YOU have just been challenged! Your first reaction to the above title will perhaps be to assume that you already know what is to come next in this article — or in other articles which might appear in The GOOD NEWS. "It's just another article, in another guise, on some old and familiar subject," you might think. But wait a minute! Why do writers of GOOD NEWS articles hear such comments as: "I read your article three times" or "Your article has really had an effect on me and I'm determined to change my life — thank you very much for it!" Strangely enough, these comments have been made on articles written about "old and familiar" subjects. Suppose familiarity were your big problem — big enough to keep you out of God's Kingdom — wouldn't you want to know what to do about it? Tragically, though, those who suffer from the deadly disease of familiarity are the least likely to listen and heed a God-given warning.
A Tragic Example
Brethren, I have LITERALLY witnessed a man's death resulting solely from overfamiliarity! I'd like to tell you about it. In WorId War II thousands of young men were called into the service of their country. Many were trained physically, technically and psychologically to face the dangers of flying combat missions from aircraft carriers. Demands were exacting. Special training was given. Special flight rules were carefully, methodically ground into each pilot. No cost was spared, and in spite of wartime urgency and a desperate need for pilots, no time was eliminated which was deemed necessary to instill into each flier the rules which could save his life. We were repeatedly told: "Watch OUT! If you lose respect for your airplane, it can kill you." We learned a healthy respect for the laws of aerodynamics — they were a matter of LIFE and DEATH! We were young, we thought life held a good future. We knew the war wouldn't last forever. And so we wanted to survive. Yet we all learned one thing — all rules had a safety factor. If you didn't fly at the prescribed altitude, you could still survive. If you didn't fly at the recommended speed, your survival wasn't necessarily at stake. You could shade these rules... until trouble came. Trouble came for one young man as I watched in numbed fascination. There was a sickening, grinding tearing of metal — an explosion — then the last-minute attempts of asbestos-covered fire fighters to smother the flames. But it was too late. The young navy pilot's life was snuffed out. The fire fighters quickly succeeded at their task. But all they were able to extricate from the still-smoldering airplane was the partially-charred and lifeless body of the young man. Like too many others whose bodies were sent home to their grief-stricken parents, this man never fulfilled his commission. His death was totally futile. No glory. No medals — no recognition. Nothing but a sad memory. Why did he die? This young pilot found he could survive when flying at below-recommended altitudes. He was so skillful he could literally make the water foam with his propellers close to the surface of the water — but this wasn't what killed him. He also discovered he could fly slower than the recommended speed during his final approach to the landing field. And he got away with it time after time. That is — until one time. His last landing. It isn't too difficult to reconstruct what took place in the cockpit of that airplane. As he approached for landing, the signal officer frantically warned him to add more power. Once again he was getting away with it — until a slight gust of wind caught his wing. In quickly spreading terror he felt the sluggish response of the plane as it started to roll over from this sudden current of air. In panic he jammed the throttle forward. The engine roared its response — but too late. Nothing could change the inevitable now — no skillful maneuvering, no frantic surge of power could prevent the inevitable grinding, wrenching of metal on the unrelenting concrete pavement. The plane was upside down with the pilot trapped in the cockpit, soon to die from suffocation as the high octane gasoline-filled fuel tanks burst into flames. I was an eyewitness to this tragic event. What was the cause? FAMILIARITY!
He Knew Better!
At first this pilot was very careful. He knew he had much to learn. He feared to break the rules. He believed what his instructors told him. With us, the analogy shouldn't be too difficult. When we first came into God's Church we took seriously the admonition to "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12). We really believed God meant it when He said: "And if the righteous SCARCELY be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (I Pet. 4:18.) It wasn't something to be taken lightly. When we first heard that we were to become the very sons of God, we were astounded at what we began to understand — and at the blindness of others. We realized that a merciful God had reached down to our minds and miraculously given us a tremendous gift. We didn't deserve it. We hadn't earned it. We knew it was a gift and WE WERE THANKFUL! We desired rulership with God. We were willing to work for it. Fasting? We did it whenever the need arose! No price was too great for this calling. It wasn't that we felt we could earn our salvation — we knew that it is God's gift — but we wanted to respond to God, childlike and eager to do what His Word showed us was our part. But sadly, too much of this attitude is now in the past tense. Fasting, praying, the excitement, the thrill, the gratitude — is it all past history with you? Are we becoming just plain bored? When the Feast days come along and the sermon starts, "Now, brethren, why are we here?" do we have to battle to maintain interest? Or have we already lost this battle? Is it now a question of keeping ourselves from being critical? I know I have described a growing number in God's Church. Some of us are only partly guilty of this. Just "partly guilty"? That is akin to saying we only have a "small" case of cancer. It's dangerous to have cancer in any degree. Cancer spreads. And as with cancer, familiarity is slow death!
