Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Dual Meaning of Atonement

The next annual holy day after Trumpets is Atonement.

Atonement is listed with the other holy days in Leviticus 23:1-44. "Also the tenth day of this seventh month shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath" (Leviticus 23:27-32).

The Day of Atonement is a holy day, an annual sabbath, and the Church of God rests on that day, assembles for services, and fasts on that day (no food or water for 24 hours, from sunset to sunset).

It is interesting that there are eight commanded annual days of observance listed in Leviticus 23 where the Church is to hold services of some kind: Passover, the first day of unleavened bread, the last day of unleavened bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day. Yet there are seven feast days and seven holy days (a holy day is an annual sabbath, a day of commanded rest).

Passover is a feast day, but not a holy day. We can work on Passover day. Atonement is a holy day, but since we are to eat no food on Atonement, I don't think it is to be considered a feast day.

We know from the account of the two goats in Leviticus 16:7-31 and from Revelation 20:1-3 that one of the meanings of Atonement is the putting away of Satan after Christ returns. The goat that is killed represents Christ and the goat that is released in the wilderness represents Satan.

But Atonement has a dual meaning. It also, like Passover, represents the sacrifice of Christ for our sins and the forgiveness and reconciliation with God that that sacrifice makes possible.

It addresses the question, who is responsible for our sins, Satan or ourselves? Are we responsible for what Satan tempts and deceives us into doing?

The answer is, both. Satan has his share of responsibility, and he is banished as a punishment. But we also have a responsibility for yielding to Satan's temptations, and our penalty is death. But Christ paid the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven.

The account of the two goats does not indicate that Christ pays the penalty for Satan's sin. Satan bears his own penalty.

After Christ returns, Satan will be put away in a condition of restraint and not allowed to deceive and tempt mankind anymore. For the first time in the history of mankind, the earth will be free from Satan's influence.

This is one reason why the millennium, represented by the Feast of Tabernacles, will be a time of peace and joy over all the earth.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The Day of Trumpets Teaches Us Many Lessons

It's that time of year. The fall holy day season is upon us.

Unlike the traditional churches of this world, the Church of God observes the annual holy days and feasts that God has ordained in the Old Testament (Leviticus 23:1-44).

The first of the fall holy days is the Day of Trumpets. The command to observe this day is given in Leviticus 23:23-25: "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 'Speak to the children of Israel, saying: "In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord" ' ".

Like all of the feasts and holy days of God, Trumpets has important meaning and helps us understand God's truth. This meaning and truth is lost on the traditional churches that do not keep these days as God has commanded, because God gives understanding to those who obey Him. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10).

Though the command to keep the day is in the Old Testament, the meaning is made clear in the New Testament.

We learn from Revelation that a series of Trumpet blasts occur at the beginning and during the one-year period known as the Day of the Lord, a time when God punishes the world for its sins (Revelation chapters 8 through 11).

We also learn from the epistles of Paul that the saints will be resurrected and Christ will return at the last trumpet blast.

"Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (1 Corinthians 15:51-53).

"For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord" (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

Like the other feasts and holy days, Trumpets helps us learn and understand a number of doctrines. Trumpets teaches us about the return of Christ to set up His kingdom on the earth, which is an important part of the seven-thousand year plan of God. It, along with Pentecost, helps us understand about the Church being the first fruits, because it is the first fruits that are resurrected at the last trumpet blast. It also helps us understand that man does not have an immortal soul, for it shows that a resurrection from the dead is needed for this mortality to put on immortality - we do not have immortality yet (1 Corinthians 15:53). It helps us understand the Day of the Lord, which starts with the first trumpet blast.

And when we consider the holy days, their meaning, and the whole plan of God that is made clear, and add to that the history of the Church, we can be reminded that we need always to be willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible as God reveals it, for it was the lack of such willingness to learn new knowledge that prevented the Church of God Seventh Day from learning about the need to keep the annual holy days and from learning the knowledge of the plan of God they help to reveal.

