Look Forward!

 John Plunkett

August 20, 2016

Let's talk about the Feast of Tabernacles!

Yes, I know that we have a full seven weeks to go before the start of this year’s Feast.  But I’m not talking about this year’s Feast!  I’m talking about last year’s Feast… and the ones before that.

Still, like you, I very much look forward to each year's Feast – almost – but not quite – as much as I look forward to God's Kingdom!  And this anticipation for the Feast and the Kingdom fits in very well with the point I would like to make in this split sermon today.

Most of us travel at least some of the distance to and from each year's festival site by car.  As you drove to your Feast site last year, did you drive the safe and easy way – looking forward in front of you – with only an occasional glance in the rear-view mirror? 

Or did you drive using the unsafe and very difficult method?  Did you spend most of the trip looking in the rear-view mirror at where you had just come from?

This sounds silly, I know.  Hopefully, no one in his right mind would ever drive a car in such an unsafe manner.  But, if we are not careful, there is a danger that we members of God's church will spend and waste too much of our time and effort in these precious days – looking backward – back to where we have come from!

The purpose of this split sermon today, then, is to encourage you (and myself!) to put behind the things that are past and to look forward – and to move forward – to the future!

Let me mention the Feast again:  It should go without saying that the Feast of Tabernacles is a very special time for all of us.  If we attend one of the larger Feast sites, we will likely meet and talk with people who we might not have spent time with for a whole year.  In some cases, we might see people who we may not have seen for many years.  Part of our conversation may naturally include some of the incredible events that have happened in the Church of God over the past years – yes, some of them very negative.

Some of us have been separated a long time ago from the Worldwide Church of God – or more recently, perhaps, in some cases, from some other church group. We all have our individual "war stories" to tell – accounts of the factors that came together to remove us from our previous fellowships and to move us into our present ones. 

We might talk of events that are, apparently, happening at the present time in certain Church of God organizations that we have come out of – in some cases, quite recently.

By the unpleasant nature of the experiences which caused us to part company with our former fellowships, much of our conversation can tend to be somewhat negative. 

But once we have all (hopefully) talked those experiences out of our systems, God’s Word tells us that the time should come for all of us to put them behind us and to move on!

As we shall see, God takes a dim view of His people spending too much time looking backwards.  He punished the Israelites because they kept looking back to their days in Egypt instead of looking and moving forward to the Promised Land. 

Now I am not comparing our experiences in our former church groups with the Israelites lives of slavery in Egypt.  Their situation was very different to what ours is today.  So, because that symbolism quickly breaks down, I don’t want to dwell on it today.  Still, just as with those Old Covenant Israelites, although we can’t foresee everything that might befall us on our road ahead, God repeatedly promised to look after us on our journey forward – if we remain faithful and strong.

Quoting the LORD’s repeated promises to the Old Covenant “Church in the Wilderness” (Acts 7:38) in Deuteronomy and Joshua – if they would be faithful and obedient! – the author of the book of Hebrews wrote this to the New Covenant "Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16):

Hebrews 13:5:
Let your conversation
{conduct} be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have: for He has said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”

This does not mean to say, of course, that we should have necessarily been content in our former fellowships, nor that we were being covetous by parting company from them. 

If that were truly the case, Mr. Armstrong would have spent all of his life in the Church of God Seventh Day and most of us would still be in Worldwide Church of God (now GCI), where we might now be keeping Sunday, Christmas and Easter; and possibly pastored by a female minister. 

There are many more reasons for us to put any unpleasant former experiences well behind us and to look forward, and to move forward toward the wonderful future that God has promised us.

So, at this point in time, whether we consider ourselves to belong to one of the many Church of God organizations which have various corporate names, or whether we are what is commonly referred to as "Independent" Christians (I prefer the term non-aligned), the important thing for us to remember is that we are primarily members of the indivisible spiritual Body of Jesus Christ.  That is number one – no matter what organization we worship with.

As members of His Body, it is neither good for us, nor (hopefully) is it the policy of any of the Church of God groups to keep on dredging up the negative events from the past.

