Monday, December 17, 2018

Does God Punish Even After He Forgives?

Suppose we sin. God punishes us. We repent and ask God's forgiveness in the name of Jesus Christ who suffered and died to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven. We learn our lesson, turn from our sin, and stop sinning. And God forgives us.

But the trial God put us through, the punishment for the sin that God used to wake us up and bring us to repentance, continues.

Is God still punishing us for a sin He has forgiven? Is that possible?

When we understand that the purpose of the punishment is to enforce a lesson we will remember, for our good, the answer is, yes. God may continue to punish us for a sin He has already forgiven.

Why?

A prime purpose of a trial or punishment for a sin we have not repented of may be to bring us to repentance - to wake us up and help us realize our need to repent and stop sinning, or if it is a one-time sin to help us realize our need to make amends and be determined not to repeat the sin. Once we have repented and turned from our sin, that purpose has been achieved.

But there can be a secondary purpose for a trial or punishment even after repentance, and that is to reinforce a lesson and continue to remind us that there are unpleasant consequences of sin.

There is an example in the Bible of a man who was punished by God for a sin even after he repented and God forgave him.

King David sinned in the matter of Uriah the Hittite. He committed adultery with Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. She became pregnant, and to cover up his sin, David murdered Uriah (2 Samuel 11:1-27).

God used Nathan the prophet to confront David and make him realize what he had done (2 Samuel 12:1-12). David repented, and God forgave him. "So David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' And Nathan said to David, 'The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die' " (2 Samuel 12:13).

But God had declared punishments that would come upon David because of his sin. " 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' Thus says the Lord: 'Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun' .... because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die" (2 Samuel 12:10-14).

Did those punishments come upon David even after God forgave him? Yes. The child died (2 Samuel 12:15-23). Absalom, David's son, killed another of David's sons, Amnon, for raping Absalom's sister (2 Samuel 13:1-29). This was the beginning of the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy that the sword would not depart from David's house. Then Absalom himself rebelled against David and was killed by Joab and his men (2 Samuel 15:1-37, 2 Samuel 18:9-15), fulfilling what God said, that He would raise up adversity against David from his own house. David's friend and counselor, Ahithophel, joined Absalom in the rebellion, and later committed suicide (2 Samuel 15:31-34, 2 Samuel 16:20-23, 2 Samuel 17:23, Psalm 55:12-15).

Even after God told David through Nathan that he was forgiven, He said the child born to Bathsheba would die, which it did.

This happened, and it was an occasion of suffering for David (2 Samuel 12:15-23).

What was happening here? If God forgave David as indicated in 2 Samuel 12:13, why did God punish David after forgiving him?

God forgave David spiritually. He was not cut off from a relationship with God. God did not take His Holy Spirit from David (Psalm 51:1-19). The death penalty - eternal death in the lake of fire - was not hanging over David's head. David would not lose his salvation because of this sin. In that sense, he was forgiven.

But God wanted to reinforce a lesson. David had some suffering to go through to thoroughly learn the evil consequences of his sin. This suffering, this punishment, was for training and educational purposes, for David's good. There may also have been some justice involved. Uriah, if he were alive, would perhaps have wanted vengeance. Uriah had no opportunity for that, nor had he the right to take personal vengeance for himself even if he remained alive and had opportunity. That is not because vengeance is wrong in itself, but because it belongs only to God. "Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, 'Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:19).

And in this case, God may have extracted vengeance on Uriah's behalf upon David in David's physical lifetime.

Whatever the reasons, God punished David after forgiving him.

This is something to remember. If God brings a trial upon us because of our sin, a punishment for sin - maybe a health problem or other ongoing trial - and we repent and turn from our sin, if the trial continues, that does not mean God has not forgiven us or is unjust. God may simply want to reinforce a lesson for a while.

This physical life is a test, but also a training program. We are being taught and trained. Trials and punishment are part of that training. As much as we may hate trials, they are part of the program. We have to trust God that He knows what He is doing and has our best interest in mind.

We must not give in to discouragement in these cases.

"And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11).

How to submit humbly and with a right attitude to the punishments and trials God gives us is an important lesson we must learn if we are to grow spiritually and overcome our sins.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Give Thanks for the Blessings of Others

We are taught in many places in the Bible to give thanks to God for His many blessings.

"Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good!
For His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 106:1).

"And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:18-20).

"Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18).

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:1).

Giving thanks to God should be a way of life for us in the Church of God.

But when we give thanks, do we thank God for our own personal blessings only? Or do we also thank God for the blessings others enjoy?

We are one body in Christ. Even though we are scattered geographically and organizationally, we are still one body because we have one Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God. That is what makes us one body.

When we pray for our own needs, we should also pray for the needs of the whole body and all its members.

Likewise, when we give thanks to God, we should thank Him for the blessings He has given to others in the Church.

"And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Corinthians 12:26-27).

Perhaps you have a happy marriage in the Church. You should give God thanks for that marriage. But suppose you do not have a happy marriage. You can still give thanks, not for your own marriage, but for the happy marriages so many members in the Church are blessed with. You can, and should, thank God for those marriages and for the happiness they give to other members. Likewise, if you do not have a good job, you can thank God for the jobs He has provided to other members in the Church.

Some of us may feel lonely and frustrated with our problems. Maybe we are unemployed, without family, without friends, and in poor health. Some may feel they do not have much to be thankful for.

But if we know the truth of God and are trying to live by it, there is hope for us of eternal life. We can give thanks for that hope and for God's promises. We can give thanks even in the midst of trials. Even when God punishes us for our sins, we can give thanks to God that He cares about us enough to work with us to help us turn from our sins and become overcomers.

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).

"And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:5-11).

Not all suffering is punishment. Some is for the purpose of testing our faith and love towards God.

But it is clear that the Christian life is not all physical blessings.

Remember the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus was not blessed in this life. But he made it into the kingdom of God. "But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores....But Abraham said [to the rich man], 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented' " (Luke 16:20-25).

"Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4).

We are not all blessed in this physical life. But whether or not we are physically blessed, we should rejoice and give thanks for those in the Church who are blessed because we are members of the same body and we should love each other as we love ourselves.

When we give thanks, let us remember to thank God not only for our own personal blessings but for the blessings He has given others.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

United States Mid-term Election Results 2018

Last Tuesday there were elections in the United States for state and local offices and for the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

Prior to the election, the Republicans held a majority in both houses of Congress (Senate and House of Representatives).

In the election, the Republicans held control of the senate but lost control of the house. The Democrats will have a majority in the House of Representatives when the newly elected representatives take office in January.

What does this mean?

The house can launch investigations of Donald Trump, and they can make his next two years more difficult. They can, if they wish, start impeachment proceedings. The actual trial of an impeachment would take place in the senate, however, and it is unlikely a Republican senate would vote to convict Mr. Trump. Thus, the Democrats will not be able to remove Mr. Trump from office.

Reaching agreement between the house and senate on budget and other bills will be more difficult and contentious.

Row vs. Wade may be challenged sometime in 2019-2020, but if it is it will be challenged by state law, not federal law. Any of a number of Republican-led states can pass laws against abortion hoping that the new conservative Supreme Court will overturn Roe vs. Wade. It is possible that may happen.

If it does, it will not stop abortion. A woman who wants to have an abortion can go to a state that allows it. It might stop some abortions in some states, but most abortions will continue.

The Democratic house will not pass a bill against abortion, so there will be no challenge to Roe vs. Wade on the federal level in 2019-2020.

If the Democrats in the house try to pass a bill guaranteeing women the right to have an abortion, it would not pass in the Republican senate, and even if it did President Trump would veto it. So the Congress split between two parties will not make major changes to abortion law. The challenge to Roe vs. Wade will only come from the states.

However...

The new Congress does not take office till January. Till then, the Republicans still control both houses and we have a republican president and a Supreme Court with a conservative majority. It is possible, if there is the political or moral will to do it, for Republicans and conservative Supreme Court justices to stop abortions nationwide for the next couple of years.

The Republican controlled Congress can pass a law right now, and the president can sign it, that would outlaw abortions. Then it would be up to the conservatives on the Supreme Court to decide whether to uphold the law and overturn Roe vs. Wade, thus ending legal abortions, or to keep Roe vs. Wade and rule the new law unconstitutional, thus allowing abortions to continue. The new Democratic House of Representatives coming into office in 2019 will not be able to reverse what the 2018 Congress has passed because the Republican senate will not approve a reversal of the bill.

