Dire Warnings

Pastor Sherry’s message for July 10, 2022

Scriptures: Amos 7:7-17; Psalm 82; Colossians 1:1-14; Luke 10:25-37

Have you ever noticed that sometimes authorities/experts misdirect us? Some examples of this include the following:

1. In my training as a psychologist in the late 1980’s, we were told not to talk to people about their spiritual beliefs. Supposedly, it was none of our business and not germane to emotional or cognitive struggles. But then I came to realize—thru experience—that at the root of most emotional problems is a misperception (or two or three) about God. True healing requires that we talk these through.

2. Consider the Covid advice and the mandates. We were told to close the churches so as not to spread the virus. But the history of the Christian Church in the first and second centuries demonstrates that the Church grew because Christians helped tend the sick through two vicious plagues. Scripture tells us (Hebrews 10:25) Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing. And Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. That’s why we reopened so much sooner than most others around us.

3. You have probably heard the adage, “Nothing good happens after midnight.” This is good advice when raising teenagers. However, my son and I have each written 2 books mostly during the hours from 10pm-2:00 am. As “night owls,” we are most creative then. Additionally, no one else is awake to interrupt or to distract us.

4. I have also heard church authorities tell preachers not to touch on political issues in their sermons. It is often true that if you criticize one party, you run the risk of alienating those who favor it. But you may have noticed that I do criticize what appears to me to be corruption, collusion, and outright fraud and deception—in whichever party—because these behaviors are opposed to, are antithetical to the Christian life. There comes a time when, as a pastor, I have to point out for us how our culture is veering off into directions that are contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. I don’t want for you to be conned or misled. And I have to please the Lord, even if it “ruffles the feathers” of some.

Consider the current push toward Socialism—and ultimately Communism—by the “Progressives” in our culture today. This week I read a book called The Naked Communist: Exposing Communism and Restoring Freedom. It was written in 1958 by an FBI agent tasked with investigating communist efforts in the U.S., and updated/reprinted 7 more times (most recently in 2017) by W. Cleon Skousen (and his son, Paul). Dr. Ben Carson says it lays out the whole “Progressive” plan for America. I believe Skousen (and Carson) are right.

Skousen reveals 45 goals of Communism designed to take over the US, and asserts that 44 of them have already been at least partially achieved. Consider the following for example:

#15 Capture one or both of the political parties in US;

#17 Get control of the schools, especially through rewriting history;

#20 Infiltrate the press;

#25 & #26 Breakdown cultural standards of sexual morality; promote pornography, alternate forms of sexual expression, and promiscuity as normal, natural, and healthy.

#27 Infiltrate the churches and replace revealed religion with “social religion;” discredit the Bible.

#28 Eliminate prayer or any type of religious expression in the schools, as a violation of the separation of church and state. I remember when I first arrived in Florida in the mid-1970’s and was teaching in public high school, we began each day with prayer and a Bible verse.

#29 Discredit the American Founding Fathers.

#40 Discredit the American family as an institution. Encourage promiscuity and easy divorce. Florida has “No Fault” divorce, which means a divorce can be granted if only one person wants the marriage to end. Traditional grounds like adultery or cruelty are no longer required.

#42 Create the impression that violence and insurrection are legitimate aspects of the American tradition.

If we examine current trends in the US, we can recognize, with Skousen, how many of these goals have already been achieved in our country.

This brings me to our Old Testament lesson for today: Amos 7:7-17. Amos was a farmer and herdsman, from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, who God ordained as a prophet and sent to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. (His name, Amos, means burden-bearer.) He was a commoner, not of the priestly or political classes. He was an outsider. He prophesized during the reigns of King Ussiah—a good king–in Judah (790-740BC) and of Jeroboam II—a bad king– in Israel (793-753). This was a time of prosperity and security in both kingdoms. Biblical scholars tell us that luxury abounded; that making money had become more important than worshipping God; and that empty “ritual religion” and other forms of spirituality were popular, but belief in and obedience to God was waning. The rich exploited the poor. The judicial system was corrupt, offering one standard for the rich and the influential, and another for the poor. Injustice was rampant, as the peoples’ moral fiber had eroded. Sound familiar?

