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.