How many of you like to see the ending of a movie, or read the ending of a book in order to get a sneak preview of the conclusion? How many of you have asked a friend who has previously seen the movie or read the book how it all turns out? This summer when my family and I went to the movie Cast Away, we arrived at the tail end of the previous showing. Instinctively I walked into the dark theater to see the final moments of the movie—seeing the hero with a FedEx box, walking around the veranda of a rural farmhouse.
Immediately, I felt a tug at my arm as Julie pulled me out into the lobby, insisting that I would spoil the movie for everybody. But having this little scene in my mind fortified me for the entire movie. Through all the intense action I knew that it would turn out all right.
Recently my son, Aaron, watched a John Wayne movie with his friend, Tim Goodchild, that Tim had previously seen. I kept asking Tim, "Well, what's going to happen?" Julie said, "Don't you dare!"
I have a collection of favorite movies which I have played over and over. Gene Autry and Gloria Henry in The Strawberry Roan, Clark Gable and Joan Crawford in Strange Cargo, Lloyd Bridges and Marie Windsor in The Tall Texan, Gary Cooper and Grace Kelley in High Noon, and probably my favorite one is Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman in Spellbound. I really don't mind the tension, anxiety, and suspense because I already know the end of the story.
Several years ago Herbert W. Armstrong, with a mischievous grin, said, "Brethren, I've looked ahead to the end of this story—and you know what? We win!" I've always had a curiosity about what is going to happen—or where the events in which I'm involved will lead. Before our son Aaron was born, the nurse took a sonogram. She asked if we wanted to know what gender our child was. I did, anyway, and this gave us several more months to plan a name.
I don't feel that fast-forwarding the tape to see what happens is necessarily a bad thing. God's Word tells us that there are occasions when fast-forwarding the tape may be beneficial and even life-saving. We fast-forward the tape when we count the cost, when we look for dangers on the road ahead, when we are tempted to sin and need to know the consequences, and when we need to mentally detach ourselves from a grim trial—looking forward to a happy ending or a transcending meaning to all of it. Proverbs 29:18 teaches us that without vision [some translations have rendered this "prophetic vision"] people perish.
Anticipating and preparing for danger requires that we fast-forward the tape.
Proverbs 27:12 A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself. The simple pass on and are punished.
At our baptism, we are encouraged to mentally move forward in time, thoughtfully counting the cost of our discipleship.
Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—
Please turn to Leviticus 26:3. God has given us sneak previews of specific consequences of keeping His laws in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, and also sneak previews of specific consequences for breaking God's laws are presented in these same chapters.
Leviticus 26:3-5 'If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land will yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.'
Notice that God, as if through time lapse photography, has moved the tape many months and years ? through the beginning of planting season to the end of harvest season giving His people a sneak preview of the blessings which would accrue is they would keep His commandments. We see the same compressed or truncated time described in Deuteronomy. Now, keep your finger in Leviticus and turn to Deuteronomy 28.
Deuteronomy 28:2-7 "And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you because obey the voice of the Lord your God: Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of the ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out. The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways."
As God provides vivid graphic previews of the blessings, He also fast?forwards to the consequences of disobedience in those same chapters. I hope you have your finger still in Leviticus 26 because we're going back to verse 14.
Leviticus 26:14-17 'But if you do not obey Me, and do not observe all these commandments, and if you despise My statutes, or if your soul abhors My judgments, so that you do not perform all My commandments, but break My covenant, I will do this to you: I will appoint terror over you, wasting disease and fever which shall consume the eyes and cause sorrow of heart. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. I will set My face against you, and you shall be defeated by your enemies. Those who hate you shall reign over you, and you shall flee when no one pursues you.'
God made sure that our forbears had a back up copy of this terrifying reel in Deuteronomy 28. Let's run the tape down to verse 28 for some fast action previews:
Deuteronomy 28:28-29 "The Lord will strike you with madness and blindness and confusion of heart. And you shall grope at noonday, as a blind man gropes in darkness; you shall not prosper in your ways; you shall only be oppressed and plundered continually, and no one shall save you."