None of us knows when the Day of Trumpets will be fulfilled, although it seems it must be near. But on an individual, personal basis, the Day of Trumpets may be fulfilled for any of us at any time. We never know the day of our death, but if we are faithful, the next second of our consciousness after we die will be the resurrection to immortality - entrance into the kingdom of God - that takes place in fulfillment of this day.

Many of the holy days and feast days are related. Trumpets is related to Pentecost, with Pentecost marking the beginning of the first fruits and Trumpets the end when we receive our reward. Pentecost marks a major beginning of the Church preaching the gospel to the world (Acts 2:1-41), and Trumpets is a major fulfillment of that message.

The resurrection of the first fruits, a major meaning of the Day of Trumpets, will mark the first time in the history of the universe when God's family expands from two (God the Father and the Word, Jesus Christ) to many. Christ will marry His bride, and this will be a great time of joy for God as well as for us.

Friday, August 31, 2018

In Defense of New Knowledge

Sometimes members of the Church of God who listen to the sermons of their pastors and teachers feel that they need to hear something new and interesting. They feel bored with sermons that only remind them of things they already know.

Is it wrong to want to hear something new? Does it indicate "itching ears"?

The "itching ears" metaphor appears in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables". In this context, it indicates ears that are itching to hear something false, something wrong, something that is heresy - not just something new. It is thus a derogatory metaphor, indicating a desire to hear something wrong, something that is not sound doctrine.

But that is not always the case with a desire to hear or learn something new.

There is another Bible passage that refers to the people's desire to hear something new. "For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21).

Why do people want to hear new things?

Some might say, it is carnal human nature and it is wrong. But is it?

If you look at the surrounding context of the passage I just quoted, and the results, you will see that Paul made use of his audience's desire to hear something new to preach the truth of the gospel to them (Acts 17:22-33) - and it bore some good fruit. "However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (Acts 17:34).

People heard the gospel because they wanted to hear something new. And some of them believed the gospel because they were willing to learn something new.

Some readers may remember a book that was popular many years ago called, Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. The main theme of the book is how the pace of change in society creates stress.

But in discussing change, the book points out that we all need a balance between things that are familiar and things that are new in order for us to be happy and function well and be in good mental health.

If we experience too much change too fast, our brains have difficultly processing all the new information and we become stressed, and that stress reduces our mental efficiency, can cause depression, and can even increase the risk of physical sickness.

On the other hand, if we do not have enough new things in our life, if everything is always the same, we can become bored, and the boredom itself can be stressful and harmful.

So we need a balance in our lives between things old and new, between familiar knowledge and experience and new knowledge and experience.

Christ said, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52).

God made the human mind to need that balance between old and new. God gave man a sense of curiosity and joy in learning new things. And the desire to learn new things is not wrong.

Also, as brought out in Future Shock, that balance between old and new, between the familiar and change, is not the same for everyone. As individuals, we vary in our need for and tolerance of change. Some people handle change better than others.

Individuals who like a lot of change are often seeking new experiences. They never vacation to the same place twice. They change jobs frequently, and sometimes even change careers. They change apartments or houses frequently, sometimes moving to different parts of the country.

Others who like more stability - more of the old and familiar - tend to live in the same place, keep the same job, and take the same vacations year after year.

Good speakers in the Church of God understand the principle of giving both old and new in their messages. The main point of their sermon or sermonette will be the old and familiar sound doctrine we need to be reminded of, yet they will also find ways to make it new and interesting. They may use scriptures and examples from the Bible that most of their listeners may not be familiar with to support the doctrine. They may give historical background not commonly known. They may illustrate the application of the doctrine with examples from their personal lives or the lives of others that are new to their listeners. But they find ways to make the reminder of old doctrine new and interesting in some way.

What does the history of the Church of God tell us about this? Does it teach the need for new knowledge, or does it teach the need to be reminded of the knowledge we already have?

The history of the Church of God teaches both.

