Thursday, June 28, 2012

Was Job Self-Righteous?

Self-righteousness is a loaded term. By loaded, I mean it is loaded with meaning, and sometimes that meaning can be different with different people and different uses of the term.

You will not find the term "self-righteous" or "self-righteousness" in the Bible, or at least not in the King James Version or the New King James Version (except maybe in headings or comments, not translated from the original text). But there are certain principles taught in the Bible that relate to the modern English term "self-righteous".

We have a concept of self-righteousness according to the common usage of the term today. It usually refers to someone who takes things to an unbalanced and wrong extreme in trying to be more righteous than others and/or finds fault with others who do not measure up to the self-righteous person's standard. It has to do with comparing oneself with others and looking down on others. It is characterized by some of the Pharisees, who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others (Luke 18:9-14).

The Pharisees often found fault with the disciples of Christ for eating with unwashed hands and similar things, which were not really important. They seemed to take pride in their righteousness, feeling superior to others, and criticizing others.

Did Job have this kind of self-righteousness?

I don't see evidence that he was overly critical of others or that he took things to an unbalanced extreme in trying to be righteous. He was not like the Pharisees who criticized those who did not wash their hands before eating, for example.

In fact, in the matter of being overly critical of others, I think Job's three friends, who accused him repeatedly of sin, seemed more like the example of the fault-finding Pharisees.

I don't see where Job had a fault-finding attitude towards other people. I don't see where Job was concerned with do's and don'ts he made up and held to apart from God's law, like the washing of hands, like the Pharisees did. Rather, in his description of his life before he was afflicted, in Job chapters 29 through 31, it seems he did a pretty good job of obeying both the letter and the spirit of God's law of love. For example, he would not even look at a woman to lust after her (Job 31:1). He showed kindness to the poor (Job 31:16-23). He did not set his heart on riches (Job 31:24-28). In all his ways, he did not show what people commonly think of when they hear the term, "self-righteous".

Job may have had a different kind of self-righteousness, one that is not commonly understood by the way most people use the term, "self-righteous".

Job's problem was a lack of faith in God's righteousness. He felt God was unjust to afflict him. And in this evaluation, he compared himself with God and maintained his own righteousness apart from God. He also focused on his own righteousness rather than God's, seeking to justify himself in his evaluation rather than justifying God and God's decision to afflict him.

These verses illustrate Job's problem:

" 'As God lives, who has taken away my justice, And the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, As long as my breath is in me, And the breath of God in my nostrils, My lips will not speak wickedness, Nor my tongue utter deceit. Far be it from me That I should say you are right; Till I die I will not put away my integrity from me. My righteousness I hold fast, and will not let it go; My heart shall not reproach me as long as I live' " (Job 27:2-6).

"So these three men ceased answering Job, because he was righteous in his own eyes. Then the wrath of Elihu, the son of Barachel the Buzite, of the family of Ram, was aroused against Job; his wrath was aroused because he justified himself rather than God" (Job 32:1-2).

Job may have been proud of his righteousness, and that could be a big part of his problem. In any case, his focus was not on glorifying and honoring God. When it came down to it, feeling that he was righteous was more important to him than believing that God was righteous. He preferred to defend himself than to defend God. He was not thinking, "Whatever God's reason is for afflicting me, He is right and just in what He is doing, because God is perfect in righteousness and infinite in wisdom and I am not. Maybe I have a fault in me I don't know of, or maybe God is testing me, but whatever God's reason is for afflicting me, his decision is right and good, because God is more righteous than I am."

He may have had the right attitude in the beginning of his trial. " 'Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.' In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong" (Job 1:21-22). "Then his wife said to him, 'Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!' But he said to her, 'You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?' In all this Job did not sin with his lips" (Job 2:9-10).

But under the pressure of affliction, it came to the surface that when it came to a choice between believing in God's righteousness or his own, he defended himself more than God.