So God sent Amos to declare His judgment on Israel. He issued a call to repentance. He urged Israelites to seek God sincerely. His job was to warn the Northern Kingdom that God was losing patience with them. The Lord told him to prophesy that that God’s judgment was looming. He was to issue the dire warning that their end was coming. God always gives us plenty of warning before He enacts His judgment. Amos addressed Israel from 760-750BC. The Northern Kingdom was defeated and either killed or carried off by Assyria in 722BC.

In this morning’s reading, we have one of Amos’ warnings. God tells him His judgment is like holding a plumb line to a building or to a strip of wallpaper. If a line is plumb, it hangs vertically and is “straight.” I have hung wall-paper a number of times in my life, and I always snapped a blue chalk-line to ensure the first strip went up plumb. God uses this same image in the prophesies of Isaiah (28:16-19), Jeremiah (31:38-39), and Zechariah (2:1-5) to indicate that He is getting ready to render a judgment. The plumb line is God’s ethical standard, which the people have failed to meet.

Then the passage moves to communications between Amos and Amaziah, the pagan priest of Bethel (King Jeroboam’s Chapel): Amaziah reports Amos to the king, but distorts the prophet’s message (an early example of fake news). He accuses Amos of conspiracy against the King. He misquotes Amos, exaggerating and personalizing the prophet’s predictions. The prophet never says Jeroboam will be killed in battle; instead, Amos predicts Jeroboam’s “house” or dynasty will fall by the sword.

Amaziah brings the King’s message to Amos–>Go back where you belong. Amaziah was no doubt refined, well-educated, perhaps even charismatic and given to flowery speech—we recognize the type, slick and persuasive. He probably considered Amos a country “rube,” a “deplorable,” someone beneath his contempt. He implies Amos is a prophet for hire, being paid to bring bad news—or, worse yet, a fanatic. But Amos answers him, calmly, with modesty and moderation: No, I am not seminary trained nor the son of a prophet. I’m here because the God you no longer worship told me to come. Amos then pronounces God’s judgment against the real false authority, the pagan priest:

1.) Amaziah will die in captivity;

2.) His wife will be reduced to prostitution to survive;

3.) His sons and daughters will be killed (by the blood-thirsty and vicious Assyrians);

4.) His land will be divided (remember, a Levite never had land);

5.) And Israel will be exiled.

Notice that Amaziah had position, wealth, authority, and reputation—but was still dead wrong. Amos lacked these human credentials, but had the true word and the blessing of God Almighty!

If we compare this portion of Scripture with the Communist goals for America cited by Skousen, you can see that, first of all, we (America) are out of plumb with God. Tragically, our culture has wandered far from God’s will. In 2017, polls reported that 32% of US adults under 30 have no religious affiliation. In a recent interview of random strangers on the street in New York, I heard a guy say he did not know who the interviewer meant when he asked him about God. He’d not heard of God. Church attendance is down in most all denominations. Many of those who left with the quarantines/shutdowns have not returned.

Secondly, this means, I believe, that our country is headed toward God’s judgment. Please understand that the Progressive agenda is at best socialist and at worst communist. Both are anti-God and anti-Christianity. This is why we earnestly pray each Sunday for a revival of American faith in Jesus. This is why we pray that the crooks, the dishonest, and the ungodly in both parties in our country would be voted out of office and replaced with Godly persons who love Jesus and love the USA.

This is why we pray for a decline in violence and a rebirth of national respect for life and the rights of others.

Finally, we have to wonder what we can do. Our God issues dire warnings before He brings on His judgment. We need to consider ourselves warned. So, we can…

1. Refuse to be bullied by the progressive culture.

2. Decide, will you obey humans or obey God?

3. Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana humorously says, “Eat your veggies and vote them out of office!”

4. Consider 2 Chronicles 7:14 …if My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. Ask God to forgive the sins of our country.

