From a Distance

ohn Plunkett
September 30, 2012
Feast of Tabernacles – Seaside, Oregon
Opening Night

First, please click here to listen to the song, "From a Distance" 
Performed by the African Youth Choir

Click here to view the song's lyrics

I hope you liked that song!  I think it is beautiful, thought-provoking and very inspiring. 

Every word of the song is true.  But, at the same time, some of the words are partially and in some ways, inaccurate!  I am sure you noticed some of those inaccurate ones as you were listening and reading through the lyrics. 

For example, many of the statements in the song are somewhat incorrect for the world today; but will become true at the time of the Millennium and the Kingdom of God.

Just beginning this evening at the Feast of Tabernacles and the Last Great Day, according to God’s commands, we are enjoying a brief, eight-day foretasting and picturing the Millennium and the Kingdom of God. 

Some of the words to this song are like mini-prophecies of the conditions that will exist in the wonderful World Tomorrow.  Let us run together through the words of this encouraging song and see what we can learn from them on this Opening Night of God’s Feast of Tabernacles 2012.

Let us start with the first verse of the song: 

From a distance the world looks blue and green, and the snow capped-mountains white.
From a distance the ocean meets the stream, and the eagle takes to flight.

These are lovely word pictures, and are like descriptions of the beautiful U.S. North-west; yes, right here! Also, of the beautiful Canadian South-west, where we live.

These words are true.  From even just a few miles up from an airplane, for instance the earth still looks pristine.  From way up there, we see the blue oceans, the green forests, the white glaciers and mountain tops, the bubbling streams and the majestic Bald Eagles we often see in this lovely area of the world.  

But, as we descend in our airplane or helicopter, the closer we get to earth, the clearer we see the sad mess that mankind has made of too much of this beautiful planet God made for you and me.

At this Feast of Tabernacles here in Seaside, we will try not to dwell too much on the negative aspects and morbid details of the world today; although we might, of necessity, mention a few of them once or twice.  In Isaiah 30:9-11, God clearly warns His people not to demand the preaching of "smooth things."  He doesn’t want us to bury our heads in the sand, and He doesn’t want us to be ignorant of world conditions.  In fact, He repeatedly commands us to "Watch."  

Still, there is a time and place for talking about such things, and I don’t believe that the Feast of Tabernacles is it.  Rather, for these eight days we will try our best to accentuate the positive, and to leave world conditions outside of our little Feast site at Seaside Oregon.  We will concentrate on the much-improved conditions prophesied and promised by God for the future time that we refer to as "the Wonderful World Tomorrow." 

Let’s go back to our song:

From a distance there is harmony, and it echoes through the land. 
It's the voice of hope; it's the voice of peace; and it's the voice of every man.

Our hope is for future harmony and peace for every man; and yes, for every woman and child too.  These are the encouraging themes of the Feast of Tabernacles every year.  These are great and encouraging words.  But the words of the next verse bring us right back to the painful realities of the world today.

From a distance we all have enough, and no-one is in need. 
There are no guns, no bombs, no disease, and no hungry mouths to feed.

If you watch world news on the television each evening, or read a newspaper or news magazine, you know very well that this "satellite altitude" view of our world today is not very accurate down here at ground level.  

Let me ask you, “Do you have enough?”  I hope you do.  I would venture to say that the majority of us, living in North America, do have enough. 

Of course, we all might ask, “What is enough?”  And many of us might often admit that we could always do with a little bit extra. But let’s face it, things could be much worse.  We live in the United States and Canada still two of the most blessed lands of plenty, still reaping the spin-off benefits from God’s promises to our father Abraham. 

Yes, there certainly are needy people here in North America; yes, even in many of the affluent towns and cities.  Also, there are needy people in the Church of God.  

But there is even more serious need on other continents such as India and Africa. When we were visiting our brethren in South Africa a few years ago, we saw shanty cities which stretched out for miles and miles literally!  Thousands upon thousands of men, women and children living in wooden or cardboard boxes protected by the weather by black garbage bags!  There is certainly not "no hungry mouths to feed," as the song says.  Rather, there are increasing numbers of them.  

Again, we are accentuating the positive here at our little Feast site.  Still,  let us not shut the needy people in the world out of our thoughts.  As we Feast here both physically and spiritually let us spare a thought for the needy people.  And more than just a thought let us do whatever small part we possibly can to help them.  God tells us in James 1:22-25 that He requires us to be doers of His word.  Also, in chapter 2:

James 2:
14:  What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works?  Can faith save him?
15:  If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,
16: And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

By actively helping the needy, we are certainly not somehow thwarting God’s punishment on the citizens of the world.  Rather, we are living God’s "way of give," as Mr. Armstrong used to term it; and we are showing love and mercy to our future brothers and sisters.  Yes, we must remember that those people out there "in the world" are to be our future brothers and sisters in the World Tomorrow. 