Yes, Job's problem could be described as self-righteousness, as long as we do not confuse his problem with the problem people usually attach to the term, the problem of despising other people and general fault-finding like the Pharisees. I don't see evidence of that in the book of Job, except perhaps with Job's three "friends" who accused him falsely.

The focus in the book of Job is how we think about God. Do we believe God is righteous? How strongly do we believe that? Do we really trust God and all His decisions? How strong is our faith in God's word, His promises, and His perfect character, especially when we are suffering in a trial?

This is what the book of Job is about.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Honoring Our Parents When They're Gone

Some of us whose parents have died may look back and wish we had done more to obey the fifth commandment, "Honor Your Father and Your Mother" (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16, Matthew 15:4-6, Ephesians 6:1-4), when they were alive.

But there is a way we may still be able to honor them, even after they are gone.

Almost all parents want long-term good for their children, and they want peace in their families.

We can honor our parents by showing kindness to their children. We honor them by getting along peacefully with our brothers and sisters, by forgiving them when they offend us, and by being actively concerned for their welfare. We can love our brothers and sisters as our parents would or should do if they were alive, and thus, in effect, carry on the work of our parents in their place. That is one way we can honor them.

And actually, loving our brothers and sisters is often a good way to honor our father and mother even while our parents are alive.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Why Should We Believe?

Does it matter why we obey God's commandments? Can we obey for wrong reasons, for selfish reasons, for vanity, pride, and conceit? For example, did the Pharisees pray and fast for wrong reasons, to be seen by men? Can one make generous donations to a good cause for wrong and selfish reasons? (Matthew 6:1-5, 16)

In the Old Testament, God said that Israel fasted "for strife" (Isaiah 58:4), and God did not accept their fast.

So, yes, we can do right things for wrong motives and reasons. God cares about our heart.

Likewise, can we believe the truth for the wrong reasons? Can we believe the truth because we trust and believe men, but not God?

One man, call him John, believes God. Another man, call him Jim, does not believe God, but he believes and trusts men, even John. So John learns the truth from God, because he believes and trusts God, and then, wanting to share the truth with others, teaches it to Jim.

Jim, because he has a close relationship with John (father, brother, close friend, etc.), trusts and believes John, so he also learns the truth. But his reason for believing the truth is different from John's reason for believing.

John's faith is in God, but Jim's faith is in John, not in God. He believes the truth only as long as John is a dominant influence in his life. Jim can reap certain benefits from the truth, because we reap what we sow. But his faith is not in God. Jim doesn't really have a relationship with God, though outwardly it seems he does.

Which one has eternal life?

It matters why we believe because it matters who we believe. It is not just a matter of what we believe.

Mr. Armstrong believed God. Others who believed God joined with Mr. Armstrong and did a work. But others who did NOT believe God, but believed Mr. Armstrong, also joined with him in the Worldwide Church of God.

So you had two categories, two groups within Worldwide, both believing the same doctrines, but one group believed God and one group believed man. The beliefs were the same, but the reason for belief was different.

From the outside it was hard to tell them apart. Both groups believed and behaved the same. But when the dominant influence of Mr. Armstrong was taken away, all those who believed the truth only because they believed Mr. Armstrong (not because they believed God and proved doctrine from the Bible) left the truth, right?

No, I think not.

Many did. Not all.

There are people in the scattered Church of God today, whether part of a fellowship or "stay at home", who believe the truth for the wrong reason. Their belief and trust are not in God and the Bible. Their belief and trust are in their traditions, in their families, in the Church, their pastors, and even in Mr. Armstrong and his writings, even now after his death.

God knows who are His.

God will not play second fiddle to anyone.

God commands that we love Him more than father, mother, brother, sister, husband, wife, and even our own selves (Luke 14:25-26, Deuteronomy 13:6-10).

If you never really proved the truth from the Bible, you better do it, and you better follows what Christ teaches you in the Bible wherever He leads you (Revelation 14:4-5).

If you are a minister, you need to teach the brethren under your care to prove what is true and to believe the Bible more than mother, father, husband, wife, or even you, their pastor.

