Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Which Americans Will Survive the Tribulation?

Which Americans who enter the tribulation will survive it? Which ones will become part of the first generation of Israel to live in the millennium?

God will decide.

Bible prophecy indicates one third of Israel will die in the famine and disease, one third will die in war, and one third will be captured by their enemies and go into captivity, and most of them will die in captivity. Only about ten percent will survive (Ezekiel 5:1-4, 11-12, Amos 5:1-3). I do not know if the ten percent is ten percent of all Israel before the tribulation or ten percent of the one third that goes into captivity (which would be about 3% of the total pre-tribulation population).

God will decide who survives the captivity.

There will be a purging of those who are the most rebellious. "I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD" (Ezekiel 20:37-38).

It may be that the warning message we give before the tribulation begins will be part of a testing process God uses to determine who He will keep alive to be the first generation of Israel in the millennium.

That first generation will be important. God is going to use Israel as a model nation to illustrate to the world the right way of life (Deuteronomy 4:5-6). Conversion will start with Israel and spread outwards. The capital of Israel, Jerusalem, will also be the capital of God's government over the earth (Isaiah 2:3).

It is important to God that He purge the most rebellious elements from that first generation.

How people react to our warning message can be a test. Even among people who are not called to salvation in this age, reactions to a warning message can vary. Some will react strongly against it and against us in the Church who deliver that message. Some will become angry and will hate us and persecute us. Some will laugh us to scorn. They will deride the warning, make fun of it, twist it, and attack it.

But not everyone. Some may be sorrowful to a degree. Some may be afraid. Some my try, in their human way, to respond. Even among those who are against the warning, some will be less intense than others. God can judge each person's heart by how he or she reacts to our warning message.

There is going to be a testing and a judging and a selection that goes on to determine who will be part of that first generation of Israel that will be the model nation in the millennium. This testing and judging can occur all through the tribulation, but it can start from the time a person hears the warning message. People's actions and reactions to our message will help to show God who is acting most rebelliously and who is not.

As God tested Abraham by giving him a message to see his reaction (Genesis 22:1-2), as God tested Saul by giving him a command to obey (1 Samuel 15:1-3), so God can test all Israel by the message the Church of God delivers to each one of them. As each person hears our message and reacts, that person shows God his heart.

Everyone who hears the warning message must make a choice. When we tell the people, God is bringing punishment on you and this whole nation because of your sins and here is the proof in the Bible, each person will react in his or her own heart one way or another. They will react also with their words, one to another, as they talk about it, and they will react with their behavior, or lack of it. By all these things, God can judge who are the "rebels" he talks about in Ezekiel 20:37-38. God will see to what degree a person may be teachable in the millennium and to what degree that person is inclined to resist the truth.

Can an uncalled person respond positively to the warning? God is only calling a few in this age. Satan deceives the rest in this age. Unless God grants the gift of repentance and opens a person's mind and draws him or her to Christ, that person cannot be converted in this age.

But it is a mistake to think that the uncalled masses have no free will, no free moral agency, no choice at all, no responsibility for what they do. While they cannot repent with the depth of repentance God requires for conversion unless God gives that repentance as a gift, they nevertheless do have some free choice. They all don't have to try to kill us. They all don't have to totally ignore the warning, making no effort at all to change.

Perhaps some, out of fear of consequences, not with a depth of repentance and faith God requires for conversion, but trying to avoid the coming punishment, will make some effort to change. They may be a little bit afraid. They may say, "What if it's true?" That is not enough for conversion in this age, but it is at least a better reaction than, "Let's kill those lousy Church of God people."

Look at the example of Nineveh. God put that example in the Bible for a reason. We are to learn from it. There is more to learn from the book of Jonah that the length of time Jesus was in the grave. Read Jonah chapter 3.

Nineveh repented, yet was never called to conversion! What kind of repentance was that? Not the depth of repentance God must give as a gift prior to conversion and the receiving of the Holy Spirit. Probably, they never had a deep-down conviction that they were wrong, but they were merely afraid of the coming punishment. But at least they took Jonah's message seriously. And their effort to accept the message and try to stop sinning was enough for God to spare them the punishment He said he would bring upon them.

