Blog Space of Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D, pastor at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, Ellicott City, MD

Monday, April 25, 2016

Wise In Our Own Eyes

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are following “The Story”, a chronological version of the biblical books. Last week, we saw David running into trouble! A sermon “The Trials of a King” can be found here.

This week we move on to consider the life of David's son, King Solomon, who starts extremely well, but loses his way later in life. At the start of his reign Solomon is given an unimaginable privilege. He is allowed to ask God for anything that he needed to fulfill his duties.

If you could ask God for anything... absolutely anything.... what would it be? Maybe for some it would be wealth. Maybe for some of us, further down life's road, it would be health. Maybe we would smile, and answer like a beauty queen,“World Peace!”

Solomon asks for “Wisdom.” We see him using his wisdom to pass difficult judgments, to build a magnificent temple to house the Ark of the Covenant and to amass great wealth. Solomon becomes a great 'fan' of wisdom. He collects together a volume of the wisest advice that could be found in the world of his day. The book is given the title “Proverbs” and remains a much referenced resource among the 66 books of the Bible.

Unfortunately his wisdom also appeared to create some 'blind spots'. He becomes extremely self focused. He builds a palace that outshines the temple in glory. He amasses a huge collection of wives and concubines. Silver becomes so common during his reign that it is devalued.

He maintains his opulence through excessive taxation and slave labor. While he becomes rich, the people he is supposed to be caring for, suffer great oppression. He forgets, not only about the people, but also about the one true God who gave him his wisdom. He begins to worship the gods of his many wives and neighboring lands that he wanted to stay in favor with.

His wisdom becomes a form of pride that renders him unable to see the consequences that come from his excess. Dignitaries, such as the Queen of Sheba, marvel at his opulence, but the people are incited to rebellion. No sooner has Solomon died than the nation erupts in a civil war from which they would never recover and which would eventually lead to the tribes of Israel being led into exile.

Wisdom was a wonderful thing to ask for. Yet, despite all his wisdom, Solomon forgets the source of all his blessings. Affluence can do that. If you have everything you need, why do you need faith? If you are a self-made person, why bow down and worship a God beyond your self? If you have the wisdom to figure out every aspect of your life, what is the point in praying to God for guidance?

Jesus said that it was hard for the wealthy to understand what His Kingdom was all about. We read in Luke 18:25 “Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." I wonder if He had Solomon in mind? Wealth can blind us to the source of our blessings. Misplaced pride seems to go hand in hand with being wise in our own eyes.

In 1 Corinthians Paul talks about “The Mind of Christ” as a source for our decision making. He suggests the guidance of the Holy Spirit transcends human wisdom. Wisdom is wonderful. Yet faithfulness appears to bring more lasting rewards. 

For musical reflection a hymn by Keith and Kristyn Getty - “Perfect Wisdom of Our God

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Third Week of March 1987

When Pope John Paul died, a man named Rogers Cadenhead registered a web address; Cardinal Ratzinger was elected the new Pope. He choose the name “Benedict XVI.” Some questioned what the Vatican would do to get the rights for the domain name.

Cadenhead didn’t ask the Vatican for money. Instead, on his blog, he suggested a few things he would trade it for:
  1. Three days, two nights, at the Vatican hotel.
  2. One of those funny hats (referring to the hats the bishops wore).
  3. Complete absolution, no questions asked, for “The Third Week of March 1987.”
He never explained what it was he did the third week of March in 1987. All we know is that it was something he felt he really needed to be forgiven for! Maybe in our own lives we have a personal “Third week of March” that we wish had never happened.

In 2 Samuel, chapter 11 we are told of David's “Third week of March.” While the army is at war, David, who is the commander of the nation’s military, neglects his duties and stays home. Across the rooftops he sees a lady called Bathsheba taking a bath. He decides, “I'm the King, I can do what I like.” He takes her. As a result Bathsheba becomes pregnant. David tries to cover up what he has done. He arranges for her innocent husband, Uriah, to be killed in the line of fire on the battlefield. Then he marries Bathsheba and she bears a child.

It looks as if David will get away with it. He doesn’t. God sends a prophet, called Nathan, to confront him by telling him a story about a poor man with one lamb. David knows about sheep and shepherds, so he listens. Nathan says that the poor man has a rich neighbor who needs to slaughter a lamb to feed a guest, but instead of taking one of his many sheep he steals the poor man’s one lamb.

David is incensed and says that such a man should be put to death. Nathan dramatically declares, “You are that man!” At that moment David must have wished he had bought a domain name that he could swap for absolution. He could have carried on making excuses and trying to cover up his wrong actions. Instead, David confesses. “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13)

Remarkably, God does with David’s sin, what God is prepared to do with ours. He offers forgiveness and renewal. Later, in Psalm 103:12-13, David writes about this amazing gift of grace: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him.

