Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Being Thankful During Trials

This coming Thursday will be Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day to remind us to be thankful to God for His blessings.

Some members of the Church of God observe this day and some do not. It is a national holiday and voluntary for Church of God members.

But for those who observe this day in the right spirit and attitude, it can be a useful reminder of our need to give God thanks.

We should always give thanks to God for His many blessings.

But trials can distract us from the attitude of thankgiving that we should have.

When we go through trials, it is human nature for us to focus on our problems and what we don't have instead of giving thanks for what we do have. And that actually makes the trials worse, mentally anyway.

We may cry out to God for deliverance from our trials, yet He might not deliver us right away. Sometimes, after such prayer, our trials get worse. But God is testing our faith, which is good for us in the long run.

We may ask God for blessings, yet those blessings might not come for a long time.

In these circumstances, we may not, humanly speaking, feel thankful. We may think we have our hands full just fighting off feelings of resentment.

Yet, this is exactly the time when we need to shift our focus to an attitude of thankfulness for the blessings we do enjoy.

Because we know the truth of God and want to share that truth with others, truth that Satan hates, Satan would like to destroy us. And he is perfectly capable of doing so, except that God protects us. Satan can only do what God allows him to do. See Job 1:8-22 and Job 2:3-10. Satan has great power. He could kill us all very quickly, or first put us through such severe trials that we could not stand it to destroy us spiritually before he destroys us physically. But God does not allow that.

No matter what our individual trials, the fact that we exist and know God's truth is proof that God protects us. If Satan had his way, we wouldn't long exist on the earth.

And no matter what trials God puts us through, His intentions towards us are good. He is working a good purpose in us, to give us eternal life in His kingdom.

For that we can be thankful. And we can be thankful for the blessings He does give us, for we have all received some blessings. The truth itself is a blessing. Life itself, even for just the purpose of experiencing or learning lessons, is a blessing.

In times of trial, and at all times, let's try to keep ourselves in an attitude of thankfulness. Give God thanks for His blessings and His protection every day. And in our trials, give God thanks that our trials are not worse.

We tend to judge God. That is human nature. But let us judge that God is good and righteous and worthy of all thanks.

It is like the proverbial half-filled glass of water. Do we look at it and say it is half full or half empty?

When God looks at us, we hope He will judge us as half-full. We want Him to focus on the good things we have done and not our weaknesses, faults, and sins. We want Him to judge us with mercy.

When we look at God, we should also judge the glass as half-full (actually, it is perfectly full, but our human nature does not always acknowledge that). We should focus on the good things God has done and is doing for us and not the things we think He has not done for us.

Let's focus our minds, even in our trials, on the blessings God has given us and give Him thanks at all times for those blessings.

If it helps, I have a number of past posts, around Thanksgiving time, that talk about God's blessings and may give some of us ideas about what to give thanks for. See the right panel of this blog for a list of links for posts organized by year, month, and title. Click on past years, then on November, and look for posts about thanksgiving.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

There Is a Need for New Knowledge in the Church of God

Some of the human leadership of the Church of God has managed to build a culture of hostility to new knowledge at a very time when there is a desperate need for new knowledge in the Church of God.

"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children" (Hosea 4:6).

Could this apply to the Church of God today?

I have said there is a desperate need for new knowledge in the Church. What is that need? What do we need God to teach us that we do not already know?

I will mention three examples, though I could probably list many more. All three relate to problems in the Church of God, problems the ministry and membership do not know how to deal with. We need knowledge from God and from His word the Bible in how to remedy these situations, knowledge we apparently do not have.

One is the problem of addiction in the Church. Some baptized Church of God members struggle with addictions to sins, addictions they have struggled with unsuccessfully for years and have still not overcome. These could be addictions to alcohol, drugs, sexual sin, gambling, over-eating, and many other things. In vain you may search a sermon list of a Church of God fellowship for a sermon series on how to overcome addiction with messages that are truly effective in helping members overcome their addictions. Why do ministers avoid this topic? Is it because they think addiction is not a problem? Unlikely. More likely, they do not have an answer, so they avoid the subject.