In a sense, they passed a test, but THEY HAD TO HEAR THE MESSAGE FROM JONAH TO PASS THAT TEST! No wonder God was determined to force Jonah to deliver the message. It was a vital part of God's plan for dealing with Nineveh and the example that this teaches us today (which might be more important to God than what happened to the Ninevites themselves).

Likewise, the message that the Church needs to deliver to the American people and all Israel BEFORE the tribulation begins may be a vital part of God's plan to bring about the fulfillment of Ezekiel 20:37-38.

We better deliver that message.

This may be something to think about during the Feast of Tabernacles, which is just a couple of months away. While we are planning our offerings, which will help finance and empower the preaching of a warning message to our nation, and while we are thinking about Israel being the model nation in the millennium, which the Feast of Tabernacles pictures, we should think about how our offerings directly help to bring about the world-wide utopia the Feast pictures.

God will use our holy day offerings to finance a warning message to help test all Israel, to see how each person reacts, to identify who the rebels are who will be destroyed in the tribulation, and who those are who will be most teachable in the millennium, who may survive to be the first generation of that model nation. Today we contribute to that process by our offerings, and in the millennium, after we are resurrected as the first fruits, we will directly be teaching those Israelites, and we will be glad God saved alive those who showed they were the most teachable. It will make our job easier. Then Israel will be a model nation that will help teach the world by their example. Thus the utopia will spread over the earth.

In the white throne judgment, resurrected mankind can compare the results of 6,000 years of Satan's way with the utopia of 1,000 years of God's way, and they will be able to make an informed decision that God's way is best. This will result in the salvation of the greatest number of people possible. That should be our goal.

What we do today can affect other people besides ourselves for eternity.

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Feast of Tabernacles - the Millennial Rule of Christ, Chapter 2

The Great Tribulation, Chapter 3

The Blessings and Curses, Chapter 3

The Responsibility of a Watchman, Chapter 3

The Ezekiel Warning, Chapter 3

The Two Witnesses and God's Fairness, Chapter 4

Why the Gospel Must Still Be Preached to the World, Chapter 4

Thursday, July 19, 2012

We Should Pray for Rain

Much of the United States is suffering from excessive heat and a shortage of rainfall, and it is hurting our crops, raising food prices, and hurting our economy. God is able to provide rain in due season or to withhold needed rain as a punishment for sin (Deuteronomy 11:13-17, 28:9-12, 28:15, 23-24, Amos 4:7-8, Zechariah 14:17-19). So this drought may be a punishment from God, for the United States has an abundance of sin.

Nevertheless, we in the Church of God should not rejoice over the troubles that come upon the United States, even if they are punishments from God, but rather we should beseech God to have mercy on our country and provide needed rain for our crops.

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men," (1 Timothy 2:1). "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (James 5:16).

There may come a time when we should not pray for the well-being of the country. "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you" (Jeremiah 7:16). See also Jeremiah 11:14 and Jeremiah 14:11-12. In my opinion, we have not reached that point yet.

While much of the population of the United States is materialistic, having little or no interest in God, there are still millions of people who are trying to obey God to the best of their understanding. They think they are Christian. They think they know the true God, but they don't. They are deceived, by Satan, by their church ministers, by their traditions, and by their own faulty reasoning. But as Mr. Armstrong often pointed out, a deceived person does not know he is deceived. These religious people may be very sincere. As Paul said of many of his own countrymen, they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (and Paul himself was in that category till God dealt with him personally) (Romans 10:1-2, 1 Timothy 1:12-16, Acts 8:1-2, Philippians 3:6).

They observe Sunday. They keep Christmas and Easter. Some of them use pictures and images in worship. They believe the false religious doctrines they grew up with. They violate God's weekly and annual sabbaths and do not know they are doing wrong.

Are they guilty of sin unrepented of? Yes. But they don't know it yet.

These people, many of them, see the sins and abominations in our country, and are apposed to them. They are against sexual immorality. They try to teach right moral values to their children. They are faithful to their spouses. The show kindness to strangers and the poor. They are against abortion. In regards to the sins they see in our country, some of them may be like those God describes who "sigh and cry" over these abominations (Ezekiel 9:4).

But they don't see their own abominations and sins. They do not sigh and cry over their Sabbath breaking, use of images in worship, and support of false doctrines. Not yet, anyway.