The Republicans have had plenty of time over the past many months to prepare such a bill and make plans for its passage.

But I have not heard or read of any such planned effort to pass such a bill while the current congress is still in office.

Personally, I do not think most conservative Republicans are in any real hurry to stop abortions. The will to hurry such a bill through Congress is not there. Conservative Republicans want the anti-abortion vote. They want to appear righteous. But they are lukewarm about follow-through.

That may be because of the effect of abortions on demographics.

A disproportionate number of abortions are performed upon black unborn babies. Blacks make up about 12% of the United States population, or maybe a little more. But I have read figures that the percentage of abortions in the black community is much higher - something like 40-50% of all abortions are among blacks.

What this means is that, if abortions were stopped, the black population would increase far faster than the white population and far faster than their present rate of increase.

I haven't seen statistical studies, but it would be interesting to see a study that would estimate the black population that would exist today if the abortions since Roe vs. Wade were not performed. I would imagine that it would be far greater than now, maybe up to 20-25% of the population. This would in turn give the black community, most of which is liberal Democrat in political leanings, more political power in this country.

I think that is what some conservative Republicans are afraid of. I think that is why some of them may be hypocrites - pretending for the sake of getting Catholic and conservative Christian votes that they are against abortion and want to save unborn lives, but in reality wanting abortions to continue.

That is just my opinion.

But the fact remains that Republicans in Congress and conservatives on the Supreme Court have the power to outlaw abortions in the next few weeks while the current Congress is still in office. It is their choice. If they do not do it, they have chosen to allow abortions to continue for at least the next two years, whatever their reasons.

Let's assume they will do nothing in the current year. Then, what will happen?

Abortion may be a big issue in the next presidential election two years from now in 2020. If during the next two years one or more states challenge Roe vs. Wade and if a conservative Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade, then the congress and president elected in 2020 will have the power to go either way. A liberal Democrat congress and president can pass a federal law overturning state laws against abortion and guaranteeing women the power to have abortions in all states. It would have the same effect as Roe vs. Wade, but it would be from the elected Congress and president, not the Supreme Court.

Or, if a conservative Republican congress and president are elected in 2020, they can pass a law outlawing abortions in all states, and most abortions can be stopped.

This puts the responsibility for abortion directly upon the voting public in a way that hasn't happened before.

God holds us as a nation responsible for abortions. It is one of the sins of the nation that we will be punished for in the great tribulation.

"Also on your skirts is found
The blood of the lives of the poor innocents.
I have not found it by secret search,
But plainly on all these things" (Jeremiah 2:34).

Yet, the general voting population can say, "It is not our fault. The Supreme Court gives women the right to have abortions, and our votes don't count. We have never been able to stop abortions."

But if the Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade in response to challenges from state law in the next two years, the nation will not have that excuse. They don't have that excuse anyway, but some may think they do. That will change.

Abortion may be the biggest issue in the 2020 elections. Voters will directly choose candidates pledged to support or stop abortion.

And under those circumstances, if the nation deliberately chooses to let abortions continue, people will understand if God holds the people responsible and begins to punish the nation as never before.

The Church of God may not be the only ones giving a warning of God's punishments to come. The 2020 election may be when political issues and religious issues begin to merge. Interest in prophecy may also increase.

Watch for the slim chance that Congress may pass a law against abortion in 2018. If that does not happen, and I think it won't, then watch in the next two years for some states to pass laws against abortion, challenging Roe vs. Wade, and look to see if the conservative justices on the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade. If Roe vs. Wade is overturned, this will dump the whole issue in the hands of the voters. Then watch which way they decide in the 2020 election.

If they decide in favor of abortion, watch for prophetic events to get hot.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Double Portion of Your Spirit" Does NOT = Prophet

2 Kings 2:9-15 tells of the time when the prophet Elijah was carried by a whirlwind into heaven. At the same time, his office and responsibilities were transferred to Elisha who was to be prophet in his place (1 Kings 19:15-16).

Elisha asked Elijah for a "double portion of your spirit" (2 Kings 2:9). What did that refer to? Did it mean becoming a prophet? Was a prophetic office indicated by the term "double portion"?

