Friday, April 24, 2015

Our Calling Opens Our Minds to the Truth / Persecution

All of us who have been called into God's truth, into His Church, have a precious gift. Without it, we would be blinded like the rest of the world.

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day" (John 6:44). "So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9).

"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). "What then? Israel has not obtained what it seeks; but the elect have obtained it, and the rest were blinded. Just as it is written: 'God has given them a spirit of stupor, eyes that they should not see and ears that they should not hear, to this very day' " (Romans 11:7-8).

Those of us who are called in this age have the opportunity to be part of the first fruits of God, those who will be resurrected and changed to immortality in the first resurrection at the return of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:51-52, 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, Revelation 20:4-6). It is the Holy Spirit that opens our minds to the truth (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

How precious is that?

One way to look at it is to compare the number who are called with the number who are not. The population of the earth right now is estimated at over seven billion. How many have been called to have their minds open to God's truth? We cannot even estimate how many have been called and have rejected the call, and even estimating those who have been converted and known the truth but have fallen away is hard because we cannot know how many never really believed the truth in the first place, though they seemed to "fit in" for a while (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43). But of those who have accepted God's calling and responded and today know and believe the truth and are either converted members of God's Church or are prospective members, even if scattered, perhaps there are 70,000 in the entire world. That is only a ballpark figure, a very rough estimate, but it can give us a perspective on how rare it is that one is called by God into His truth at this time. That 70,000 is about one out of a hundred thousand of everyone on earth today.

One out of a hundred thousand. That is how precious our calling is.

And without that calling, we CANNOT know the truth, not with the depth God requires of the first fruits, and probably not much truth at all.

Sometimes we may have a discussion with someone outside the Church of God on some point of doctrine, or on evolution, or even on God's existence. That discussion may take the form of a debate or argument. Sometimes that is a good idea and sometimes it is not (Proverbs 26:4-5). Often it becomes a waste of time, yet it is not apparent in the beginning that it is a waste of time. But occasionally, an open discussion with someone outside the Church of God may be the means by which God begins to call that person. But God must open that person's mind to the truth, or the discussion will not bring that person to the truth.

Those who are not called will not accept the truth. Sometimes, such a person may seem very reasonable. He has arguments on his side which seem to him to be logical, and he is willing to discuss questions of truth and doctrine very reasonably. It can seem for a while that if we just show him his error, the missing link in his chain of logic, he will see the light.

And it seems to work for a time.

But once the person is "boxed in" with logic and cannot escape by being reasonable, his strategy changes. He is no longer reasonable. He will end the conversation, shut us out, even avoid us. There is no longer a pretense of being reasonable or logical.

And in the future, if we can preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning with power such that our message cannot be avoided, such people will persecute us to shut us up. They will seek to kill us if necessary, or imprison us, to keep us quiet because they cannot answer what we say logically and they cannot justify themselves easily in their own minds. We will cause them to have a guilty conscience. So they will try to destroy our work of warning and preaching the good news and will seek to shut us up, permanently if necessary.

The human mind is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9). It wants to justify itself and think well of itself. This can motivate a person to be reasonable and logical at first. He wants to think well of himself. He wants to think, "I have logic on my side, I can be very reasonable." He has already built in his mind an edifice of faulty logic, logic that seems right on the surface but isn't, so he can justify his behavior to himself. He has done this in his mind for years. So he can appear to be open-minded, even conceding some minor points that are proved to him. But when something important comes along, and he can no longer seem, even to himself, to be logical about it without accepting the truth, he will give up trying to seem logical and reasonable and will simply reject the truth. And if that makes him feel guilty or destroys his self-image of being reasonable, he may avoid the person who tells him the truth or may strike against him.

His whole approach can change before our eyes. The person who has seemed up to this point to be open-minded, intelligent, willing to discuss things reasonably, logical, and willing to learn, suddenly becomes non-communicative. He is no longer willing to discuss the matter reasonably. We have boxed him in with the truth, and he cannot escape it by seeming to be reasonable any more, not even with himself. His self-image of being reasonable and right is threatened, and he is no longer friendly with us. So he avoids us or strikes back at us. At the least, he avoids discussion of the matter. At the worst, he becomes angry and hostile towards us.

And that is a foretaste of the flavor of the persecution that is in store for the Church.

We have to face persecution to some degree. "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). "They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service" (John 16:2). "Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake" (Matthew 24:9).

We may have to suffer, but our precious calling is worth it.

Being willing to stand for the truth even when it is hard is one of the ways we overcome. "Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, 'Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death' " (Revelation 12:10-11).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Showing Mercy

Last post I talked about faith, one of the three weightier matters of the law. Another weightier matter of the law is mercy (Matthew 23:23).

There are few aspects of God's law and way of life more important than mercy. Mercy is an aspect of love, and love is a basis for all of the law of God. "Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Romans 13:10). "For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself' " (Galatians 5:14). "Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?' Jesus said to him, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets' " (Matthew 22:35-40).

We all need God's mercy and love, and we likewise are required to show mercy to others. "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13).

God is clear that if we want mercy, we better be merciful, for if we are not merciful to others, God will not be merciful to us.

What we sow, that we shall reap (Galatians 6:7).

"But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him" (Matthew 18:28-34).

"Then Jesus answered and said: 'A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead...But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, "Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you." So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?' And he said, 'He who showed mercy on him.' Then Jesus said to him, 'Go and do likewise' " (Luke 10:30, 33-37).

"With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful..." (Psalm 18:25).

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

How do we show mercy to others?

We should certainly forgive others as they repent, and we can pray for them that they repent, and we should not hold grudges or wish people ill or seek to take our own personal vengeance on them because we want to harm them.

We can show mercy in many little ways, as opportunity provides, with the people we come into direct contact with: our family, our friends, our next door neighbors, our fellows workers where we are employed, members of our congregation, etc.

We can show mercy by treating others with the respect and outgoing concern with which we would like to be treated. "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12).

Some people have more opportunity to show compassion and mercy than others. We may all want to help others, but some of us have more opportunity due to circumstances and ability.

But there is one big area where everyone in the Church of God can practice mercy, compassion, and love for others who need it. And this is one big area I feel Church members will be judged on. We may not think of it as mercy, but it is mercy and it is love.

Those who are familiar with my writings may guess where I am headed.