As our forebears with foresight contemplated the prospect of being smitten with madness and blindness and confusion of heart, groping at noonday as a blind man, oppressed and plundered continually, I am sure some probably had second and third thoughts about transgressing God's statutes.
Recently, having not ruminated enough about the consequences of certain driving behavior, I found myself again participating in a defensive driving class. I had one of my favorite teachers, Lee Stolley. Some of you know him. He was the security director at Ambassador and is now with the Big Sandy Police Department. One of the most valuable concepts taught by Lee Stolley was the "What If?" game, anticipating a host of potential mishaps.
He told a personal story of parking the squad car right next to an elderly handicapped driver when there were many other available parking spots. He suggested that moments before he drove into the parking space numerous alarm bells went off in his head warning him not to park there. Ignoring his anticipatory instincts cost the City of Big Sandy $800 in damages.
The "what if" game has made my life safer on my daily sixty mile commute from Hawkins to Marshall (that's sixty miles one way - one hundred and twenty miles round trip) Monday through Friday. About thirty miles is on the interstate. Well, I imagine all kinds of possible things which could happen involving 18-wheelers, oversized vehicles, timid , aggressive, careless drivers, inclement weather, ubiquitous road repairs, junk on the road, highway hypnosis, fatigue, and a host of other variables.
I rode the Southern California freeways to work in Pasadena for over ten years on a motorcycle. The biggest contributory factor ensuring my safety was the visions that went through my head of possible accidents should I ever get careless. I never rode the motorcycle without thinking of the hardness of the pavement and the possibilities of concussion or devastating fractures.
Last summer when a Texas state trooper gave me a ticket for not wearing a seat belt, the local judge fined me $90. Now before I turn on the ignition I habitually reach for the seat belt muttering, "$90, $90" under my breath. This incentive was reinforced by Lee Stolley who filled my mind with pictures of impaled or maimed victims who ignored this commonsense pre-emptive behavior.
Please turn to Proverbs 1:24. The Bible is replete with "What if?" scenarios, warning the foolish and unwary to turn back. As wisdom personified calls the youthful, she gives a sneak preview of the consequences of ignoring her counsel:
Proverbs 1:24-27 Because I have called and you refused, I have stretched out my hand and no one regarded, because you disdained all my counsel, and would have none of my rebuke, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your terror comes, when your terror comes like a storm, and your destruction comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.
Now just turn over a few pages to Proverbs 7. Here we find a lurid, Technicolor movie of an adulterous affair that is presented in Proverbs 7, replete with temptation, allurement, and intrigue. Let's move into the thick of the action at verse 15, where the crafty harlot says,
Proverbs 7:15-19 So I came out to meet you, diligently to seek your face, and I have found you. I have spread my bed with tapestry, colored coverings of Egyptian linen. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not home; he has gone on a long, long journey.
Fortunately as we fast-forward the tape to the end of the story, we have the gory consequences of this initially pleasant encounter:
Proverbs 7:22-27 Immediately he went after her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks, till an arrow struck his liver. As a bird hastens to the snare, he did not know it would cost his life. Now therefore, listen to me, my children; pay attention to the words of my mouth: Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways, Do not stray into her paths; For she has cast down many wounded, and all who were slain by her were strong men. Her house is the way to hell, descending to the chambers of death.
We have another, probably more succinct, sneak preview of the consequences of the same kind of thing Proverbs 9:17-18:
Proverbs 9:17-18 "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." But he does not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of hell.
These biblical scenarios, followed by the gruesome consequences, remind me of a very haunting Twilight Zone episode I saw many years ago of a young lady pursued by a threatening apparition riding a horse. We later discover that the horse rider was actually herself, coming back from the future to warn her not to pursue her life's course any further lest it destroy her.
When we are tempted to sin in any way, God has given us a mind with a fast-forward mechanism to look at the consequences. Last year at the Feast, I gave you a set of cognitive distortions (or twisted thinking patterns) to which we all too frequently fall prey. Dr. David Burns, in a subsequent book entitled The Feeling Good Handbook provides a self-awareness test for confronting temptations. He lists the pleasant allure of the temptation in the left column and the cognitive distortion immediately to the right. Here is a brief representative segment illustrating an alcoholic by the name of Frank struggling with his habit:
Temptation: "I'll really feel good if I have a beer now. And it will taste so good."