No. That is impossible.

The Bible does not specify exactly what was meant by that term and everything it indicated. Perhaps it referred to the power to work signs and miracles. But it did not indicate the office of prophet.

How can we know this?

Elijah knew what it meant, and he was not sure God would grant Elisha's request. "So he said, 'You have asked a hard thing. Nevertheless, if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so' " (2 Kings 2:10). This actually shows that it could not have been the office of prophet. Why?

Elijah already knew that Elisha was to be prophet in Elijah's place. God had told him.

Turn back to 1 Kings 19:15-16: "Then the Lord said to him: 'Go, return on your way to the Wilderness of Damascus; and when you arrive, anoint Hazael as king over Syria. Also you shall anoint Jehu the son of Nimshi as king over Israel. And Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel Meholah you shall anoint as prophet in your place' ".

Since God already told Elijah that Elisha was to be prophet in his place, how could Elijah not know it and say, "if you see me when I am taken from you, it shall be so for you; but if not, it shall not be so"? (2 Kings 2:10), if the double portion referred to being a prophet?

I bring this up because some think that if a minister anoints someone and asks God to give that person a double portion of God's Spirit, that is the same thing as ordaining that person as a prophet. Nothing could be further from the truth.

In previous posts I have made the point that making the request for a double portion does not mean God grants the request. Even Elijah did not know if God would give Elisha what he asked. Even today, when a member is anointed for healing, which is promised, God does not always heal even in this lifetime, and a double portion of God's Spirit is not even promised.

But now I am showing that the "double portion" does not even refer to being a prophet.

It can't. Elijah knew Elisha would be prophet from what God had told him in 1 Kings 19:16. He would not have answered Elisha as he did if "double portion" meant the office of prophet. The matter of Elisha being a prophet was not a question at this point. It was already settled. Not so the "double portion". That was something else. Elijah did not know if God would grant that request.

So the "double portion" Elisha requested and the office of prophet were two different things.

How do we know if a man in the Church of God is a prophet? Only God can make someone a prophet. But how do we know if He has done so?

God gives criteria.

One is, he must be faithful, overall, to God's way of life. He must be faithful to strive to believe and live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). That does not mean he is perfect. But overall, he must be faithful to teach the truth. In particular, he must not try to turn the people to false gods. "If there arises among you a prophet or a dreamer of dreams, and he gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes to pass, of which he spoke to you, saying, 'Let us go after other gods'—which you have not known—'and let us serve them,' you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams, for the Lord your God is testing you to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 13:1-3).

This includes not pointing the people to demon-inspired messages about the future. "For these nations which you will dispossess listened to soothsayers and diviners; but as for you, the Lord your God has not appointed such for you" (Deuteronomy 18:14).

A man who quotes and publishes and spreads pagan and demon-inspired prophecies about the future, trying to learn and teach from demons details of the future that God does not choose to reveal, disqualifies himself from being a true prophet.

But also, a true prophet of God is given prophecy by God. God gives prophecy - sure prophetic messages by direct revelation from God - to His true prophets. And a sign of a prophet is accurate predictions in those messages of future events. When a prediction in a prophetic message comes true in a way that is unlikely by chance, that is a sign that the man is a true prophet.

"And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?'—when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him" (Deuteronomy 18:21-22).

I find no example in the Bible of a prophet without prophecy. Any man who claims to be a prophet but who has never received a direct prophetic message from God is practicing wishful thinking.

Those are two qualifications for being a prophet - not turning the people to false gods, false doctrines, or messages from demons, and actually receiving prophetic messages from God - messages about the future that can be verified when the future event comes to pass.

Both are needed.

What if someone who claims to be a prophet of God makes a prediction that comes to pass, but also turns people to demon-inspired pagan prophecies? Is that person a true prophet?

No.

God may allow a false teacher to make a true prediction as a way of testing His people to know if they will believe His word, the Bible, or not. See Deuteronomy 13:1-3 which I quoted above.

So even if a man can make true predictions about the future, if he points people to pagan and demon-inspired messages, he cannot be a true prophet of God.

How much less a man who claims to be a prophet, points people to pagan prophecies, and cannot even make his own prophetic predictions.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Why Division Concerning Calendar and Holy Days?

