Before It Is Too Late
Richard W. O'Ffill
I was sitting on the front porch of our neighbor's house. We were talking about the hurricane that the people at the Hurricane Center in Miami said was probably going to be coming into our town in about two days. It had been named Frances.
It was evening. There were the night sounds. The day had been warm as it always is in Central Florida during the month of September. By the way, you can move to Florida to get away from the cold northern winters, but in doing so you will have to accept trading a hot, humid summer that extends from the first of June and doesn't begin to moderate until sometime in October, and then mostly in the evening.
Anyway, you would have never known that just off the East Coast and to the south there was a then Category Four hurricane named Frances. The people who study the tropical weather each year prename the storms. They choose names both masculine and feminine beginning with the letter "A". In other words, the first storm may be Allen, the next Becky, and then Charley followed by Donna and so on. They never know for sure how many storms there will be, but they have a long list of names just in case they will need them. How many of the pre-chosen names will be used is not known until after the storm season is over.
There is potentially nothing quite like a hurricane for extension of damage unless it be a flood. I remember in 1993 when we arrived in Miami. It was evening. Hurricane Andrew had struck the previous night and early morning. The great city of millions of inhabitants was dark. That night we slept in the Miami Temple Church with a number of families whose homes had been destroyed. It would only be in the days that would follow that we would become aware of the extent of the damage. The hurricane was the most expensive natural disaster ever, with the losses being in excess of 20 billion dollars. The damage extended over hundreds of square miles.
But then, there we were sitting on the front porch. Now, however, it was not Miami that we were worrying about; it was our own city--Orlando. Hurricane Frances was huge. It covered an area as large as the state of Texas, and when it arrived at our shores it covered the entire state.
In the days that followed we methodically began to get ready for the storm. One of my daughters lives nearby. She and her husband had recently bought a new home and the lower level was cement on three sides. The ceiling of the lower level was six inches of concrete. We decided that would be our bunker when the storm came. Kathy began to buy the provisions we would need to survive--food that we could eat without cooking, candles, batteries, and flashlights. I got out our propane camp stove. We filled all the bathtubs with water, and having bought two new large garbage cans, we filled them, too.
I removed some of the stockade fence that encloses our backyard. Its 6x8 sections would be necessary to cover our sliding glass doors. I then proceeded to board up all of the windows of the house.
I made a back-up of my computer hard drive and took it to our safety deposit box at the bank. I wrapped up important files in my study in plastic garbage bags. I placed the equipment that I use to connect with 3ABN radio together with my computer software CDs in a large plastic box that would be waterproof.
The storm was due to arrive on Sabbath. On Friday evening Betty and I parked our cars in the garage and called our daughter to come and get us. For the first time in my life I locked the front door and we drove away, leaving our house and all that it contained to the mercy of the storm.
Friend, the experience that we had in Hurricane Frances made a deep impression on me that I will not soon forget. This sermon, which is entitled "Before It Is Too Late," is part of a series entitled A Storm Is Coming.
Listen now to these words: "Transgression has almost reached its limit. Confusion fills the world, and a great terror is soon to come upon human beings. The end is very near. We who know the truth should be preparing for what is soon to break upon the world as an overwhelming surprise. . . Maranatha, p. 138.
Friend, a great storm is coming. It is even now breaking on the earth. The big question is, are you and I ready?
I learned several important spiritual truths from Hurricane Frances. The first is that structures and trees that were weak before the storm were destroyed. Sometimes I believe we deceive ourselves into thinking that the final test that is to come upon the world as an overwhelming surprise will somehow serve to makes us strong and will bring us up to speed spiritually. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those who are not prepared for the great spiritual storm that is soon to break and is even now breaking on the earth will be broken and subsequently lost.
