Pastors Report - 7 Jul 2017

Familiarity Breeds Contempt:

"Ye have said, It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the LORD of hosts?" (Malachi 3:14)

Staines Air Disaster:

On Sunday afternoon 18th June 1972 two of my old school friends were having a telephone conversation. They were both in their early twenties and just starting out in life. One was working in a hospital as an intern in his progression towards becoming a medical doctor. The other was a recently qualified airline pilot and it was him who closed the conversation with a casual "got to dash .... got yet another bum (routine boring) flight to Brussels in a few minutes" ..... Yet the flight proved anything but routine, for as one of the second officers of BEA flight 548, just a few minutes later, he was dead. The accident he was involved in became known as the Staines air disaster killing all 118 people on board – the worst air accident in Britain until the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, in 1988.

When my school friend told me of what had been said to him a few minutes before our other friend died, I couldn't help but wonder just how much of a part "familiarity breeds contempt" had to play in the sequence of events that followed the senior pilot's heart attack and the failure of all 3 of the other pilots on the flight deck to act. I doubt if we will know this side of the resurrection – but a far more meaningful question for all of us is: just how much will similar "familiarity" have to play in the sequence of events that will lead to our position – or lack of it – within the very Kingdom of God?

Hold That Fast:

I'm sure all the pilots in that fateful cockpit had a very different approach - a genuine excitement - when each found himself at the controls of a commercial jet for the first time. Guaranteed it would not have been just "another bum flight to Brussels"! But familiarity can radically change our perspective. Within marriage, the honeymoon period inevitably comes to an end, and we have to get down to the "brass tacks" of making the relationship work. Has the honeymoon period with God's Truth come and gone, to have become the "same-old, same-old" for us? Are we – at this fateful time at the end of the 6,000 years – in danger of failing to grasp the true enormity of what we are all involved in? How is it that the nearer we get to the close of the age, that certain end time passages of Scripture seem to indicate that incredibly, such a position will indeed be the case? Jesus Christ specifically warns Philadelphia against men snatching their crowns from them at the last minute before He returns!

And yet this proclivity to have our attention diverted from the foundational aspects of God's word onto mere fripperies – the itching ears syndrome – began to be evident even before Mr Armstrong died. Both I and others that heard him at that time remember well the low but audible groan that came from the audience when he invariably began his explanation of anything from the basis of the two trees ... working from the Garden of Eden forwards. "Brethren, we need to go back to the beginning ...". It was very much a case of familiarity breeding contempt. Many of us back then would rather have listened to one of the other ministers ... they had a good line in personal stories and jokes. Or maybe something a bit more on the prophetic side. We simply did not "get" the profound depth of what Mr Armstrong was attempting to explain to us. Only now – when we have been forced to grow up a good deal more spiritually – are we able to finally begin to understand the vital foundational nature of the subjects we were so keen to dismiss previously:

Now once again, there are the Two Trees. If I mention it, someone’s going to get up and walk out and say “There’s Mr. Armstrong getting back to those Two Trees.” You betcha! And I’m going to do it again, and again, and again – because you can’t understand salvation, you can’t understand what Christ is doing, you can’t understand the Church, you can’t understand the world or what’s wrong with it, you can’t understand ANYTHING unless you understand the lesson of those Two Trees and the incident of the forbidden fruit. ( Sermon - April 4, 1983 – Sin)

Astounding Revelation:

In so many cases we don't truly appreciate something until it is gone. "You don't miss the water until the well runs dry" as the saying goes and that was certainly the case until the apostasy in WCG began to bite. But we need to have learnt from that. Although today we have a plethora of biblical Truth at our fingertips, and can also meet in peace and safety, this calm is prophesied to come to an abrupt end – and that before too long:

  • And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the Lord GOD, that I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day:
  • And I will turn your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation; and I will bring up sackcloth upon all loins, and baldness upon every head; and I will make it as the mourning of an only son, and the end thereof as a bitter day.
  • Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD:
  • And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it.(Amos 8:9-12)

This makes it vitally important that we fully appreciate just what we do have at this time, and make the most of it – before it is taken away from this world. Take for example, the profound meaning within the account of the two trees:

There were two trees in the garden. They were symbolic trees. They represented something very, very important. One was the Tree of Life. That represented the Holy Spirit of God, which imparts divine immortal life. Adam did not have immortal life. He was made of the dust of the ground. The other tree was the Knowledge of Good and Evil. To take of that was to take to themselves the creation of the knowledge, the manufacture of the knowledge, the producing of the knowledge of what is right and what is wrong – what is good and what is evil. They had to decide. ( Sermon – February 14, 1981 – Building the Temple)

The world remains totally oblivious to such basic revelation. One of our daughters recounted an incident that illustrates this a few weeks ago when she was doing some housework for an elderly neighbour. Although in another room, she clearly heard the conversation between this lady and her 'christian' sons, which went along the lines of: "I just can't understand the first few verses of John 1. How you can have the Word being with God and also being God?". And our daughter is thinking..."I's a family relationship, it's like the father being Smith and the son being Smith.....God is the family name". And a little later..."I don't think anyone understands who the elect are in Matthew 24", and again, she is saying to herself.."I do, I do, and I'm one!".

It certainly rammed home to her – and us – that the world in general is blinded – unable to see, and the amazing privilege of our position. Therefore the question, "How did you first hear of the Church?" carries with it much more than asking about the mere sequence of events that brought someone in contact with the Church. It also implies: "What was it that first sparked your interest?" "What was it that God used in your case to 'draw you'?" (John 6:44) And whatever it was, it should have then matured into a love of The Truth, God's Way of Life – as we learnt more about His lifestyle – sparking great excitement over His Plan for mankind and wanting to be part of the solution. Eventually bringing us to the point of repentance and baptism, starting out on the road to a mind that thinks as God thinks!

God's Plan:

Just stop think for a moment on the Plan of God – including the return of Jesus Christ to this earth – and how what God has planned will affect mankind....his source of food and water, his housing, his family relationships, the impact on the environment etc etc. Do we remember how stunning the entire concept once was to us, right after we first heard The Truth? How the scriptures seemed to come alive and jump off the page in a way they simply had never done before? Do we still take the time to go back and read those scriptures again? To just sit and think of what it really is going to mean to those we come in contact with each day and our loved ones that might have already died? Or have the Holy Days and the Meaning of the Day sermon within each stage now become just a "here we go again" and fall into that "familiar/contempt" context?

Many passages of scripture contain dire warnings of this problem of familiarity at the end-time. A key passage in Matthew 24 is no exception when it warns: "if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming ... The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of" (Matthew 24:48,50). And the apostle Peter's comments when he says: "that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." (2Peter 3:3-4)

What we have been given is truly without price – a Plan so great that there are scarcely adequate words to express it. As the apostle Paul says, "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him." (1Corinthians 2:9) The Plan – hidden so carefully within God's Holy Days – has to be spiritually revealed (verse 10). There is absolutely no other way of humanly discerning such things. The passage in 1Corinthians 2 shows how all the leaders of the world – whether USA, Russia, UK, or any of the G20 group – the princes, kings, queens, emperors, presidents – simply have NO concept whatsoever of what has been freely given to us by God, and therefore no answer to the world's ills. "Hidden from the wise and prudent and revealed to babes" (Matthew 11:25). How can "same-old, same-old" familiarity possibly creep into such transcendental revelation? But the problem is, with trying to function on a day to day basis, fighting the "cares of the world" ... it does!

World deceived...we are not:

Consider for a moment the question that drives so many to atheism. "How can a loving God allow war ... disease ... suffering ... disasters, etc, etc?" The priceless answer to this most perplexing paradox in the world today you and I know! We not only read the following passages – but we are able to understand them, and how they fit together to answer this mystery that perplexes the great, the wise, the noble who remain in darkness:

  • And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand (Luke 8:10)
  • In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them. (2Corinthians 4:4)
  • And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world:(Revelation 12:9)

We have tremendous, sure hope for those that have suffered and died, and that the horrendous time ahead is but a short, sharp shock, to get our attention, and will be followed by Utopia. But do we still grasp how incredibly precious such knowledge is? Just 5 weeks ago was the Day of Firstfruits – picturing the start of the New Testament Church and the gift of God's Holy Spirit to a select few who are training to replace Satan and his demons as the rulers of this world. To start a new governmental system. No more politics! But those future rulers are not angelic beings – But us!

  • "For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak." (Hebrews 2:5)
  • But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:
  • Which were [begotten], not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)
  • For He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.(Revelation 21:7)

Such verses should still be able to excite even the long-term members in God's Church. This year will be my 55th Feast of Tabernacles. Yet I can still remember listening in awe to those initial Last Great Day sermons, as a young teen in the Church. I had never before heard anything even remotely like them. And yet they made sense – and answered so many of the big questions of life. Certainly we all have to guard against familiarity, but if we go back to the scriptures and re-read them carefullypraying beforehand, and meditating on the passages as we do so – it really should not be that difficult for any of us to once again be excited by the enormity of what God has called us into at this crucial - and axial - time in history.