Someone emailed me with a question: Why do Christians differ in calculation of appointed times, and how can we know?

I thought my answer to this would make a good post, so here it is.

God gives directions for the appointed times of His Sabbaths and feast days in the Bible, and it is from the Bible that we can know the dates.

The weekly Sabbath day, the seventh day from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, is easy for anyone who believes the Bible to understand. The weekly cycle has been kept by the Jews, wherever they are in the world, for centuries since the time of Moses until now. There is no serious disagreement about when the seventh day is, although most traditional churches prefer to observe Sunday.

God uses the seventh-day Sabbath day to test those who want to live by every word of God, as Jesus said (Matthew 4:4). You don't need a church organization to know when the seventh day is.

But the annual holy days are more complicated. God gives instructions in the Bible that tell us when these days occur, but you have to put scriptural passages together from different places in the Bible to understand them properly. And sometimes, a judgment is required to make a decision God has given leaders in the Church the authority to make.

Part of the problem is that the annual days - Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day - all depend, directly or indirectly, on a calendar.

But God does not give an exact calendar in the Bible.

Most, not all, disagreements among those calling themselves "Church of God" about when these days occur involve disagreements about what calendar to follow.

But God gave authority for deciding these issues to the leaders He has appointed. God's leaders do not have the authority to contradict or disobey the Bible. But they have the authority to make judgment calls to decide details that are not spelled out in the Bible.

In the Old Testament, God gave this authority for Israel to the Levitical priesthood. "If a matter arises which is too hard for you to judge, between degrees of guilt for bloodshed, between one judgment or another, or between one punishment or another, matters of controversy within your gates, then you shall arise and go up to the place which the Lord your God chooses. And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you. Now the man who acts presumptuously and will not heed the priest who stands to minister there before the Lord your God, or the judge, that man shall die. So you shall put away the evil from Israel. And all the people shall hear and fear, and no longer act presumptuously" (Deuteronomy 17:8-13).

In the New Testament, for the Church of God, God gave this authority to the apostles and the ministry in the Church. "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19).

This is good, because it is a way God can test our willingness to submit to the leadership of those He has placed in authority over us. "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). "Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7).

This authority that God gives to the leaders He appoints is for the purpose of maintaining unity and enabling the Church to work together as a team. It is necessary that we learn this lesson because unified teamwork is the pattern of how we will function in the millennium and for eternity in the Kingdom of God.

"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; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).

So, difficult questions about the exact timing of the calendar and annual holy days and festivals are decided by the leadership and ministry in the Church of God.

So, as God tests each Christian with the weekly Sabbath day to know if that person will obey God directly when God's word, the Bible, is simple and easy to understand, so God can use the calendar and annual holy days and feast days to test each person to know if they will submit to the judgment of the Church of God leadership and ministry as He instructs in matters that may not be simple and clear from the Bible and easy to understand.

Now for some history of this issue in the Church of God in modern times.

When Herbert W. Armstrong was first converted, he had to be willing to obey God by keeping the seventh day Sabbath. It was a hard test for him, but he finally obeyed God. He also learned at that time from the Bible that Christians are also to keep the annual holy days and feasts of God.

He began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day. They knew about and kept the seventh day Sabbath. But they did not observe the annual holy days and festivals. So Mr. Armstrong and his family had to observe the annual days alone.

In the matter of the calendar, Mr. Armstrong recognized that God committed the "oracles of God" (which would include the calendar issues) to the Jews (Romans 3:1-2), and also, this was the calendar in effect when Jesus Christ, our perfect example, kept these days. So Mr. Armstrong made the judgment to follow the Hebrew calendar.

Mr. Armstrong eventually left most fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day when he raised up the Radio Church of God, later renamed Worldwide Church of God. As this Church grew and the work of God expanded, and as God revealed to Mr. Armstrong more and more new doctrinal knowledge from the Bible, Mr. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God recognized that God was using Mr. Armstrong as an apostle.

As I understand it, during all this time, Mr. Armstrong, as Pastor General of Worldwide, taught the Church to observe the Hebrew calendar. This was in line with the authority God gave to the apostles and the ministry to make binding decisions (Matthew 16:19).