The story that Jesus told in Matthew 25 encoded this concept. There were ten young women--I guess we would have to call them grooms maids--who were to participate in a wedding. In the Middle East it is the groom who is the center of attention, not so much the bride. You recall the story. There was a delay and the girls grew tired of waiting. They did like a lot of people do in church--they went to sleep.
An interesting point in the story is that all ten went to sleep. When the call went out, "Here he comes," they all woke up. But there is where the story separates, as we used to say, the men from the boys, but in this case we would say, the women from the girls; and that is that half of them discovered that while they had slept, their lamps had run out of oil.
The five whose oil had run out naturally asked the others to share and were correctly told that they had none to spare. The five then went out to buy some more, but when they returned it was too late. The program had begun and they couldn't get in. This story took on special meaning for me in Hurricane Frances. Another thing I discovered was that the preparation that is made for a hurricane must be made before it starts, because when the winds begin to blow, then it is all about one thing, and that is, survival.
Somehow many have the impression that getting ready for the close of probation and the time of trouble is a matter of when you get around to it. Nothing could be further from the truth.
There was any number of things that a person could have been doing in the days leading up to Hurricane Frances. It was interesting to watch, but practically all of Central Florida stopped what it was doing and began to get ready. Three million people left their homes, tens of thousands headed north out of the state. The interstates were a parking lot.
There was only one thing that really mattered in those days, and that was, were you ready for the storm.
In His teaching, Jesus told a story that illustrates the kinds of excuses that people will use not to be ready for His coming. You remember the story of the invitation to the banquet. One person said that he had just married a wife. I suppose he was anxious to go on his honeymoon. This excuse fits the description of the generation which was alive at the time of the Flood.
Jesus describes them as marrying and giving in marriage. Speaking of marriage, I was talking to a man one day about heaven. He told me that if we don't live together as man and wife in heaven he didn't want to go. Another way of saying that is that if there is not sex in heaven he was not interested in being there.
This generation, and I don't think we are the first, is completely hung up on sex. I once asked some young people if they wanted Jesus to come. I believe every one of them answered that they did. I then asked them if they wanted Jesus to come before they got married or afterward. They all replied that, although they wanted Jesus to come, they hoped that it wouldn't be until after they got married. When it comes to what will be our marital status in heaven, Jesus was very clear--when we get to heaven we will be like the angels.
Now, I don't think that means that we will not remember or nurture the family relationships that we began here in this life. My sons will always be my sons, and my daughters as well, and Betty and I will always be their parents. I believe our relationships to each other as families in heaven will be superior to the relationships that we had here in this life in that there we will be free of insecurity, fear, and dependence, and we will not be driven by hormones. The Scripture is clear that eye hath not seen or ear heard, or can we even imagine the things that God has prepared for those who love Him.
Notice that the description that Jesus makes of the crowd that was alive at the time of the Flood is that they were eating and drinking. Sound familiar? Of course, in this life we must eat and drink as well as marry and be married, but the generation where we find ourselves at the present time is not only obsessed with sex, it is, in this country at least, the fattest generation yet.
I read recently that one out of every three babies born in the year 2004 will be diabetic some day, and that will be due to the abuse of eating and drinking. Have you noticed that the ads on television these days are largely about eating and drinking?
If the people before the Flood were obsessed with marrying and giving in marriage, this generation has taken things a step further, and is more likely to live together without getting married. In this generation it is not uncommon to hear about martial infidelity or homosexual behaviors.
Having referred to the ads on television, I hope you won't be mad at me when I say that I believe that television, as watched by the average Christian these days, is totally incompatible with all that we are praying that the Holy Spirit will do in our lives. Think about it. As sons and daughters of God, it is inconceivable that we should spend hours watching the very things for which Jesus died.
Permit me to say that if we continue to needlessly expose our minds to these sins we will lose our salvation. I can preach till the cows come home, but the truth is that by beholding we become changed. We cannot watch people lie, kill, steal, cheat and commit adultery and promote sodomy without becoming like that ourselves.