Christ gives a principle in Luke 12:47-48. He who knows he is sinning has the greater guilt than he who sins but does not know that he sins. This people do not know they are sinning.

Most of these people never heard the truth. They never heard a warning message from the Church of God, partly because the Church has become so lukewarm and carnal that we have become divided amongst ourselves, wasting resources fighting among ourselves instead of focusing on warning our nation.

Look at the waste that has occurred in the split of United Church of God, all because of ministers who are not willing to live by every word of God, and because of the members who support them instead of those who are effectively warning the American people.

No wonder Christ says He will spit us out of His mouth (Revelation 3:16).

The religious segment of the United States, and all other segments in our society, need and deserve a WARNING. But they are not getting it because we in the Church of God are not effectively giving that warning, except in very tiny measure. And our ineffectiveness and lack of power in delivering that warning is because of OUR sins, not theirs.

The people's blood will be on our heads (Ezekiel 3:18).

I pray that God will give our nation rain. I pray that God will give our nation more time, time to hear a warning from the Church, time for the Church of God, or some small part of it, to wake up, repent, and get zealous for delivering that warning. I pray that God will protect our economy, give us good weather, and bless our country until the Church gets the warning out to everyone. If that means the tribulation needs to be delayed to give us more time to deliver the Ezekiel warning (Ezekiel 3:16-21, 33:1-20), even if that means the delay of the return of Christ, then I pray the tribulation will be delayed.

And I pray that God will grant repentance to the Church and will empower it to deliver the warning.

Some members may feel encouraged by the signs of the times that indicate the return of Christ is near, and those signs can include national problems, drought, and disasters for the United States and Britain. Christ said, when we see certain events we should look up because our redemption draws near (Luke 21:28). But this encouragement should not become a rejoicing over the suffering and the disasters that come upon our nation. We should not rejoice to see prophesied disasters because they prove "we are right about prophecy."

We should love or country and desire the long-term good for our people, and we should pray that the Ezekiel warning go out to all Israel before the tribulation begins so everyone can know that God was fair to warn them while there was time for them to repent and escape.

"Now the LORD had said to Abram...I will make you a great nation...I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you" (Genesis 12:1-3).

"How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel!...Blessed is he who blesses you, And cursed is he who curses you" (Numbers 24:5, 9).

"He who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished" (Proverbs 17:5).

"Woe to you who desire the day of the LORD! For what good is the day of the Lord to you? It will be darkness, and not light" (Amos 5:18).

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Great Tribulation, Chapter 3

The Blessings and Curses, Chapter 3

The Responsibility of a Watchman, Chapter 3

The Ezekiel Warning, Chapter 3

The Two Witnesses and God's Fairness, Chapter 4

Why the Gospel Must Still Be Preached to the World, Chapter 4

A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5

The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5

We Need to Repent, Chapter 9

Laodicea and Philadelphia, Chapter 9

We Need to Be More Zealous for the Things of God, Chapter 9

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Lesson of 1 Kings 13

Do Church of God ministers ever lie about the scriptures? And if they do, and you believe the lie, could you be guilty of sin?

If you read something in the Bible, understand it, and believe it, but then you hear a minister in the Church of God, your pastor for example, contradict it, interpret the meaning of the scripture differently than its intended meaning, and you believe him, are you guilty?

Should we trust our ministers that when they speak in God's name, they are speaking the truth? Should we trust that God is guiding what they say? Should we trust that God would not allow the minister to teach wrongly?

The story in 1 Kings chapter 13 could be called the tale of two prophets.

