Let me right away bring you back to a time when I was a new pastor in the summer of 1988. I was wet behind the ears and looked so young I looked like I was in high school. My first church was very small and located in a small town in central Illinois. I was just trying to figure out how to write a sermon EVERY week and how to visit the multitude of shut-ins once a month when suddenly one day a lapsed member came to my door – we’ll call him Billy. Billy was an older man, about 60, who was no longer attending our church but was attending instead a charismatic church in the larger town next door. His relatives still attended our church and they told him about me, the new pastor.
Anyway, Billy introduced himself, welcomed me to the community and handed me a thick pamphlet – a pamphlet printed on cheap newsprint. On the front of it was this august title: “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988.” The Rapture, you might know, is the doctrine that Christ will come again and, based on 1st Thessalonians 4:17, this rapture will be an end-time event in which all Christian believers who are alive at Christ’s Second Coming – along with all dead believers’ bodies – will rise in the clouds together, meet the Lord Jesus, and be in glory together.
Pointing to the pamphlet, Billy was very excited that it proved, he said, that Jesus was coming soon. “Oh? When was that?” I asked while flipping through each of these 88 sentences, each “proving” the end of the world was nigh. I noticed that each of these 88 sentences carried with it a bible passage to prove each “reason.” Billy exclaimed, “Jesus will be coming just about a month from now – in September on Rosh Hoshana – you know, pastor, that is the Jewish New Year that’s in the Bible – which this year – 1988 – starts on September 11th and ends on September 13th – again, that’s just a month away!” he cried. “You don’t have much time left to tell your flock.” Well, I prayed to God to help me know how to talk to Billy about this. I wanted him to know I still respected him, even if we disagreed on this matter. “Let take a deeper look at what you delivered to me, and thank you, Billy,” I said.
I DID look at it. But I also remembered what Jesus had said about specific end-time predictions, which is our Boost from the Bible for today, Mark 13:32-33. There we find Jesus warning people then – and now – that when it comes to the end-times, “About that day or hour no one knows,” He said, “neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.”Well, a few days later, when Billy came back, I told him of Christ’s warning, both there in Mark and twice in Matthew. Billy replied, “Well, I’m no bible scholar but preachers all over the nation and the world swear by the research done by this man, Edgar Whisenant, and see there – that’s 88 reasons with LOTS of verses compared to your FEW verses.” I knew I could not convince him, but I told him I would not preach this to my flock, because it, like other false predictions through the years, would amount to “false prophecy” and bring embarrassment to the church, hampering it’s witness. Billy, of course, disagreed, and was disappointed in me.
Well, it was not a surprise to me or many other people that September 11th, 12th, and 13thcame and went. On the internet I found the account of a Todd Strandberg, who was a college student at that time; he has written what it was like in the days leading up to that September 11th. He remembered many churches were caught up in the excitement. Of his fellow college students Strandberg wrote, “I personally had friends who were measuring themselves for wings. In the dorm where we lived, my friends were also openly confronting all of the unsaved. It became my job to defuse situations. In one case, an accosted ‘sinner’ was contemplating dispensary action against my now-distant friends. Finally, the days of destiny dawned and then set. No Jesus.” Strandberg added, “Although the time for the rapture had been predicted to fall within a three-day window, September 11th through [September] 13th, my friends gave up hope on the morning of the 12th. I pointed out that they still had two days left, but they had been spooked, nonetheless.”
I bumped into Billy a few weeks AFTER that September 13th on a downtown street. “Billy, what happened?” He frowned and shrugged. But about 10 months later – August, 1989 – Billy again came to my door. Mr. Whisenant, he told me, had come out with a new edition, “89Reasons Why the Rapture is in 1989,” and there it was, now in my hand. I opened to the first page, which had a new #1 reason – that Whisenant had configured one key verse wrong by just one year; all the other 88 reasons were the same as before. “My problem,” I said to Billy, “is this is very likely to be more false Christian prophecy. Please don’t distribute this around to others, Billy.” But he did.
We sure like to know what is in the future, don’t we? You know it comes from our sinful need to control our own destiny. To counteract that sinful need, one of the most humbling but true statements of faith is to say to God, “You are God, and I am not.” God can see into the future; we cannot and should not try. One danger is that as people often claim, as Mr. Whisenant did, that they have found in Scripture the exact contours of what lies ahead; when people do that, they commit a sad sort of idolatry, putting more authority in various verses of Scripture than in Jesus Himself. As Jesus once said to His opponents, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in THEM you have eternal life” (rather than in Jesus). Today, Jesus might put it this way, telling us to quit putting so much credence into people such as fortune-tellers, political predictors, and those who connect the coming of this virus to the end of the world.
My friends, we are often most vulnerable in times like these…in times when – either in our personal lives, or when the world is trembling – we are desperate for answers about what lies ahead. There’s a biblical example of what I am talking about. It’s an incident in the life of Saul, the first king of the Jews; you see Saul was once, near the end of his life, in this kind of desperate position. In 1st Samuel 28 we read of his anguish and the unfortunate lengths he went to in order to get rid of that anguish. To Saul, God had seemingly abandoned him. Saul felt that God was no longer answering his prayers. Even though previously Saul as king had obeyed God and banned soothsaying mediums, at that moment Saul was so desperate that he sent his servants to find an illegal medium; they found a woman who was one in the town of Endor.
Fearful, Saul consulted this medium and disobeyed his God. He was allowing the great pressure he was under get the better of him; as Saul put it, “I am in great distress, for the Philistines are warring against me.” He sought to control his fears in the WRONG way, by putting his fate in the hands of others and not in God. Another word for this behavior is “worry,” and worry is giving control over your life to yourself and to others instead of to God. As Jesus once said of worry – “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you – you of little faith?” Christ knew our worries often take the form of yearning questions about the future, which is maybe why Jesus adds, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’”
It’s not that we should NEVER think about the future, for God WILL reveal to us HOW to plan for what we CAN plan for in the future. But having faith in God means that we can “hang loose” about the future; we have confidence that God will prepare a way for us. In faith, we are to do what Jesus advised when He cautioned us not to anticipate the end of the world – He said we should, instead, through prayer, “Beware” and “Keep alert” for God’s will being revealed in our lives. In our trust in God we do not drive ourselves over the cliff with worry. We keep the main thing the main thing, which is to remain a steady, ready instrument in the hands of God every day. Let’s picture ourselves as like a wrench in God’s hands. Let us not be that wrench that wrenches in on itself, that damages itself with worry and the desire to control its own destiny. Let us not be that wrench that is set to break in two because something threatens it – be it COVID, or the election, or other problems both personal and societal; let us be God’s ready instrument of peace, of justice, of love, of care and concern…generous and joyous instruments of God’s goodwill…not concerned about the future, because the future is…guess what? In God’s Hands – and there are MORE than 88 or 89 reasons why THAT is true!
As a favorite song sung to the Lord goes – “I cast all my cares upon You…I lay all of my burdens down at Your feet…and anytime that I don’t know what to do…I will cast all my cares upon You.” Amen!
Well, thanks for watching this “Boost from the Bible.” You may also go to our website, kogcarmel.org, and find King of Glory’s Sunday worship services as well – live at 10 am every Sunday; archived worship services can be found the bottom of that first web page as well. May God continue to bless you!