves in heaven—whichever comes first.

We might want to argue with each of these principles—just as Abraham might have wanted to argue to keep Ishmael close….But we worship a God whose thoughts and plans are as high as the heavens are above the earth from ours.  Who of us can comprehend the mind of God?  So who are we to argue with Him?  Our job, even if we don’t understand why, is to try to trust in God’s goodness and in His divine purposes.

In The Lord’s Prayer, we pray, deliver us from evil—actually, the most accurate translation is save us from the time of trial.  God often seems to allow us to be tested with difficult choices.  Will we still love Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers as we wish?  Will we still trust Him when our lives are more difficult than we expected?  None of us expects to have to die a martyr’s death, or even to have to choose our faith over the love of our family members.  Let’s pray that the Lord gives us wisdom to make the difficult choices in a way that honors Him.  Let’s pray that He also gives us the courage and strength to do His will in this life.  Amen!  May it be so!

©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams