Friday, May 29, 2020

Pentecost and the Work of the Church

How is the work of God, the work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world, different in its effects today than in the first century? Is our time unique, and if so, how?

Is there something special about our time that increases the importance of preaching the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to this generation?

One thing is the coming great tribulation. It will soon come upon the nations of Israel. That was not true in the first century.

But I am talking about something else.

This coming Sunday is Pentecost, one of the seven annual holy days and one of the seven annual festivals of God. Like all the holy days and festivals it has special meaning. As with all of the annual feasts of God, the full meaning is not given in the Old Testament, but the New Testament. Observance is commanded in the Old Testament. But the full meaning is brought out in the New Testament.

The Old Testament defines the observance of Pentecost, called the feast of weeks (Exodus 34:22), as a day of rest and assembly (Leviticus 23:15-21).

The New Testament helps us understand its meaning and what it represents.

Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15, 26, 15:26; Acts 2:1-4). It represents the start of the New Testament Church of God. It also represents the truth that the Church of God is only the first early harvest, the small harvest of souls, not the larger harvest which comes later (Leviticus 23:17; John 6:43-44, 64).

When the Holy Spirit was given to the disciples on the day of Pentecost, it had an effect. It provided an opportunity and motivated the disciples to preach the gospel to the public.

"And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven. And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, 'Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?' " (Acts 2:5-8).

"But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words....Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:14, 36-41).

That is another meaning of Pentecost. It represents the work the Church is to do to bring the gospel to others.

Today, the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public is an important part of the work of the Church, often called "God's work".

The United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and many other nations are about to go through the great tribulation as punishment for our sins - the greatest time of trouble the world has ever seen. During this time, which will probably begin in a few years, two thirds of our people will die in famine, disease, and war, and the remainder will go into slavery. And most of those who go into slavery will die in that slavery (Ezekiel 5:12).

God commands that we warn our peoples. How does God command us, and how can we know the command applies to us?

God commands us several ways, principally three ways.

He establishes a general principle. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to do unto others as we would want them to do for us.

"Jesus said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets' " (Matthew 22:37-40).

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

How do we want others to treat us? If we were headed for trouble and didn't know it, would we not want others to warn us before it is too late? If our apartment building were on fire while we were asleep, would we not want someone to knock on our door so we could escape the fire? If there were a hazard ahead on the road we are driving on a dark night that could cause us to have an accident, would we not want someone to warn us with a flare?

The religious people of this world do not know that they are sinning. Millions of Catholics and Protestants think they are on good terms with God because they keep their religious traditions. They do not know that their traditions are wrong, because no one told them. An entire generation has risen that never heard of Herbert W. Armstrong, and the whole Church of God with all of its fellowships and organizations only scratches the surface of warning the people.

These people need a warning. They need to be told. They need the opportunity to decide whether or not to believe God, but they won't have that opportunity unless we point out to them what the Bible says.

If we were in their place, we would want that opportunity to heed a warning and escape.

Most will not heed, but a few will. But they need to hear and read the warning. We have a job to do.

We are to deliver the gospel message and the warning to express love to our neighbors.

God also narrows the principle of love down further. He specifically commands us to warn those headed for trouble.

"Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" (Proverbs 24:11-12).

This places the responsibility on us. Why? We see this world headed for disaster. The only way to "hold back" the people is by warning them. And the only ones who can do that are us because only we know the truth.

But God gets very specific in Ezekiel. This is where God directly commands us to warn the people. God places murder-guilt on us and calls us murderers if we refuse the job.

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:17-18).

We are murderers in God's sight if he places the blood of the people on our heads. That is what blood-guilt means.

God tells us to warn the people whether they heed or not.

Proverbs 24:11-12 is the one place that directly gives us the responsibility to warn. It is based on the principle of love towards neighbor. And Ezekiel 3:17-21 shows the consequence of our obedience or disobedience to the Proverbs 24 command.

Ezekiel 3:17-21 is a warning in two ways. It refers to warning the wicked to turn from their ways, and this applies to our warning to the nations. But it is also a warning to us to deliver God's message or face the consequences. That is part of what I am trying to do with this post, for those who read it.

I asked at the beginning of this post, how is our time unique and how is our work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning unique and increased in importance in its effects compared to the first century.

How is this time different?