Immensity of our Calling:

One of the best descriptions of this initial awe experienced at the enormity of what God has planned for us was part of an email I received a number of years ago:......

.... when those two ministers sat in our living room years ago and answered with casual ease, questions the whole world ponders... (I mean, the Beatles and countless others made several trips out to India in hopes to find these answers) and as you say, laid out the whole meaning of life and then they showed clearly where to find the answers right there in the Bible, I knew that this was the real deal... because, really, I didn't expect that at all... ... and I always remember sitting there awestruck and thinking, NO ONE KNOWS THE ANSWERS TO THESE QUESTIONS. But they did and the answers were so clear and simple and right there, appearing as if by magic in a book I had read all my life.

This is one person's experience of "coming into the Truth". And as she points out, she was awestruck as the veil was lifted, " as if by magic in a book I had read all my life". To combat familiarity we all need to do the same and once again take our minds back to that time. To re-read the scriptures that caused our own initial awe. If you worked through the Correspondence Course back then...why not 're-enrol'? Yes, there will be familiar scriptures – but they can be read without familiarity. With God's help, we can remember the way in which they struck us so forcibly in the past, and be moved by them.

Remembering our First Love:

This need to "get a grip" and cast our minds back to overcome familiarity is certainly not something new in God's Church. Jesus Christ in the final chapter of the Bible warns us five times that time is short: "... the things which must shortly be done" – "Behold I come quickly" – "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand" – "Behold, I come quickly" – "Surely I come quickly" (Revelation 22:6,7,10,12,20) . This warning – being part of the book of Revelation – is therefore addressed to all seven of the 7 church eras of chapters 2 and 3. This includes not only those in Philadelphia – who are specifically admonished, "behold, I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown. (Revelation 3:11) – but also those of the Ephesian era who, like us, also believed Christ would certainly have returned by now, and were in danger of letting down.

Even before that Ephesian era began – on the very day Christ left this earth – the disciples wanted to know what, in essence, we'd all like to know: "Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6) On Pentecost a few days later Peter thought Christ's coming was imminent. He honestly thought the prophecy of Joel 2 applied to the day and age in which he lived (Acts 2:17). It did, but its fulfilment only began in Peter's time to end in our time! About A.D. 55 the Apostle Paul wrote an urgent letter to the Church at Corinth and warned them that the examples in the Old Testament were written for their warning because the END of the age was imminent! (1Corinthians 10:11.) About five years later James warned the people, "Be patient . .. for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" (James 5:7-8). Around the same time Peter warned his people, not long before 70 A.D., "The end of all things is at hand" (1Peter 4:7). This was the same apostle Peter who made his first statement almost forty years before quoting the end-time prophecy in Joel 2 that time was close to completion. (Acts 2: 17) By the time John finished the Book of Revelation, about sixty-five years after Peter pointed everyone to Joel, there were probably not many people around who took the message seriously.

Familiarity Today:

How similar such familiarity and lack of appreciation was at the close of the first century with what we see in God's Church today. This constant "putting off" Christ's return can be terribly wearing for us all, but especially for young people, who have to decide what careers or course of action to take for their future – not knowing how much future they will have in this society. God understands that "Hope deferred makes the heart sick" .....but He assures us with the sure hope that "when [ not IF ] the desire comes, it is a tree of life". (Proverbs 13:12) But what is the antidote? The answer is found in the book of Revelation – given by Jesus Christ to the Ephesian era – and that is to recapture our first love of God's Truth, by remembering that awestruck position when the veil was first lifted - when we couldn't get enough of the Truth of God, holding it truly as the pearl of great price.

  • To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands.
  • I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.
  • You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary
  • Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first.
  • Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:1-5 NIV)

As we approach this Feast of Trumpets in a mere 10 weeks' time, even though we may be bogged down by the day to day stresses of life – making ends meet, struggling with ill health and/or family problems – we probably all need to recapture that first love, so let us ask God for the help we need. He knows the battles we face and the struggles we have, Christ offering to take those burdens on His shoulders. (Matthew 11:28) And most importantly, our God who cannot lie, holds out the most tremendous promises to us – in one of those many "oh so familiar" scriptures ... but a scripture that we need to read again ... in all its true glory and without the 'familiarity' and with incredible appreciation, and never contempt.

  • For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
  • Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,
  • That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;
  • That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,
  • May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;
  • And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.
  • Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,
  • Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21)