   "And behold, a man of God went from Judah to Bethel by the word of the LORD, and Jeroboam stood by the altar to burn incense. Then he cried out against the altar by the word of the LORD, and said, 'O altar, altar! Thus says the Lord: "Behold, a child, Josiah by name, shall be born to the house of David; and on you he shall sacrifice the priests of the high places who burn incense on you, and men’s bones shall be burned on you." ' And he gave a sign the same day, saying, 'This is the sign which the LORD has spoken: Surely the altar shall split apart, and the ashes on it shall be poured out.'
   So it came to pass when King Jeroboam heard the saying of the man of God, who cried out against the altar in Bethel, that he stretched out his hand from the altar, saying, 'Arrest him!' Then his hand, which he stretched out toward him, withered, so that he could not pull it back to himself. The altar also was split apart, and the ashes poured out from the altar, according to the sign which the man of God had given by the word of the LORD. Then the king answered and said to the man of God, 'Please entreat the favor of the LORD your God, and pray for me, that my hand may be restored to me.'
   So the man of God entreated the Lord, and the king’s hand was restored to him, and became as before. Then the king said to the man of God, 'Come home with me and refresh yourself, and I will give you a reward.'
   But the man of God said to the king, 'If you were to give me half your house, I would not go in with you; nor would I eat bread nor drink water in this place. For so it was commanded me by the word of the LORD, saying, "You shall not eat bread, nor drink water, nor return by the same way you came." ' So he went another way and did not return by the way he came to Bethel" (1 Kings 13:1-10).

   "Now an old prophet dwelt in Bethel, and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel; they also told their father the words which he had spoken to the king. And their father said to them, 'Which way did he go?' For his sons had seen which way the man of God went who came from Judah. Then he said to his sons, 'Saddle the donkey for me.' So they saddled the donkey for him; and he rode on it, and went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak. Then he said to him, 'Are you the man of God who came from Judah?'
   And he said, 'I am.'
   Then he said to him, 'Come home with me and eat bread.'
   And he said, 'I cannot return with you nor go in with you; neither can I eat bread nor drink water with you in this place. For I have been told by the word of the LORD, "You shall not eat bread nor drink water there, nor return by going the way you came." '
   He said to him, 'I too am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the LORD, saying, "Bring him back with you to your house, that he may eat bread and drink water." ' (He was lying to him.)
   So he went back with him, and ate bread in his house, and drank water.
   Now it happened, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came to the prophet who had brought him back; And he cried out to the man of God who came from Judah, saying, 'Thus says the LORD: "Because you have disobeyed the word of the LORD, and have not kept the commandment which the LORD your God commanded you, but you came back, ate bread, and drank water in the place of which the LORD said to you, 'Eat no bread and drink no water,' your corpse shall not come to the tomb of your fathers." '
   So it was, after he had eaten bread and after he had drunk, that he saddled the donkey for him, the prophet whom he had brought back. When he was gone, a lion met him on the road and killed him. And his corpse was thrown on the road, and the donkey stood by it. The lion also stood by the corpse. And there, men passed by and saw the corpse thrown on the road, and the lion standing by the corpse. Then they went and told it in the city where the old prophet dwelt.
   Now when the prophet who had brought him back from the way heard it, he said, 'It is the man of God who was disobedient to the word of the LORD. Therefore the LORD has delivered him to the lion, which has torn him and killed him, according to the word of the LORD which He spoke to him.' And he spoke to his sons, saying, 'Saddle the donkey for me.' So they saddled it. Then he went and found his corpse thrown on the road, and the donkey and the lion standing by the corpse. The lion had not eaten the corpse nor torn the donkey. And the prophet took up the corpse of the man of God, laid it on the donkey, and brought it back. So the old prophet came to the city to mourn, and to bury him. Then he laid the corpse in his own tomb; and they mourned over him, saying, 'Alas, my brother!' So it was, after he had buried him, that he spoke to his sons, saying, 'When I am dead, then bury me in the tomb where the man of God is buried; Lay my bones beside his bones. For the saying which he cried out by the word of the LORD against the altar in Bethel, and against all the shrines on the high places which are in the cities of Samaria, will surely come to pass.' " (1 Kings 13:11-32).

The first prophet was probably sincere in thinking that the second prophet was telling the truth, that God spoke to him and told him to bring him to his house to eat. He trusted him. That was his mistake, and he paid for it with his life. God did not let him off the hook because he was sincere. The fact that he trusted the other prophet to tell him the truth in the name of the Lord was no excuse in God's sight. God gave him a command, he disobeyed it, he was guilty, and God killed him, period. It also didn't get him off the hook that he delivered the message to the king of Israel that God commanded him to deliver.

"Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, And shall not see when good comes, But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, In a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, Which spreads out its roots by the river, And will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, And will not be anxious in the year of drought, Nor will cease from yielding fruit' " (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

"let God be true but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4).