The greatest act of love towards God and neighbor and mercy and compassion towards those who need it that Church of God members can perform, the greatest bar none, is to support the preaching of the gospel to the public and the giving of the Ezekiel warning to all Israel. Nothing else can compare to it. Not helping a widow move, not contributing money to hurricane victims, not giving rides to Church members to services, but preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. Those with incomes can contribute money. Those who can work can volunteer service. But everyone can fervently pray for the preaching of the gospel, and we can all strive to diligently obey God's commandments so our prayers for the gospel will not be hindered (1 Peter 3:7, 1 John 3:22, 2 Thessalonians 3:1, Colossians 4:2-3).

Striving in prayer for the gospel can be a great motivation for overcoming our sins. If we are motivated to overcome our sins, to put sin out of our lives, so that God will answer our prayers for the preaching of the gospel, our motive will be based on love. We are overcoming our sins for the sake of others, for their welfare, not just for our own benefit so we can be in the Kingdom of God.

What we sow, we shall reap. If we do not show mercy to others, God will not show mercy to us.

This gospel issue is probably the biggest test of all of us in the Church of God that God can give us. And there is no doubt about it - we are being tested on this issue.

Look at it logically, step by step, point by point:

1) We know the great tribulation is coming upon our nations as punishment for sin.

2) We know it will be the greatest time of trouble in the history of mankind. About 90% or more of our people will die and the rest will go through extreme suffering and agony of famine, disease, war, and slavery. We have the history of the Holocaust during World War II as a foretaste. The great tribulation will be worse. The famine will be so severe, some parents will kill and eat their children. That didn't even happen in the Holocaust (or if it did, it was rare).

3) We know that the great tribulation will be punishment for the sins of the nation. Yet we also know that most members of traditional, mainstream churches in our nations do not know they are doing wrong by following pagan traditions, using images in worship, and working on the seventh day Sabbath.

4) It is not hard to understand and predict the reaction most or many of the members of the traditional, mainstream churches will have if they find themselves in the punishment of the tribulation for things they didn't know were wrong because they never had a warning in time to repent and escape. We can understand because we have human nature too. They will want to know why God did not provide a warning, to give them a chance. They will be tempted to think of God as unjust and unloving. It will be hard for them to accept responsibility for their sins because they will think, "It's not my fault, I didn't know." They will be tempted to say, "If God warned me, I would have repented - this is God's fault, not mine. God is not fair." The lack of warning, the lack of a message calling them to repentance while there was time for them to repent and escape, can become a stumbling block to make their repentance in the tribulation more difficult.

5) Since the repentance of Israel will be made more difficult if we never warn them in time for them to repent, some could lose their eternal salvation if we do not warn.

6) God has given us the job of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. God emphasizes our responsibility by telling us that the blood of the people will be on our heads if we do not warn them (Ezekiel 3:18).

7) It does not glorify God or show love for God if we fail to give the warning God wants Israel to receive. It does not glorify his name and reputation for fairness and compassion if we do not give the warning message in time. We are to represent God and His way of life, but we do a poor job if we fail to give the warning message that our nations need.

8) This is an issue that potentially affects hundreds of millions of people!

9) We have the legal freedom today and the financial prosperity to preach the gospel and deliver the Ezekiel warning. It depends on our willingness to sacrifice.

10) The preaching of the gospel today is done with money. God has not given us outstanding miracle-working power, signs and wonders, to attract publicity for our message. We do it with money. We do it with the opportunities and resources money can buy: television, radio, print, Internet, and public meetings. Only a tiny portion of the public sees the personal examples of our members, and only a very tiny portion of those converse with our members long enough about the Bible to really get a warning. Preaching the gospel by example is 99% myth and 1% truth. Yes, our example is important, but it is nowhere near enough because it only reaches a token number of people who need the warning.

11) The more Church of God members sacrifice financially for the gospel, the greater the warning we can give. Every small sacrifice: giving up restaurant meals, vacations, games, movies, junk food, etc. can help reach more people with a message that can save their eternal lives.

God has set up a perfect situation to test us. He is testing us on the most important point of His law: love. To practice that love, we have to sacrifice. We have to give up the little things and some of the big things we spend money on so we can contribute to the preaching of the gospel for the good of our neighbors. We must choose: we choose to love ourselves more than our neighbors, or to love our neighbors as ourselves. We choose to love God will all our being, or to love God less than we love ourselves.

Those who lack money and cannot contribute financially can strive fervently in prayer for the gospel, and all of us should do that anyway. And all of us should strive to obey God and put sin out of our lives so He will answer our prayers for the gospel. "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22).

Thus, God can test every one of us to the utmost. He can test each one of us in a very direct way. If we love, we will go all out to support the preaching of the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. If we do not love, we will not preach the gospel. God sees where each and every one of us stands, and we will be judged by our mercy, or lack of it, towards our neighbors.

Some may say, "God will make sure the warning goes out, even if we do not do our part to deliver it. God will raise up stones, if necessary, to preach the gospel according to His will." But I do NOT find that teaching in the Bible. See my post, "Do Our Choices Really Affect the Preaching of the Gospel?", dated May 16, 2014, link:

If a Church of God member does not zealously and passionately go all out to support the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, to help the salvation of others, where is his mercy? And if he has no mercy, how will God be merciful to him?

This is a big issue, and a big test, for the whole Church of God. If we are serious about putting sin out of our lives, we need to really obey the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"To Be Effective in Giving a Warning, We Have to Overcome Even When It Is Hard", dated September 3, 2013, link:

"Has God Made the Church an 'Ezekiel Watchman' for Israel?", dated February 13, 2014, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"Do Our Choices Really Affect the Preaching of the Gospel?", dated May 16, 2014, link:

"Philadelphia's Open Door - Does It Apply to Individual Members?", dated September 17, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:




Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Unbelief Is Sin, and We Must Put It Out of Our Lives

Words can be used in more than one way and can have more than one meaning, depending on the context. The word "law" in the Bible can mean different things depending on the context. Sometimes it means the first five books of the Bible. Sometimes it means the body of law including animal sacrifices and rituals practiced by the Israelites and Jews since the time of Moses. Sometimes it means God's eternal spiritual law. The fact that the word "law" can mean different things becomes evident when you read Paul's writings about the law.

Faith and the law are sometimes contrasted. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law" (Romans 3:27-31).

"For the promise that he would be the heir of the world was not to Abraham or to his seed through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. For if those who are of the law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise made of no effect, because the law brings about wrath; for where there is no law there is no transgression" (Romans 4:13-15).

Yet, when it comes to the spiritual law of God, faith is included in the law. Faith is part of the law, that is, the law of God requires faith.