The history of the Church certainly teaches that we have a need to be reminded of the truths we already know. We saw that lesson after Mr. Armstrong died. Many COG members quickly abandoned the sound doctrine they used to believe. They needed to be reminded of the sound doctrine they had and the proofs in the Bible of those doctrines. But they either didn't have that reminder in their instruction and their own studies, or they didn't believe the scriptures that proved those doctrines. They fell away from the truth.

This also occurred with many in the Church of God in the late first century and in the second century.

But the history of the Church also shows the need for new knowledge and the need for people - members of the Church and new prospective members coming into the Church - to receive and accept new knowledge and to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).

Those being called by God have to respond to that call by being willing to learn the new and surprising things God has to teach them as they learn the truth for the first time.

The most obvious application is the growth of the first century Church of God as well as the Church in modern times. Everyone coming into the Church of God has to be willing to learn a lot of truth they didn't know before, a lot of new knowledge. Most of us have heard stories of old timers describe what it felt like to hear Mr. Armstrong expound on the meaning of the holy days and the plan of God at their first Feast of Tabernacles, and how they were astounded at the new truth they heard - it was a life-changing experience, one they never forgot.

Yet, for everyone who heard Mr. Armstrong, or the first century apostles, preach the gospel and believed it, though it was new to them, there were probably many who rejected the truth because it seemed new and strange to them - they wanted to just stick to the things they thought they knew. Because the truth was new to them, it seemed strange, and they rejected it. "I have written for him the great things of My law, But they were considered a strange thing" (Hosea 8:12).

But has this been a problem only for those outside the Church?

No, it can be a problem even inside the Church of God. That also is something the history of the Church teaches us.

Some of that history is recorded in Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

Mr. Armstrong describes his experiences with the Church of God Seventh Day, with which he fellowshipped and worked. Mr. Armstrong was learning many new doctrines from the Bible, some of which the Church of God Seventh Day had (the Sabbath, tithing, clean and unclean meats), and some of which they did not have (the holy days, the identity of the lost ten tribes of Israel). Mr. Armstrong shared the new things he learned with the Church at that time, but they rejected them. They only wanted to keep the knowledge they already had, but not learn anything new.

It was not a reminder of old knowledge they needed but instruction in new knowledge. But they were not willing to learn.

Mr. Armstrong later identified them as the Sardis Church, a Church of God that had a name that they were alive, but were dead. "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" ' " (Revelation 3:1).

The time had come for the gospel to be preached to the world, but God could not use the Church of God Seventh Day to do it. Why? Two reasons.

One, God wanted the new knowledge Mr. Armstrong was learning from the Bible to be included in that gospel message, and since the Church of God Seventh Day refused to learn it, they could not preach it.

Two, and more importantly I think, God was not willing to use someone to preach the gospel who did not practice what they preach.

When we go to the public and preach the truth to them, we are asking them to be willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible. But we must have the same attitude that we want them to have. If we ask others to learn something new, we have to continue to be willing to learn something new ourselves. If we close our minds to new knowledge, then preach to the public things that are new to them, asking them to be willing to learn new knowledge and not be prejudiced against it, we are hypocrites for asking people to do what we are not willing to do ourselves.

So God could not use Church of God Seventh Day. Instead, He used Herbert W. Armstrong, a man who loved the truth, all the truth, even truth that was new to him.

And Mr. Armstrong retained that love of new knowledge all his life.

Today, in the Church, if the ministry does learn something new from the Bible, they often tend to downplay the newness of it, as if they are ashamed to be teaching something new. They will sometimes call it a "clarification".

But Mr. Armstrong was not like that.

When he learned and taught something new, he loudly proclaimed it as new. He would say, here is new knowledge, brethren. He often spoke of Church of God Seventh Day and their rejection of new knowledge, and he taught that we must be different.

When we hear something new, the criteria of whether it is good or bad, true or false, is not whether it is new or old, but whether it is taught by God in His word, the Bible, or not.

That is the criteria the Bereans used when they heard something new. They didn't reject it because it was new. Rather, they searched the scriptures to find out if it was true. "Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men" (Acts 17:10-12).