Some of the people we preach to will live into the millennium and be the first generation of Israel ruled by Christ and the saints after the return of Christ. To put it another way, the first generation of Israel ruled by the Kingdom of God will be made up mostly of people alive today who will hear, or not hear, a warning message from the Church of God while there is time for them to heed and escape the suffering.

By doing the job God gave us, we can help prepare that first generation in the millennium. We are actually doing some of the work of the millennium right now.

That was not true in the first century or any previous time.

The two witnesses will begin their special work when the tribulation begins or is ready to begin. It will be too late to serve as a warning. Their work can help our people understand why they are being punished, but will not warn them in time for them to heed and escape. We must do that, now.

This is extremely important for a particular reason.

Our people will have to repent during the tribulation and be teachable at the beginning of the millennium. But to do this they will have to have learned to trust God. They will have to trust in God's mercy, His love, and His fairness.

But how hard will that be if the people know that God did not get a warning message to them that they were sinning and in danger of punishment while there was time for the people to heed the warning and escape the punishment?

Catholics and Protestants do not know they are doing wrong. No one has told them. No one has warned them.

We have warned a few, but very few, so far.

Should not God get a warning to them before the tribulation starts? And won't they remember if God warned them or not? Won't they think about that when it is time for them to decide whether or not to trust God and repent?

Granted, most who hear the warning will not heed it.

But the human mind is funny. It will be natural for those who have never heard a warning to justify themselves and think to themselves, "If only God warned me, I would have repented. But God never gave me a chance."

Whether we warn the people or not, in God's name, will have a direct bearing on God's reputation among the people for fairness and love.

If we get a warning out, we demonstrate God's love and fairness. We glorify His name and reputation, in other words. Even those who choose to ignore the warning will acknowledge, during the tribulation, that God was fair to warn them. They can accept their own responsibility, and say, "I should have listened. God was right and I was wrong". That can lead to godly repentance, and eventually to salvation. And it will help them be teachable to become the model nation and a right example in the millennium for the rest of the world to follow.

But if we don't get the warning out, and millions of our people go through the tribulation knowing they had no warning and no chance to escape, they will blame God. That is the natural reaction. It is human nature, and Satan will be around to reinforce that carnal reaction. They will say, many or most of them, "God never gave me a chance. If He had warned me, I would have repented." With that thought and that attitude, it will be very hard for people to trust God, and without trust and faith in God, how can they repent? Their repentance, and thus their salvation, becomes more difficult. And perhaps, even probably, if their salvation is more difficult, it will also be less likely. Fewer will be saved. More will be lost.

The eternal lives of millions of people may hang in the balance on what we in the Church of God do now.

No wonder God, in Ezekiel 3:17-21, calls us murderers if we do not do what He has commanded us to do to get a warning message out to the people.

During this time of the Coronavirus, many Church of God members may feel isolated, physically at least, from other members. But this can be an opportunity to spend our time drawing closer to God in prayer, Bible study, meditation, and fasting. We have to remember that we must be willing to serve God alone, if necessary.

In the history of the Church of God in the twentieth century, many prospective members who heard Herbert W. Armstrong on the radio in the 1950s and early 1960s and wanted to be baptized had to wait a long time for a minister to visit them and baptize them when a few men from Ambassador College conducted baptizing tours. And then after they were baptized, they had to wait a long time, sometimes years, for a local congregation to be established so they could fellowship with other Christians. They had to be willing to obey God alone. Yet this was a time when God blessed the Church and the work with rapid growth.

God reminds us of how Abraham and Sarah obeyed God alone.

"Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, You who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him" (Isaiah 51:1-2).

Though we are physically isolated, as were many Church members in the 1950s and 1960s, we are spiritually united because we share the same Holy Spirit that makes us children of God. That Holy Spirit leads us to obey God in all things, including supporting the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the nations, a work that will save eternal lives in the long run.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Spiritual Healing

The Church of God will soon be observing Passover and the days of unleavened bread.

Passover represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and accepted by God into His kingdom. We observe Passover by taking the symbol of unleavened bread to represent Christ's broken body and the suffering He endured and the symbol of wine to represent Christ's shed blood and His death.