Needlessly exposing ourselves to simulated and real sin will effectively cauterize our conscience and make it impossible for us to discern between right and wrong, and this is especially true now that so many programs, implicitly or explicitly, are featuring the gay and homosexual lifestyle.
I can see why in the Scripture leprosy is used as a figure of sin. I used to live in the Indian sub-continent. I also traveled in Africa and have seen people who are afflicted with leprosy. You see, when a person has leprosy they can move their hands and fingers--if they have any or feet and toes. If they have any, it is that they just cannot feel any pain. That means that they can slam their hand in a car door and not say "ouch." This generation is getting to the place where it can vicariously participate in sin, and then when the real thing comes along, they don't feel anything.
The other day we met some people from the church. They were grandparents. They had taken their grandson out to eat. They explained that the young boy's dad had just abandoned the family. This was the second family he had broken up. So you may say, "What else is new?" Nothing, I suppose, except that this person is a member of the church in good and regular standing.
Did I say good and regular standing? These days it is easy to be tenured as a member in good and regular standing. You probably know what tenured means. It is a word from higher education. A professor that is tenured just about has his job for as long as he wants to work.
These days you can pretty well do what you want as a member of the church without anybody saying anything to you. Church discipline is just about out the window. To apply church discipline is difficult because to do so would be considered being judgmental, pharisaical or legalistic.
By the way, I can't resist telling you of what happened to me at a church a few weeks ago. I went to the early service where I am a member and then after Sabbath School, instead of going home, I decided to go to one of the new churches that have been organized in our area. It is a break-off from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The group has decided that they will be congregational. Anyway, I walked into the church they had rented.
It was hilarious, because the first thing that one of the members asked me was why I was wearing a tie! (Ninety-five percent of those present were dressed in sport clothes.) I smiled and said, "Hey, I thought this church was organized to be non-judgmental. What I am wearing should not make any difference to you!" I guess the point to be learned is that often those who say they are non-judgmental are only non-judgmental of the people who are like them.
But then let me continue. Something is desperately wrong when the very things that are happening among the unconverted are happening among those who profess to be followers of Jesus. But we should not be surprised. The apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, saw our day when he wrote, "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away" 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
You may think that these verses are talking about the pagans, but we can know who this class is because of what it says in the last verse, and that is, having a form of godliness but denying the power thereof. They claim to have the gospel, but it has apparently crashed in their lives and for some reason they refuse to reboot or let the Holy Spirit reformat their hearts.
Some people have decided that the Scripture doesn't know what it is talking about when it commands us, as sons and daughter of God, not to love the world or the things that are in the world, and that if we persist in doing so, the love of the Father is not in us. They don't seem to comprehend that those who love the world sooner or later become enemies of God.
Can't we see where we are heading, not only as individuals, but as families; not only as families, but as a church? There is a text that asks, "Can a man put his hand into a fire without getting burned?" The answer is obvious.
Was the death of the Son of God wasted on us? Is the Father of Lights going to sit idly by and watch as we, by our lifestyles and indifference, crucify his Son afresh? Friend, we must not take our God for granted. Although He is merciful, gracious and longsuffering, He has gone on record that His Spirit will not always strive with men and women.
If like the five foolish virgins we expect to wake up when we get ready and take up where we left off, we are sadly mistaken.
A storm is coming and we must get ready for it now or never. Another thing I learned from Hurricane Frances was that when the ground in Florida really gets soaked then down come the trees. Many trees were broken off by the strong winds, but probably an equal number simply fell down when the sand that supported their root systems became full of water. Many trees simply tipped over, roots and all. The trees falling down reminds me of another story Jesus told. He told another story about a man who built his house on the sand. He said when the storm came, the house, though it must have been built according to specs in every other way, collapsed for the simple reason that it was built on sand. Jesus told about another man who built his house on the rock. In that case, when the storm came, the house survived.