In searching the scriptures, they were able to determine that the new things Paul and Silas taught were true, and they believed the gospel.

If we are not willing to learn new knowledge and be corrected by the Bible, as we teach the public to be willing to do, it is unlikely God will open the door to preaching the gospel very much for us. He is more likely to reject us as He rejected Church of God Seventh Day for the same reason and give the open door to someone else.

There is still a great work to be done before the end, and God will empower those who are willing to believe and be corrected by and be taught by the Bible to do that great work.

Let's not be prejudiced against things that are new just because they are new, but let's all let the Bible be our guide in determining what is true, whether old or new.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Jonah's Warning Message

There are many lessons from the book of Jonah. The book of Jonah is a prophecy about Christ and a sign of His Messiahship (Matthew 12:39-40, Luke 11:29-30). This is emphasized in a sermon given by Mr. Dexter Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield also pointed out something I had not noticed before. When Jonah fled from God the first time God told him to give a warning message to Nineveh, and the ship he was on was threatened with destruction, Jonah told the men to throw him overboard (Jonah 1:10-12). As Jonah being in the fish and in the sea three days and nights was prophecy about Christ being in the grave three days and nights, so it is also symbolic that, just as the death of Christ reconciles us to God, so the men on the ship were saved after they threw Jonah overboard - the sea became calm for them (Jonah 1:14-16).

Here is a link to Mr. Wakefield's sermon:

There are many lessons for us in the book of Jonah. Mr. Wakefield concentrated on the sign of Jonah being fulfilled in Christ and gave historical background to help explain why the Ninevites were so wicked and why they took God's warning from Jonah seriously.

I would like to cover an additional lesson from Jonah.

One lesson is the need for the Church of God to deliver God's warning message to the nations.

Today the Church of God is scattered into many fellowships. Some of these fellowships make little or no effort to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning of the punishment of the great tribulation to come upon the nations of Israel if they do not repent. They say that this is not the time because the Church needs to first concentrate on overcoming and drawing closer to God before we preach to the public.

They say that the Church of God has problems and we must get our act together. We must reconcile with the Father more than we have in the past before we preach to others. We need to be spiritually healed. They say, God will not bring members into the Church if we are not setting a good example for them. The Church is in such bad shape today that God will not call new members into the Church until we overcome our problems and draw closer to God and set a better example. Only then will God bless the preaching of the gospel to bring in new members.

Whether they mention the "beam in the eye" analogy that Christ gave or not, it is likely that many of them have it in mind when they teach that this is not the time for the Church to preach to the public. "And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye" (Matthew 7:3-5).

This point of view may seem to make sense until you look deeper. You have to look at all the scriptures on a subject and let the Bible interpret the Bible.

The fallacy in this way of thinking is the idea that we are doing the correcting when we deliver God's warning message to the people. If that were the case, then indeed the "beam in the eye" principle would apply. We would need to get the beam out of our own eye so we can see clearly to get the speck out of our brother's eye.

But that is not the case. We are not correcting the public. It is not our message. God is correcting the public, through us. It is God's message of correction. We are only the delivery man delivering the message from God.

And God is more than qualified to correct the world for its sins. God has no beam in His eye that He has to remove to see clearly how to correct the world.

And He commands us to deliver His message (Proverbs 24:11-12, Ezekiel 3:4, 17-21, Matthew 10:5-7, Matthew 28:19-20, Matthew 10:27).

Does God use those who have faults to deliver His corrective message? Yes. Jonah is proof of that.

If there was an example of an Old Testament prophet of God who needed to be spiritually healed, who had character and spiritual problems, who needed to seek a greater reconciliation with God, it was Jonah.

Jonah did not have a right attitude towards God. He disrespected God's authority. God gave him a job to do and he ran from it (Jonah 1:1-3). Later, after God punished him and brought him to repentance, he delivered the message he was told to deliver. But still, his attitude was not right. His preaching brought about a great repentance, and God spared Nineveh as a result, but Jonah was displeased by that (Jonah 3:4-10, 4:1-4). How far his mind was from God's mind! How unlike God was His thinking. He did not have love for his neighbors, the Ninevites. He was angry towards God because of God's mercy.

