Wednesday, April 11, 2012


I have updated my book Preaching the Gospel to add a new chapter on repentance. Here is a link to my website where you can read the book online or download it in pdf format:

Here is a direct link to the chapter on repentance:

The evidence I think is strong that we are in the Laodicean era. Christ commands us to repent in Revelation 3:15-22: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'-and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked- I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne."

The scattered condition of the Church, and our weakness in preaching the gospel to the world, are both evidence that we are Laodicean.

I think there is a strong connection between repentance and faith. They are two sides of the same coin. We need to be zealous to study the Bible, let it correct us, and believe what God says. We build faith as we study, believe, and obey the Bible one verse at a time.

When we read something in the Bible that is hard to take, something that corrects us in our behavior or beliefs, we need to choose to believe God and put our belief into obedient action. As we do that, we exercise our faith and it increases, and our repentance increases as well.

We need to spent less time on TV, movies, and entertainment and more time in prayer and Bible study. When we study the Bible, we should study it in an attitude of belief and looking for God to correct us.

"Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:8-9).

Friday, April 6, 2012

Stay Far from the Edge

Do you remember the first temptation Satan used against Christ in the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness?

"Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, 'If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread' " (Matthew 4:3).

Here is a question. What is wrong with changing stones into bread?

Or to put it another way, would it have been a sin for Jesus to command the stones to become bread? Is there a commandment of God against changing stones into bread? If Jesus did it, what law would He be breaking? And if there is no law against it, how could it be a sin, and if not a sin, why would Satan want Jesus to do it?

Satan is very subtle. Changing stone into bread may seem innocent on the surface. There is certainly no direct command against it. But it would have given Satan an inroad. Jesus might be tempted to do this out of a motive of vanity. Moreover, the bread would be a temptation for Jesus to eat. If He ate, He would be breaking His fast. Breaking the fast would not itself be a sin necessarily - He had already fasted for 40 days and He was bound to end the fast soon anyway - but he would have lost the spiritual benefit of fasting at a time when He needed that benefit to face whatever other temptations Satan would throw at Him. There may be other reasons why it would be a bad idea, even a sin, for Jesus to do what Satan suggested.

But it is interesting that Satan did not start out with a tempation that would be a direct and obvious violation of one of God's major commandments. He started with something that Jesus could rationalize would not be wrong.

Isn't that how Satan tempts us sometimes?

Satan sometimes tempts us with a direct violation of God's commandments, but sometimes, if that direct, head-on approach is unlikely to work, he comes at us from the periphery. He tempts us, not to directly violate a commandment, but to do something unwise that puts us in spiritual jeopardy, something that can expose us to greater temptations. He gets at us little by little, slowly breaking our resistance. He can chip away at the edges of our obedience until we are spiritual weak enough to be attacked directly. He will attack us in something that may be a "grey area" for us.

Example: Maybe we are in the habit of praying a certain amount of time every day. Satan can tempt us to pray a little less on a particular day because we are so busy. Is that a sin? There is no commandment of God that says, "pray 45 minutes every day." So it is easy to rationalize, "I can make it up tomorrow." Then tomorrow is even more busy than today. We pray less, but with mixed thoughts about it. On the one hand we tell ourselves, "it is ok, I am still praying, I am not breaking any commandment," but on the other hand we feel guilty because it is beginning to sink in to our minds that we are not putting God first. We become spiritually weakened. Then Satan can tempt us with something else, something a little more serious. We begin making little compromises here and there, and as we do, we are drifting farther from God and Satan is setting us up for a big fall. He has a knock-out punch all prepared, but he is weakening us first with little things, things that don't seem so bad, to draw us away from God. Then, when we have been gradually put into a weakened state, he delivers his "good night" blow, and down we go. We wake up later and asked ourselves, "how did this happen?"