The Church needs new knowledge from the Bible on the subject of how members can overcome their addictions, knowledge that really gets results and bears good fruit.

Another problem is the lack of a wide-open door for preaching the gospel. Yes, the door is still open, but only a crack. We have had plenty of time since the breakup of Worldwide for faithful remnants of the Church to grow and become strong. But God has not given us a wide-open door as He gave Mr. Armstrong. Magazine circulation in the old days was about 7,000,000 or more, and growth in members and income for a time was about 30% a year. Now, typically for one of the larger organizations, magazine circulation is only about 250,000 or 300,000. Growth in membership and income is small, maybe less than 5% a year. Why? Why is the work not growing faster? At this rate, we will never get the work done in time.

The Church needs new knowledge from the Bible on what changes the leadership and membership need to make in order for God to bless us with a wide-open door for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world. We have about 500 million people or more just in the nations of Israel to reach with that message, and we have barely scratched the surface. Blood guilt is on our heads - we become murderers in God's sight - if we fail to get that message out (Ezekiel 3:18). We talk endlessly about the sins of the nation - how 60 million or more unborn children have been murdered - but we do not consider that God may put the deaths of 500 million people on our heads if we don't warn them in time.

A third area is healing. We have far fewer cases of miraculous healing than we had in Mr. Armstrong's day, especially in the early days of the work God did through him. Why? God is the same (Malachi 3:6, Hebrews 13:8). What are we doing wrong? We need to know. We don't know now, but we need to learn, and we need to learn the answer from God's word, the Bible, just as we learn all our doctrinal knowledge from the Bible.

Those are just three examples. They are not the only ones.

Yet, at the very time when the Church needs to learn new knowledge from God and His word, the Bible, many in the Church of God are busy building a culture that is against learning anything new. Members who come to the ministry to learn more of the truth of God and who want to learn something they did not know before and not just be reminded of old knowledge are rebuked instead of instructed. Those who want to learn something new are belittled. Those ministers or members who have ideas they want to share with the ministry - ideas for new knowledge they feel they have discovered in the Bible - are warned not to focus on new ideas. Their ideas are rejected outright, sometimes without any real examination, not because they are wrong, but only because they are different from the present traditions of the Church.

There is a myth in the Church that goes around that says that correction only comes from the top down. This is true if the correction means discipline or punishment or taking authoritative action. In God's way of life, correction in that sense only comes from the top down. But there is another kind of correction that comes in the form of respectful suggestions and advice given in private (whether asked for or not), and that does not always come from the top down.

Ministers sometimes refer to the example of Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses (Numbers 12:1-15). God was clearly displeased with them. This is an example of the wrong kind of correction from the bottom up. Why? Because they spoke against Moses, and because they spoke among themselves first without each going to Moses only privately to discuss the matter. They spoke behind Moses's back with each other, accusing Moses (Numbers 12:1-2).

But do ministers who say that correction is only from the top down mention the example of Naaman the Syrian? Read the account in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Naaman went to Elisha to be healed of leprosy, and Elisha told him to wash seven times in the river Jordan. But Naaman was offended at this because the way he was answered was not as he expected. So he went away in anger. But Naaman's servants gently and respectfully corrected him, and he responded, did what the prophet said, and was healed. Why was this acceptable to God? God blessed Naaman for accepting the correction by healing him, and God inspired this whole account, including "correction" from the bottom up, to be recorded in the Bible. He could have left that part out and just said that Naaman did as Elisha said and was healed. Why?

God is showing us that correction from "the bottom up" - from one under authority to one over him in authority - is right if offered as a suggestion, given respectfully and in love, and given in private, not behind the person's back in some kind of conspiracy of discussion against the person in authority. It bore good fruit in this case. God blesses that kind of correction.

Even business corporations have suggestion boxes and encourage employees to suggest ways the business can improve.

When it comes to doctrine from the Bible, these types of suggestions are discouraged by much of the Church of God leadership. The Church needs new knowledge desperately, not necessarily on small, picky details of prophecy or law, but on some major issues. Who knows if some local elder or pastor might seek new knowledge in the Bible, and in seeking it might find it if God opens his mind to reveal it to him, and through that man to the whole Church of God, if that man were not discouraged from even suggesting anything new to the leadership.

