Sermon delivered January 17, 2009 by Lincoln Steed

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

The Great Controversy

Revelation 14:12

(RealAudio Version available)

This is one of my first appointments for the year, and I've known for quite a long time that I was coming here and I couldn't forget this because it's reinforcement.  I've been here before, but I have to admit, probably it's not a good admission, but there's some years that a few weeks into the campaign, or even especially a couple of months into it, I’m very hard pressed to say where I was on a certain week or indeed where I've been.  They just all blur together, and even this year, it's already possible.  This last week I've been to three worker’s meetings, pretty much back to back, with a lot of driving, and I enjoy it, but again, you know, what day was I where?  That's hard to tell.

But I can tell you one year it stuck in my mind where I was the very first week of the year as I began Liberty promotion, because it made such an impression on me.  I remember flying in from the east coast, but flying toward the west.  It was a long flight and as we came toward the destination it was still daylight.  The sun hadn’t set, ‘cause we were racing, we were gaining time as we went, but I remember coming over some bare hills and wondering, you know, "Who lives here?  Is this a place worth coming to?"  Then we came over those bare hills, and there stretched out on the plain before us, between the hills, was this glittering, palace-like city.  It actually, was getting closer to dusk and some of the lights were already on, and as our plane came down lower and lower,  of course, lower than the mountains, but at some point well before landing at the airport we were lower than the buildings, and I looked off to the right and here was a huge glass pyramid with a laser beam shooting straight up into the sky.   I looked down a little further and there was, it seemed like about a quarter or a half-size scale model of the Statue of Liberty.  I looked, and even at the distance, coming into the airport, I could read, syn city, S, Y, N.  But I think they were hoping people would think it was S, I, N.  Sin city.  Blinking, blinking, blinking, because we were landing in Las Vegas. 

And it was impressive, probably not in the way that they imagined, but I'll never forget that sight.  There was something surreal about it.  An artificial pleasure palace, as Samuel Taylor Coleridge said in his poem about Kublai Khan, you know.  He says, he built, in Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome decree.  And for many people across America, that’s sort of the epitome of the life that we have.  To be in Las Vegas.  To strike it rich.  To drink of all the hedonistic pleasures that are available to man.  That's it.  Well, maybe not for you and for me, but many people around us, that's sort of what it is to be free.  What it is to be an American.  What it is to enjoy everything that life has.

And I remember getting in the car and driving down Sunset strip on the way across town to where I was staying and again being impressed by the gaudiness, the in-your-face hedonism of the place.  You know, the dancing girls and neon lights with the legs twitching outward all the time.  And I put a C.D. into the car radio.  A C.D. that I brought with me to listen because I have good memories of Andrews University and many of the nights when I was there cramming for exams.  I always used to leave it very late, midnight or later.  I used to turn the radio on and listen to Bill Pierce and his Night Sounds program.  Anyone ever listen to that?  I know it's, yeah, a good sprinkling.  You can hear it all over the U. S., but it originally was out of the Chicago radio, of course he’s out of Wheaton, Illinois. 

And so I put on this C. D. which I bought because he was talking about America and religious liberty, and after the beautiful Debussy introduction and his calming voice, then there was another song.  And there was something amazing about the juxtaposition of the gaudiness, the frivolity that was surrounding me as I tunneled through that city, and here in the quiet of the car I heard a woman's voice singing a song.  And this is the words of it.  “I will cry mercy for this land, oh God.  I will cry justice for this land, oh Lord.  Let Your tears flow from my eyes.  Let Your beauty be seen in my life.  So I cry mercy for this nation.  Let us see healing for the people.”  Interesting song.  Interesting song.

Many times over the years, well before I was with Liberty magazine, when I was with Listen magazine particularly, I would meet with people, basically, from the religious right.  You know, the movement that we know as the Moral Majority, or the religious right, goes back about 30 years now.  They've been gathering steam.  And they're not all wrong.  On our religious liberty model they more and more are taking the wrong road to solve a problem that they’ve correctly identified, but there's many, many good people.  Honest hearted people in that movement.  And I remember many times, especially with Listen magazine often with church schools and other church organizations,  I’d be meeting with them to talk about alcohol and drug issues.  Many times before we started our meeting they would have a prayer session, and almost every time someone would pray that same prayer that was in that song.  “Lord heal our nation.” 

And I must admit I've never heard Adventists sing that or pray that.  Never.  It's probably because we know from prophecy and in particular from what Ellen White’s enumerated relating those prophecies to this country, we know what is predicted for the United States.  We know that the revelation is in two phases, and we should know that we’re in the second phase of this lamb-like beast that is now speaking very much like a dragon.  That is ready to compel to certain views, including religious viewpoints.  We know that this country, when it does take a final step toward using civil power to uphold religious statutes on a Sunday law, as Ellen White says over and over again, she says, “then national ruin will follow.”  We know that, in fact, a Sunday law will appear in the context of natural calamities.  Economic disasters.  Sort of things that we're seeing right now.