Maybe the little thing that starts it is going to a party with some people in the world. Maybe this particular party is not so bad, yet there will be temptations, temptations to over drink maybe, or something else. Is there a command against going to such a party? Not directly. So we can think, I can handle the temptations. But God says, "flee sexual immorality" (1 Corinthians 6:18). God mentions a specific temptation, but the principle applies to ANY temptation. Christ teaches us to pray to God, "do not lead us into temptation" (Matthew 6:13), but we have our part to do to avoid temptations.

The "little thing" that Satan may use to begin in a small way to increase our temptations and start to weaken us may be a TV program. It might not be a very bad program, and there might be a lot of good in it, but it has enough temptations and wrong influences in it that it can start, in a small way, to draw our minds away from the closeness we have with God.

But Jesus set the example. He did not do something that was even remotely close to sin. He stayed from the edge of the cliff. He refused even to turn stones into bread even though there was no direct command against it. He did not do something that was unwise. He did not expose Himself to something that could tempt Him into breaking His fast, a fast that was helping to give Him the spiritual strength to be close to God and resist Satan. And because He refused to compromise even the slightest bit with one hundred percent dedication to God's law and work, He was able to resist all of Satan's temptations.

Likewise we need to stay far from the edge of the cliff. Don't even come close to breaking God's law. Anticipate the little problems, the little things that can tempt us to sin, and avoid those situations.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

How to Obtain More of God's Help in Breaking Bad Habits, Chapter 7

Monday, April 2, 2012

Physical and Spiritual Healing

Does the suffering Christ went through pay for our physical healing only, or also our spiritual healing?

Consider these two passages:

"But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

"Make the heart of this people dull,
And their ears heavy,
And shut their eyes;
Lest they see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart,
And return and be healed" (Isaiah 6:10).

Both passages refer to being healed. In both passages, the Hebrew word translated into the English word heal is the same.

Look at the context of the second passage. It is quoted by Jesus Christ in Matthew 13:10-17 where He talks about the fact that His disciples can hear and understand but not Israel as a whole. In other words, He was talking about calling, and the difference in understanding between those who are called and those who are not called in this age.

The context of Isaiah 6:10 is calling, conversion, and spiritual healing, not physical healing. God is saying that the people are blinded so they cannot see and understand, lest they be spiritually healed. When we are called and converted, God begins a process of healing us spiritually, healing our character, and this is done through God's Holy Spirit.

Yet that same word "healing", in both English and the original Hebrew, is used in the passage that says that by Christ's stripes we are healed. This seems to indicate that the suffering Christ endured not only paid the penalty of suffering that comes from physical sicknesses and problems that come from breaking the physical laws of health, but the suffering Christ endured paid the penalty of suffering we incur by our spiritual sins, in other words, the spiritual damage to our character, caused by sin, that causes both the sinner and those around him to suffer.

The penalty for our sins is death (Romans 6:23). But that is not the only penalty. We also pay a penalty of suffering for our sins. Sin produces suffering. It damages our character. It creates contention, strife, and unhappiness. Satan and the demons suffer because of their sins and sinful nature. They pay that penalty even though they do not die.

Before Lucifer sinned, he was perfect in his ways. "You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created, Till iniquity was found in you" (Ezekiel 28:17). But when Lucifer sinned, something happened to his mind. It became perverted, twisted. "...You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor..." (Ezekiel 28:17). He became Satan the Devil, an enemy of God. Likewise, as Mr. Armstrong pointed out, when Adam sinned, something happened to his mind. He began to develop wrong character, and that character led to sin and more sin, and sin has led to all the evils and suffering of this world.

So for humans, the penalty of sin is twofold: 1) suffering, resulting from the bad consequences of our sins, and 2) death. When Christ suffered and died, he paid both penalties. By letting his blood be shed, He paid the death penalty of our sins so we don't have to die. This makes it possible for us to be given eternal life and live forever. But it would do us no good if we lived forever but remained slaves of our evil human nature and continued to make ourselves and others miserable with suffering by our sinful choices. So Christ also sacrificed His flesh, and allowed Himself to be scourged and beaten and allowed his flesh to be torn so that He suffered, and thus He paid the penalty of suffering for our sins. This makes possible our spiritual healing, which God does through His Holy Spirit, to clean up our character, so we do not have to continue to suffer the consequences of sin. It also makes possible our physical healing so we do not have to continue to suffer the pain and weakness of physical sicknesses and injuries brought on by breaking physical laws of health.