Here is an example from Church history that we can learn from.

Read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography. When he first came into the Church of God Seventh Day, he came as a lay member, not an apostle. He had not been ordained as a minister. Yet he offered doctrinal suggestions, suggestions that Church of God Seventh Day leadership did not accept and teach. One was the identity of the lost tribes of Israel. The other was a matter Mr. Armstrong did not identify in his autobiography, except that it was a correction to an error in Church of God Seventh Day teachings. My guess is that it was about our need to observe God's annual holy days and festivals.

But that Church rejected the new knowledge God was revealing through Mr. Armstrong, a lay member.

And God rejected that Church from doing a powerful work.

Why?

The person or group to do a powerful work, the person or group to whom God would reveal lost knowledge, had to say to the public, "Don't believe me, don't believe any man, believe God, believe your Bible". Why? Because the people who would hear the message were raised in false traditions. They had to reject their traditions and believe the Bible.

The Church of God Seventh Day could not be used by God to preach that message because they weren't living it. They did not reject their traditions to believe the Bible. They rejected new knowledge - new knowledge God offered them through a lay member, Mr. Armstrong - in order to keep the traditions of their organization. In this they were like the Pharisees who favored their traditions over the word of God (Matthew 15:1-9).

The Church of God today is in danger of becoming the same way, if it has not already done so.

Mr. Armstrong identified the Church of God Seventh Day as Sardis, the Church that had a name that it was alive but was dead.

Let's read the message to Sardis and see what Christ said to them.

"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. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you. You have a few names even in Sardis who have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with Me in white, for they are worthy" ' " (Revelation 3:1-4). Also, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 3:6).

Notice a few things. First of all, verse 6 says we are to hear what the Spirit says to the churches. In other words, all of the messages to all seven churches are important to us, not just the message for the era we are in. We should not reject this message just because we are in the Laodicean era or because we think we are a remnant of the Philadelphia era.

Verse 4 says there are some in Sardis who are worthy to walk with Christ in white. They are not at fault. This is important, because it shows that not everyone in Sardis is spiritually dead. We might think the fellowship we are in cannot be a dead Church because we see good in it, but there can be good in it in the form of some members and ministers who are spiritually alive. This does not mean the whole fellowship is alive. In terms of eras, that reference to those who are worthy to walk in white garments with Christ may very well refer to remnants of the Philadelphia era - true Philadelphians in character and spirit - a minority in the midst of a fellowship, or several fellowships, that are predominantly dead.

Finally, look at verse 3. Christ tells Sardis to remember how they received and heard. Notice that word, "how". They are not told to remember what they received, but how they received it.

They are not being reminded to hold on to old knowledge. They are being told to remember and think about how they came to have the knowledge they have. HOW, not WHAT.

How did we receive it? To know that, we have to remember our roots. Look at our history. We received it through Mr. Armstrong and his early supporters who were willing to believe new knowledge from the Bible, even when that meant rejecting the traditions they grew up in, even when that meant rejecting the traditions of the group they attended with.

The Church of God desperately needs new knowledge from God and His word, the Bible. And God can reveal that new knowledge through any ministers or members He chooses, just as He revealed new knowledge from the Bible to Mr. Armstrong before Mr. Armstrong started a new work or was ordained as a minister. God can do this by opening our minds to see what has been in the Bible all along, but we have not noticed it.

God does this through His Holy Spirit and through His word, the Bible. God speaks to us directly in the Bible, and through His Holy Spirit He helps us understand the Bible, one part at a time. And as we believe and try to obey what God reveals to us, He reveals more. But if we disbelieve, the help to understand stops, or is diminished.

This is how a Church of God fellowship can spiritually die. To be alive means to grow, in knowledge, in numbers, in power to do God's work. But if that organization builds an atmosphere of hostility and antagonism towards new knowledge, that is the exact opposite of an atmosphere of faith that believes what God says in the Bible when God teaches us something new.