Unless you want to compete with God for the loyalty and faith of the members.

Some pastors may be afraid that if they teach their members to believe the Bible more than their pastors, those members may reach independent conclusions, even wrong conclusions. Yes, that is possible.

But there is a difference between someone who believes and trusts the Bible but makes an honest mistake and someone who only believes the truth because of circumstances and really doesn't trust the Bible.

That difference is attitude towards God.

If someone, because he makes a sincere mistake, misunderstands something in the Bible, even after the minister explains it, that does not mean the member has a bad attitude, necessarily. God does not require that he believe his pastor or any man. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). What God requires is that he respect the office of minister and not create division.

If he has a right attitude, he will not promote or discuss his different view of scripture with other brethren but will recognize that God has given you, the pastor, greater authority to teach the congregation, and he will not interfere with your teaching.

As pastor, as a shepherd over part of Christ's flock, your primary job is to help the brethren in their relationship with God, not their relationship with you. You should earnestly desire that the brethren love God more than they love you, or their father, or mother, husband, wife, the other brethren in the congregation, or even their own selves.

You should strive to have the discernment, praying for wisdom about it if necessary, to see if a member is believing the Church and the ministry about doctrine more than God and the Bible, and if so, to strive to teach that member to put his faith in God's word, the Bible, more than the Church and the ministry.

When was the last time you gave a sermon about how members should handle doctrinal disagreements? Can you even give such a sermon? What would you say?

What principles could Mr. Armstrong have taught the Church in 1985 that would have prepared them for the changes Mr. Tkach would make?

Some ministers might say that Mr. Armstrong should have told the Church to believe Mr. Tkach if he made small adjustments to doctrine, but not big changes. But that cannot be right. The principles of God's word teach us to be faithful in small things as well as great things. "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10).

We must be careful to live by every word of God.

Are we to direct our faith towards the ministry in small matters, then switch gears and have faith in God if a big change comes along?

Small decisions are the training ground for big decisions. If we trust God's word, the Bible, more than the teaching of men in small doctrines, we will also trust God and the Bible in big doctrines.

Brethren need to believe the Bible, but respect the ministry, and not interfere with the minister's teaching by criticizing that teaching with other brethren and creating division. If the minister makes a mistake in doctrine, a member who realizes it should keep quiet about it in most cases, or address it with the minister alone, or report it to headquarters if necessary, but not gossip about it with the members.

And if the error is so great that the minister is teaching a different gospel than that which the Bible teaches, then that is probably the cue for the member to leave that group. "And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them" (Ephesians 5:11). "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11).

By the way, I did not notice this until I proofread this post, but did not Paul set a good example when he warned the members not to even believe him, Paul, if he preached a false gospel? Notice how, in Galatians 1:8 he says, "if WE...preach any other gospel...". He didn't even exclude himself from the curse. In saying "we", he was, in effect, teaching the members NOT to believe him, Paul, or any man more than God.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

UCG Code of Ethics Agreement - Part 4

I have posted before about the UCG code of ethics agreement UCG ministers are being asked to sign. As I have said, I think ministers would be better off not signing.

But the code of ethics agreement may be a blessing in disguise.

When Worldwide was changing doctrine, some ministers who remained faithful to true doctrine were able to stay with Worldwide a long time, even after Worldwide made many serious doctrinal compromises. They did this by walking a tightrope. They were careful not to contradict Mr. Tkach and the other leaders in Worldwide on doctrine, but they were equally careful not to teach anything false. They did this by avoiding the teaching of certain subjects, just sticking to "safe" topics in which doctrine had not yet been changed, and by various means in how they worded what they said.

I see hints, but no smoking gun, that UCG is moving slowly towards doctrinal compromise. I can't prove it and I can't say definitely that it will happen. But it might. And I am not suggesting that UCG members should leave necessarily at this point over what MIGHT happen.