Later, because a plant died, Jonah was angry towards God, angry enough to die (Jonah 4:6-9).

Those are pretty serious spiritual problems. Jonah certainly had a beam in his eye that prevented him from seeing things clearly.

But God saw things clearly, and God saw that the Ninevites needed a warning message. And God commanded Jonah to preach God's message exactly as God framed the message. "Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you" (Jonah 3:2). God knew what the Ninevites needed to hear even if Jonah did not.

And the message got results. Nineveh repented.

Jonah's spiritual problems and bad attitude did not prevent the message he delivered from God from getting good results. The people repented.

If God did not intend those who have serious spiritual problems to deliver His warning messages to those who need it, He would not have used Jonah to deliver a warning to Nineveh.

The fact that the Church has spiritual problems is NOT an excuse to disobey God's commands to preach the gospel to the world and a warning message to Israel.

In fact, refusing to obey God's command to warn the wicked is itself a spiritual problem that needs to be corrected.

Jonah's reluctance to deliver God's warning to Nineveh may be a prophecy of the Church of God's reluctance to deliver God's warning to the nations of Israel today.

There is one more example of one who was unrighteous that God used to preach the gospel. That example is Judas.

Judas was not clean in God's sight (John 13:10-11). He was a thief (John 12:4-6). He betrayed Christ and later committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5). Christ said he would have been better off if he had never been born (Mark 14:18-21). You can't get much worse than that.

Yet, Christ used Judas as an apostle. He was called an apostle (Matthew 10:1-4). Judas, along with the other eleven apostles, preached the gospel, cast out demons, healed the sick, and baptized (Matthew 10:5-9, John 4:1-2). Some of the 120 who received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost may have been baptized by Judas. Judas was apparently just as effective as the other apostles in preaching the gospel and performing miracles, because they didn't know that he was the one to betray Christ. They had to ask Christ who the betrayer was (John 13:21-26). Judas seemed to be the same as all the apostles.

Now, how could Christ have used Judas, a man with a beam in his eye, to correct and teach the world? The answer is that the message Judas preached was not Judas's message - it was Christ's message, and Christ received it from the Father. Judas and the other apostles (and they had faults too, though not as serious as Judas's) only delivered God's message, not their own, just as Jonah was commanded to deliver God's message, not his own.

I don't disagree with those that say that the Church of God has problems. But we still need to deliver God's message to the public as He commands us. We won't draw closer to God, be reconciled with the Father, and be spiritually healed by running away from our responsibilities as Jonah tried to do.

Does that mean that our spiritual condition has no effect on the success of our efforts to preach the gospel and the warning message? No, I am not saying that. The more we obey God, the closer we are to God, the more God will bless us and bless our efforts to preach the gospel and the warning. Drawing closer to God, being reconciled with the Father, being spiritually healed, overcoming our sins - all of these things help us be successful in delivering God's message to the world.

It is the Philadelphians who are promised an open door, not Laodiceans.

But we have to do both at the same time. We have to obey God by delivering His message to the world even while we learn and develop the habit of obeying him in other ways. We cannot deliberately postpone or reject obedience to God's commands to warn the world and expect to be spiritually healed that way.

Those Church of God groups that want a closer relationship with God, but are not preaching the gospel, need to start preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world as best they can, even while they draw closer to God in other ways at the same time. And members who want to draw closer to God need to support a fellowship that is delivering God's message to the world, not just to the Church of God.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review of Sermon by Mr. Wallace Smith

Recently Living Church of God (LCG) published a sermon by Mr. Wallace Smith entitled, "Engage the Power of God's Spirit", published 5/20/2018.

Here is a link to the page with that sermon:

I thought it was an excellent sermon, and I recommend it to anyone who wants the Holy Spirit to be more active in their minds and life.

In the sermon, Mr. Smith gives six ways to engage the power of God's Holy Spirit. His points are practical, straight-forward, and easy to understand.