That parable reminds me of the importance of doctrine. You know, of course, there is a growing trend, even in some of our churches, to play down the importance of doctrine. Personally, I don't know why anyone would want to do this because doctrine is information.
We are presently at war, and there is a word that we are hearing more and more these days, and that is the word intelligence. By that we are not talking about how smart a person is, we are talking about information. If this country had had "good intelligence" before 9/11, then the attack on the World Trade Center may have been averted.
Listen, my friend, thoughout history God has not pulled off something of eternal importance without first warning His people. The Word says, "Surely the Lord will do nothing but he revealeth his secrets to his servants the prophets." The only people who have been caught off guard when something of eternal importance has occurred have been those who somehow decided that they did not believe what the prophets were saying or that what was being said was not that important.
I am saying it a lot lately, and will continue to say it even more as time goes by, and that is, the doctrines which have been revealed to this church are the most gracious thing that our Lord could have done for us, because in these last days, they will keep us from being caught off guard as the storm that will sweep away nearly the whole world begins to blow.
Now let me say that I don't think that all of our doctrines have the same weight or serve the same purpose. There are what we might call core doctrines, which are universal and timeless, and which are necessary from the Garden of Eden until the close of probation. There are other doctrines, however, which are what we might call "time bound." They have been true from eternity, but they were not a life and death issue until now.
Remember, a clear understanding of what the Messiah would be like was not a life and death issue throughout the centuries leading up to the coming of Jesus the first time. In fact, the majority of those who were expecting the Messiah were completely wrong as to what He was going to be like. They believed that He would be either an army general or a king who would set them free from those who oppressed them and make the nation of Israel the ruler of the rest of the world.
They didn't understand the meaning of the image of Daniel 2 or they would have known that they were living in the time of the legs of iron, which represented the Roman Empire, and that it would not be until the time of the feet of iron and of clay that a stone would turn the kingdoms of this world to powder and then fill the whole earth.
Through the centuries it made no difference that a person might have been mistaken in his concept of what the Messiah was going to be like until the day that the young man from Nazareth stood in the temple and announced that He was the one that they had been looking for. Suddenly your bad intelligence concerning the Messiah meant that you crucified the Lord of Glory.
I was talking with a friend of mine who served in the military. He told me that when a group of soldiers decides to pitch camp or to occupy enemy territory, the first thing that it does is to secure the camp's perimeters. That means that the soldiers must put a line of defense around the encampment to keep the enemy out.
When he told me that, then I understood the importance of the doctrines that God has given to this church. In the last days Jesus said that there would be deceptions so well crafted that, if possible, the very elect would fall for them.
So to protect against this happening, God gave intelligence or information such as the doctrine of the millennium, the manner of Christ's coming, the state of the dead, the health message, guidelines for the Christian lifestyle and so forth. Though these doctrines in and of themselves will not save us, they will serve to keep us from being deceived and losing our salvation. Just before the close of probation they will, if you please, protect the perimeters of our faith and ultimately the core doctrines that are essential for salvation.
Let us then beware of those among us who seem to be always complaining that we have too many doctrines or that we should be only preaching the gospel. I hope I am wrong, but I suspect that if people who think this way prevail, the perimeters that protect our message will be broken down and a way will be made for the devil to overrun the truth.
As the storm is approaching that will come upon the world as an overwhelming surprise, listen to what will happen:
"As the storm approaches a large class who have professed faith in the third angel's message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition. By uniting with the world and partaking of its spirit, they have come to view matters in nearly the same light; and when the test is brought, they are prepared to choose the easy, popular side. Men of talent and pleasing address, who once rejoiced in the truth, employ their powers to deceive and mislead souls. They become the most bitter enemies of their former brethren. When Sabbath keepers are brought before the courts to answer for their faith, these apostates are the most efficient agents of Satan to misrepresent and accuse them, and by false reports and insinuations to stir up the rulers against them" Great Controversy, p. 608.