A lesson from this is, we must trust and obey God and God's word, the Bible, more than ministers in the Church of God. We should love and respect ministers in the Church. Love, yes. Respect, yes. Obedience when it does not conflict with obedience to God, yes. But trust, no. Trust, and faith, must be towards God alone.

Mr. Armstrong was right when he told his radio and television listeners and Plain Truth readers, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible."

Sunday, July 1, 2012

When Might the Great Tribulation Start?

I do not know, nor do I think any man knows for certain, when the Great Tribulation will start.

But I can speculate. I can estimate.

There has been some discussion about how soon the tribulation may start, discussion about certain prophesied events, such as a peace deal, that must take place three and a half years before the tribulation. If the Bible indicates that some event must take place three and a half years before the tribulation, and if that event has not happened yet, then obviously the tribulation cannot happen sooner than three and a half years from now. I am not sufficiently studied in these particular prophecies to voice an informed opinion, so I won't approach it from that angle.

Instead, I will look at general conditions.

It is not wrong to look at conditions and form estimates of how much time we may have. Christ said we should be able to look at the signs of the times, and understand them (Matthew 16:2-3, 24:32). It is not wrong to estimate and to speculate as long as we realize we don't really know exactly and as long as we do not take our estimates and speculations too seriously.

So, as I remind myself that I could be wrong in my estimates, I will share my thoughts on this.

I would estimate we have about ten to fifteen years before the tribulation begins.

I am basing this on three major trends or events that I think will take place before the tribulation begins, which have not taken place, and will take some time to be accomplished:

1. The United States must become much weaker. We are certainly becoming weaker as a nation in many ways. Yet, militarily, we are still the strongest nation that has ever existed on the face of the earth. We have the greatest aircraft carrier force of all nations. Only Russia has a comparable navy, but they do not have any carrier force that can compare with ours. We have greater ability to project our military in distant places on the earth than any other nation. We still have a vast nuclear arsenal, including missiles with multiple warheads installed in about 40 nuclear submarines, plus intercontinental ballistic missiles, the combination of which can wipe out cities and military installations anywhere on earth within minutes. We are still the richest nation, despite our economic problems.

Any nation or combination of nations that launched a major attack against us now would be committing suicide.

2. Europe must become much stronger. They must become unified. Presumably, unity can happen rapidly under the right circumstances, but it takes time to build up a strong military. They just aren't there yet. They are in no position to challenge the United States militarily, nor will they be for several years.

3. The Ezekiel warning message has not been preached to all Israel by the Church. I estimate there may be about 300 million to 400 million adult Israelites who will go through the tribulation who will need to hear a warning message. Perhaps, 1.5 million or 2 million alive today have heard that warning. That is about one half of one percent. We should reach about 100%. We should give the warning message to 300 or 400 million people. They need to hear that God is going to punish the United States and other Israelite nations for their sins in the tribulation, that those sins include Sabbath breaking and not keeping the annual holy days and festivals of God, and that 90% or more of the people will die in the tribulation if they do not repent. They need to hear that warning so they can remember it in the tribulation and know that God was fair to warn them.

Now, if you think that the Church of God will get that warning message out to about 400 million people and that Europe will become stronger than America in just the next 2 or 3 years, I would like to know how. Keep in mind the scattered, divided condition of the whole Church of God right now, and it becomes even more unlikely that God would suddenly bless and empower the Church in the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, not before the Church goes through some serious repentance, which I do not see happening at the moment.

I do not say it is impossible. All things are possible for God. But based on the way things are going, I think it is extremely unlikely.

Ten or fifteen years. Enough time for God to shake up the Churches of God and gather the few true Philadelphians among us into one or two groups, then bless those Philadelphians to do a powerful warning work. Enough time for there to be a worldwide economic crisis that will really bring the United States down and force the Europeans to take drastic steps to achieve unity. Time for Europe to rise up out of that economic crisis as the strongest power on earth.

Time enough for God to use our warning to test every Israelite individually, to see, AFTER we warn 400 million people, which ones repent, which ones laugh, which ones despise the warning, which ones should be spared, which ones to keep alive into the millennium, and which ones will die in the tribulation (Ezekiel 20:37-38).