After Passover, we observe the days of unleavened bread, avoiding leavening and eating unleavened bread for seven days. This teaches and reminds us of the lesson of repentence and putting sin out of our lives and putting the righteousness of Christ into our lives. We also observe the night to be much observed at the beginning of the seven days of unleavened bread to remind us of and celebrate God's calling and His mercy in bringing us out of the bondage of the deceptions of this sinful world, as God brought ancient Israel out of the bondage of Egyptian slavery.

Passover and the night to be much observed will be more difficult for many brethen this year because of the coronavirus. Many COG groups, because of government restrictions as well as a desire to protect the elderly from the coronavirus, have cancelled meetings and get-togethers.

Families can observe Passover at home (your COG group can provide intructions), and likewise the night to be much observed. It will be more difficult for singles who must keep these days alone. But Passover can still be observed by one person, minus the foot washing, and likewise the night to be much observed. The night to be much observed can be kept by eating special food that one enjoys on special occasions to help rejoice and make the evening special as one meditates on the blessing of God's calling and gives thanks to God for opening our minds to come out of this world and its ways.

We have been correctly taught for years that the shed blood and the death of Jesus Christ paid the death penalty for our sins so we do not have to permanently die. This makes it possible for our sins to be forgiven and for us to receive eternal life in God's kingdom.

And we have been taught, I believe correctly, that the broken body and suffering of Jesus Christ paid the penalty for our physical sins - our breaking of the physical laws of health - so that we can be healed of our physical sickness and ailments. See Isaiah 53:5-6.

The Passover wine we take is a symbol of Christ's shed blood. It represents His death and that part of His sacrifice that reconciles us to the Father, makes forgiveness of sin possible, and removes the death penalty from us so we can be given eternal life and not have to pay the penalty for our own sins in the lake of fire.

The Passover unleavened bread we take is a symbol of Christ's broken body and suffering, and it represents that part of Christ's sacrifice that makes healing of our diseases possible.

We need to be reconciled to God through the death of His Son so God can forgive us and give us eternal life. We often need physical healing in this life for our diseases and injuries.

We also need spiritual healing.

What do I mean by spiritual healing?

Our character needs to be cleaned up. We need to be healed of our sinful nature. Our tendency to give into temptation and sin must be rooted out (Romans 7:14-25).

We need to develop holy, righteous character through the help of God's Holy Spirit.

It is the power of the Spirit of God dwelling in our minds that heals our character, and that healing becomes complete in the resurrection to immortal life.

Lucifer was not created evil. He was perfect in his ways before he sinned (Ezekiel 28:12-15). Then he sinned (Ezekiel 28:15-16). When he sinned, his mind became corrupted and he sinned more and more. He practiced the way of vanity, and he corrupted his mind and wisdom (Ezekiel 28:17).

Mr. Armstrong taught in Mystery of the Ages that when Lucifer and his angels who became demons sinned, something happened their minds. They became corrupt. They acquired a sinful nature.

When Adam sinned by eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, something happened to his mind. His mind became perverted and he became receptive to Satan's deceptions as Mr. Armstrong pointed out in Mystery of the Ages.

Mental and spiritual corruption is one of the penalties of sin. Sin produces a mental state that leads to more sin.

We need to be spiritually healed for God to give us eternal life.

Suppose God removed the death penalty and gave us eternal life so we would live forever, but did nothing about our evil human nature, which is really Satan's nature. What kind of eternal life would we have if we kept sinning? It would be an eternal life of conflict and misery. Sin causes suffering. We would not be happy.

So we must be healed spiritually, and that healing comes about through the power of God's Holy Spirit working in our minds. But we also have our part to play. Our part is to believe and trust in God and Jesus Christ, to repent of our sins, and to make the effort to resist temptation and stop sinning.

It is the combination of our choice to resist sin and obey God plus the work of God's Spirit in our minds that produces that spiritual healing. That spiritual healing then becomes complete at the resurrection to immortality when Christ returns.

Then will can live forever in the kingdom of God in joy and peace, not subject to temptation and sin as in this life. Our minds will be completely healed and we will no longer want to sin.

This is the happiness we can look forward to.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Coronavirus Could Be a World-Changer

This year of 2020 may be an interesting year. And it could be a very bad year. The same could be true for 2021.

The world has been poised for dramatic changes for some time. The world economy is fragile because of too much debt. It is not just the United States that is over-ridden by debt. Many other countries face the same problem. An economic crisis or collapse has been anticipated for many years because of it. Yet, nothing has triggered it yet.