"Faith" means belief. It is described as the evidence of things not seen in Hebrews 11:1: "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen". The word itself means belief, but in the biblical sense it is belief in and of God. We exercise faith when we believe in God and Jesus Christ but also believe what God says. Just believing God exists is not enough. "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!" (James 2:19). The demons believe God exists, but they do not believe what He says. For example, they do not believe that "it is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35).

The Bible does not say, but it is possible that lack of belief, of trusting faith, in God's warnings was a contributing cause of Lucifer's sin. It is unlikely that God would fail to give Lucifer and all the angels instruction in His way of life after He created them. And that instruction in all likelihood must have included warnings about the consequences of turning away from God's way of life towards vanity and self-centeredness. God is love (1 John 4:16), and the Bible shows a clear pattern of God warning those He loves about the consequences of disobedience (Genesis 2:16-17, Deuteronomy 30:19, Ezekiel 3:17, Revelation 22:18-19). It is likely therefore that God warned Lucifer and all the angels of the consequences of disobedience. Yet Lucifer sinned. No evil influence was around to tempt Lucifer, yet even without temptation, he chose the way of vanity. It seems unlikely that he would deliberately choose a path of misery for himself, yet he may not have believed God's warnings. He may have chosen to experiment with vanity to see what is was like for himself, to see if it was a happier way of life than the way of outgoing love that God taught him. He may have doubted God's warnings and instructions and chosen to find out for himself by experimenting. And we see the results of his unbelief all around us and even in our own lives.

Faith, belief and trust in God's word, is required by the spiritual law of God. It is part of loving God with all our mind and heart. Therefore, unbelief in God's word is sin. When we doubt God's word, we transgress the law, and we sin. Why? Jesus said that faith is not only a matter of the law, but one of the three weightier matters of the law.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Matthew 23:23).

And since faith is a weightier matter of the law, to fail to believe God's word is transgression of God's law and is sin (1 John 3:4).

When we read or study or hear God's word, we must believe what God says. If we doubt God, we sin by our very doubts.

True repentance must include repenting of our doubts in God's word. To put sin out of our lives, we must learn to believe every word of God.

And our belief, our faith, must be living faith. We must act on what we believe. We must believe and obey every word of God. That is what "living by every word of God" means (Matthew 4:4). We believe and obey God. Our belief causes us to obey and our obedience is motivated by our belief. We learn by obeying to trust God's word and to trust that God has all knowledge and wisdom, that all things are possible for God (Matthew 19:26), that He will never lie to us (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18), and that we can trust His promises (Proverbs 3:5).

"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith, and I have works.' Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2:14-26).

How do we build faith? Can we choose to believe?

Like repentance, faith is a gift (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25, 1 Corinthians 12:4-9), but also like repentance, we have our part to play. God gives repentance as a gift. "When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, 'Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life' " (Acts 11:18). But though repentance is a gift, God does not force us to repent. There is an aspect of repentance that is a matter of choice. We must choose to repent. God does not repent for us. Likewise, though faith is a gift, we must choose to believe God.

How do we do that?

"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). In principle, this would including reading. We can build faith by hearing or reading the word of God. But we must strive for an attitude of belief as we hear or read God's word, the Bible. To a degree, we can choose to believe or not. We can choose to believe. Then, after choosing to believe, we can reinforce that choice by acting on it. Action reinforces belief.

For example, I might read the scriptures about tithing. I might study that subject and learn that the Bible teaches that God requires that I tithe but will supply my needs. Here are some of the scriptures I might read: "And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord" (Leviticus 27:30). " 'Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, "In what way have we robbed You?" In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it' " (Malachi 3:8-10).

"For it is written in the law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.' Is it oxen God is concerned about? Or does He say it altogether for our sakes? For our sakes, no doubt, this is written, that he who plows should plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should be partaker of his hope. If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things?" (1 Corinthians 9:9-11). "Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:14).

"But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully" (2 Corinthians 9:6). "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:31-33).

After reading these scriptures, and others on the subject, if I am honest with the Bible, I will see that God teaches that I should pay my tithes and trust Him to provide for my needs. I may also read this: "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

Now, I may not think I can "afford" to tithe. Maybe there is not enough income to pay for my rent and food and other necessities and also tithe. But it is clear from the above scriptures that God commands I tithe and then trust Him to provide what I need. So how do I develop faith in God's word concerning tithing?

I can start by wanting to believe. I can choose to believe. Then, to reinforce that choice, I can act on that belief.

Can I instantly banish all human doubts in my mind? Maybe not. Yet I can control my actions. I can choose to base my actions on my belief that God is faithful and He will take care of me as He promises. So I can ignore my doubtful "feelings", and pull out my checkbook, get an envelope and a stamp, write the check for my tithe and prepare it for mailing, then walk over to the mailbox and mail it. And if I am afraid I might spend the money in my bank account and bounce the check before the Church deposits it, I can buy a money order with cash and mail it.

As I put one foot in front of the other and put the envelope in the mail box, I am committing myself to trust and believe God's promises that He will provide for me. Maybe on an emotional level I might have doubts I cannot fully get rid of, because I am human, yet as I put my doubts aside I weaken those doubts, and as I put my faith and trust in God into action, my faith will be strengthened.

So I can choose to believe God in my actions. Even if I feel I cannot control my emotions or doubts totally, I can control my feet. I can control my hands. I can write a check or buy a money order. I can walk to the mailbox. Those things I can control. And it is the action part of faith that is the most important. God sees that I believe Him because I put belief in His word into action. Maybe the first time I do this I feel I am sticking my neck out. But God sees I am learning, I am choosing, to trust Him and to BELIEVE HIM. He sees that by what I do. And God can then bless me and increase my faith.

Also, the disciples asked Christ to increase their faith. "And the apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' So the Lord said, 'If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, "Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea," and it would obey you. And which of you, having a servant plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, "Come at once and sit down to eat"? But will he not rather say to him, "Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink"? Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I think not. So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, "We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do" ' " (Luke 17:5-10).

What does this mean? As I read it, Jesus is teaching them to have a humble attitude about their good works. We should not think we are something great because we obey and serve God and do good works. We should humble ourselves, realize that total obedience and service to God is only our just duty, and we should think of ourselves as unprofitable servants. With that kind of humility, God can give us more of the gift of faith. He can increase our faith.

But we still must choose to believe God.

There are scriptures that show that unbelief and disobedience go together. Israel in the wilderness was disobedient and could not enter the promised land because of unbelief. Unbelief and disobedience are spoken of as if they are almost synonymous. Notice: "Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:17-19).