Look at the natural world. If a tree is alive, it grows. Tree rings are added yearly. If it stops growing, it is dead.

God is not healing us as He used to. He is not giving us a wide-open door for the work as He did before. And if we continue to build a culture that rejects new knowledge from God, He is likely to reject us from doing His work. He will find someone else. That is God's way.

We must be reminded of old knowledge, but not reject the new.

Notice what Christ said.

"Then He said to them, '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).

But there is a tendency, with old-timers, to reject things that are new simply because they are new.

"And no one, having drunk old wine, immediately desires new; for he says, 'The old is better' " (Luke 5:39).

It should be obvious that Christ is not talking about wine.

Finally, there is this warning to those who reject knowledge.

"Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me" (Hosea 4:6).

Christ rejected Church of God Seventh Day for this very reason. He did not use them to do a powerful work, but used Mr. Armstrong instead. God can likewise reject any Church of God fellowship today that rejects knowledge from God to hold on to its organizational traditions.

How is the Church of God Seventh Day doing today? Organizationally, it is very large. But it is not spiritually powerful and it is not doing God's work of getting the warning message out to all Israel about the coming tribulation and how our nations must repent. They do not even know who Israel is. They rejected that knowledge offered to them 90 years ago by God through a lay member of the Church, Mr. Armstrong.

Likewise, if a Church of God fellowship focuses more on preserving its organizational strength and stability than it does on understanding, believing, and obeying God's word, the Bible, it can die spiritually while it remains alive organizationally. It can put a spin on everything to support the organization and the authority of its leadership and ministry, yet not help members in their relationship with God. It can compete with God for the faith of the members, telling members to believe the Church and its traditions more than they believe God and His word, more than they believe what they see for themselves in the Bible. In effect, they make an idol out of themselves and teach members to believe them more than God.

A sign of God's disapproval will be weakened power for doing the work.

Such an organization can die spiritually, even while a few members in it, perhaps Philadelphians in character, remain alive and faithful, as Christ said in His message to Sardis. The door will remain open for their sake, but not open wide.

That door will not open wide before it is God's time to separate the faithful few from a dead Church so those faithful can finish the work with power.

That time has not yet come. God has given, and is still giving, the ministry and leadership of all the Church of God fellowships time to repent of their faults, whatever they may be, and heed the messages to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

God gave Church of God Seventh Day time to repent. Mr. Armstrong fellowshipped with them for about seven years before he separated to do a Philadelphia work. But they did not use that time to repent and accept new knowledge from the Bible.

Let us and all the ministry and leadership of the various Church of God fellowships learn the lesson from the example of Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God Seventh Day. Let us do as Christ said and remember how we have received and heard. Let us remember that we received and heard by being willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible, knowledge different from the knowledge and traditions we were raised in.

It is only those who have learned that lesson who will be able to do a powerful work of warning the nations and preaching the true gospel to the world. Only those can say to the world, "Don't believe us, don't believe any man, believe God, believe the Bible", without being hypocrites. Because those who say that to the world, but say to their members, "Believe us, the ministry, because Christ leads us", are not practicing what they preach. They use a double standard, saying one thing to the outside world and something different to their own organization.

That is a double standard which God hates (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:16).

People who come into the Church of God must be willing to learn many new things. They must be willing to believe God and His word the Bible directly more than they believe their own priests and ministers and the traditions of the church they were raised in. They must believe what they see for themselves in their own Bible, or they won't come to us.

But when they come to us, if they hear our ministers teaching that they should believe them now more than what they see in the Bible, they will see the double-standard. They will see that we are like the churches they came out of, and many will walk right out again. And God will not be pleased.

In fact, God may already not be pleased and may be withholding from us the power to bring more people in for that very reason. He sees our hypocrisy, and He sees that we offend new people by our double-standard, and so He is not bringing them into the Church of God in any great numbers right now.

There is still time to repent, but if we do not, God will no doubt reject us from doing a great work and use someone else. He is quite capable of doing that, and the history of the Church of God in the last 100 years shows that He has done that at least once already.