But ministers in UCG will be the first to know, if they do not already know. And if doctrinal compromise and false teaching is in UCG's future, some ministers, who were able to stay in Worldwide past some of the doctrinal changes by walking the tightrope, may be tempted to do the same thing in UCG, especially since UCG is unlikely to change doctrine to the same extent and degree as Worldwide did.

But for any minister whose loyalty is to the Bible more than to UCG leaders, the code of ethics agreement may be a line in the sand they cannot cross. You either sign or you don't sign, and if you sign you are pledging loyalty to the organization and everything it will teach.

And for this reason, the option to "walk the tightrope" to stay in an organization that may teach doctrinal heresy by the avoiding of certain subjects and by clever wording in how things are taught, may not be an option for faithful ministers.

If God wants those ministers OUT of UCG so they can teach the full truth forcefully, with power, not being careful how they word things so as not to offend their bosses, it may be according to God's will that this code of ethics agreement force ministers to take a stand now, one way or another. This can be God's way of getting faithful ministers OUT of an organization that is not fully faithful to the Bible.

Thus, in its long-term effects, the code of ethics agreement can be a blessing.

To sign or not to sign. That is the question.

Members of the Church of God may have to face something like this in the future. And I am not talking about signing Church of God agreements. I do not foresee any Church of God organization asking members to sign papers of agreement.

But the world might.

The Bible refers to something called the mark of the beast (Revelation 13:16-17). There will be a time coming when no man can buy or sell without the mark of the beast, which is on their right hand or on their foreheads.

Many in the Church have suggested that this would be Sunday observance, figuring we work with our hands (right hand) and our minds (forehead), and if we observe the Sabbath faithfully, we will lose our jobs and have no money to buy or sell. This idea is further reinforced by the fact that God's true Sabbath is a sign that identifies God's people (Exodus 31:12-17). If the Sabbath is a sign, then Sunday is a counterfeit sign.

I think Sunday observance may very well be the mark of the beast.

But how will the prohibition against buying or selling be enforced for those who do not observe Sunday and instead observe the Sabbath?

I have often wondered about that. Because, just keeping the Sabbath, resting from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, does not, by itself, stop someone from buying or selling.

In times in the past when I have been unemployed, I have done more selling of property to raise cash to support myself than when I had a job. I would sell my DVDs, my movies, my computer equipment, my camera, anything I had that I could sell, to raise cash to buy food or pay the rent. I sold on eBay, I sold to stores, I sold to relatives.

How will keeping the Sabbath prevent you from selling your house, your car, or anything you have? You can sell these things on a Monday, Tuesday, etc.

And what about people who have savings or who live on a pension? How will Sabbath observance prevent someone from buying food and other necessities from their savings or pension money during the week?

Also, there is almost always part-time work that a person can do during the week, and there are work shifts that simply do not require people to work on the Sabbath. Also, self-employed people can work during the regular workweek and clients do not necessarily even know that they keep the Sabbath. If a car mechanic fixes my car on a Wednesday and I pay him on Thursday, how do I know if he works Saturday or not?

If Sunday is the mark of the beast, there has to be an enforcement mechanism to prevent people from buying and selling who do not have the mark. In fact, whatever the mark of the beast is, there has to be an enforcement mechanism.

There has been a trend in the world to move away from using physical cash to make financial transactions - paper currency and coin - and to move towards electronic and bank payments: checks, credit cards, and debit cards. Today, typically you can go into a store, slide your bank card through a card reader, press OK when you see the amount, and you just made your purchase. You can do this for any amount, even to buy a banana that cost 18 cents. The IRS would like to see cash eliminated because financial transactions in electronic or check form are easier to trace to make sure people pay their taxes.