The process of breaking physical health laws, damaging our bodies, and suffering pain and weakness as a consequence of breaking physical laws is a parallel of the process of breaking the spiritual law of God, damaging our character, sinning, and bringing upon ourselves the suffering that comes from sin. That suffering can come from conflict, contentions, jealousies, violence, hatreds, and every type of evil, all of which come from breaking the spiritual law of God. The suffering Christ endured paid the penalty of suffering for violations of physical health laws and the spiritual law of God, so that both can be forgiven. This makes possible the forgiveness of both physical and spiritual sin so that God can heal us physically, by repairing our bodies, and heal us spiritually, by cleaning up our character and developing the character of Christ in us by the Holy Spirit. Both are necessary to remove suffering from our lives, which is one of the penalties of sin. Christ suffered to pay that penalty so we do not have to continue to suffer in this life or in the life to come. Then He died to pay the death penalty of our sins so we can live forever.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2

Sunday, April 1, 2012

What the Sacrifice of Christ Teaches Us

Why was it necessary for the Word, who was Christ, to become human and suffer a painful death to pay the penalty for our sins? Was there not some other way God could work it out?

Jesus said, all things are possible for God. "But Jesus looked at them and said to them, 'With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible' " (Matthew 19:26). See also Mark 10:27, Luke 1:37, and Luke 18:27. Jesus knew that when, the night before He was crucified, He prayed that God would spare Him. "And He said, 'Abba, Father, all things are possible for You. Take this cup away from Me; nevertheless, not what I will, but what You will' " (Mark 14:36). Perhaps He remembered the example of Abraham who was told to sacrifice his son, but was spared having to go through it after he had proved he had a willing attitude.

For humans, one of the penalties of sin is death (suffering is another penalty). That death penalty had to be paid, and that is what made Christ's sacrifice necessary. Yet it was God who set that penalty. God, who could foresee that making death the penalty for human sin would require the sacrifice of Christ, could have set a different penalty, one that humans could pay and still live, so that Christ would not have to suffer and die.

Yet it was God's will to work things out as He did.

God is teaching us lessons for eternity. He is determined to teach us a way of life that will bring maximum blessings to His family forever and to teach us those lessons the most effective way possible.

By making death the penalty for sin, God teaches us in the strongest way that His law, a law of love, must be obeyed. There can be no compromise with the law. We must not sin. For all eternity in His kingdom, we will not sin. This is the lesson of the death penalty that must be paid, that sin cannot be tolerated, that God's law must be taken very seriously. Then, Christ paid the penalty for us to teach us one aspect of that law, that is, love. God the Father and Jesus Christ set the example of love by paying the death penalty for us. That also is part of the law, because God's law requires love.

So by making death the penalty of sin, God teaches us in the strongest terms that sin cannot be tolerated and we have to give up the ways of sin forever in order to be in His kingdom. We must be willing to live 100% the give way, the way of loving God and neighbor, if we want eternal life. There is no other way. He will not give us eternal life if we still insist on our sinful ways. And by the sacrifice of Christ, God reinforces the lesson by showing that love is the way of life that He and Christ live. It is because of God's love for us that Christ was sacrificed, and it was because of the love Christ had for the Father and for us that He was willing to be that sacrifice.

In this whole plan of salvation, God is showing us that He is living a perfect way of life, the way of outgoing love towards others. And the way of life He is teaching us is the way of life He and Christ also live.

In no stronger way could God teach us the lesson.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2

Ethics Agreements Part 3 - Making Commitments

A bit of COG news: COGWA has announced that Mr. Richard Ames of Living Church of God (LCG) visited Jim Franks at COGWA headquarters to see their new building. LCG seems to have friendly relations, to a point, with both COGWA and UCG. Link:

Ministers should beware of signing "ethics agreements" with a Church of God organization.