The Lord views us both individually and as a national group, so we can take it on ourselves to ask forgiveness for our national sins. Look around, think about it, and you will know what they are. We can also pray diligently and seek His face.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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Mistaken Perceptions

Pastor Sherry’s message for 2/27/2022 Scriptures: Ex 34:29-35; Ps 99; 2 Cor 3:12-4:2; Lk 9:28-43

Have you ever noticed that a lot of fictional stories, novels, and movies are based on the premise of mistaken perceptions? I just finished reading a delightful, humorous novel about a young woman who is a modern day match-maker (a yenta). Despite all of the computer match-making sites, it seems some still prefer to have a human vet dating candidates. The novel’s protagonist contracts to help a workaholic, hot-shot, highly successful sports agent locate a bride. The guy is 35 years old, ready to get married but too busy being successful to look for a potential spouse on his own. He has risen from the wrong side of the tracks and thinks he wants his concept of a Proverbs 31 woman: someone graceful in social settings; a woman who is successful in her own right; someone attractive, well-dressed, well-read; and a person who, unlike him, is from an affluent and pedigreed background. Really, he’s seeking his idea of perfection.

To the match-maker’s distress, he runs through match after match that she provides him, finding fault with them all. Meanwhile, he fights against his increasing attraction to the match-maker. He enjoys her spunk and her intellect, but she doesn’t appear to meet the “attractive, well-dressed, affluent and pedigreed” characteristics on his list. He finally decides she’s the one for him after he sees her all dressed up and meets her over-achieving, influential, old-moneyed family. Thinking he wants to be with her only due to what he’s just discovered about her social pedigree and connections—which she has kept hidden—she turns down his marriage proposal. She thinks he likes her for the wrong reasons. Each has misperceived the other, like in the Jane Austen classic, Pride and Prejudice.

Just as with that novel, the remainder of the story focuses on them each overcoming their mistaken perceptions and discovering “they were made for each other.”

Like the people in these kinds of stories, many of us trust our perceptions and act as if they are true, even when we discover they are not. Modern psychological research tells us that we are very reluctant to change our perceptions. We tend to go to great lengths to hold onto our mistaken perceptions, justifying them to ourselves—even if someone has been able to demonstrate how wrong we are.

Three of our Scriptures today touch on this issue of mistaken perceptions. Let’s examine them together.

1. In Exodus 34:29-35, we encounter an interesting phenomenon: Moses’ face shines following his having been in the presence of God the Father. Let’s consider first the backstory to this event: 3 months after crossing the Red Sea, Israel is encamped at the base of Mt. Sinai. They have violated their brand new covenant with God by worshipping a golden calf. They had already broken the 1st and 2nd commandments, the punishment for which was to have been death! In anger and grief—and to protect them from the death sentence–Moses breaks the original tablets containing the 10 Commandments. God then commands that Levites faithful to Him go throughout the camp, killing those who had been caught up in idolatry, or what God considers “spiritual adultery.” The guilty parties die, but how does the rest of the community get back into God’s good graces?

So Moses goes back up to meet with God, a 2nd time, to beg the Lord to forgive His people; to try to repair the broken covenant; and to request a new set of stone tablets. God, in response, identifies Himself as patient, loving, faithful, forgiving, and just. He also says He forgives or punishes sinners, as is appropriate, and He always knows who they are. The Lord thus demonstrates that His covenant promises depend more upon His unchanging nature than on Israel’s (or our) indifferent responses. He has compassion on those who repent. And He writes, a 2nd time, His Law on stone tablets.

As a result of this extraordinary encounter, Moses’ face shines!

He has experienced, he has personally witnessed, God’s glory and it is reflected on his countenance. At first, he appeared not to have been aware. But in verse 30, we are told🡪When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.

The glow from or the light on his face frightened them. He had to call them to himself to convince them it was still Moses that they saw, and that he was all right.

Interestingly, he then veiled himself as the glow wore off. He spoke to God and to the people bare-faced; but he “masked up” afterward, to prevent anyone from seeing the glow diminish. He was trying to manage their perceptions of him. He probably wanted their respect. He may have wanted them to remember he spoke frequently with the Lord.

2. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 that Moses veiled himself not because the people were afraid of him—at least not after the 1st time; but because Moses was embarrassed that the effect of having stood in God’s presence dimmed—returned to normal—after a time. Paul also wants us to understand that this veiling-of-the-face-business is a metaphor. The veil represents the Old Covenant, the Law. Paul would assert that the Jews still see Jesus correctly as a good teacher; but, incorrectly, they do not accept that Jesus is God. Because they do not perceive Jesus clearly, they miss that He totally fulfills the Law. Their “minds made dull” by their rejection of Christ (i.e., their mistaken perception) keeps them from participating in the New Covenant.

When we turn our hearts to Christ, the veil is removed. Rather than having to do, do, do the Law daily to avoid punishment for our sins, the Gospel tells us It is done! Jesus Christ has taken our punishment upon Himself. Our sins are paid for. We’ve been set free!

3. In our Gospel lesson, Luke 9:28-43, we see that Jesus too, in His glorified form, shines brightly! The Greek word for transfiguration is metamorphoom or we would say, metamorphosis. Paul tells us that we too will undergo this kind of transformation when we enter heaven. We too will shine in the reflection of the Lord’s presence.

Peter, James, and John are with Jesus and experience His transfiguration on the mountain. They see for themselves that His whole body radiates light—not a light pulsing upon Him but a bright light coming out from within Him. They think they have correctly perceived Him—like the guy in the novel who does not know his matchmaker comes from a background of privilege. They have only seen Jesus as the itinerant rabbi from a humble, rural background. They have seen Him do miracles, but they have not, heretofore, been exposed to Him in all His heavenly glory. He undergoes a metamorphosis before them into the God He really is. Unlike Moses, Jesus shines from within and the light emanating from Him is blazing!

Seeing Him this way should have convinced them that He truly is the Son of God. They saw Him with Elijah and Moses (and realized who they were)! They heard God the Father say (v.35) This is My Son, whom I have chosen. Listen to Him. A week earlier they had heard Jesus say (9:27) I tell you the truth, some who are standing here [including Peter, James and John] will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God. Jesus was foretelling this event, His transfiguration.

Both it and His resurrection confirm that He is God.

Their perceptions of Jesus were mistaken, too narrow, too limited. They had placed Him in a small cognitive box they had constructed around their mistaken perceptions of who Messiah would be and how he would act. The Transfiguration of Jesus should have helped them to enlarge that box and deepen their understanding of Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. The two figures with Him were both divinely favored heroes of Israel: Moses, like Jesus, had led God’s people out of bondage foreshadowed Jesus as savior and redeemer. Elijah was a great prophet who, like Jesus, held power over nature, and performed wonderful miracles. Nevertheless, the Father indicates Jesus is superior to them both.

You know by now I love to ask, “So what’s this mean to us?” I mean no disrespect as I ask us to consider what these Scriptures mean to us today, in our modern context.

First, I think it means we need to examine ourselves for our own mistaken perceptions about Jesus—and expand them where we are in error. I was leading an adult Bible study some years ago, and one of the members—in response to one of the “hard sayings” of Jesus—said his mother would not have been able to conceive of a Jesus like that. Her belief was that Jesus was only “meek and mild.” But we don’t want a veil to cover our eyes so we do not see Him correctly. This means remaining open to allowing the Scriptures to reveal Him in all His dimensions, in all of His glory, whether such passages “comfort the afflicted or afflict the comfortable.”

Second, I believe it also means we are safe in His arms. Russia may invade the Ukraine, but Jesus Christ is still Lord. He and the Father are not unaware of what is happening in our world. They are sovereign over all things. They hold our future (and that of the Ukrainians) in their capable hands.

It appears that God is allowing a shaking up our world. This is a time to turn to Him in prayer. This is a time to trust in Him and in His extraordinary power. This is a time for us to confidently reflect His love and grace. As Jesus says in the Gospel of Matthew (5:16) In the same way, let your light [the light of Christ] shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Amen and amen.

©2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams