Friday, February 19, 2010

"Such a nation as this..."

Does God punish nations for their sins? I mean generally, not just Israel, but any nation that sins against God.

There are many passages in the Old Testament that describe God's punishment of ancient Israel for breaking God's laws and breaking God's covenant with them.

After God brought Israel out of Egypt, He proposed a covenant with them and promised them blessings if they would keep His covenant. Israel agreed to the the covenant, and it was ratified and became binding (Exodus 19:3-8, 24:1-11). God promised blessings for obedience if Israel kept His covenant with them, but curses if they broke His covenant and disobeyed Him (Deuteronomy 4:1-31, 5:32-33, 7:12-15, 8:18-20, 11:26-28, 28:1-68).

The history of Israel after that showed a re-occurring pattern of disobedience and punishment - see Judges, 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, and 2 Chronicles. Finally, God sent the house of Israel and the house of Judah into captivity for their persistant unfaithfulness in breaking God's covenant (2 Kings 17:5-23, 2 Chronicles 36:15-21).

God specifically mentions covenant breaking as a cause for his punishment of Israel (Jeremiah 11:9-13, Hosea 8:1-14).

But God did not just pronounce judgment against Israel. He also pronounced judgment and punishment against many of the known nations of that time, nations that never had a covenant with God, never agreed to keep God's commandments, and never knew God and God's laws (Amos 3:1-2, Jeremiah 25:12-33, Jeremiah chapters 46 through 51, Amos chapters 1 and 2). He said He would punish them for their sins even though they are not Israel.

The examples and teaching of the Old Testament are given for our learning (1 Corinthians 10:11). Those examples show how God thinks. And the examples given in the Bible show that God punishes nations for their sins with war and other disasters. Not just Israel.

Now look at God's rebuke of Judah and Jerusalem in Jeremiah 5:9 and Jeremiah 9:9: Mentioning idolotry and sexual sins, God says, " 'How shall I pardon you for this? Your children have forsaken Me And sworn by those that are not gods. When I had fed them to the full, Then they committed adultery And assembled themselves by troops in the harlots' houses. They were like well-fed lusty stallions; Every one neighed after his neighbor’s wife. Shall I not punish them for these things?' says the Lord. 'And shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?' " (Jeremiah 5:7-9). Then mentioning the sins of lying and deceit, God says, " 'And like their bow they have bent their tongues for lies. They are not valiant for the truth on the earth. For they proceed from evil to evil, And they do not know Me,' says the Lord....Everyone will deceive his neighbor, And will not speak the truth; They have taught their tongue to speak lies; They weary themselves to commit iniquity. Your dwelling place is in the midst of deceit; Through deceit they refuse to know Me', says the Lord....Their tongue is an arrow shot out; It speaks deceit; One speaks peaceably to his neighbor with his mouth, But in his heart he lies in wait. Shall I not punish them for these things?' says the Lord. 'Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?' " (Jeremiah 9:3-9).

After rebuking Judah and Jerusalem for the lying and sexual sins, God says, "And shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?" (Jeremiah 5:9, 9:9). Notice, not just Israel because Israel broke God's covenant. But "such a nation as this." What kind of nation? A nation that practices lying and sexual immorality.

Is the United States such a nation? Do we have sexual sins? Do we lie to each other, in the workplace, in business, in the home, even to our children? You be the judge. But if we are such a nation, God asks the question, "Shall I not avenge Myself on such a nation as this?" Not only because we are Israel and have broken God's covenant. But because we are a sinful nation and God punishes nations for their sins as the examples Jeremiah and Amos show.

The United States is in a state of moral, spiritual, and material decline. We are spending our way into a debt we cannot get out of without bankrupting ourselves, and this in world that is becoming more dangerous by the year. Those who have spiritual discernment and are willing to face hard realities can see that we are heading for disaster. We are digging a hole for ourselves that we will not be able to climb out of by our own power. Our only hope is help, protection, and rescue from God. But will God rescue us without our repentance? Will He rescue us in our sins so we can continue sinning? Or rather will He punish us for our sins as He punished ancient Israel for her sins and as He punished Gentile nations for their sins? I think the examples in the Bible indicate the latter.

The Church of God should have the discernment to see where this country is headed, if our people do not repent. And God's word teaches us to warn those heading towards disaster (Proverbs 24:11-12). The knowledge and spiritual discernment that God has given the Church, along with the command in Proverbs 24:11-12, in effect, makes us a watchman for the United States. That is the effect of what we know. Our knowledge puts the watchman responsibility on our shoulders, and this is God's doing (Ezekiel 3:16-21, 33:1-20).