That did not eliminate every controversy regarding the holy days and festivals, because a few issues remain even when we agree on a calendar. But at least the calendar was a base upon which most observance of annual days can be based from clear Bible instruction.

Can men, ministers, and even apostles make mistakes? Yes. For years, Mr. Armstrong thought Pentecost was on a Monday, and the Church thus observed it. But that was an error due to a misunderstanding of scripture. Later, Mr. Armstrong corrected his mistake and taught that Pentecost is on a Sunday, which is correct.

That raises a question. What should a Church member have done during the time when Mr. Armstrong was teaching a Monday Pentecost if that member could see in the Bible that this was a mistake and it should be Sunday? Should the member obey Mr. Armstrong and keep it on Monday or obey God and keep it on Sunday?

I believe the correct answer is, both. And I think some did exactly that. There is no reason for division here.

Such a member could obey God by quietly resting and reading the Bible on Pentecost Sunday to obey God, without making an issue of it with the Church or discussing it with other members, and also resting and attending Church services on Monday with the rest of the Church. That would be obeying God, obeying the ministry, and avoiding division.

After the death of Mr. Armstrong, his successor, Mr. Tkach, began changing doctrine and Worldwide split up into a number of fellowships, each with a different leader or form of governance. I think God allowed this because we, as a Church, had become Laodicean, lukewarm, and it served God's purpose to let the Church become scattered to test us and try us and teach us lessons.

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

This left members to turn to God, turn to the Bible, and really study the issue of where to attend and who to support. I think members with spiritual discernment understand the need to attend with and support an organization that is governed from the top down and is actively doing God's work of preaching the gospel to the world.

Even so, the vast majority of members and major fellowships continued in the traditions and judgments of Mr. Armstrong regarding the calendar and holy days. This includes Living Church of God, United Church of God, and most or all of the other large organizations that came out of Worldwide. Only some small groups reject Mr. Armstrong's judgment in these matters.

I have studied these issues myself to a certain degree, and as far as I can tell, Mr. Armstrong was completely correct in the calendar and holy days once he corrected his Pentecost error.

Why do some groups do things differently?

I cannot judge if their leaders are sincere. I cannot read minds. If a man is not sincere, he may make an issue of the calendar or holy days just to create a following. Or, if he is sincere but is not whole-heartedly following God and the Bible, God may have removed from that man the spiritual discernment to realize his error.

Of all the fellowships, I think Living Church of God is doing the best job of being faithful to God's instructions in the Bible including the annual holy days and festivals. They follow the same schedule Mr. Armstrong followed and taught, and I follow the same.

Why is there this division in the whole Church of God?

God allows it to test us, to force us to dig into the Bible, to be zealous, to search out where He is working, and to test our obedience both to His word, the Bible, and to His appointed ministry.

Friday, October 12, 2018

New Supreme Court Justice - What It Can Mean for the Church and God's Work

Brett Kavanaugh has been confirmed as new justice of the Supreme Court. He is a conservative. For the first time in decades, conservatives are a majority on the Supreme Court, outnumbering liberals five to four.

Liberals in the United States have been advancing their liberal agenda and values for decades, with some success. That agenda has a number of characteristics. It is anti-God and anti-Christianity. It is pro-abortion. It is pro-homosexuality. And it is against freedom of speech and freedom of religion when such expression goes against liberal values.

All these things can affect the Church and the work of preaching the gospel.

Liberals would like to ban public messages that criticize homosexuality, and that can include the teaching of the Bible. They characterize Bible teaching as "hate speech" and try to build a culture and legal environment that will not tolerate God's teaching on the subject.

So far, the liberal effort has not advanced to the point where our ability to preach the gospel in the United States is seriously hindered. But that is the direction it has been heading.

But a conservative Supreme Court should help to slow down the liberal agenda that threatens the preaching of the gospel.

The liberals will not give up. But for the time being, they can no longer depend on the highest court to back them up.

This suggests that the Church will still have a number of years left to finish God's work of preaching the gospel and delivering the Ezekiel warning of the tribulation to come. The door is still open and is likely to remain open for a while.

But we do not have an unlimited number of years. New elections and new Supreme Court vacancies can change things again.

There is another possible effect of this new, conservative Supreme Court.