But Abraham set a positive example. He believed God and God counted his belief in God's promises, His faith in God's word, as righteousness. "Then He brought him outside and said, 'Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.' And He said to him, 'So shall your descendants be.' And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousnes" (Genesis 15:5-6). "For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness' " (Romans 4:3). Yet elsewhere, Abraham's faith is directly connected with his obedience. "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:21-24). And it is clear that Abraham's obedience was important to God. "And I will make your descendants multiply as the stars of heaven; I will give to your descendants all these lands; and in your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed; because Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws" (Genesis 26:4-5).

"Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, 'Abraham!' And he said, 'Here I am.' Then He said, 'Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.' So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him" (Genesis 22:1-3). "And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, 'Abraham, Abraham!' So he said, 'Here I am.' And He said, 'Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me' " (Genesis 22:10-12). "Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, and said: 'By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son—blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice' " (Genesis 22:15-18).

Abraham's faith worked together with his obedience. Likewise, Israel's unbelief worked together with their disobedience. Faith and obedience go together and unbelief and disobedience go together.

God is looking for the combination of believing what He says and doing what He says, both faith and obedience. He wants our obedience to be motivated by faith and our faith to be confirmed, proven, and strengthened by our obedience.

And to put sin out of our lives, which is what these days of unleavened bread represent, we must put unbelief out of our lives. As we learn to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4), so we must learn to believe every word of God.

Let us learn to read, study, and believe the Bible more than ever, trusting God's word to be true, and living by it.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"A Key to Faith", dated December 19, 2011, link:

"Why Should We Believe?", dated June 13, 2012, link:

"Faith Is More than Believing God's Promises", dated August 21, 2012, link:

"Renewing an Atmosphere of Faith in the Church of God", dated August 27, 2012, link:

"How Faith Works with Repentance", dated March 26, 2013, link:

" 'Good Intentions', without Believing God, Is a Recipe for Disaster", dated August 4, 2013, link:

"How Do You Know God Leads Your Understanding of the Bible?", dated January 4, 2015, link:

"Two Approaches to Understanding the Bible", dated March 10, 2015, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:


Chapter 9 - Repentance

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

God Must Punish Us for Our Sins

"So David's anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, 'As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.' Then Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: "I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife." Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun." ' So David said to Nathan, 'I have sinned against the Lord.' And Nathan said to David, 'The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die' " (2 Samuel 12:5-14).

God is forgiving. He promises to forgive our sins as we repent and turn from them. But in times of temptation, we might think, "God will forgive me."

But while God forgives sin, He also punishes for sin. At time of temptation, our carnal nature (and Satan) might say, "Maybe God will not punish me if I sin."

But that is a vain hope, a useless way of thinking.

God must punish us for our sins.


God is teaching us lessons. This physical, temporary life is a training ground for eternity. God teaches us the consequences of our choices. We need to understand consequences of right and wrong choices to prepare us for making right choices for eternity.

God is using consequences of sin to bring suffering to mankind for 6,000 years to teach mankind a painful lesson, and we must learn the same lesson.

God will not lie to us. He is a true witness. And God will be a true witness to us of the consequences of our choices in this life.

Righteousness brings life, peace, and joy. Sin brings destruction, suffering, and death. That is a big, overall lesson we need to learn in this life, and God will teach us that lesson faithfully, accurately, and consistently. So God must punish us for our sins.

Under the leadership of Herbert W. Armstrong, Worldwide Church of God taught that if you break God's law, it will break you. Mr. Armstrong said, "You cannot cheat God out of the penalty [of sin]".

We recently observed Passover, which reminds us of the sacrifice of Christ. That very sacrifice shows that God cannot overlook sin and just brush the penalty aside. Instead, God sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty of our sins. Nevertheless, that penalty had to be paid. There is always a penalty.

And the sacrifice of Christ does not pay the penalty of all the suffering and consequences of our sins. Christ paid the penalty that we are not able to pay ourselves and still be in His Father's kingdom - death. His sacrifice also enables our character to be cleaned up so we do not go on sinning and suffering for eternity. Nevertheless, God permits us to suffer in this life because of our sins so we learn our lessons.

God forgave David of his sin, so David would not die. Nevertheless, because David sinned, God punished him to teach him a lesson. David's son died, and God raised up adversity in David's house as He said.

There are other times when God says He will punish, yet postpones the punishment for the sake of those to whom He shows mercy. But the punishment is not totally removed. When Israel in the wilderness sinned in the matter of the golden calf, God was ready to destroy them, but Moses prayed and God heard his prayer and spared Israel. Nevertheless, God said He would punish them later. "Now therefore, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My Angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit for punishment, I will visit punishment upon them for their sin" (Exodus 32:34).

Also, "See how Ahab has humbled himself before Me? Because he has humbled himself before Me, I will not bring the calamity in his days. In the days of his son I will bring the calamity on his house" (1 Kings 21:29).

God may sometimes moderate or postpone a punishment out of mercy, and in the case of eternal death and the corruption of our character that comes from sin, God applies the sacrifice of Christ to pay the penalty of our sin in our place so that our corrupted character can be healed and we can be given eternal life. Yet, God lets us suffer some of the consequences of our sins to teach us lessons, because God is a true witness of the results of our way of life, and we must never think we can "get away" with not being punished for our sins.

God would be a false witness of life itself and His spiritual law if He totally removed all the consequences of our bad choices.

"And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: 'My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.' If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten? But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate and not sons. Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed" (Hebrews 12:5-13).

Not only is punishment for sins necessary, it is actually part of God's forgiveness of our sins. It is because God has forgiven us that He cleans up our character, for evil, corrupted character is one of the penalties of sin. So to remove that penalty so He can give us eternal life and we will enjoy that life forever, God must clean us up. But part of the process of cleaning us up is punishing us so we do not continue to sin and so the lesson that sin causes suffering will be so impressed on our minds that we stop sinning.

Christ paid the ultimate penalty so we can be cleansed of our sinful nature and be given eternal life. But God must inflict some kind of penalty, even suffering in this life and some loss of reward in His kingdom, to be a true witness and to teach us lessons for eternity. So we will NEVER "get away" with sin. That is as sure as the rising of the sun. God will make sure we learn that lesson before He gives us eternal life. And He will never be a false witness to us, violating His own integrity and nature to be a true witness, by letting us get away with sin.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"Our Own Faults Correct Us", dated December 1, 2010, link:

Monday, April 6, 2015

Does God Test Us in Regards to Idols in the Church of God?