What Is Familiarity?
One definition of familiarity is: "An intimate acquaintanceship with something." It only happens after a period of time — after we have become intimately acquainted with something. Do we as long-time members see the danger? It's only going to happen to those who have an intimate knowledge of the Church, our calling, the great plan of God and how we are part of that plan. Prominent members who have been intimately associated with God's Work for a long time are prime candidates for becoming infected by familiarity. As I was a helpless witness to the death of this young pilot, so ministers may be having to watch with horror as others are perishing spiritually because of familiarity. I want to show you how we can escape this spiritual destruction — how we can avoid and conquer familiarity.
Beginning of Fatal Familiarity
Let's go back to the origin of fatal familiarity. This kind of familiarity is older than man. Fatal familiarity was and actually is the attitude of Satan. Satan was once Lucifer. That powerful being must have stared in wonder at the spectacle he beheld in the day of his creation. His powers of perception were many times greater than ours. What we can only understand in physical terms of the magnificent splendor of God, Lucifer saw intensely magnified because he was created a spirit being. He saw the glorified magnificence of God. He saw God's power and His beauty. He knew he was created by God. He was so aware of the awesome power of God that to this very day he stands in terror and fear of Him James 2:19). Lucifer knew the inner workings and the intricacies of God's government. He must have stood in awe and amazement when God revealed to him His perfect plan. The angels shouted for joy! Job 38:7.) But what came from that intimate knowledge and acquaintanceship with God?
A Weakness in God?
Something happened. After a long acquaintance, Lucifer saw something. In spite of his awareness of God's tremendous power, he thought he saw one weakness in God. Impossible? Not at all! The fact is Lucifer came to believe he could exploit God's apparent weakness and gain control of the universe himself. Lucifer was no robot. He was and is a thinking being. But like any thinking being, he could make mistakes. The angels are also thinking beings. And one third of the angels made the mistake of thinking as Lucifer did and followed him into error. What was that "weakness" Lucifer thought he saw in God? Lucifer misunderstood one of the qualities of God's love — His great mercy. Do we? Surely we can all say, "But I don't want to exploit God or to conquer His universe." And right you are. We know our physical limitations — and we are not so ambitious. But isn't this the area where we test God the most — in the area of His mercy? Isn't this the area where, perhaps unknowingly, we can be mistaking God's mercy for weakness, or in some way be presuming on that mercy by beginning to act as if God will do neither good or bad (Zeph. 1:12)?
What Time Is For
God gives us time. Time to do good or evil. He gives us time to work out our salvation. Time to overcome our weaknesses — time to do the Work of God. But familiarity is a product of time. Tragically, some of us begin to presume upon God's mercy and love and grow slack in overcoming and doing the Work. God grants us time to repent of this. He corrects and warns us through His Word and His ministry not to settle into a continuous pattern of sin and rebellion: "But exhort one another daily, while it is called Today; lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13). Remember the mistake of our young pilot. It finally became exciting fun for him to see how close he could come to the ultimate limits of safety. It became a pattern — a way of life to him. If he could talk today he would have one request: "Just give me five more seconds of time for that last landing." That's all he needed. But his time had run out.
Time Is Running Out!