Cognitive Distortion: This is another example of "fortune telling" [5b. on the green sheet] because Frank is predicting something very unrealistic. While it is true that an occasional beer [for most people] is harmless, Frank won't stop after just one. Once he starts drinking, his inhibitions will disappear and he will quietly devour one or two six-packs.
All of us have repertoires of poignant lessons from past sins, replete with memories of shame, guilt, and embarrassment. As we are tempted to give an encore performance, we need to ruminate about what those behaviors and thoughts unchecked have brought us in the past. One should not stop ruminating on the sin itself, but should fast forward the tape to its sure consequences. The Bible tells us to flee fornication, but what good is physically fleeing the stimulus if we take the Technicolor movie or CD with us and play it in our minds.
John Ritenbaugh gave a message on May 26 on lust and its consequences. We learned that in addition to begetting a guilty conscience, lust also generates agitation, anxiety, depression, grief, torment, and a host of other extremely painful emotions, enlisting other allied sins such as lying, adultery, and murder—and eventually it will lead to our death. The sermon ought to have scared all of us straight, just contemplating the loss of peace and well-being.
Some of us need to soberly reflect upon Richard Ritenbaugh's message on September 15, in which he described the side of God which is not so meek and mild, but extremely intolerant of sin, a side which members who continued in our previous fellowship have totally ignored. Fortunately, the apostles Paul and Peter have provided some sneak previews of the consequences of harboring or co-existing with sin, pleading the Protestant "just as I am" mentality.
Turn over to one of these clips in Hebrews 10.
Hebrews 10:26-27 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
Peter provides a backup clip of this preview in II Peter 2.
II Peter 2:19-22 While they promise them liberty [from that awful Old Covenant and those musty old Jewish laws], they themselves are the slaves of corruption; for by whom a person is overcome, by him also he is brought into bondage. For, if, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the latter end is worse for them than the beginning. For it would have better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to them. But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: "A dog returns to his own vomit," and, "a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
Brethren, I hope and pray that we don't get so smug and self-assured that we apply these warnings only to other people but don't apply these sneak previews to ourselves. We need to periodically fast-forward the tape when we become comfortable with our individual repertoire of sins.
A parallel reason for fast-forwarding the tape is to maintain stability in a trial. During the first four months of this year, I lost my first-born son unexpectedly, and my job unexpectedly, and my gall bladder unexpectedly, and my cat unexpectedly (Matt, that I talked to you about last year), throwing me into many emotional tailspins. In times like these, one has to be resourceful at locating shreds of hope. Like all individuals, my inclination was only to look regretfully back, seething in bitterness about loss and the impossibility of recovering what I had lost.
One resource I found valuable was an account of a man's experience in a concentration camp, Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. Many of you have probably read it. Viktor Frankl developed some profound insights, survival skills and techniques for developing inner strength when the external world around him was going to perdition.
Frankl suggested that "a man who let himself decline because he could not see any future goal found himself with retrospective thoughts" riveted to the past. Richard said in his sermonette, "The past is past!" Frankl goes on to say that "any attempt at fighting the camp's psychopathological influence on the prisoner by psychotherapeutic or psychohygienic methods had to aim at giving him inner strength by pointing out to him a future goal to which he could look forward. Instinctively some of the prisoners attempted to find one on their own."
Frankl continues that "it is a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future. And this [the future-looking capability] is his salvation in the most difficult moments of his existence, although he sometimes has to force his mind to the task."
Amidst the most degrading kind of human slavery, Viktor Frankl formed in his mind's eye a picture of his future freedom—when he could reclaim his dignity. He described in vivid detail the picture which he created to help him fast-forward to some distant time in the future:
I saw myself standing on the platform of a well-lit, warm and pleasant lecture room. In front of me sat an attentive audience on comfortable upholstered seats. I was giving a lecture on the psychology of the concentration camp! All that oppressed me at that moment became objective, seen and described from the remote viewpoint of science. By this method I succeeded somehow in rising above the sufferings of the moment, and I observed them as if they were already of the past.