I know that some ministers are afraid of dissent. They are afraid members will promote their pet theories among other members. And that is and should be a concern. Members should be taught not to do that. They should be taught not to contradict the ministry and leadership in conversation with other members. If they do that, they are like the bad example of Miriam and Aaron, who criticized Moses in conversation with each other.

But it is not wrong for a member or local elder to offer ideas and suggestions to the leadership and higher ministry respectfully in private. That is what the servants of Namaan the Syrian did, and God blessed it. That is what Mr. Armstrong did as a lay member in the Church of God Seventh Day. Members and ministers should NOT be discouraged from "having ideas" about the Bible. That is how we learn. That is how God teaches us.

We must not be like Sardis, a dead church.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Example of Jesus Christ in How to Resist Temptation

As part of overcoming sin, we must learn and develop the habit of successfully resisting temptation.

There is an example in the life of Christ that shows how He resisted temptation to sin.

The example is how He resisted the temptations Satan threw at Him when He was tempted by Satan in the wilderness prior to His ministry. Let's look at that.

"Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry" (Matthew 4:1-2).

Notice that Jesus prepared for His struggle against Satan by fasting.

Notice also an account of an occasion when the disciples were unable to cast out a demon. You can read the whole account in Matthew 17:14-21. But notice verses 19-21: "Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, 'Why could we not cast it out?' So Jesus said to them, 'Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, "Move from here to there," and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting' ".

Prayer and fasting are tools for overcoming Satan and his demons and the temptations to sin that Satan throws at us.

Let's look at the temptations with which Satan tempted Christ and see how He resisted.

"Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.' But He answered and said, 'It is written, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" ' " (Matthew 4:3-4).

Notice that we are to live by every word of God. That means we must read and study our Bibles to know what the word of God says.

Here is the second temptation. "Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, 'If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: "He shall give His angels charge over you," and, "In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone." ' Jesus said to him, 'It is written again, "You shall not tempt the Lord your God" ' " (Matthew 4:5-7).

Now, the third temptation. "Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, 'All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Away with you, Satan! For it is written, "You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve." ' " (Matthew 4:8-10).

Is there something in common to these three instances in how Jesus resisted temptation?

In every case, Jesus countered Satan's temptations by quoting scripture.

This can be an example for us. When a temptation comes, it is helpful to think of God's word and the scriptures that teach us to avoid the sin and to rehearse those scriptures in our mind.

God's Holy Spirit can help us remember the scriptures we need.

In a few days will be God's annual festival and holy day of Pentecost. Pentecost represents many things. It represents the Church as the firstfruits of God's salvation. It represents the beginning of the New Testament Church of God. It represents the preaching of the gospel, for it was on that day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first given to the Church that Peter and the apostles preached the gospel powerfully and three thousand responded and were added to the Church (Acts 2:14-42). And it represents the giving of the Holy Spirit, a Spirit of love, power, and a sound mind (Acts 2:1-12, 2 Timothy 1:7).

Christ said, "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26).

The Holy Spirit helps us to remember the things Christ taught, and not only the words of Jesus when He was human on earth, but all the word of God.

But for the Holy Spirit to help us remember the Bible passages we need in time of temptation, we need to read the Bible so we can remember those passages.

This is one of the ways the Holy Spirit can help us resist temptation.

When we are tempted to sin, we should try to remember and think about the Bible passages specific to the point of God's law Satan is tempting us to violate. Then the Holy Spirit can help us remember those passages, and in remembering, we have a powerful tool for resisting temptation.

And when we remember those scriptures, we should meditate on who it is who is commanding us not to sin, the Almighty God who has all wisdom and power, who can bless us or curse us (Deuteronomy 7:12-23, 11:13-32, 28:1-68, 30:15-19), whom we are to fear, as Christ said - "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

It is by fear of God that we turn from sin. "In mercy and truth Atonement is provided for iniquity; And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil" (Proverbs 16:6).

Friday, May 31, 2019

Being Neutral Doesn't Work

Putting sin out of our lives means effectively resisting temptation. We may be tempted to hold a grudge against someone, or to lust after someone. We have to fight these temptations in our minds. We have to put thoughts of lust or thoughts of hatred out of our minds.