Coronavirus could be a trigger.

We have heard of many threatening diseases in the last few decades - swine flu, bird flu, SARS, Ebola, etc. - but coronavirus seems more serious. It can be deadly, and it is easily spread from human to human. It has already spread worldwide and is in many countries including the United States. Both cases and deaths are increasing.

Companies are working on a vaccine, but it takes time, perhaps a year, for a vaccine to be developed and manufactured in quantity. Efforts are being made, with quarantine and treatment, to slow the spread of the disease, but these efforts only seem to slow the spread, not stop it. So there is a race between the spread of the disease and the development and manufacture of a vaccine that can give real protection against the disease and can stop its spread.

Much is still unknown about the disease, but it seems to be most deadly with the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. One article I read indicates it may kill about 1 in 50 of those who get the disease. But this figure may not be reliable and should only be taken as a rough estimate.

Fears of the disease and efforts to limit its spread can hurt the economy, which is already fragile because of debt. Already the stock market has been hit and gold prices are up.

Coronavirus can be the trigger for an economic crisis or collapse. The real cause is debt, but the disease can be the trigger that starts a collapse.

The disease has spread in China first and is hitting China hardest. This may hurt China's economy and limit its growth in world power, permitting Europe to become more dominant.

The disease can also be used as an excuse for those who want to create a cashless society. This is because of the possibility that the disease might be spread by handling money. A cashless society may be needed for the enforcement of the mark of the beast, that no one can buy or sell without the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17).

In a cashless society, all money transfers are done electronically or with checks, both of which require bank accounts. Governments can control banking and require anyone opening or holding a bank account to sign a bank agreement, and in that agreement can be statements of belief that the beast power wishes to enforce upon mankind - anything from Sunday observance to any doctrinal matter the beast wants to enforce. To hold a bank account, you have to sign the agreement. Without your agreement, no bank account. Without a bank account, if society is cashless, no money. No money or access to give or receive money, no buying or selling.

You could trade to survive, mowing a lawn for a meal for example, but not buy or sell.

The coronavirus can cause a lot of deaths. If 1 out of 50 die, mostly elderly, and if most people in the United States get the disease as it spreads out of control before a vaccine is developed, it could cause six million deaths here. Maybe it would not be that bad, but it is too soon to know. Worldwide the figure would be vastly greater. This could affect many families.

It can affect the coming presidential election. In one sense, it can affect President Trump's popularity if people feel he has not done enough to fight the disease. But it can also affect election turnout.

The election will be about 8 months from now, perhaps when the spread of the disease is at its peak. Some voters may stay home from the election, not wanting to be exposed to crowds of people. The elderly may be most vulnerable and likely to stay home, and the older generation is more conservative, more likely to vote for President Trump. This could hurt Trump's chances in the election. If liberals increase their power in the election, the results could have a serious effect on the Church's freedom to live peacefully and to do God's work.

It can have a dramatic effect on governments, business organizations, and churches. The elderly are often the leaders of society, and they are the most vulnerable to death from this disease. The popes (both of them, the active pope and the "retired" pope) are elderly. Presidents and some presidential candidates could be vulnerable. Many presidents, prime ministers, and top leaders in many nations are elderly. Supreme Court justices in the United States could be at risk.

In any national government in any country in the world, or in any business or religious organization, if top leaders become victims of this disease, they can be replaced by younger leaders with different ideas, agendas, and policies. That is why the coronavirus can be a world changer.

Even in the Church of God, in all its scattered groups, the leading ministers tend to be older. They also are vulnerable to this disease.

It may also affect how some Church of God members observe the Feast of Tabernacles.

How should we prepare?

Face masks, limiting contact, washing of hands, and taking vitamin C can help to protect us as individuals to some extent - maybe.

But we need to prepare for the world trials that may soon come upon us.

Perhaps, as events unfold, the coronaviris crisis will not be as bad as it seems it might be. Much is yet unknown. But the potential is there. And it could be worse than I described.

We all need to get closer to God.

The Church of God has taught for years that we should seek God through Bible study, prayer, meditation, and fasting.

We also need to examine ourselves to prepare for Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread.

This may be a good time to increase our efforts to draw closer to God, to pray for each other, to pray for our leaders, to pray for God's work.

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.


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.