As I read these words a thought came to my mind that I had never considered before. It is based on the fact that throughout history the greatest danger that has come to the church has come from the inside. From the betrayal in heaven, down the centuries to the betrayal of Jesus by one of his disciples, the greatest danger to the church has always come from the inside.
Come with me now and let us consider what these words from the book Great Controversy may well be telling us.
In the first place it is sad but true that something very serious is going on these days in the church that we love. Last year there was a conference held in the Midwest. The subject that was studied was the matter of origins. Specifically it was--Should the church continue to believe in the first eleven chapters of Genesis? It is no secret that a significant number of those who teach science in our institutions of higher learning are believers in what is called theistic evolution. Without going into a lot of detail, that means that they don't believe in the first eleven chapters of Genesis.
Not only that, but a number of years ago a man whose name has become well- known and who was a theology teacher at one of our colleges, came out against the Spirit of Prophecy and the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment. The administration of the church officially condemned him. Though at the time he lost the battle, I believe he has in time won the war. I say this because, as a result, the influence of the Spirit of Prophecy has been greatly downgraded, and the doctrine of the Investigative Judgment is not taken seriously anymore. It is even possible that many in the last generation of those who have joined the church may have never even heard of it.
It is as if a storm is breaking out inside the church. Though we have the promise that God's Church will go through, Mrs. White says that it will appear about to fall, and that time may be in the not too distant future or it could even be now.
I hate to say this, and while I don't believe that it is happening everywhere yet, something of historical significance is happening in the church in North American, and, perhaps it would be safe to say, in Western Europe and Australia.
Notice that the quotation I read a moment ago says that a large class who have professed faith in the third angel's message, but have not been sanctified through obedience to the truth, abandon their position and join the ranks of the opposition. It says that they give up their faith, but it does not say that they give up their church membership.
Notice it says that this group has united with the world and partakes of its spirit. This is not new. The church has always had those who had the spirit of the world. "But," you might say, "they usually were in the closet. They professed to be faithful to the truth, but they had a secret life."
Those days are over. Increasingly now, members who have the spirit of the world are out of the closet. These days it is not unusual to see church members openly attack the Spirit of Prophecy in sermons, board meetings and Sabbath School classes.
In the institutions of higher learning some teachers are openly challenging the tenets of our faith in their classes. I wish it wasn't so, but we seem to be engaged in a kind of spiritual urban warfare.
What I see happening is that the struggle will increase in intensity. The issue will not be, shall we eat catsup or dill pickles, but shall we accept the Bible as it is written. As things begin to shake out, great and fundamental fissures will appear that will finally include the necessity of keeping holy the Sabbath and even whether or not people should be able to practice the homosexual lifestyle and remain members of the church.
Those who stand firm will be seen as revisionists. They will be accused of being judgmental, pharisaical and legalistic. Mrs. White in one place says, "We went out to give the Sabbath more fully, which infuriated nominal Adventists." Why should they care if they were not still in the church?
I used to travel as part of my work with ADRA. I remember going to countries where the church's greatest enemies were among its own membership.
I remember in one African country the minister of foreign affairs told our Union president that we were our own greatest enemies. There were members who would regularly denounce the church to the government.
Friend, I believe that sooner or later this will happen in this country. Once the members, who no longer believe the unique doctrines of our church, feel that they have a sufficient support base, they will begin to move against those who continue to hold the orthodox faith upon which our church was founded.
Those who remain faithful will be denounced before the law, and the accusers will be those who were once our brothers and sisters in Christ. Personally, I intend by God's grace to stand firm, come what may. We don't know what is before us in every detail, but the important thing is that, as the storm approaches, we make sure that our calling and election is sure, and that we have placed our lives on the altar of sacrifice.
Now is the accepted time; now is the day of salvation. This sermon was not to be one of 'them against us,' but an appeal to all of us, wherever we may be, to get ready before it is too late.