Will Roe vs. Wade be reversed?

It is possible.

And if that happens, the abortion battleground will move from the Supreme Court, over which voters have only indirect control, to the Congress and presidency, over which voters have more direct control through their votes.

In other words, the American people will become more directly responsible for the way the country goes on abortion.

Up till now, people can say, we don't want abortion but the Supreme Court forces the nation to allow it. Neither the Congress nor the states can outlaw abortion because the Supreme Court won't allow them.

But suppose that sometime in the next two years before the next presidential election Roe vs. Wade is overturned. Both Congress and the states would be able to stop abortions.

BUT...

Congress would still be able to pass a law that gives women the same power to have abortions that Roe vs. Wade gave them, and federal law will override state law. Abortions would continue.

That is unlikely to happen while Donald Trump is president. He would veto any attempt by Congress to guarantee women the legal right to have abortions.

But 2020 is a presidential election year. If a liberal democrat wins the presidency and a liberal majority wins control of Congress, they could pass a federal law guaranteeing women the power to have abortions, and that law would override state laws. Abortions would continue just as they did with Roe vs. Wade.

On the other hand, a conservative president and Congress could pass a law prohibiting abortions in all states.

What this means is that abortion could be a HUGE issue in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

For the first time since Roe vs. Wade, the American voting public will have very direct control over the lives of millions of unborn children - control to determine whether they are murdered or not. They will elect a president and members of Congress who will stop abortions or allow them to continue.

God is teaching mankind lessons and He is preparing the great tribulation to punish the United States (and other countries) for their sins.

But for the people to understand this punishment and to learn their lessons, they need to know that they are responsible for their sins and the sins of the nation. This will be easier for them to understand if they elect a Congress and a president that allow abortions to continue.

So it may be that if the American people, at a time when abortion is a top campaign issue, choose through their elected officials to let abortions continue, that God's time will come to hold the nation directly responsible more than before. Dramatic punishments may soon begin after that, and the American people will begin to understand that these punishments are connected with their decision to allow abortions.

Watch for a possible reversal of Roe vs. Wade in the next couple of years. Then watch which way the nation chooses in the election of a president and members of Congress. This may give us a clue as to when God's punishments on the United States will increase.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Last Great Day - God's Fairness and Wisdom

The eighth day after the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles is the Last Great Day, a feast of God separate from, but connected with, the Feast of Tabernacles.

This day pictures the general resurrection of the dead, also known as the White Throne Judgment. It pictures a time, after the millennium, when the vast majority of mankind that had died are resurrected back to physical life. This is pictured by the valley of dry bones passage in Ezekiel 37:1-14.

This event is described in Revelation 20:11-15.

The billions who have lived and died since the time of Adam will be brought back to life. The billions who never had a chance to hear, understand, and believe the true gospel and repent and be converted, the billions that much of traditional religion has assumed are lost, will be given a chance for salvation. No one ever born will miss out on salvation because of circumstances of birth.

They will live in two worlds. They will have lived in this present evil world ruled by Satan - a world that practices Satan's way of life. And they will live in the general resurrection period (perhaps 100 years - see Isaiah 65:20) when Satan is put away and the whole earth is ruled by Christ and the saints in justice, peace, prosperity, and happiness. And they will be able to compare.

They will be able to compare their experiences with Satan's way and God's way, and they will be able to see, if they are willing, that God's way is better. And they can make their choice to accept the truth of God, to accept Christ and the gospel message, to repent, be baptized, and be converted, and be saved.

No doubt the majority will choose to be saved, but each person will have to choose.

But people will also have to choose to forgive. When the billions who have lived and died over centuries are brought back to life at one time, murderers and their victims will be alive together. Hitler will be alive with the millions of Jews who died in Nazi concentration camps as a result of his murderous policies. Hitler will have to repent if he wants to be saved, but if he does, his victims will have to forgive him if they want to be saved. That will not necessarily be easy.

But that is the choice people will have to make.

This is all part of God's great plan for the salvation of mankind.

This shows the wisdom, love, and power of God that He will use this plan to teach mankind a lesson that will enable the greatest number to be saved. It also shows God's fairness and justice that no one will miss out on an opportunity to be saved.

How great God is!