We know that God tests us. He tests our faith. "My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience" (James 1:2-3). He tests our obedience as He tested Abraham (Genesis 22:1-2, James 2:21-24).

Does God test us in regards to idols? How does He test us to see if we are serving idols more than Him? And how do we demonstrate to God that we are not worshiping idols?

Does God test us to see if we use physical idols, images of Christ for example, in our worship? And if so, how do we pass the test? How do we show that we are not using idols that way?

For some of us who used to be Catholic, God may test us by putting us in an environment where such images are present or available. We pass the test, show God that we will not serve idols that way, by avoiding such images as best we can and not using them and not thinking about them, putting them out of our minds, in prayer and worship.

Does God test us to see if we will make an idol out of physical pleasures or physical possessions? Does He test us to see if we will make an idol out of money, our houses and cars, food, sex, or alcohol? Yes, He may test us on those points. How can we pass the test? How do we demonstrate to God that we will not make an idol out of any of those things? We demonstrate this to God by putting God first in all our decisions, doing God's will more than our own even when this requires giving up money, houses, cars, or anything that may get between us and our relationship with God. That is how we pass the test.

Does God test us to see if we will make an idol out of our opinions? And if so, how do we demonstrate to God that we will put Him first before our opinions? I think many of us are tested on this point. If our opinions differ from God's word, the Bible, we can demonstrate to God that we will not make an idol of our opinions, by choosing to believe the Bible more than our opinions and by then acting on that belief.

Does God test us in regards to temptation to put family and friends first before Him?

God often tests Church of God members in this regard, especially since the scattering of the Church after the death of Mr. Armstrong, but before that also in various ways. New people coming into the Church from the TV program often face resistance from close family members who are not being called. Husbands have had to choose God's will more than what their wives wanted, wives have had to choose God's will more than what their husbands wanted, young men and women have had to choose God's way over the desires of their parents, etc. In my case, I was raised Catholic, and I was eighteen years old living in my parents' house when God began to call me through the Plain Truth magazine. I faced a lot of resistance from my Catholic family, and I had to hide my Church of God literature in a bank safe deposit box (a big one) so my mother would not throw it out.

Since the scattering of the Church from about 1989 through about 1995, many members have faced choices of where to attend and which group to support with tithes and offerings, and sometimes a member has had to choose between what God wants and what other members of his family want. Some husbands and fathers, for example, have realized that they have a responsibility to support a Church of God fellowship that is faithful to God's word and law in matters of doctrine and government and also preaches the gospel to the world, yet some of them have compromised to please their wives and children who want to attend a fellowship where their friends attend or which offers greater social opportunities, yet compromises with the Bible and does little to preach the gospel effectively.

But if God is first in our lives, we will seek to please Him more than our families. We must love God and Christ more than our mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters, children, and friends. "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-27).

Does God test the members to see if they make idols out of their Church of God leaders and ministers? Does God test the ministry to see if they set themselves up as idols in competition with God for the loyalty and faith of the members?

Yes, I think God can allow us to be tested on that in a variety of ways.

How can we pass that test? How can we demonstrate to God that we are more loyal to Him than to our ministers? How can ministers demonstrate to God that they will always direct the faith and loyalty of the members to God and not to themselves? How can they show God that they will teach and warn the members against the danger of making an idol out of their pastor or the leader of their fellowship?

Members can show God they will put Him first by proving what they believe in the Bible, and if they see in some point of doctrine that the Bible says something different from what the ministry teaches, they can put God first by believing the Bible more than their ministers. They can do that at the same time as they respect the office of minister by not contradicting the ministry and the leader of the fellowship they attend in conversation with other members.

Ministers can show God that they will not compete with God for the faith and loyalty of the members by teaching the members the importance of believing the Bible more than their leaders and ministers, and by saying as Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible", and mean it!

God will not accept second place in our loyalty, our faith, and our trust. He will test us, and we must show God that He occupies first place over everything and everyone else in our loyalty, faith, trust, and obedience.

Doing our part to put God first over everything and everyone else is a way we put sin out of our lives and the righteousness of God into our lives.

Here are links to posts in this blog related to this subject:

"Does Your Pastor Warn Against Making an Idol out of Him?", dated December 31, 2013, link:

"Does the Ministry Stand between Us and God?", dated March 8, 2014, link:

"The Right Way to Trust Ministers", dated December 3, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Source of Our Beliefs, Chapter 6

Faith, Chapter 6

Can We Make an Idol out of a Man or Church?, Chapter 6

Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry, Chapter 8 (CONTAINS ORGANIZATION CHARTS)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Teachability and the Willingness to Be Corrected

There is an interesting contrast between the reactions of the people who heard Peter speak on the day of Pentecost and the reactions of the religious authorities who heard Stephen speak in his own defense. Both groups heard the speaker say that they had murdered Jesus Christ. One group took the correction, was cut to the heart, and were willing to deal with their problem. They were humble enough to admit and face the fact that they were wrong. The other group became angry at being told they were wrong and not only rejected the correction, but retaliated against the one who corrected them. Their attitude illustrated their pride - they were too proud to admit even to themselves that they were wrong and became angry at anyone who challenged their self-image that they were right.

These two examples illustrate two possible reactions the public can have to the Church's message today and in the next several years. Those who are being called will accept the correction (if they respond to the call), but many who are not being called will become angry and will persecute the Church of God. Their pride will motivate them to fight against us and our message in order to preserve their favorable self-image and avoid having to admit they are wrong and need to change.

" 'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:36-41).

The people who heard Peter speak were told, in effect, that they were murderers, yet they did not react with anger but with sorrow over their sin. They were ready to admit they were wrong and to repent.

Now notice the reaction of Jewish scribes, elders, council, and high priest, the religious authorities, the "higher ups", to the words of Stephen.

"And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then there arose some from what is called the Synagogue of the Freedmen (Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and those from Cilicia and Asia), disputing with Stephen. And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit by which he spoke. Then they secretly induced men to say, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.' And they stirred up the people, the elders, and the scribes; and they came upon him, seized him, and brought him to the council. They also set up false witnesses who said, 'This man does not cease to speak blasphemous words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.' And all who sat in the council, looking steadfastly at him, saw his face as the face of an angel" (Acts 6:8-15). "Then the high priest said, 'Are these things so?' " (Acts 7:1). Stephen replied with a long discourse recounting events in the history of Israel (Acts 7:2-50). Then he said, "You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.' When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!' Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul" (Acts 7:51-58).