Yes, I know very well that any efforts that we put into it can only scratch the surface of the huge problem; but even one life helped, or even one life saved from hunger, has to be a very positive and worthwhile deed. 

The next words in the songs third verse tell of "No guns and no bombs."  We know, again, from our news media, that there are way too many bombs and way too many guns out there.  Even right here in North America!  Right here in "the land of the free," it is almost as easy to buy a powerful gun as it is to buy a fishing license!

Now let us get back to the positive and continue on to verse 4 of the song:

From a distance we are instruments, marching in a common band, 
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace; they are the songs of every man.

What a beautiful analogy!  Different kinds of instruments and their players all marching in a common band.  You might be a tiny piccolo.  I may be a great-big tuba or bass drum!  But as God’s called and chosen children, we are all players of instruments of different kinds, marching in one common and unified band. 

Or we should be!  Let us never neglect to recognize our brothers and sisters in the various Church of God groups throughout the world as being our fellow musicians our true spiritual brothers and sisters. 

God knows who His people are.  We are not authorized to set those boundaries.  We are all in the same band.  We are all in the same Church of God.  There are not three or four hundred different bands out there, all playing different tunes, or their own renditions of the same tune.  That is not "common."  That is not unity!  What do you get when you have many bands playing different tunes?  There are two musical terms for the result: "cacophony" and "discord."  What did God inspire the apostle Paul to write about this?

Ephesians 4:
2:  With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 
3:  Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4:  There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;

What about the people that are not in God’s Church?  It is true that they are not yet part of God’s band or orchestra.  I purposely put the accent on the word “yet.”  Those unconverted people we call them "the people of the world" at this time they are marching to the beat of a different drum.  But let us remember that, before God called us, we too were marching to the beat of a different drum!  But this state of affairs is only temporary.  Let us not forget that the time is coming that God will pour out His Holy Spirit on all flesh (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). We will be celebrating that future event on the Last Great Day.

Let’s go back to the song lyrics again, where we now come to the main chorus:

God is watching us.  
God is watching us.  
God is watching us...  from a distance. 

Is this a true statement?  Yes!... and No! 

Jeremiah 23:23:
Am I a God at hand, saith the LORD, and not a God afar off?

It is true that God the Father is watching the unconverted world from a distance.  Yes, He is watching them from His throne in heaven.  God the Father cannot be anywhere even close to sin; so He must keep the sinful world at arm's length.  But does this mean that He and Jesus the LORD/YHVH who was known to Jeremiah are unable to see the evil that is being done on earth?  Of course not!  See verse 24:

24:  Can anyone hide himself in secret places, so I shall not see him?" says the LORD; "Do I not fill heaven and earth?" says the LORD.

God the Father keeping His distance from the world’s sin is a temporary situation, which will change at the fulfillment of the symbolism of the Last Great Day. 

But what about God’s people now?  Are God the Father and Jesus Christ watching us from a distance?  Are they far off from us in heaven?  Are they maintaining a hands-off policy towards us, the people of His Church?  Have they left us to get on with our lives by ourselves as best we can?  No!  God and His Word are very near to us:

Deuteronomy 30: 
11:  "For this commandment which I command you today is not too mysterious for you, nor is it far off.
12:  "It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend into heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' 
13:  "Nor is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?'
14: "But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may do it."

God the Father and the Word Jesus Christ are close to us.  They are near to us.  They are right here with us.  But more than just that, through God’s Holy Spirit, they are even within us.  Let us go back to Ephesians 4 and pick up one more verse there:

Ephesians 4:6:
One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.

This is an astounding truth!  Let us take a look at what Jesus said about this very important and inspiring sub-topic:

John 14:
20:  At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you... 
Verse 23: Jesus answered and said unto him, "If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him."

Shortly before He died, Jesus repeated this astonishing fact in His prayer to His Father:

John 17:
22:  And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: 
23:  I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me.

God the Father and Jesus Christ are with us; they are near to us; they are even in us!  That is not from a distance!  You can't get any closer than that!  Also, this condition is not just limited to the World Tomorrow. For those of us who have God’s Holy Spirit dwelling in us, this is now!  This is today!

Let’s move on to verse 5 of our song:

From a distance you look like my friend, even though we are at war.

I don’t even have to tell you this; you know that God’s people should not be at war.  We should not be at war with anyone.  Ideally, we should all especially Church of God brethren be treating each other as friends and family not as enemies.  This requirement is not just limited to church brethren, but also even to our non-church neighbours "in the world."  