Let’s quickly review the accounts that tell us this:

Exodus 16:
1:  And they took their journey from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came unto the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departing out of the land of Egypt.
2:  And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness:
3:  And the children of Israel said unto them, “Would to God we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for you have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

So soon after the astonishing events of their Exodus from Egypt, their faith had dwindled to nothing!

It is evident that Satan was at work here, even to the point of affecting the Israelites' memories of their former so-called "well-being" back in the very recent days of their Egyptian slavery!

Here’s another example of their faulty memories:

Numbers 11:
4:  And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, “Who shall give us flesh to eat?
5:  We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic.
6:  But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.

By the time they arrived at Kadesh Barnea, virtually the whole congregation of Israel had even given in to Satan’s mass deceptions – to the point that they were ready to forcibly take the leadership away from God’s chosen servants and to replace them with new democratically-appointed leaders who would be willing lead them back to Egypt:

Numbers 14:
2:  And all the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron: and the whole congregation said unto them, “Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt!  Or would God we had died in this wilderness!
3:  And why has the LORD brought us unto this land?  To fall by the sword,
{and} that our wives and our children should be a prey?  Were it not better for us to return into Egypt?”
4:  And they said one to another, “Let us make a captain, and let us return into Egypt.”

There is a limit to this analogy that I’m using here.  I’m not suggesting, of course, that any of us have a desire to return to our former church groups, as the Israelites desired to return to Egypt.  Neither am I comparing our experiences in our former church groups with the Israelites’ lives in Egypt.  

It is not "faulty memory" for me to say that we did have some great times in those groups.  If we hadn’t had good times in them, we wouldn’t have stuck around with them very long at all!

It is true, of course, that the Israelites' situation was different than ours is today – in that they looked back with undoubtedly deceived, inaccurate and exaggerated memories of some of the aspects of their former life and treatment in Egypt.  They desired to return to their slavery in Egypt rather than face the unknowns and potential hardships of the journey which lay ahead of them – even with the promise of protection from the great God who had so recently brought them out of Egypt with astonishing, mighty miracles.

In some respects, however, the people of the New Covenant Israel of God have even less reason to dwell on the past than did the people of ancient Old Covenant Israel.  Even though, like the Israelites, we cannot foresee all that might befall us on the road ahead, if we remain faithful and strong, our great LORD has promised that He will look after us on our journey forward. 

Here are four “don'ts” for all of us to consider as we march forward:

i) Please don't continually resurrect war stories!

Please note that I said "continually"!  Of course, war stories might come up from time to time – usually more especially in the early days after our separation from a group. 

Like the world wars of the past, which are remembered each year on Remembrance Day in Canada, the U.K. and other Commonwealth countries and on Veterans' Day in the U.S.A., it would be wrong for us to completely forget the major conflicts, and minor ones too, that God's church has suffered in recent years. 

You have probably heard this well known quote from the Philosopher George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Yes.  Forgetting completely can result in us repeating former errors.

Nevertheless, our previous negative experiences should not be the common factor that binds us together in our groups now as parts of the Body of Jesus Christ.  The frequency of discussion about those negative experiences should diminish with time.  There are much more positive and important things that need to be discussed, to be worked on, and to spend our time on. 

Jesus said:

John 9:4:
{but most modern Bible versions correctly render the Greek as “we”} … must work the works of Him (God the Father) that sent me while it is day: the night comes, when no man can work. 

We all have limited time, from the youngest of us to the oldest of us.  Whether our personal opportunities to participate in God’s work will eventually be cut short by the "night" of our deaths or by the "night" of the preventative conditions of the end-times, Jesus is warning us here that we – all of us – all of his brothers and sisters – have a very limited amount of time – a very brief window of opportunity – to do our unique, personal, individual parts in God's work. 

So, whichever turns out to be the case with each of us, why waste our precious time in continually looking back to the negative events of the past – events which we are totally unable to alter anyway? 

The apostle Paul related his own personal example in this regard, and I think that this might be the central core scripture for my split sermon today – maybe even for our whole get-together here today:

Philippians 3:
11:  If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.
12:  Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus.
13:  Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before,
14:  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul had much reason to look back.  He had fought the Christian fight, actually on both sides of the fence – both against and for Jesus Christ and His people!  And he had many scars to prove it!

Look at all the “action” words and phrases that Paul was inspired to use in those few verses!   Attain!  Follow after!  Apprehend!  Reach forth!  Press toward the mark!

He was telling the Philippian brethren here that he was, at that time, striving with every ounce of energy, faith, hope he had – plus the power of the Holy Spirit too, of course  – telling them that, for the most part, he had put his negative past experiences where they belonged.  In the past!

Paul had a super-busy schedule as an apostle and minister; and that schedule didn’t allow him the dubious luxury of dwelling on the past.

So, let’s follow Paul’s example and get let’s get busy doing our parts in God’s work.

ii) Please don't be a Rumour-monger!

Please refrain from sharing rumours, whether old ones or new ones, about what may (or may not) be happening – or what may (or may not) have happened – within our former church organizations. 

Some of the rumours may be true, but others may prove to be gross exaggerations – or even completely false!  Believe me, I have been in the church long enough to know that every rumour you hear is not necessarily true.

As Christians, we need to be dealing in truth!  Not falsehood!  Not outright lies, which God calls "false witness."  He sternly commands us not to bear false witness.

There is an old saying that says "Where there’s smoke there’s fire; so there must be some truth behind every rumour."  But please believe me, that it is not true!

Charles Dickens wisely wrote that: "Rumour, unlike the rolling stone of the proverb, is one which gathers a deal of moss in its wanderings up and down."

Some rumours begin as "what if" scenarios, which may sound feasible to the person listening to them; but as they roll along from person to person, they can so quickly and so easily become mixed in with other statements of other events. 

Also, as God's children, we are to be peacemakers.  Why?  Because Jesus, our elder Brother, said so:

Matthew 5:9:
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. 

He also tells us, through the apostle Paul when he was writing to the Galatians, that peace is one of the primary fruits of God’s Holy Spirit through which Jesus and God the Father dwell within their people.

Continual repetition of rumours – whether true or false concerning other brethren or other Church of God groups, is not peacemaking!  It is gossip!  And once again, through the pen of the apostle Paul, God condemns gossip:

I Timothy 5:13:
And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers
{many modern versions render the Greek word as “gossips”} also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not.

This leads into our third "please don`t" which, like the others, cannot be classed as peacemaking and is, hopefully, not the policy of any of the Church of God groups. And that third "please don't" is… 

iii) Please don't Sheep-steal!

Trish and I have been blessed to be able to go to different countries around the world, and to attend services with our brothers and sisters in various Church of God groups. 

Although it's great to be a " bridge-builder" within God’s church ( and I hope that we are all bridge builders"), if you have the opportunity to do this, please do not attempt to infiltrate the ranks of other Church of God groups, attempting to persuade their members to come out of "their error" and into "the truth" of your group, congregation, or way of thinking. 

Think back!  Was it another human being that talked you out of your former church organization and into your present fellowship?  Hopefully not! 

Was it another human being that initially talked you out of "the world" and into God's church? 
Hopefully not! 

It was – and still is – the responsibility of God the Father to do the calling.  It’s not our responsibility!  Jesus said:

John 6:44:
No man can come to me, except the Father which has sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

It is God the Father who must "draw" each person.

As with our initial calling, so with any subsequent move from one Church fellowship to another (which we believe to be a "better fit" for us), we must sincerely and fervently pray and look to our heavenly Father for His guidance.

We all should have learnt by now, that the timing of one's decision and calling (whether it be the first, second, or even the third time around) is a very individual matter – a very important and personal decision that is to be made between the individual, God the Father and our Elder Brother. 

It is not our responsibility, or that of any other human being, to intervene as a third party to attempt to speed up the process for someone else.

iv) Please don't judge – unrighteously!

Despite any past hurts that you may have suffered – some of them admittedly quite severe, I know – please refrain from judging the leaders and members of other Church of God groups for what they may (or may not) have done.  In some cases, the rumours may be false.

Although judging is much too big a subject for me to cover in this short split sermon today, Jesus taught us (John 7:24) that there is a right kind of judging as well as a wrong kind. 

We can look to the example of the Bereans in Acts17 for their fine example of a right kind of judging.  They listened to what the minister, the member or the congregation was teaching, and then quietly compared it to the Word of God.  Then whatever their decision was, to quietly, peacefully choose to follow the way of the Word of God, whether or not it differed from what the minister or the congregation were teaching and/or doing.  This is very important!