But how come we don't pray that God will heal this nation?  When I was at Pacific Press in charge of our book editing program there, which was interesting.  I enjoyed it.  It was an incredible treadmill.  We were pushing out over 70 titles every year.  Way less than that now, but we were churning them out.  And I remember one Sunday, a man, and I'll name him, because he's not a secret person, but Robert Wheland came and spent a lot of time at my home trying to convince me that we should publish a book on corporate repentance.  And I'm not opposed to that idea, but it troubles me, the idea that you can sort of demand that, which is implicit in that line of thinking.  That somehow, if at the General Conference, they decide that we're going to corporately repent, it will happen.  It doesn't work that way. 

You know, just because Clovis, King of the Franks, can convert to Christianity and all the people follow, that was never spiritually valid, and no more so today.  Just because someone at the General Conference makes some directive doesn't change your spirituality.  Doesn't change your spiritual condition.  So, you know, corporate repentance in that regard is not going to work.

But it's gotten me thinking a lot about how we will change, because as I look at events happening, it's undeniable.  You know, we were talking about it in the side room.  You would have to be some sort of civil ostrich, and they don't exist in our society.  I know the flat-screen T.V.s are rushing out of the showrooms, even in this economic collapse.  People are watching.  People are mostly watching, some are reading.  They're getting the news that we’re in the throes of a variety of disasters.  And even this extreme cold, while it might seem counterintuitive is a byproduct of global warming.  We’re into wild weather swings.  Something is up.  Something is up. 

And yet, as I look around at these events, what's yet to happen before the Sunday law?  Nothing, that I can think of, except a revival in our church, or to put it more accurately, a revival among those who are looking and yearning for Christ’s coming.  A remnant.  I believe when that room revival comes, [snap] it will be over.  The Sunday law and other persecutions and more signal signs of Christ's return will follow instantly.  But if we’re waiting for sort of a clear sign that the Sunday law's about to come before we get active, I think we're going to be shocked.  There is no, presently, no legislation going through Congress for a Sunday law.  Nothing.  So in that regard, you can go to sleep, and Ellen White says, you know, people are watching it, and they think that they'll come alive when the time comes.

But think about what's happened to us.  A week before the patriot act, I could say the same thing.  There was no sign of such legislation.  A week before the economic collapse in September, there was no sign of an 8 hundred billion or so bail out. [snap] No sign.  And it was passed like that.  And I think similarly, a Sunday law is likely to appear, apparently out of nowhere.  And yet, the signs are all around us.  You know, I don't swim in that pond usually, because there's all sorts of rumors and fantastic extrapolations present in Adventism about Sunday laws, about the Illuminati and all those things, and some of these are delusions, at worst, and misunderstandings at best.  But it's coming, and the way that I would express it is as the government has with terrorist activity.  They clearly don't have a good handle on what the terrorists want to do.  They have not yet, as Donald Rumsfeld used to wonder aloud and say, that they would infiltrate the terrorists.  They haven't done that yet.  We don't know.  The way they base it on, upcoming terrorist actions, I hear it over and over again, is the chatter is increased.  There is a lot of talk.  They're intercepting all sorts of little signals that tell them that something is imminent. 

And that is the case with Sunday laws.  As in the time of A.T. Jones, and the groundswell movement by the national Reform movement and others toward an overt Sunday law, the land was abuzz with talk of such religious determinations.  And for decades now, the religious right have been fixated on defining this as a Christian nation.  And I was looking at some of that stuff the night before last on the Internet.  It's amazing.  They've even gone so far as, James Madison, one of the bulwarks or the, you know, the great men of religious liberty in U.S. history, a founding father, an early president of the United States, and through his detached memoranda an exponent of absolute separation.  And he speaks to what’s being argued right now.  He was not keen on chaplains to the Senate or the Congress.  He was not keen on public prayers being endorsed by the state.  But as I went on this site run by Wallbuilders, which is a front for David Barton and others who are pushing this Christian America construct, they basically say, and it's amazing, because it's not historically supportable, that these detached memoranda that appeared years after Madison's death are really, probably, spurious documents. 

That's how far they're willing to go to sweep away history.  To redefine this as a Christian nation where the government's purpose should be to uphold a version of Christianity that defines what they're doing.  And we are naïve if we think that with that sort of a model in place they would not want, as they once had, with blue laws, a more comprehensive requirement that people respect and obey the Sabbath, slash, Sunday.  It's coming.  It's coming.