These authorities and religious leaders were apparently too proud to accept correction and admit they were wrong. They reacted emotionally, with rage, when they were told they were murderers. So they compounded their sin by murdering Stephen.

Both those who heard Peter and those who heard Stephen were "cut to the heart", but one group was sorrowful and repented and the other group went into a rage and murdered.

This can be a warning to us to expect to face persecution from many in the world before the end of this age comes. Right now, those in the world who do not want to hear our message can easily tune out and avoid hearing it. They will switch channels and avoid our TV program and avoid our magazines and booklets and websites. The gospel and the Ezekiel warning have yet to go out with so much power that people will be forced to listen. Perhaps one or two out a hundred, at most, among all Israel have heard our message in enough detail and power to be warned.

But I believe every indication in the Bible is that eventually, before the great tribulation begins, the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning will go out with so much power that people will not be able to avoid it. God wants the wicked to be warned (Ezekiel 3:17, Isaiah 58:1). They may be forced to listen to it, for they will not listen willingly. And they will become angry. As the Jewish elders, scribes, council, and high priest became angry with Stephen when he told them the truth, so many in the world will become angry with us for telling them the truth. As they murdered Stephen, so they will persecute us. We have to be mentally prepared for that, we need to draw close to God, and we need to make sure we have proved the truth and are well grounded in our faith so we can face the persecution without compromising with God's truth. "He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:39). "And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death" (Revelation 12:11).

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12). "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

"Remember the word that I said to you, 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also" (John 15:20). "Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12).

Interestingly, it may not just be those who are most diligent and zealous for preaching the gospel who will be persecuted, but all the Church of God, including those who do not preach the gospel.

But there is another lesson in these examples.

Even after repentance and conversion, we in the Church of God need to be teachable. We need to not react with anger when told we are wrong, but to look at the accusation with a humble and open mind, willing to examine ourselves and consider that the one who corrects us may be right. We need to have a mind that is open to acknowledging that we have been wrong and need to change. That doesn't mean we automatically accept any correction or accusation someone levels at us, because the one who tries to correct us may be mistaken. He or she may not have all the facts. Nevertheless, we should not automatically become angry when someone tells us we are wrong. We should not allow ourselves to have an attitude of pride that tries to protect our favorable self-image and therefore rejects any correction that tells us we are wrong and need to change. That is how the religious authorities reacted to Stephen and the message he gave them, but we should be different. We should be like the people who heard Peter speak on the day of Pentecost, who were "cut to the heart" when they learned of their responsibility for the death of the Messiah and asked, "what shall we do?".

We should certainly be teachable and willing to be corrected when we come into the truth, are baptized, and converted, but it is easy to lose that teachable attitude if we are not careful. It is easy to become complacent and self-satisfied over time. "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—" (Revelation 3:16-17).

It is a dangerous thing to lose our teachability. It sets us up for a big fall. It makes it harder for God to correct us gently, by the words and warnings of others, and forces God to deal with us harshly. "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1).

We should view correction, not as an attack to hurt us or destroy us, but as a warning to help us. And even if the person correcting us does not have a right attitude and may really be trying to hurt us (and justify themselves), consider that God may be using that person to correct us. God's attitude is always to help us for our good even if the person He may use to correct us may have a bad attitude or may be correcting us in a hostile or irritating way.

Look at the example of Nineveh in the book of Jonah. Jonah warned them, and they accepted the correction and repented. And because they repented, God spared them. But did Jonah have a right attitude? Was he tactful? Was he even trying to help the Ninevites? Probably not, considering he did not want to deliver the message in the first place and was actually sorry that God spared them after they repented. Yet the Ninevites did not reject the correction because the person who offered the correction had a bad attitude. They accepted the correction and were saved from destruction. Had they become angry and resentful towards the message and rejected it because they didn't like the way Jonah talked to them, they would have been destroyed.

Jonah may indeed have been untactful in the way he corrected Nineveh. But God used him, an untactful person, to deliver the message, and while Jonah who delivered the message had a bad attitude, God who caused Jonah to deliver the message had a good attitude.

So God can even use an untactful, judgmental, harsh and hostile person with a bad attitude, to give us needed correction for our own good, just as He used Jonah to warn Nineveh. So let's not reject correction from someone just because they irritate us. They may not have a right attitude, but God may be using them to tell us something for our own good. It takes humility to accept correction from a harsh person, but that humility pays off in the long run for our good. "And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).

The examples of the people Stephen spoke to and the people Peter spoke to illustrate two reactions to correction. The religious authorities who heard Stephen reacted with pride, vanity, and anger, and they illustrate Satan's way of life and response to correction. The people who heard Peter reacted with humility and willingness to repent, and they illustrate God's way of life and response to correction.

Let's make sure we react with a humble, teachable attitude the next time someone offers us correction. The correction may be right or wrong, and we do not have to just unconditionally accept it and agree with it. But we should at least consider it with an open mind and ask ourselves, "Could I be wrong about this?" And we should not automatically become angry with anyone who corrects us to try to help us.

This is one more area where we need to fight our human nature and choose to follow where God's Holy Spirit leads us. This is one more area where we need to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Saturday, April 4, 2015

The Days of Unleavened Bread

After Passover comes the Days of Unleavened Bread. This is a festival commanded by God (Exodus 13:3-10, Leviticus 23:1, 6-8). The basic instructions for keeping it are in the Old Testament, but the meaning of this festival is revealed in the New Testament. This is a festival that traditional, mainstream churches do not observe and the Jews do not understand. The Jews understand only the Old Testament representation, that these days represent coming out of Egypt, but they do not understand the greater meaning in the plan of God.

Leavening can represent sin. For seven days we avoid leavening and leavened foods. This represents putting sin out of our lives. We also eat unleavened bread every day. This represents putting the righteousness of Christ in our lives (1 Corinthians 5:6-8).

We are to get all the leavening and leavened foods out of our homes, or out of the spaces we control (such as a room in a house where family members are not in the Church - you can make sure leavening is out of your own room or whatever space you control even if you cannot put leavening out of the whole house because other members of that household do not keep this festival). We should do this before sunset that begins the first day of unleavened bread. We should do reasonable cleaning (but don't spend so much time on cleaning that you neglect spiritual study) and we should throw out or consume any leavening we find before the days of unleavened bread occur.

Then for seven days we should be careful to eat no leavened food and to get rid of any leavening or leavened food we find in our homes that we may have missed getting rid of before the days of unleavened bread.