If our heavenly Father guides you into judging that you would be better off in some other Church of God fellowship, then that, I believe, is another example of what Jesus referred to as “righteous judgment” (John 7:24).

But, if you choose to continually bad-mouth the leaders, the ministers or the members of your former fellowship, that is the wrong kind of judgment!  Jesus commanded:

Luke 6:37:
Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned: forgive, and you shall be forgiven:

Jesus said here that we do not have the authority to do that condemnatory type of judging to others.  Only He and His Father have that responsibility and authority. 

Of course, from a human standpoint – even for those who have God’s Spirit dwelling in them, it is hard to forgive a person – or a group of persons – who have done us wrong. 

Also, God’s example of forgiveness is that it must first be preceded by true, sincere repentance.  Although that confession and repentance must, of course, be directed to God – not to mere men – still, an indication of a person’s repentant attitude toward the person he/she has wronged should come in the form of a sincere apology.

Again, we do not have the authority to condemn others.  Only Jesus and His Father have that responsibility.  And then, only if no repentance is forthcoming. 

Quoting the words of the LORD/YHVH through His servant, Moses, in Deuteronomy 32, the apostle Paul stated:

Hebrews 10:30:
For we know Him that has said, “Vengeance belongs unto me, I will recompense,” says the Lord.  And again, “The Lord shall judge His people.”

There are many other scriptures which prove that this kind of judging and vengeance is God's responsibility.  Not ours! 

It is fruitless for us to get into what other scriptures call "vain contentions."  Our personal decision plus our living example of what we truly believe that the Bible says is God’s will should be sufficient.  God sets the standards and He is the One who is going to judge who is living by them and who is not living by them.

Now that our four “don`ts” are finished with, let's get a little bit more positive.  As we go forward now, as the coming weeks, months and years go by, it might be God’s will to continue calling people by ones and twos into various groups and congregations of His church – whether those congregations are large ones, small ones or what are called "living-room groups." 

If and when He does this, as those new people come in, it would be a crying shame and a sin for our example, rather than being one of a positive looking to the future, to be one of negative looking backward, war stories, gossip, rumours, unrighteous judging, criticism and even offensive comments, such as "What took you so long?" 

Many years ago, when Trish and I attended our very first Church of God service, despite our somewhat Bohemian appearance and dress at that time, we were greeted with love, warmth, and tact.  Likewise, with most of the various Church of God groups that we’ve attended in our "bridge-building" efforts since that time, we have usually been greeted with love, warmth, and tact.

I believe that we must continue to do just that with every “new” person who might attend services with us.  And not just with "new" people; but also with those that we have not seen for many years.

Before we close, let us look at a very positive poem with a simple, clear message.  I believe that this is very relevant to my split sermon and to this special service today:

The Train of Life

(Author Unknown)

Some folks ride the train of life
Looking out the rear,
Watching miles of life roll by,
And marking every year.

They sit in sad remembrance,
Of wasted days gone by,
And curse their life for what it was,
And hang their head and cry.

But I don't concern myself with that,
I took a different vent,
I look forward to what life holds,
And not what has been spent.

So strap me to the engine,
As securely as can be,
I want to be out on the front,
To see what I can see.

I want to feel the winds of change,
Blowing in my face,
I want to see what life unfolds,
As I move from place to place.

I want to see what's coming up, 
Not looking at the past,
Life's too short for yesterdays,
It moves along too fast.

So if the ride gets bumpy,
While you are looking back,
Go up front, and you may find,
Your life has jumped the track.

It's all right to remember,
That's part of history,
But up front's where it's happening,
There's so much mystery.

The enjoyment of living,
Is not where we have been,
It's looking ever forward,
To another year and ten.

It's searching all the byways,
Never should you refrain,
For if you want to live your life,
You've got to drive the train!


Let’s move forward now with a positive attitude – with only the occasional glance in the rear-view mirror for the purpose of keeping ourselves from going off track again. 

The night is coming and we all have work to do in the days ahead – lots of work! 

Once again, let’s concentrate on doing our part in God's work.

Let’s all be looking and moving forward!