It's scandalous. It is undeserved and unwarranted. Whatever our “Third week of March 1987” might be, when we truly confess our sin to God, God offers forgiveness through the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can't explain it. All we can do is claim it. Paul writes in Romans 5:8 “God demonstrates God's love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we continue to explore “The Story” a chronological version of the Bible by Max Lucardo and Randy Frazee. Last weeks sermon about David “Shepherd to King” can be found here. This week we move on to consider the latter part of his life. “The Trials of a King”

Rev. Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

(Adapted from materials prepared by Randy Frazee related to “The Story”)

Monday, April 11, 2016

Facing Your Giants When You Feel Small

Facing Your Giants When You Feel Small

Imagine the scene; a scrawny sixteen year old shepherd boy takes out a 9’9” tall giant with one rock and a sling. Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we are continuing our journey through a chronological version of the Bible called “The Story”. Last week we talked about Saul, the King who stood tall, but fell hard. Sundays sermon can be found here.

This week we reach the eleventh chapter, which includes the account of David battling Goliath found in 1 Samuel 17. We may not have a gigantic giant taunting us to come out and fight. But we are probably facing a few giants of our own.

Maybe it's a financial giant, a loan or a debt that we are struggling to pay. Maybe it is a giant hurdle in our relationship with somebody. Maybe we are battling an illness that refuses to yield. Maybe we battle with self-image or with a particular temptation that never seems to leave us. We all have our giants. So we would do well to learn from David.

He could face his “Giant” because he had spent time in the quiet with God. When he arrived at the place of the standoff between the Israelites and the Philistines, he talked about God. He told Saul that “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine” (1Sam.17:37). He did not hesitate to confront Goliath, saying he came “In the name of the Lord of host, the God of the armies of Israel.

David was God-focused instead of giant-focused. He mentions Goliath two times and God nine times. He knew the giant was there and recognized his presence. But his thoughts were twice as much on God. That focus led him to confront his giant rather than run away. For forty days Goliath continued to challenge Israel’s army. And for forty days everyone hoped he would just go away. But giants don’t typically go away until we face them. So David stepped into the gap and slung one well-aimed stone at him.

It helps to have someone in your corner that believes in you. David had Jonathan. We need people that believe in us and that also believe in God. People who can encourage our faith, give us an extra boost of courage when we most need it. Because after we slay one giant, there will be more.

We may wonder why David picked up five stones from the river bed. Was he afraid he might miss? Probably not. He was skilled in his use of the sling. 2 Samuel 21:18-22 hints that Goliath may have had four brothers. David was ready. He could take on one giant. And he was ready for more.

Jesus described Himself as being the “Good Shepherd.” Like David, Jesus was from Bethlehem. Let us ask God to help us face our personal giants, however they may confront us. We can be confident that if we make Christ our focus then the Holy Spirit's presence will bring a renewed perspective to bear on whatever problem we face.

When dealing with those who opposed him, the prophet Isaiah declared; “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my defense; He has become my salvation.” (Isaiah 12:2). Such is a wonderful prayer to make our own when giants come our way!

For some music a song by Brian Johnson “We Will Not Be Shaken.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt. B.D.

Monday, April 4, 2016

An Undistorted View of God

Ever since Peter Stuyvesant visited the Palace of Versailles the world has had a distorted view of itself. Peter was the governor of New Amsterdam, later to be renamed New York City, beginning in 1647. He was visiting France to discuss colonial land agreements.

While at Versailles he was awed by the Hall of Mirrors. Peter was determined to bring a similarly amazing showcase to his city. In 1651 he founded the Peter Stuyvesant's House of Mirrors. He charged one Dutch guilder for admission.

This house of mirrors eventually morphed into what we know as a Fun House of Mirrors seen at many carnivals. For a few tickets the fun begins by walking into a maze of mirrors, both convex and concave. We amuse ourselves by looking at distorted images of our figure.

Today you don’t even have to go to the carnival for this experience. A laptop with a webcam and a silly photo feature will allow you to take a picture of yourself that you can manipulate to look odd.
It’s all fun. But sometimes a distorted picture can cause trouble. It did in Israel during the time of the prophet Samuel. One of the major distortions was found at the Tabernacle in Shiloh, the place of praise for God’s people.

A system of sacrifices had been established that foreshadowed the coming sacrifice of the Messiah. Yet anything but holiness was found there. Eli the priest had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who dishonored God in their treatment of the sacrifices and engaged in immoral activity. (1 Samuel 2:16, 22).

Because the picture of God they were giving was distorted, these two were killed in battle against the Philistines. When news of their death reached Eli, he fell over in his chair, broke his neck, and also died.

Randy Frazee (one of the editors of “The Story”) tells of a time when his son Kris was three years old. They were reading a bedtime Bible story and Kris asked, “Daddy, what does God look like?” Having no idea how to answer, he resorted to a time tested teaching technique. He threw the question back at him. “You tell me.” Young Kris thought for a moment and then said, “He looks like you Daddy.”

That is both cute and scary! Just like Eli and his sons... we are representatives of God. Christians are called to represent Jesus to others. You may have heard it said that you may be the only Bible those around you will ever “read.” The question is; “Are we giving a clear or distorted picture of the One True God?”

Here at Mount Hebron Presbyterian we are studying a chronological version of Scripture called "The Story". Last week we learned about Ruth and Naomi. (Sermon "The Faith of a Foreign Woman" can be found here.

This week we consider Chapter 10  which features, alongside Eli and his family, the actions of Samuel the priest and those of Israel's first King, Saul, who stands tall, but will fall hard!

For some music, a classic from Keith Green; “Create in Me a Clean Heart.

Rev Adrian J. Pratt B.D.