The first and last days of unleavened bread are annual sabbaths and holy days, and those are days of rest and assembly (Leviticus 23:6-8)

Passover represents what God does for us in giving us Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to pay the penalty of sin so we can be forgiven. But we have our part to do to put sin out of our lives, and that is what the days of unleavened bread represent. We are to repent (Acts 2:38-39), and we are to overcome (Revelation 3:12-13, 21-22). We repent of sin and of our sinful nature. Sin is the transgression of the law, or lawlessness (1 John 3:4), and we must repent of breaking God's spiritual law. We are also to strive to resist temptation to sin. We must learn to practice righteousness. This is what the days of unleavened bread represent.

Repentance is not a one time thing we do at baptism. We must continually repent as we identify sin in our lives. It is a life long process. We need to repent. We need to put sin out of our lives. We need to put God's righteousness into our lives. We need to resist temptations, break bad habits, and overcome.

We need to even monitor and control our very thoughts, rejecting thoughts that come into our minds that tempt us to sin or are contrary to God's spiritual law of love. "For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:4-5).

But to do this, we need God's help. We need the help of God's Holy Spirit. We cannot do it by ourselves alone. Yet, we must make the effort, even maximum effort. God requires we do our part. So we should pray for God's help to overcome sin, we should trust in that help, and at the same time we should make the maximum effort we can to resist temptations and overcome our sin.

We also have the tools of Bible study, prayer, meditation, and fasting to help us draw closer to God and receive more help to overcome sin, as the Church of God has taught.

There are various lessons we learn about sin in keeping the days of unleavened bread. For example, it takes effort to clean our houses and examine every corner to make sure we get all the leavening out. This reminds us of the effort we must make to identify and put sin out of our lives. We must be continuously diligent during the days of unleavened bread to make sure we do not accidently forget and eat leavened bread someplace, and this illustrates the diligence we must exercise to avoid sin in our lives. And from time to time we might discover during the days of unleavened bread that we missed something in our house, a piece of bread or crackers or something leavened in a corner or out-of-the-way place, and we have to get rid of it, and this teaches the lesson that we may find sin in our lives we were not aware of before, and when we do, we must get rid of it.

This festival is an annual reminder that God gives us to teach us the lesson of overcoming sin and learning to practice God's way of life.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"Do We Overcome Sin by Our Power or by God's Power?", dated April 20, 2011, link:

"Stay Far from the Edge", dated April 6, 2012, link:

"Repentance", dated April 11, 2012, link:

"Count the Cost", dated March 14, 2013, link:

"We Must Overcome by God's Power AND Our Power", dated March 25, 2013, link:

"How Faith Works with Repentance", dated March 26, 2013, link:

"Will There Be Anger In God's Kingdom?", dated March 27, 2013, link:

"Beware of Those Who Preach Against Organization", dated March 28, 2013, link:

"Building the Wall", dated March 29, 2013, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"False Repentance Movement in the Church of God", dated March 28, 2014, link:

"Overcoming Sin", dated April 17, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or 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

Chapter 9 - Repentance

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Practice and Meaning of the Night to Be Much Observed

God commanded that the night following Passover night be observed. "And it came to pass at the end of the four hundred and thirty years—on that very same day—it came to pass that all the armies of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt. It is a night of solemn observance to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Egypt. This is that night of the Lord, a solemn observance for all the children of Israel throughout their generations" (Exodus 12:41-42). Mr. Armstrong called this the "Night to Be Much Observed". It is a separate event from Passover. Passover represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins. The Night to Be Much Observed represents, for Israel, the coming out of Egypt, and for the Church of God, the coming out of sin.

It is clear that Israel left Egypt by night (Deuteronomy 16:1).

Some who have disagreed with the Church's teaching have said that Israel left Egypt the same night the death angel killed the firstborn of Egypt. They acknowledge that the Israelites were instructed to remain in their homes until "morning" (Exodus 12:9-11), but claim that "morning" could mean any time after midnight. But it was simply not possible for Israel to leave Egypt between midnight and dawn. They could not both remain in their homes till "morning" and yet leave Egypt "by night". There would not be enough time. The land of Goshen where Israel lived was too large and the people too many for them to pack and organize and leave Egypt in orderly ranks (Exodus 13:18).

The Night to Be Much Observed is a separate observance from Passover, and it is observed on a different day.

God did not give detailed instructions on how this observance should be kept. It was Mr. Armstrong's judgment that we observe it in families and groups by eating a meal together, and thus we do. Most members observe it in our homes, usually two or three families plus singles getting together in someone's home for a meal, but some observe it in a larger gathering in a rented hall or restaurant.

During this time, we should remember and celebrate our deliverance from sin, which Egypt can represent. Before God called us, we were slaves to sin, deceived by Satan (Revelation 12:9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4), and fully part of this world's sinful system and ways. When God called us, He opened our minds to understand the truth and escape Satan's deceptions. Egypt can represent sin, and as God delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage, so God has delivered us from the bondage of Satan's deceptions and sin. As Israel could not escape from Egypt without God's deliverance and help, so we could never escape Satan's deceptions without God's gift of deliverance from those deceptions. As Israel could not escape from Egypt by their own power alone, so we cannot escape from and overcome sin by our power alone. Yet, as Israel had to do their part to leave Egypt, so we must do our part to put sin out of our lives. Israel had to walk out of Egypt. They had to make the effort. They had to put one foot in front of the other. Likewise, we must make our effort to put sin out of our lives.

Since this is part of a sabbath, the conversation should reflect that (Isaiah 58:13-14). Often members will talk about how they were first called and how they learned the truth and came out of this world, which is very appropriate for the meaning of this observance. It is encouraging to learn how other members came into the Church, and this can help us get to know each other better as well as remind us of God's mercy.

Some in the Church of God may feel that they are in such a struggle against sinful habits that they feel they are still a "slave" in a sense to sin. They may identify with what Paul wrote: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:14-25).

But though we fight against sin, that does not mean we are a slave to sin. There is a difference between a slave and a soldier. A slave is not at war against his master. A slave submits to his master and does not try to resist - that is why he is a slave. The people of this world are slaves to sin. They do not know how to resist, for they do not fully know what sin is. They are deceived, blinded by Satan (Revelation 12:9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4), and a deceived person does not know he is deceived.

But we are not slaves to sin but soldiers waging war against sin (2 Timothy 2:3-4, 1 Timothy 1:18, 6:12). A soldier fights against his enemy. He will win battles, and he may lose some battles, but he keeps fighting as long as he is alive. He is not a slave to his enemy. Even if he loses a battle, he fights again and tries to win the next time.