At this point in time and in most cases, let's be honest our neighbours do not hate us per Matthew 5:44.  They are not out to get us or to do us harm.  True, this may change in our future (depending on the timing of the real end times), but the majority of our neighbours are not trying to despitefully use us or persecute us right now. Of course, there certainly are bad people out there who are trying to do us harm or rather who are trying to do themselves good at our expense!  But we must ask the question: “Are all unconverted people like that?”  No, of course they are not!  All unconverted people are not crooks or violent people.  Now I am not saying that “My Lord delays His coming” (Matthew 24:48).  But I do not believe that we have yet arrived at the time of the conditions "as in the days of Noah." (Matthew 24:37).  Things are getting worse, there is no doubt about it; but I do not believe that we are there yet.  Let us take a quick look at Genesis 6 and see what the days of Noah were like, and what it will be like at the very end of the end-times.

Genesis 6:
5:  And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually... 
Verse 11:  The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 
12:  And God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth. 
13:  And God said unto Noah, "The end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them with the earth."

Are we there yet?  I do not believe that we are one hundred percent there yet.

Now let us continue on in this fifth verse of our song:

From a distance I just cannot comprehend what all of this fighting is for? 

What is all this fighting for?  Where does it come from?  Julie Gold the lady who wrote this song admits in its lyrics that she cannot comprehend it; she doesn’t know!  But we do know, don't we?  Because God tells us why in the book of James:

James 4:
1:  Where do wars and fights come from among you?  Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members? 
2:  You lust and do not have.  You murder and covet and cannot obtain.  You fight and war.  Yet you do not have because you do not ask. 
3:  You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.

This wholesale breaking of God’s 7th Commandment (Thou shalt not kill) is actually an automatic result of the wholesale breaking of the 10th Commandment (Thou shalt not covet).  One group covets what another group has; so the first group tries to take it by force; and on and on it goes.  That is the reason why we have fighting and war.  When the world starts to obey even just these two of God’s Ten Commandments, just think what the effect will be.  Imagine the blessings that will automatically be produced on the earth.

Now on to verse 6 of our song:

From a distance there is harmony; and it echoes through the land.

Does true harmony echo through any land right now?  Even in our United and States and Canada, we really do not see true harmony.  We only have very tiny, limited control over the state of harmony in our physical nations.  But what about in our spiritual nation the nation of spiritual Israel the Israel of God the Church of God?  Does harmony echo through it? through the "land" of the Church of God?  O that I could answer in the affirmative!  But I can’t.  Harmony should echo through it; but it doesn’t.  But one day soon and God speed that day He will reunite spiritual Israel.  It is His job to reunite spiritual Israel. We can’t do it.  I can’t do it and you can’t do it.  It is God’s responsibility; and He will do it. This long-sought-after harmony will be restored in the Church of God.

Continue in our song, still in verse 6:

And it’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves; it's the heart of every man.

Peace and harmony certainly are things that virtually every person hopes for, and loves the very thought of.  But are they truly in the heart of every man?  We would like to think so, but look at what God's Word says:

Jeremiah 17:9:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

I don’t want to get too far into this negative aspect here; but we must be realistic. This is what we are to be fighting against the deceitfulness of the human heart.  This is what we all have to deal with every day.  As we have already read, when the conditions again become like they were prior to the flood because of the deceit and wickedness of men’s hearts the earth will once again be absolutely filled with violence.  That is the bad news.  Now here is some good news.  Thankfully, these violent conditions will be short lived.  God promises that He will quickly change this condition.  How?  By replacing the deceitful, wicked hearts of men:

Ezekiel 36:26:
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

So we see the world today: wars, disease, injury, drought, famine, divorce, crime.  All on the increase.  All the results of sin and the transgression of God’s Holy Laws.  But when Jesus Christ returns to this earth and Satan is imprisoned, there will be an immediate reduction in sin.  Consequently there is going to be a corresponding reduction in these automatic penalties of sin.  One day and hopefully soon at the fulfillment of the Feast of Trumpets, Jesus Christ is going to return to this earth.  This is real!  It is going to happen!  

With the help of the words of this intriguing song, I wanted to give you a brief overview in this Opening Night service, looking out over the Feast of Tabernacles, the Last Great Day and all that they symbolize.

One of the reasons Jesus is going to come back is because He wants to be closer to you and me, His brothers and sisters.  He wants to give us a thousand years of peace and harmony, which we will be picturing throughout this Feast of Tabernacles. Actually, He wants to give us an eternity of those good things, not just a thousand years!  After that one thousand year period is complete, new heavens and a new earth will be set up at the fulfillment of the Last Great Day.  Then God the Father is going to come too:

Revelation 21:3:
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God."

From that day on, God the Father and Jesus Christ will never again look upon any of us from a distance.