In some cases, an employment agreement might be necessary to spell out certain financial details, such as agreements about ownership of assets, and things like that. But if the UCG code of ethics agreement I mentioned in a previous post is typical of ethics agreements signed by ministers in other Church of God organizations, I see problems with them. These seem to go beyond employment agreements. They are as the label implies, codes of "ethics". They attempt to set a standard of rules or behavior that define right and wrong, and in doing so, they compete with the Bible. God decides what is right and wrong, not man.

The Bible is our code of ethics.

As I understand it, the UCG code of ethics must be signed by non-employed local elders. What if such an elder, realizing such a code of ethics competes with and is contrary to the principles taught in the Bible, refuses to sign? He cannot be fired, for he is not an employee. Will he be disfellowshipped? On what biblical grounds? Will he have his ministerial credentials revoked? He is still a minister of Christ. He may even have been ordained before UCG came into existence. On what grounds could UCG say, "Christ made you a minister, but we are removing you from that office."

Here is a comment I wrote for one of two previous posts on this subject:

"This ethics agreement has been compared with typical agreements employees are asked to sign by major corporations. This is a valid comparison, but there is one difference. If I understand this correctly, all UCG elders are expected to sign this, even those who are not employed by UCG.

"While some kinds of agreements between employer and employee may be necessary based on the employment situation, such as agreements to respect assets of the corporation that an employee may be entrusted with by virtue of his employment, this is not one of them. This agreement is based on the ordination of a man to the office of minister or elder whether employed or not, whether ordained by UCG or not.

"The ordination to the office of minister comes from Christ, not any body of men, though Christ uses men to perform the ordination. It is Christ who places a man into the office of minister. And Christ has His own terms, His own "code of ethics" that ministers must follow. That is the Bible.

"This code of ethics in effect competes with and is a substitute for the Bible. Ministers should not sign, in my opinion.

"If the COG you attend required you to sign a document like this just because you attend with them, would you sign? And if not, why should a local elder?

"And if a local elder, perhaps ordained by Mr. Armstrong or another minister before UCG was ever formed, refused to sign, what would UCG do? Disfellowship him? Remove his ministerial credentials? They cannot remove him from the office Christ has put him into just for refusing to sign an agreement to support the decisions of UCG leaders plus all the other "amplifications" of the Bible in this agreement. They do not have the authority to remove him for that."

A minister must always obey God rather than man when there is a conflict (Acts 5:29). God already gives those whom Christ has placed in office certain authority. If the UCG Council of Elders has that authority, they can give orders to the ministers under their authority, and those ministers have to obey that authority unless it conflicts with the law of God. That is made clear in the Bible (Hebrews 13:17, 1 Corinthians 12:28, 2 Corinthians 13:10, Acts 5:29). You don't need a ethics agreement that requires ministers to promise unconditionally (in effect) to submit to the authority of the Council. That nullifies God's instruction that ministers should obey higher ministers only when such obedience does not conflict with God's law (Acts 5:29).

The Bible warns against making commitments without knowing the consequences of those commitments.

For example, Proverbs warns against becoming "surety" for someone else (Proverbs 6:1-5, 11:15, 17:18). One meaning of "surety" is that it is the making of a commitment to guarantee the payment of a debt, and one who guarantees the debt of another person is committing himself in advance to pay that person's debt if he doesn't. In principle, God is warning us to be careful about making commitments about the future actions of others when you cannot know what those actions will be. Proverbs also says, "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3, see also Proverbs 27:12). We should anticipate what can go wrong in a situation and protect ourselves in advance, and this should include avoiding promises to back up the decisions of others when we do not know what those decisions will be. If someone makes a right decision, you can support that decision, but you don't have to promise to support it before you know what it is.