You can receive a paycheck and cash it at a currency exchange or at the bank the check is drawn on without having a bank account, but if the world moves to a cashless economy, that may no longer be possible. Having a bank account will be a necessity to buy or sell anything, to receive payment from an employer, etc. But to open a bank account, you have to sign forms. And a future government may require that those forms contain certain wording, certain pledges and promises, to abide by laws of the state that prohibit Sunday work, to acknowledge that Sunday is the true sabbath of God, or any other doctrine that a faithful member of God's true Church cannot with a clear conscience agree to. If we sign, we have signed something false, and we have lied, we have given false witness, we have broken the ninth commandment, and we have sinned against God. If we refuse to sign, no bank account. No bank account, no debit or credit card for making store purchases. No bank account, no checks for making purchases with checks. No bank account, no way to deposit a paycheck.

No money in other words. No buying or selling. No way to cash a pension check because there is no cash. No way to sell anything because there is no way to receive payment.

This would be a way to exclude the entire faithful membership of the Church of God from participation in a money economy.

We would be reduced to barter to stay alive. We fix the neighbor's car in exchange for the neighbor giving us food. Or we cut the neighbor's lawn, or babysit for their children, in return for this or that benefit. Barter to stay alive, but no buying or selling.

Hitler didn't have the tools to make Germany cashless, but when he began to move against the Jews, he passed laws excluding them from one profession after another. They were not allowed to own farmland. They could not work as teachers. Non-Jews could not go to Jewish doctors. Systematically, the Jews were excluded, step-by-step, from most of the economy. This was before most of them were rounded up and sent to concentration camps.

If this happens in the future, if we must sign something false to have a bank account, every member will be faced with that question, sign or don't sign.

Revelation says the mark will be on our right hand or our forehead. We work with both hands, but we sign papers with our right hand. With our hand, we sign, and with our mind (our forehead) we compromise.

We all may face that choice sometime in the future, to compromise by signing or to pay a penalty for not signing. UCG ministers are facing a similar choice now.

When Will Israel Attack?

There have been rumors of Israel attacking Iran for a long time, years in fact. It is apparent to all that Iran is working to make an atomic bomb, and Israel feels she needs to carry out a pre-emptive attack on Iran to prevent a hostile and fanatical Iran from having nukes with which it could destroy Israel. Not too many months ago, it was rumored that Israel was getting ready to attack Iran in the spring. Well, spring has come and gone (meteorological spring, that is, the months of March, April, and May), and there has been no attack. So now it looks like it may be the summer or fall.

Israel may have expressed a determination to stop Iran from developing nukes, but Israel has also shown great reluctance about actually attacking Iran. It makes me wonder, if stopping Iran is so critical to Israel's survival, as she claims, why hasn't she attacked yet? Iran has been working on its bomb project for years, and their fanaticism and hostility to Israel and the west is also well known. They must be getting close to making the bomb. I sometimes wonder if one of these days Iran will catch Israel and the west by surprise by announcing, or detonating, their first atomic bomb. Then it will be too late. Iran will be a nuclear power.

I have even thought of the Bible passage that says, "They have blown the trumpet and made everyone ready, But no one goes to battle..." (Ezekiel 7:14), and wondered if this could apply. But probably this verse is not about the current situation between Israel and Iran.

Perhaps Israel has very detailed, accurate, and reliable intelligence about how close Iran is to making the bomb and can afford to cut it fine.

I have not been following the details of that situation, but I see a general pattern.

Israel wants the government of Iran and its nuclear program taken out, but she would rather not attack Iran alone.

Iran is a threat to more than just Israel. Iran is a threat to Europe and the United States. It is a threat to the whole Persian Gulf region. It can threaten to close oil shipping in the Persian Gulf, disrupting vital oil supplies to the west, not just Europe and the United States, but Japan as well, and many other countries dependent on middle east oil. Iran is also a threat to moderate Muslim and Arab states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia.

Israel would like to have allies in a war against Iran. And I think Israel is hopeful that she can have allies.

But those allies may exact a price.

This can be a danger for Israel. In order to secure the cooperation and help of other powers in the region against Iran, she may make deals that will compromise her future security. If this is the case, she may win in the short term and she may win against Iran, but if the price she pays to other countries to gain their support weakens Israel and compromises her future security, she may sow the seeds of her own destruction in the long term.