In the beginning he talks about the desire of some to hear new knowledge, and he explains that there is a need to be reminded of what we know. He then reviews the meaning of the holy days.

I find his talking about the need for Church members to be reminded of what we know as a Church more than to be taught new knowledge, then his six points on how to engage the Holy Spirit, ironic, for me anyway, but I mean this in a complementary way.

I find it ironic because what he taught in his sermon was actually new knowledge, for me personally. Maybe for others it was not new, but for me it was new, and I have listened to sermons regularly in the Church of God for almost 40 years. And it was very good. Mr. Smith explained something I did not fully understand before.

I have had a pet peeve about some speakers in the Church of God over the years. Sometimes they would say that we need to "use the Holy Spirit", but they don't say what they mean or how to do it.

"Use" is an active verb. It means we take some sort of action. So how are we to "use" the Holy Spirit? I know what it means to use paper and pen to write something. I know what it means to use a computer keyboard, or to use a cell phone. So what does a speaker mean when he says, "use" the Holy Spirit? What am I supposed to do? Say some magic words? Put my mind in some kind of meditative state or trance? What? Speakers often don't say. It is as if they are aware of some special, mystical mental process that they think their listeners know about, and they are saying to do it, but not what it is or how. It is as if they have some secret knowledge I do not have. It irritates me when they speak that way.

But while Mr. Smith uses the word "engage" rather than "use", he does give practical points on how to make the Holy Spirit more active in our minds and how to have access to the power of God's Spirit.

I won't summarize his points here - I'll let you get those from the sermon if you want to listen to it. Click the link above.

But basically he explains that the Holy Spirit becomes active in our minds when we do certain things that the Holy Spirit will help us with. One example is Bible study. Then he gives six things to do, that, when we do them, the Holy Spirit automatically becomes more active in our minds to help us do them. Bible study is one example, but there are five other points he gives.

There was nothing new for me in the six points themselves, but I learned at a deeper level the truth that when we do these things, we are engaging or "using" the Holy Spirit, because God's Spirit automatically goes into action to help us when we do these things. This is how we can "use" the Holy Spirit.

This sermon was helpful to me and I recommend it to others.

Thank you, Mr. Smith.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Pentecost Lessons

This coming Sunday, May 20, is Pentecost, one of God's seven annual holy days and festivals. It is called "Pentecost" (meaning, count fifty) in the New Testament (Acts 2:1) and "the Feast of Weeks" in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:22).

For ancient Israel, it represented the early spring harvest. For the New Testament Church of God it represents the coming of the Holy Spirit and the start of the New Testament Church (Acts 2:1-4).

The Church is a kind of first fruits, not the first of the first fruits, which is Christ, but the first of the harvest of souls among men. This is a small harvest because only a few are called in this church age, in contrast to the many who will be called during the millennium and the white throne judgment.

This is the tie-in between the Old Testament meaning of the day and the New Testament meaning. This day represents an early spring harvest in the Old Testament and the start of the Church of God in the New Testament. And the Church is an early harvest of souls.

The tie-in between Old Testament meaning or explanation and New Testament meaning exists for all the holy days and festivals, but it is more obvious for Pentecost than for some of the other festivals. Even some in traditional churches can see some of the meaning of "first fruits", as applied to the Church, in Pentecost.

Pentecost represents the Church of God. It represents the gift of God's Holy Spirit. It represents the Church as first fruits, a comparatively small early harvest of those God calls. It represents the truth that God is not calling everyone, or even very many, in this age of man.

But Pentecost also represents several important principles and lessons for the Church.

One is the need for preaching the gospel to the world.

That is the first thing Peter and the apostles did on Pentecost after receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:14-42).

Pentecost is the anniversary of the founding of the New Testament Church. And it is also the anniversary of the preaching of the gospel by the Church. The Church, in the person of Peter, began preaching the gospel the same day the Church received the Holy Spirit. It is evident that the Holy Spirit led Peter and the Church to preach the gospel.