Frankl concludes this account by affirming that the prisoner who had lost faith in the future—his future—was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold and became subject to mental and physical decay. His insights are a rediscovery of vital truth that psalmists and prophets of the Bible practiced faithfully.
In the early parts of this summer when I was preoccupied with feeling sorry for myself, I would instinctively incorporate many psalms of despondency into my prayers and meditation. In the abundant greenery of the Tyler State Park, I would recite over and over the contents of the supplicative psalms—Psalms 51, 60, 69, 88, 60, 71, 90, 143—letting my emotions have free reign as I cried,
Psalm 69:1-2 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
Psalm 71:9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
Do not forsake me when my strength fails.
Psalm 88:15 I have been afflicted and ready to die from my youth;
I suffer Your terrors; I am distraught.
These words easily rolled off my tongue as I identified myself with the mindset of the psalmist. Then I learned a peculiar thing about many of these supplicative psalms. The psalmist would invariably fast-forward the tape to a time of hope and deliverance. Consider the sneak preview in Psalm 69, the water psalm:
Psalm 69:35-36 For God will save Zion and build the cities of Judah, that they may dwell there and possess it. Also, the descendants of His servants shall inherit it, and those who love His name shall dwell in it.
In the melancholy and reflective Psalm 71, the psalmist fast forwards to an expected future time of hope:
Psalm 71:20-21 You, who have shown me great and severe troubles, shall revive me again, and bring me up again from the depths of the earth. You shall increase my greatness, and comfort me on every side.
A despondent Moses quickly fast-forwards Psalm 90 to verse 13 crying,
Psalm 90:13-14 Return, O LORD! How long? And have compassion on Your servants. Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
In Psalm 37 where David warns us not to fret because the evildoers literally get away with murder, he fast-forwards the tape to verse 34 promising,
Psalm 37:34 Wait on the LORD, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you shall see it.
Time does not permit me to go to all the sneak previews of happier times provided by these supplicative psalms.
Another whole section of the Bible which provides fast-forwards to buoy the depressed and afflicted, appear throughout the minor prophets. After detailed descriptions of mayhem and affliction, the prophet fast-forwards the tape to the solution. God seems to have structured both the supplicative psalms and the minor prophets similar to the sonata- allegro form of a classical symphony, which alternates slow, ponderous, melancholy movements with fast, vivacious, and lively movements, rhythmically creating and releasing tension.
Daniel 12; Habakkuk 3:18-19
Hosea 14; Zephaniah 3:8-20
Joel 3: 16-21; Haggai 2:23
Obadiah vs.17-21; Malachi 4:2-6
In Daniel, for example, after God reveals the terrifying vision of the four beasts, the warring kings of the North and South, leading to captivity and plundering, God mercifully fast-forwards the tape to chapter 12:
Daniel 12:1-3 "At that time Michael shall stand up, the great prince who stands watch over the sons of your people; and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation, even to that time. And at that time your people shall be delivered, every one who is found in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and confusion. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever.
When Julie and I were dating, I would sometimes play my classical record collection. Among them were the symphonies of Jean Sibelius. I would often pick up the needle and say to Julie, "Now were going to get to the good part, the exciting part, the exhilarating part." In my impatience I wanted to spare her of all the slow non-exciting parts and go right to the exhilarating climactic parts. Sometimes I feel the same way about the lengthy descriptions of mayhem and destruction found in the minor and major prophets. I have an impatience to get to the "good part."
God Almighty seems to have anticipated in all of us a deep-seated yearning to find out how all these calamitous events will turn out. In Hosea, after lengthy expositions of Israel's and Judah's unfaithfulness, apostasy, and foolish dependence on alien lovers leading to her judgment and captivity, God mercifully fast-forwards the tape to chapter 14. Let's pick up the action at verse 4.
Hosea 14:4 "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, for my anger has turned away from him. I will be like dew to Israel: He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; his beauty shall be like an olive tree, and his fragrance like Lebanon. Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; they shall be revived like grain, and grow like the vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon."