But though we put these thoughts out, often they pop back into our minds just as quick, over and over. And over time they can wear us out. We begin putting these thoughts out more slowly till we don't put them out at all.

But if we put wrong thoughts out, we have to put right thoughts into our minds. We have to redirect our minds towards right thoughts. We cannot leave a vacuum in our minds. Trying to be neutral about something by not thinking about it at all doesn't always work.

God commands, not that we just refrain from hating our enemies, but that we actively love them.

"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:44).

So if you find yourself resenting someone, try praying for that person. Ask God to bless that person. Try to think of something you can do for that person. Do that every time thoughts of resentment come into your mind. Ask God to help that person make it into the kingdom of God.

Here is another example. Suppose you find yourself attracted to the wife of another man. She is beautiful in face, in form, and in personality. You can't stop thinking about her and desiring her. Yet, God says, "You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s" (Exodus 20:17).

You try putting thoughts about her out of your mind, but those thoughts keep coming back. She is beautiful, and you can't ignore it.

Try this. Everything you think of her, give God thanks in prayer on behalf of her husband that God has given him such a beautiful and charming wife. Pray that God will bless their marriage more and more. Pray that they will be happy together, and thank God for their happiness. And pray that God will help the husband appreciate and enjoy to the full his wife's beauty and charm.

In this way, you can replace wrong thoughts with right ones.

That is one of the lessons of unleavened bread. We put sin out, but we also put righteousness in.

Try it.

Being neutral doesn't work.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Scriptures on How to Overcome

Most people in the Church of God know that the Bible teaches that we should be overcomers (Revelation 2:8, 11, 17, 26-27, 3:5, 12, 21). We need to overcome our sins and our sinful habits. We need to overcome Satan and his evil influence in our lives.

But how?

In my last post I quoted Romans 7:15-25 in which Paul described his struggle against sin. Included in this passage, Paul says, "for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find" (Romans 7:18).

Paul said that he did not find how to do what is good.

So a question is, how? How do we overcome?

There are some Bible passages that help to answer this.

"Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death' " (Revelation 12:10-11).

We overcome Satan by the blood of Christ and by the word of our testimony.

We must rely on and trust in the sacrifice of Christ to make our forgiveness possible. But we also overcome by the word of our testimony.

In the context of the above passage, this applies to martyrdom, for it says, "they did not love their lives to the death". But this can also apply, I think, to preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world, sacrificing for this purpose even to the point, figuratively speaking, of death, not loving our lives in this world, but seeking to do God's will and finish His work (John 4:34-38).

Here is another passage that tells us how to turn from evil: "In mercy and truth atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil" (Proverbs 16:6).

A way to turn from evil is to fear God. What does fear of God mean? It means we are afraid to go against God, afraid of the consequences of sinning against Him, afraid of His wrath and His punishment for our sins. God is stronger than we are, and every sin has consequences. It means we make our obedience to Him and our fear of Him very personal. Jesus said, as I quoted in my last post, "Yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

When times of temptation come, we can recall God's power to discipline us and bring the consequences of our sin upon us. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

God has powerful control over our bodies, our health, and the circumstances of our lives in the world around us. He can bring pain and trials upon us even greater than we can imagine. And ultimately, He can cast us into the lake of fire. Do we want to provoke such a God against us by sinning?

Also, notice in Proverbs 6:6 that in mercy and truth atonement is provided for sin. This can tie in with a previous point I made, that our efforts to overcome are helped by sacrificing to preach the truth to the world. We show mercy to the people of this world - our neighbors - by supporting the preaching of the truth to them. They need a warning message of the tribulation to come upon them if they don't repent.

Here is one more passage. "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' " (John 8:31-32).

We need to abide in Christ's word, the word of God, and He promises we will know the truth and the truth will make us free. What kind of freedom is Christ talking about? Freedom from sin. "Jesus answered them, 'Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed' " (John 8:34-36).

We can abide in Christ's word by immersing ourselves in the Bible, striving to believe and live by the Bible, all of it. Christ said, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God' " (Matthew 4:4).