In the few minutes left I just want to remind you of the book of Ezra.  You know, a sad story, as we look at Israel.  They didn't see the times often.  They were lackadaisical, and as Ellen White says of our day, cause and effect is how things often work, and because of their disregard for their role as God's people, very often they exposed themselves to harm, and the ultimate took place.  They were taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar.  And yes, Cyrus made a decree to rebuild the temple.  That was challenged.  Darius reaffirmed it, and then King Artaxerxes sent a priest, Ezra, and whoever wished, to return to Jerusalem.  And when Ezra got back to Jerusalem, he found those that had made the way back there disheartened.  Unaware of the situation, and I just want to briefly refer to what he found there.  In Chapter 9 of Ezra, this is Ezra himself speaking, he says, "The people of Israel and the priests and the Levites have not separated themselves from the people of the land,  doing according to their abominations." 

I don't know about you.  Las Vegas doesn't hold many attractions to me, but I know that for many Seventh-day Adventists, such frivolities do.  Many of us are scarcely separated from the world.  Many of us are very enamored with the world around us, and as Ellen White says, many of us are inclined to think far too favorably of the present time.  And Ezra says, "And when I heard this thing, I rent my garment and my mantle and plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard and I sat down astonished."  And how astonished must heaven be as we live in the final playout of earth’s history and particularly the devolution of the freedom that has defined this country for so long  Surely we should cry out, one way or another.  Either cry out to say that Babylon is fallen, which I think we should do, and A.T. Jones was absolutely convinced of that in his time.  I've been reading more and more of A.T. Jones's writings, and it's no accident that A. T. Jones got fired up and was giving those messages of revival in 1888.  It wasn't just that he had a theological bent.  It was the logical conclusion to what he saw in fulfilled prophecy, clear moves toward restricting liberty of conscience and therefore the equation for him was, this is happening, therefore this is the time for us to seek God and to speak out with power and seek His spirit.  You know, it troubles me again, these books that I used to get, looking for the philosopher's stone, or the kernel of truth in 1888.  Revival is no mystery.  It's just something that escapes most people, because they're not convicted of its need.  And A.T. Jones saw the need.  Ezra saw the need in a time of great declension. 

Here people are just oblivious or worse, you know, it's the symbolism of the Bible.  They've married into the peoples of the place.  And in verse 6, he says, "And oh my God, I'm ashamed, and I blush to lift up my face to Thee, my God, for our iniquities have increased over our head and our trespass has grown up into the heavens."  And Ezra called for a revival.

In Second Chronicles, chapter 6, there's another great scene.  Of course, this predates Ezra, but this is a scene at the dedication of the Temple, of Solomon's temple, and Solomon of course, sorry personal life, but at this point he was dedicated to God.  He was full of God.  He understood the distinction between good and evil and he prayed a prayer of dedication, that I think links beautifully with this song, “I will cry mercy for this land, oh Lord.”  In verse 24, he says, "And if Thy people Israel."  And we are spiritual Israel.  You know, that's another error of the religious right.  They’ve become fixated on an Old Testament literalism, thinking that it's all to happen in the Middle East, and they've ignored the obvious reality, which you never hear in the news, that Orthodox Judaism is a minority in Israel.  This is a secular, socialist state.  And I think the fortunes of the blood descendents of Israel, perhaps, have some significance in the battle between good and evil, and I think Satan is still victimizing them, but they are not fulfilling God's purposes there.  And he says in verse 24, "And if Thy people Israel be put to the worst before the enemy because they have sinned against Thee, and shall return and confess Thy Name and pray and make supplication before Thee in this house," very wonderful progression of revival.  He says, “Then hear Thou from heaven and forgive the sin of Thy people Israel, and bring them again to the land which Thou gavest to them and to their fathers.  When the heaven is shut up and there is no rain."  And of course the symbol in the Old Testament and the New, rain is God's Spirit, and it was not coincidental that in Ezra, when he called for revival, the rain literally fell.  And there's a wonderful scene there where it says, you know, “We're going to respond but let's come inside because the rain is so heavy.”  And the king says here, "When the heaven is shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against Thee, yet, if they pray toward this place and confess Thy name and turn from their sin when Thou dost afflict them, then hear Thou from heaven and forgive the sin of Thy servants and of Thy people Israel.  When Thou has taught them the good way wherein they should walk, and send rain upon Thy land, which Thou hast given unto Thy people for an inheritance."  And at the end of that prayer, what does it say happened?  In verse 1 of Chapter 7, immediately after the prayer it says, "Now when Solomon had made an end of praying, the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the house."