Another lesson is the lesson of government.

A significant lesson of Pentecost is that there is a first fruits, an early small harvest, before the main harvest. And this means hierarchy.

God did not design His kingdom to be flat in authority, with every person reporting directly to Christ and no one having greater authority than anyone else.

He could have. God could have planned for everyone in His kingdom to report personally and directly to Christ and to no one else. There would be no requirement for a first resurrection or for anyone to be called in this age. Christ and the angels could rule the millennium, and all who would eventually be saved could come up in one resurrection.

But God did not plan His kingdom that way. He built hierarchical government into His kingdom. There is a first fruits, and they will be in the first resurrection and will have authority over the human race in the millennium.

There will be organization, with some saints having authority over other saints.

David will be king over Israel (Jeremiah 30:9). The apostles will be over the twelve tribes (Matthew 19:28). This means David will have authority over Peter, John, James, and the rest of the twelve apostles in ruling Israel.

And that means, to learn the lessons we need to learn in this life to prepare us for that kingdom, we need to learn to submit to the authority of those God has placed in offices of authority in the Church. It also means that those holding those offices must learn how to rule with justice, compassion, wisdom, and love. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28).

Another lesson is the importance of believing the Bible.

This may not at first seem evident as a lesson of Pentecost.

Peter based his message to the crowds on Pentecost on three things. One was Old Testament scriptures and the things people knew from the scriptures (Acts 2:16-21, 25-28, 34-35). He referred to scripture to make his points. Another was the miracle of tongues, which the crowd had witnessed (Acts 2:4-16). This miracle was a sign from God that backed up the words of Peter and the apostles. A third thing was the eye-witness testimony of Peter and the apostles regarding Jesus Christ - His teachings, His miracles, His murder, and His resurrection (Acts 2:32).

Today, we do not have the eye-witness testimony of living human beings to the events of the Bible, and we do not have apostles or prophets who work public miracles. But we do have the miracle of the Bible.

The Bible is a miracle.

Anyone with an open mind can prove the inspiration of the Bible by its internal consistency and by fulfilled prophecy. We can prove that the Bible is God's word - God speaking.

The principle here is that God backs up His message by miracles. In the days of Peter and the original apostles, speaking in tongues and healings were the miracles to back the message (Acts 3:1-26). Today, it is the Bible itself, which was not complete and widespread in the days of Peter.

God is fair. He requires that we believe what He says, but He does not require that we blindly believe that a message is from Him without proof. He gave the proof in Peter's day by miracles of tongues and healings. He gives us the proof today by the Bible.

And just as Peter used Old Testament scriptures and knowledge and miracles to prove his message, so the Church today must prove its points by the Bible when preaching the gospel. We must give the proof that our message is from God. We can't expect or require that the public take our word for it - "Believe us because we are the true servants of God - the true Church - and this is where God is working". Rather, we must say, as Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible - believe God".

But herein lies a problem for many COGs that try to preach the gospel. They say this to the world. They say the right thing to the public. But they don't say the same thing to their members. They practice a double standard. They want their members to believe their interpretation of the scriptures rather than what the members can see and prove for themselves from the Bible. In this manner they direct the faith of the members, in matters of doctrine, towards the Church and the ministry rather than towards God and the Bible. They compete with God for the faith of the members.

It is this inconsistency that can cut us off from God's blessing for preaching the gospel.

A test for any Church of God administration is this. Do they teach their members to believe the Bible first, but not to talk about their disagreements with other members?

Just about every COG leader and minister knows that you cannot allow members to promote their pet theories contrary to the doctrines of the Church because that would cause division. So how is that prevented or minimized?

There are two ways. One is to teach the members that they are to believe the doctrines of the ministry, even if they do not see it themselves in the Bible. Many COGs take this approach.

And if that approach is followed, it certainly helps to build organizational unity and loyalty, but it does not build faith in God, and it does not help to preach the gospel.

The other approach is to direct the faith of the members toward God and His word, the Bible, in all matters of doctrine. Members are to believe what they see in their own Bibles. But if they disagree with the Church in some matter, they should not discuss it with others, except with the ministry.