This is not an exhaustive list - there no doubt are many other Bible passages that teach us how to overcome sin. But these are a few that I find to be powerful scriptures that help me, and I thought I would share them.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Motivation for Obeying God's Law

Everyone in the Church of God, every truly converted member having God's Holy Spirit, has made a commitment to God to obey His spiritual law, summarized by the ten commandments, in the spirit and the letter. And we strive to keep that commitment.

We fall short. We have to struggle against our human nature. Paul describes that struggle, using himself as an example.

"For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:15-25).

We all struggle against sin. And it is useful, in times of temptation, to remember the reasons for our commitment to obey God's spiritual law. We need these as motivations to resist temptation and obey God.

One motivation that Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong emphasized is that obedience to God's law brings blessings, and sin - the violation of that law - brings curses. As he put it, if we break God's law, it breaks us. There are always penalties involved in breaking God's law, and Mr. Armstrong also said, you cannot cheat God out of the penalty. Sin brings penalties of suffering, for ourselves and others, and if not repented of and turned from, death.

Obedience to God's law brings blessings in this life, and disobedience brings penalties. So for example, if we obey the commandment that says, you shall not commit adultery, our marriages will be happier. If we don't murder and steal, we have a better chance of staying out of jail. Those are good motivations to keep God's commandments. His commandments are for our good.

But obedience to God's law does not always bring happiness in this life. Sometimes we suffer for obedience. People who keep the Sabbath or refuse to lie for their bosses may lose their jobs. If we keep God's commandments, we may suffer persecution. Sometimes God tests our faith with suffering as He tested Job.

Remember the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. Lazarus must have obeyed God because he ended up in God's kingdom with Abraham. Yet he suffered miserably in this life. In the parable, the rich man was told, "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 16:25).

Paul, though he obeyed God's commandments, suffered in this life, along with many other servants of God (1 Corinthians 15:19, 2 Corinthians 11:23-33, Hebrews 11:32-39).

But the main fulfillment of the blessings of keeping God's law will be in the resurrection and in the kingdom of God. "For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18).

So a motivation for obeying God's law is possible blessings in this life. But a greater motivation is the blessing of being in the kingdom of God after the resurrection.

But there may be a greater motivation than either of these. We should want to please God and do His will for His pleasure and glory.

Our relationship with God must be based on love. That is built in to God's commandments, for the first and greatest commandment is that we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-38, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:25-28). We should love God because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

That love towards God should motivate us to please Him by obeying Him. "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).

We should also fear God, and this should motivate us to obey Him. "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all"
(Ecclesiastes 12:13).

"In mercy and truth
Atonement is provided for iniquity;
And by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil"
(Proverbs 16:6).

"But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!" (Luke 12:5).

God wants obedience to His holy law, but He wants that obedience to be based on a relationship with Him. God wants relationship-based obedience. God's whole plan shows this. His sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ shows the kind of loving relationship God wants to have with us. It is a relationship that will carry on into the kingdom of God and prepare us to be full members of His divine family for eternity.

So to be motivated to obey God's law because obedience brings blessings, sometimes in this life, but totally and definitely in our future eternal life in the kingdom of God, is a good motivation for resisting temptation to sin. But to obey because we want and treasure a close relationship with God and seek to please Him is a better motivation, I think.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Review of Spring Festivals 2019

Starting Thursday night, tonight in the United States, the Church of God will be keeping Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.

The keeping of God's annual holy days and festivals is an important characteristic of the true Church of God. We owe this tradition to Mr. Armstrong and his willingness to believe what God says in the Bible more than tradition, even tradition in the Church of God. We also owe this tradition to the thousands of people who heard Mr. Armstrong on the radio say, Don't believe me, don't believe any minister or man, believe God, believe your Bible. These people believed God more than their church and their traditions and joined in supporting Mr. Armstrong, and it was their support that enabled the work of God to grow at that time. We are the fruit of that effort. Our traditions must be based on God's word and commandments (Matthew 15:1-9).

Each annual festival and holy day that God gave Israel in the Old Testament has meaning for the Church of God. Observing these days helps us to understand that meaning. Together, the weekly Sabbath and the annual holy days and festivals help us understand the whole plan of God for the salvation of the human race.