The Bible is full of examples of those who made rash decisions before knowing the consequences. Joshua and the leaders of Israel swore peace to Gibeon, but regretted it later when they found out they lived in the land that Israel was to possess (Joshua 9:1-27). God put these things in the Bible as examples for us to learn from (1 Corinthians 10:11). Perhaps Jesus had this example in mind when He said, " not swear at all..." (Matthew 5:33-37). Jephthah swore to God to sacrifice whatever came out of his house if God gave him the victory, not realizing his daughter would come out (Judges 11:29-40).

Should the Council of Elders be trusted to never go against God's law? No, you cannot give that kind of trust to a human being. We are all free moral agents, we are all subject to Satan's temptations, and we cannot read each others minds. Even God's prophet Samuel could not judge which of Jesse's sons was a man after God's heart. "But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart' " (1 Samuel 16:7). So even Samuel could not judge another man's heart, and Samuel was a man God uses as a righteous example along with Moses in Jeremiah 15:1. Mr. Armstrong did not know that Mr. Tkach would make the doctrinal changes that he did, and Mr. Armstrong worked with Mr. Tkach closely. How much chance does any local elder have to rightly judge the hearts of the men on the Council of Elders to know they will never make decisions the elder cannot support because they conflict with God's law? Then how can he make a commitment to support those decisions?

If an elder signs the agreement, then the Council makes a decision that goes against the law of God, the elder is put into a position of being forced to violate God's law by supporting the decision or to break his promise, a promise he never should have made in the first place. Should a promise mean nothing?

The sad thing is, those elders who have no conscience and will think nothing of breaking their word may be the first ones to agree to sign. The ones who sign first may be the ones whose signatures are worthless.

Someone might say, well, a minister can sign, then if something comes up he cannot support, he can resign. Resign from what? Membership in that Church of God organization? He may not be an employee, and this agreement is not limited to terms of employment. What if the thing is a minor matter, yet one he cannot support. Does he support something that is wrong just because it is a small thing? Or does he quit the fellowship over something small? That is a recipe for fragmenting the whole organization. It is a recipe for division. In fact, the members of COGWA who used to be on the Council of Elders of UCG resigned from that Council, giving the reason that they could not support the Council's decisions and their agreement to do so therefore required them to resign. Now, this type of agreement is being extended, apparently, to the entire ministry.

How can you promise to do what a man tells you to do in advance of knowing what it is? "Tell me to do something, and I promise I will do it, whatever it is, even though you haven't told me yet." Is that godly? If you tell me to sin, have I not sinned by making the promise in the first place? I either have to do the sin you tell me to do, or break my promise to do what you say.

It seems to me that ministers who sign this are compromised. What if Christ, through the Bible and through the Holy Spirit, leads a minister to do something different than the Code of Ethics allows? That is certainly possible. This code of ethics contains many do's and don'ts that the Bible does not give as part of God's law or as instructions to ministers. Apparently, the writers of this code of ethics think that God forgot to put them in the Bible.

It seems to me that ministers who sign this are compromised. Christ may indeed lead a minister to do something not allowed by the code of ethics, but the minister has already promised to obey the code of ethics, not Christ. How could I trust such a minister to guide me, teach me, counsel me, or rule over me if I know he is following a paper document, not the Bible, not Christ?

This agreement may be a subtle way UCG claims that all the decisions of the Council are right because Jesus Christ leads the Council. There is no logic in that. Of course the decisions Christ makes are right, but He doesn't always force men, even ministers, to obey Him. It attempts to transfer the trust we should have in Christ into trust in the Council. But God says, do not trust in man (Psalm 146:3), and God puts a curse on those who do (Jeremiah 17:5-10).

A signature on the code of ethics agreement, promising to support the decisions of the leadership of a Church of God organization, is an expression of a level of trust in the leaders that rightly belongs only to God.

I think "Code of Ethics" agreements that ministers in a Church of God organization must sign are a potential trap. I think many ministers who really are converted and are striving to tell the truth, to keep their promises, and to obey all of God's laws will one day regret signing such agreements, if they sign or have signed.