We want the fire of God in our hearts.  It troubles me as I travel around the world, and if I had the time and I have to leave, plus we don't have a scheduled meeting, but I could tell you incredible stories from places like Indonesia and Laos, and so on, the situation with Adventists.  There’s good things, but there are far many cases and that just trouble me.  Of invisible members, not challenging the status quo.  Not speaking out.  We don't have the fire of God.  We don't have.  What we have to have at some point, the confidence and the compulsion to stand before, whether its rulers or our neighbors or whatever, and say, I believe this.  I believe the Lord is coming.  This is what we should do.  We definitely need to have, as a beginning, what our religious right brothers, with their misunderstandings, but their spiritual yearnings, are praying, “God heal this nation,” because what that tells me, not that they're correct in all their understanding, but they have a concern for their nation and their fellows. 

And I believe that if we’re just thinking toward the end, if we’re just protecting ourselves in the workplace, which we should do, that means that we’re concerned about ourselves and not 'til we’re concerned about our nation, not 'til we’re concerned about our communities will something happen.

If you give money to Liberty magazine, I take it that you have a modicum of concern for reaching out, because I believe that this is evangelistic outreach in its purest form.  Purest form.

Ellen White in Testimonies, I think it's volume 5, page 81 says "The time is not far distant when the test will come to every soul.  The mark of the beast will be urged upon us.  Those who have step-by-step yielded to worldly demands and conform to worldly customs will not find it a hard matter to yield to the powers that be, rather than subject themselves to derision, insult, threatened imprisonment and death."  And again, the progression.  It doesn't happen in a moment, and as I travel around the world, as I study the cases of religious persecution, there's nearly always a dynamic where you could say that person brought it upon themselves, because unless someone is inflexible and committed to their viewpoint there will be no persecution.  There will be no conflict between right and wrong.  It basically starts with us.  Not all of these externals which are, as Jesus said to the Pharisees, pretty sure signs of the times.  Just as you look at the leaves falling and the change of the seasons.  Anybody now, with a modicum of Biblical knowledge, should see that prophecy is fulfilling. 

But the real dynamic of where that becomes valid for us is how we respond.  What we do.  What spiritual state of mind we have.  Whether we’re concerned about this country.  And, you know, I think we’ve passed the tipping point.  It does seem that the United States is socially drifting and structurally forgetful of why the separation of church and state is important, but that said, it's not impossible with God's thinking, that if we have a concern for this country, for our society, a concern that as Abraham with God concerning Lot, you know, “Would you save it for a few more people?  Would you save it for 50 or a hundred, or whatever?”  If we have that concern, surely we can still pray as some of these people do, “Heal this land.”  It's not impossible that there will be a turning back to God and the evil day will be deferred.  It will be deferred, because God wants us to evangelize and explain further to those who haven't yet heard it.  For that reason, He will delay it.  A good reason. 

I'm convinced from reading Ellen White that there’s a dynamic in place.  She said many, many times that Christ would have come before this.  If we had done things differently.  If we had proclaimed more loudly.  Well, finishing it in righteousness, that's a promise.  But who is going to finish it in righteousness?  If not us, some stones, perhaps, but I believe God wants us, this movement, us, this church, to do something.  And you know, I'm not foolish enough to tell you that by putting your means toward Liberty magazine you'll do that.  You can’t do it totally by proxy, but that's a good first step. 

And I pray that each of us, when we look at this situation, as we think about religious liberty, as we think about revival, as we think about our nation, will pray that prayer.  “Mercy for this land, oh Lord.  Justice for this land.  But Your justice, because if it’s justice of natural consequences, fearsome things are coming.  And give us the spiritual enthusiasm to pray it, to mean it, to live it, and to live wide-open in our awareness of where we are.  Not drifting, but hastening that day, which is soon to come. 

Let's conclude by singing hymn number 3 hundred 4.  Faith Of Our Fathers.

Dear Lord, we thank You for the privilege that we have, knowing what You've held out before us, which is an open door for salvation, and knowing the times, that these are indeed the end times, that we can play a role in facilitating Your soon return and preparing others to be ready for that moment.  And I pray that each of us will re-examine our lives, not be frightened by the realities around us that are startling at times, but above all, reminders that Your coming draws near.  And help us to put our means, to put our energies, and dedicate our very lives toward proclaiming that grand event, and bringing others with us.  And I thank You for this privilege.  I thank you for this church, and be with us now as we go into the after service.  For Jesus sake, amen.

Hymn of Praise: #30, Holy God, We Praise Your Name
Scripture: Revelation 14:12
Hymn of Response: #304, Faith of Our Fathers

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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 1/19/09