Immediately on the heels of Joel's vivid description of the horrible calamitous events in the Valley of Jehoshaphat in the dreadful Day of the Lord, in which the sun and moon grow dark and the stars diminish their brightness (Joel 2:10), God mercifully fast-forwards the tape. Let's pick up the action in Joel 3.
Joel 3:18 And it will come to pass in that day that the mountains shall drip with new wine, the hills shall flow with milk, and all the brooks of Judah shall be flooded with water. A fountain shall flow from the house of the Lord and water the Valley of Acacias.
After terrifying pictures of locust plagues, famines, and the imminent destruction of Israel in the first nine chapters of Amos, God mercifully fast-forwards the tape to bring a preview of Israel's restoration. Let's pick up the action in the 11th verse of Amos 9.
Amos 9:11, 13-15 "On that day I will raise up The Tabernacle of David, which has fallen down, and repair its damages; I will raise up its ruins, and rebuild it as in the days of old. [Skipping ahead to verse 13] Behold, the days are coming," says the Lord, "When the plowman shall overtake the reaper, and the treader of grapes who sows seed; the mountains shall drip with sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with it. I will bring the captives of My people Israel; they shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink from them. I will plant them in their land, and no longer shall they be pulled up from the land I have given them," says the Lord your God.
After Obadiah's description of Edom's treacherous mistreatment of his brother Jacob, God mercifully fast-forwards the tape to Israel's ultimate triumph:
Obadiah 1:17-18 "But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble. They shall kindle them and devour them, and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau," for the Lord has spoken.
Time does not permit me to expound these passages in this split sermon, but I think you can see the principle of a future brighter that the past. Dr. Don Ward used to repeatedly ask the students in the Fundamentals of Theology class, "Are you prouder of your past than your future?"
Our Elder Brother Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He said, "Your will be done, not Mine," had to fast-forward to the time when all of His suffering would be over in order to endure.
The weekly Sabbath day, in addition to being a memorial of creation, a sign between God and His called-out ones, is also a sneak preview—a fast-forwarding to the millennial Sabbath when this earth shall be under the government of God—the wonderful World Tomorrow, as Art Gilmore used to say. God commands us to fast-forward the tape every week to keep this hopeful vision before our eyes. Bob Hoops used to ask the brethren to consider the weekly Sabbath as a miniature Feast of Tabernacles.
We need to consider all the Holy Days as fast-forward previews of coming attractions. The Day of Pentecost provides a fast-forward to the first fruits—a sneak preview of the way the entire creation will be brought into God's family.
Paul has described this time in Romans 8:23. "Not only that, but we also have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body."
The Feast of Trumpets provides a sneak preview of the time God's army will subdue the Osama bin Ladens, the Yasser Arafats, the Momar Khadafes, the Al Quaeda, the Musha Haidim, the Hezbollah, Hamas (and even Hillary), and the other audacious terrorists who defy Almighty God.
Atonement fast-forwards to the time Satan, symbolized by the azazel goat, will be restrained from harassing mankind. What a tremendous blessing it will be not to have that awful menace around!
The Feast of Tabernacles looks forward to a joyous time when the inhabitants of the world will live under God's rule, anticipating yet a future time, when not only the world, but the entire cosmos, the creation, will be subject to God's just and equable rule. Remember Mr. Armstrong used to look at wasted planets and say, "Well, that's just unfinished furniture."
My heart skips a beat anticipating the preview afforded by the Great White Throne Judgment, a time when we will see loved ones again who have perished during our life time, some of them never being called by Almighty God.
Fast-forwarding the tape does not absolve us from living through and experiencing the present, but it gives the present more meaning and infuses us with hope for an eventual solution to what now appears as insoluble problems. Some of you maybe were at the Feast in Tucson back in 1978 Feast of Tabernacles when Dr. Clint Zimmerman started a tradition in which he asked all of us to hold up imaginary wine glasses and make a toast, and I'd like all of you to do that. So rise to your feet, and pretend you have big glasses of wine in your hand. We're going to do this, "To the Kingdom! To the Kingdom! To the Kingdom!" Let's make sure every one in St. Louis and Kansas City can hear us:
"To the Kingdom! To the Kingdom! To the Kingdom!
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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