Is time running out on us? Are we settling into a wrong pattern of behavior — of sin, or neglect, or of worldly physical pursuits — are we going THE WAY OF DEATH? Do you know that the process of our changing, overcoming and growing is limited by one commodity — TIME? Building character takes time. David said, "Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is; that I may know WHAT TIME I HAVE HERE" (Ps. 39:4, margin). Wrote Peter F. Drucker in The Effective Executive, page 26: "Time is a unique resource. Supply is totally inelastic. No matter how high the demand the supply will not go up. Moreover, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday's time is gone forever and will never come back "Time is totally irreplaceable." In one chapter of Revelation, God warns us five times that time is short: "The Lord God... sent His angel to shew unto His servants the things which must shortly be done" — "Behold I come quickly" — "Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand" — "Behold, I come quickly" — "Surely I come quickly" (Rev. 22:6,7,10,12,20). Notice something else in Revelation 22 that you may never have connected with ourselves. Between verse 10 which says, "The time is at hand," and verse 12, "And, behold, I come quickly" is verse II. In this verse God says, "He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still...." The implication here is that it is too late for these people — the wicked. Time for them to repent has run out — they will have to SUFFER the plagues of God, the curse of disobedience, because they were not willing to change when they had time. How can we avoid that problem? The key is never lose the sense of urgency and of time! Do we realize that for over nineteen hundred years time has been limited for the Church of God — and is more acutely limited today than ever? Since our work was not over last year, and may not be over in the next two, or three or more years, do we now have MORE TIME? What deceptive reasoning! Sound logic would show we have less time now than ever before! Each passing day brings the "end" one day nearer. The majority of us have had years in God's Church. That time is gone. We can't bring it back. That time will never return. Every passing second gives us not more, but less time. This is a hard, cold fact. Any miscalculations do not add to time. Maybe God in His great mercy has permitted our time to go on longer because we need it both to qualify and to do His Work But still it is "borrowed time." When you read the theme of many of the recent Co-Worker letters, "Brethren we don't have much time left," do you consider this a cry of "wolf"? If we do, we're in trouble — mighty serious trouble!
The Old "Familiar" Story?
For over nineteen hundred years the ministers of God's Church have thundered this same warning — "TIME IS SHORT!" Peter thought Christ's coming was imminent. He honestly thought the prophecy of Joel 2 applied to the day and age he lived in (Acts 2:17) — and it did, but its fulfillment only began in Peter's time; it is to end in our time! About A.D. 55 the Apostle Paul wrote an urgent letter to the Church at Corinth and warned them that the examples in the Old Testament were written for their warning because the END of the age was imminent! (I Cor. 10:11.) At this, the "old-timers" undoubtedly rolled their eyes and began to question the credibility of Paul. Some began to question Paul's veracity — literally. The sharp ones remembered other warnings of time running out on them. Paul had been preaching this same message for years. They smiled to themselves, slowed down and could not understand why Paul got so uptight about their conduct. They probably thought he was getting a little too old. It has an old "familiar" pattern to it, doesn't it? About five years later James warned the people, "Be patient... for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh" James 5:7-8). You can be sure that by this time some of the old-timers who had heard this message before yawned. They had heard this old "familiar tune" many times before. At the time Peter warned his people, not long before 70 A.D., "The end of all things is at hand" (I Peter 4:7), you had better believe that a lot of disillusioned, cynical and thoroughly incredulous people couldn't believe the old "familiar" story. It was almost forty years after Peter made his first statement (Acts 2:17) that time was close to completion. Maybe even he had to fight to keep from losing his sense of urgency. By the time John finished the Book of Revelation, about sixty-five years after Peter first said that the prophecy in Joel 2 applied to his day and age, there were probably not many people around who took the message seriously. But remember one thing — time ran out for every one of them, JUST AS IT WILL FOR US — either as we die along the way before the end, or when the calamities at the very end begin to occur. Therefore, we had better be busy building character and getting rid of sin — while we still have time! If we don't, "Therefore this iniquity shall be to you as a breach ready to fall, swelling out in a high. wall, WHOSE BREAKING COMETH SUDDENLY AT AN INSTANT!" (Isa. 30:13.)
Punishment Will Come SUDDENLY!
God warned His people fifteen hundred years before Jesus came the first time: "Is not this [the character and deeds of every person] laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures? To me belong vengeance and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity IS AT HAND, and the things that shall come upon them MAKE HASTE"! (Deut. 32:34-35.) Do you get the significance of those words? Both punishment and reward is laid up in store with God! In a sudden and calamitous way this whole society is going to be upended. Then the rewards will be given. Modern Israel is not going to turn to God. "For the people turneth not unto Him that smiteth them, neither do they seek the Lord of Hosts. Therefore the Lord will cut off from Israel head and tail, branch and rush, IN ONE DAY"! (Isa. 9:13-14.) If you are overly familiar with God's truth and His Church, then you could suffer with Israel and the rest of the world. Or you could die disapproved of God before that time! This is why every Co-Worker letter urges us NEVER TO LOSE OUR SENSE OF URGENCY! Analyze yourself. Have you grown lethargic? Lukewarm? Dulled? Apathetic? All these are symptoms of the FATAL spiritual sickness of FAMILIARITY. Change NOW, before your time runs out!