Observing God's ordained festivals and holy days and the weekly Sabbath helps us understand the whole plan of God in two ways. We hear sermons and scriptures on the subject and meaning of the days we keep, and this helps us understand the plan of God. But also, when God sees our obedience in keeping these days, He blesses us by opening our minds to understand His truth and His plan (Psalm 111:10).

Passover is observed at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month, at evening after sunset (each day begins and ends at sunset) (Exodus 12:1-11). It is an annual festival, but not a holy day. Work may be done on the fourteenth day. We observe it, following Christ's example, by eating unleavened bread and drinking a small amount of wine (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:15-20). The bread represents the body of Christ, which was broken for our healing. The wine represents His shed blood - His death - which pays the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and reconciled with God the Father (John 6:32-58, Isaiah 52:13-15, Isaiah 53:1-12).

We also wash each other's feet, following the example of Jesus Christ, to represent the attitude of humble service we should have towards the brethren (John 13:2-17).

Before Passover, we should examine ourselves so we can keep the Passover in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).

Passover is kept by those who are baptized. God's instructions for Old Testament Israel were that only those who are circumcised could keep the Passover (Exodus 12:43-44). In the Church, circumcision is of the heart (Romans 2:23-29). It is those who have repented and made the commitment to obey God represented by baptism who are spiritually circumcised (Acts 2:38).

Passover day is not a holy day. It is an annual festival of God, but not an annual sabbath. We can work on that day. But the next day is the first day of unleavened bread, and it is an annual sabbath and holy day. It is the first day of a seven day festival in which we avoid leavening and eat unleavened bread each day.

The first and last days of unleavened bread are annual sabbath days - holy days - and we refrain from work and we assemble for services on those days (Leviticus 23:4-8). Offerings are taken up on the holy days (Deuteronomy 16:16-17).

During the seven days of unleavened bread, we avoid eating leavening (yeast, baking soda, baking powder, etc.) and leavened products. We should have all leavening and leavened products out of our homes (or our living space we control if we live in someone else's home who is not a Church member) before the first day of unleavened bread. During these days, leavening represents sin because it puffs up and spreads. As Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ that makes forgiveness of our sins and our healing possible, the days of unleavened bread represent our part in putting sin out of our lives. In other words, the days of unleavened bread represent repentance.

As leavening represents sin, the unleavened bread we eat each day represents the righteousness of Christ. We are not only to get sin out of our lives, but we are to live righteously following the example of Christ (1 Corinthians 5:4).

But at the very beginning of the days of unleavened bread, this coming Friday evening, we keep the night to be much observed.

Passover at the beginning of the fourteenth day of the first month represents God sparing the firstborn of Israel when He killed the firstborn of the Egyptians. For the Church, it represents God sparing us from the death penalty for our sins because of the sacrifice of Christ. The lamb that was killed in Egypt represents Christ.

But that is not the day Israel left Egypt. Israel walked out of Egypt the following night, the beginning of the fifteenth day of the first month. God has commanded that this time be observed. Egypt represents this sinful society and bondage to sin, and for the Church this night represents our coming out of this sinful society and its ways. We observe this by gathering together, usually in families in a Church member's home, to eat a special meal. Often, members talk about how they were called and how they came into the truth and into the Church (Exodus 12:41-42).

There are lessons to be learned about sin and the effort we must make to put sin out of our lives and keep it out. God often uses physical things to teach us spiritual lessons, and so it is with unleavened bread.

We must be constantly diligent to avoid eating leavening during these days. It is easy to slip up and forget, especially in the workplace and when we are going to lunch with people who are not in the Church. Thus it is with sin. We have to be constantly alert. Also, we may find some unleavened bread - perhaps a package of crackers in a corner someplace - that we missed when we put leavening out of our homes. When we find it, we must get rid of it right away. That is what sin is like. We may discover sins in our lives that we have not been aware of, and when we do we are to repent of those sins.

As we observe the spring holy days and festivals, let's keep the meaning of these days in mind and learn the lessons God wants to teach us. And let us be thankful to God for these days and their meaning.