This approach does not cause division. It promotes peace and unity in the Church. It teaches respect and obedience towards the ministry. It creates consistency between what we tell the public and what we practice among ourselves, and that consistency will enable God to bless our efforts to preach the gospel to the world.

Pentecost is all about the Church of God. It includes lessons about how the Church should conduct itself, in practicing hierarchical government and respecting the ministry, in putting God and His word the Bible first in matters of doctrine and faith, and in preaching the gospel to the world.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Korean Agreement

As many of you know by now, last Friday it was in the news that the leader of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, and the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, met and agreed to officially end the Korean war. They also agreed to work for complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

This is a agreement of intent. The actual end of the Korean war and the full details of the agreement are yet to be worked out. But the leaders of North and South Korea agreed to work out an agreement to end the Korean war and denuclearize the Korean peninsula by the end of this year.

The Korean war started in 1950. In 1953 an armistice was signed and the fighting stopped, but that was not a peace treaty, and technically North Korea and South Korea have been at war ever since.

So this agreement is an agreement to negotiate a formal end to the war.

North Korea has agreed to negotiate a denuclearization of both Koreas. On the surface, this may seem to indicate that North Korea is willing to give up its nuclear weapons. But North Korea in the past has insisted that South Korea give up its alliance with the United States. Since the United States is committed to the defense of South Korea, and the United States is a nuclear power, it may be that North Korea will insist that the alliance between the United States and South Korea be ended before it gives up its nuclear weapons. I think this is unlikely.

Nevertheless, this agreement seems to be a step forward in lessening tensions between North Korea and its neighbors, including Japan and the United States.

In evaluating the chances that this will lead to real peace between North and South Korea and the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea, it is important to have a balance. There are difficulties ahead, and an agreement to reach an agreement isn't the same as a final agreement. But we should not go to the opposite ditch and assume this has no value at all. I think there is a real chance for North Korea to reach an agreement with South Korea and the United States to give up its nuclear weapons in return for an end to economic sanctions and a pledge by South Korea and the United States not to attack North Korea.

South Korea credits President Trump with helping to bring about this meeting. Trump also plans to personally meet with the leader of North Korea at a later time.

If there is one thing Donald Trump is skilled at, it is negotiation. He is not likely to be deceived and taken advantage of during the course of future negotiations for the removal of nuclear weapons from North Korea and an official end to the Korean war. He has spent his life making business deals, and he can be a tough negotiator, but also a successful one.

Time will tell how this will work out.

This can have a political effect in the United States that affects how long the Church will have an open door for preaching the gospel.

If the American public views this as a positive development, and if they credit President Trump with a positive accomplishment, this can help his approval ratings and popularity.

The news media loves to criticize President Trump because he does not share the media's liberal agenda. But their focus almost always seems to be on his rhetoric - what he says - not what he does. But his decisions and actions are more important than his words, and he has made some good decisions. The Korean meeting and agreement is an example of what he can accomplish.

If this helps to boost his popularity and the popularity of the Republican party - or at least reduce his unpopularity - that can affect future elections, including the congressional elections coming up later this year.

In short, this can be a blow against the liberals who want to destroy religious freedom and freedom of speech in this country - freedoms we need to preach the gospel to the public. The fewer liberals elected to Congress, the less chance there is that Congress will pass laws restricting our freedom to live as Christians and preach the gospel any time soon. If President Trump is re-elected to the presidency in 2020, that also will help us continue to have the open door of freedom of religion, speech, and the press.

So this can be a good development for the Church of God and for our mission of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

It may mean we will have more time to finish our mission. Eventually, the door will close and there will be a famine of the word, but that time has not come yet.

We need to take advantage of the freedom we have while we have it. We need to be zealous, diligent, and active in preaching the true gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel of the coming tribulation to fall up the nations of Israel as punishment for their sins if Israel doesn't repent.

The Church of God has an open door, if we are willing to go through it.