The Church of God has a responsibility to warn the United States to turn from its sins before it is too late, and to give a warning of the disaster that will come upon us if we do not repent. We need to be zealous to give that warning, motivated by love (Matthew 22:37-40, Matthew 7:12, Leviticus 19:18). The leadership and ministry of the Churches of God should do their part to take advantage of every opportunity to take the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public through television, radio, print media, and the Internet, and to teach the membership of their responsibility to support that effort through their prayers, financial sacrifices, and service.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Ezekiel Warning, Chapter 3

Will Focusing Exclusively on Feeding the Flock Heal the Church?, Chapter 5

Is the Church Commissioned to Preach the Gospel to the World?, Chapter 5

Monday, February 1, 2010

A Lesson from Haggai

There are several Church of God groups today which seem to teach that the preaching of the gospel to the world is over, that it was completed by Mr. Armstrong, and that there should not be a high priority placed on public proclamation, rather, the Church of God should place a high priority only on feeding the flock and getting the bride ready.

There is a lesson I think in the book of Haggai that might apply here.

The book of Haggai starts, "In the second year of King Darius, in the sixth month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, saying, 'Thus speaks the Lord of hosts, saying: "This people says, 'The time has not come, the time that the Lord’s house should be built' " ' " (Haggai 1:1-2).

The book of Haggai was written after Judah was taken captive by Babylon, and after some Jews had been allowed to return to Judah. There are parallels between that time in the history of Israel and our time in the Church of God today. The Jews had been scattered and reduced in power, just as the Church of God has been scattered and reduced in power in our time in the last two decades.

The Jews were not prospering, just as in many ways the Church of God has not been prospering since the death of Mr. Armstrong. The people were saying that it was not time to build the temple.

God's reply: "Then the word of the Lord came by Haggai the prophet, saying, 'Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, and this temple to lie in ruins?' Now therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Consider your ways! You have sown much, and bring in little; You eat, but do not have enough; You drink, but you are not filled with drink; You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm; And he who earns wages, Earns wages to put into a bag with holes.' Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Consider your ways! Go up to the mountains and bring wood and build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified,' says the Lord. 'You looked for much, but indeed it came to little; and when you brought it home, I blew it away. Why?' says the Lord of hosts. 'Because of My house that is in ruins, while every one of you runs to his own house. Therefore the heavens above you withhold the dew, and the earth withholds its fruit. For I called for a drought on the land and the mountains, on the grain and the new wine and the oil, on whatever the ground brings forth, on men and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands' " (Haggai 1:3-11).

Today, God's temple is the Church (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). As in Haggai's day, many say that this is not the time to build God's temple. But God's reply to the people in Haggai's time is to go to the mountains and bring wood to build the temple. In the Bible, mountains can represent nations or kingdoms (Isaiah 2:2-3, Isaiah 2:12-14, Isaiah 11:9, Isaiah 52:7, Jeremiah 51:25, Ezekiel 6:1-3, Ezekiel 17:22-23, Ezekiel 33:28, Ezekiel 36:1-4, Daniel 2:35, Micah 4:1). If the lesson of Haggai applies to us today, we are to go to the nations, that is, the public, and bring "wood" or material to build God's temple, the Church. In other words, this is still the time to preach the gospel, to bring in new members, and to build the Church of God.

The lessons in the Old Testament are written for our example to learn from (1 Corinthians 10:11).

The door to preaching the gospel is still open. We still have enough freedom and money to publish and broadcast. New members are still being called into the Church of God and baptized. The opportunities are there, and people need our message. We need the spiritual discernment and vision to see the opportunity, the need, and the responsibility. "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, "There are still four months and then comes the harvest"? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!' " (John 4:34-35).

The leaders, ministry, and members of the whole Church of God need to have a zeal to finish God's work of preaching the gospel to the world, feeding the flock, and preaching the Ezekiel warning to Israel. We can do much more than we have done so far. We need to imitate the zeal of Jesus Christ who was so zealous to finish God's work that it was like food to Him. We also should have a desire to finish God's work as we have a desire for food. And God's work still includes preaching to the public a message of repentance, of warning, and of the good news of the coming kingdom of God.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Will Focusing Exclusively on Feeding the Flock Heal the Church?, Chapter 5

Is the Church Commissioned to Preach the Gospel to the World?, Chapter 5

The Church, Chapter 4