We can celebrate our freedom from the bondage of Satan's deceptions, and we can celebrate the fact that God has made possible the forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Christ and the gift of His Holy Spirit to give us the power to wage war against sin, to win battles with God's help, and to overcome and gain the victory in the end. That is a cause for rejoicing and celebration on the Night to Be Much Observed.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"Night to Be Much Observed", dated April 14, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Observance and Meaning of Passover

Once a year, baptized members of the Church of God observe Passover. We observe it on the evening after sunset which begins the 14th day of the first month, according to God's instruction in the Old Testament (Exodus 12:1-6). This is a different observance than the Night to Be Much Observed, which we celebrate on the evening after sunset which begins the 15th day of the first month and which is part of the first day of unleavened bread.

We observe Passover at the time God instructs, the same time Israel observed it in Egypt as recorded in Exodus and the same time Jesus observed it with His disciples. Jesus did not change the time and date Passover is to be observed. But He did change the symbols from sacrificing a lamb to eating unleavened bread and drinking wine, which represents his body and blood (Matthew 26:26-28). In the Old Testament, the slain lamb represented the future sacrifice of Christ. In the New Testament, the unleavened bread at Passover service represents the body of Christ and the wine represents His shed blood and His death.

When God was about to bring Israel out of Egypt, He instructed the Israelites through Moses to kill a lamb and sprinkle the blood on the doorposts of their houses. They were to eat the lamb that evening. Around midnight, the death angel would kill all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, but would "pass over" the houses with the blood of the lamb on the doorposts and spare the firstborn in that house, hence the name of the festival, "Passover" (Exodus 12:6-14).

The killing of the lamb represented the future sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As the lamb died by having its blood shed, so Jesus also died from having His blood shed. Apparently, He did not die from exhaustion and suffocation as was typical with a crucifixion, but He bled to death when a soldier stabbed Him with a spear (John 19:34). As I understand it, it normally might take about three days for a man to die by crucifixion. His legs could bear his weight so the tension from his arms would not stop him from breathing, but eventually he would become too exhausted to hold his weight with his legs, he would sag, the tension from his arms would prevent him from breathing, and he would suffocate. To hasten the deaths of those crucified with Jesus, the soldiers broke their legs so suffocation would come sooner (John 19:31-33), but when they came to Jesus to break His legs, He was already dead. He died from loss of blood when the soldier stabbed him with a spear (John 19:34).

Jesus Christ was born of a human woman, Mary, but His Father was God, who had impregnated Mary by the power of His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God as it is often called in the Old Testament (Luke 1:26-38). Traditional, mainstream churches teach that the Holy Spirit is the third person of a trinity, but I do not find that teaching in the Bible. Rather, I find that the Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is the power of God in action and the mind of God indwelling in Christians. The Jews knew from Old Testament scriptures that the Spirit of God exists (Genesis 1:2, 1 Samuel 16:13, Psalm 51:11), but they never taught that it was a person. If the early Church of God taught that the Spirit of God was a person, that would have appeared to the Jews that Christians were teaching multiple Gods, and there would have been great controversy over that, but no such controversy is evident in Acts or the rest of the New Testament. There was controversy about Jesus, however, the mainstream Jews not accepting Him as God. And if the Holy Spirit was a person distinct from the Father, the Holy Spirit would be Jesus's Father, not the one we know of as God the Father. But it is evident that God the Father begat Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35).

The One who became Jesus Christ had existed for eternity with God the Father. He is called "the Word" in John 1:1. He became Jesus, born as a human (John 1:1-14). He willingly gave up the divine power and glory He had with the Father (Philippians 2:5-11, John 17:5). There are many scriptures that show that He was the God of Israel in the Old Testament and was the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Moses (Exodus 24:9-11, 1 Corinthians 10:1-4). God the Father also is described in the Old Testament, and Abraham (and David) knew the Father as well as Christ (Genesis 14:18-23, Psalm 110:1), but it was the One who became Jesus Christ that Israel in general knew as God.

Everything that exists, including all mankind, was created through and by Christ. God the Father created all things, but He did it through Christ who did the actual work of creation under the authority of God the Father (John 1:1-3, Ephesians 3:8-9).

As the Creator of mankind, Christ's life was greater than that of all humanity.

All mankind has sinned (Romans 3:23), and the penalty of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

In order for man to have a chance for eternal life, which is God's purpose in reproducing Himself in man, it was necessary that the death penalty for mankind's sins be paid. The Word then voluntarily gave up His divine power, glory, and immortality He had with the Father and came in the form of a human, born of a human mother, Mary. He was God with us (Matthew 1:22-23) in the sense that He was the same person, the same center of consciousness you could say, that was the Word and was God. But He gave up the power and immortality He previously had as God and became a human. During the 33 years (approximately) that He lived as a human, He was fully human, but no longer fully God. He was God before He was born as a human. He gave up His divine power and became a man. After His resurrection He became God again with all the power and glory He had with the Father before His human birth, no longer human as He was. This is something that many in traditional, mainstream churches do not understand. Some think that Jesus on earth was "fully God and fully man". They think that somehow He retained divine power and had more than human power. But that is not true. The works and miracles He did were done by the Father (John 5:19-21, John 14:10-11).

Just as traditional, mainstream churches do not really understand how the Word, who was God, could totally give up His divine power and become fully a man, not fully God at that time, but a man just like us, so they do not understand how a man, Jesus as the first but later Christians, could change from a man to God through a resurrection (Romans 1:1-4, 1 John 3:2, 1 John 4:2-3, 2 John 7). Yet, this is an essential truth about Christ that opens the way for understanding God's ultimate objective in creating mankind: to reproduce Himself.

Jesus Christ died to pay the penalty of our sins. There are many scriptures that make this clear. His death makes it possible for our sins to be forgiven so we can be given the gift of eternal life (Isaiah 53:1-12).

The unleavened bread we eat at Passover represents Christ's body. Jesus was scourged and endured great pain and suffering before He died. He went through this suffering to pay the penalty of suffering that our physical sins bring on us through sickness and disease. Because He paid this penalty, we can be healed of our physical health problems that come as a result of broken laws of health. "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). Though the Church of God may not have emphasized this or always taught it, I believe the evidence in the Bible shows that the penalty of suffering and pain Jesus paid also makes possible our spiritual healing. It is not just our physical sins, broken laws of health, that bring suffering on us, but all our sins bring suffering, especially mental suffering. Christ's sacrifice and broken body makes possible all healing, spiritual and physical. Christ's sacrifice makes possible the healing of our character.

The red wine we drink represents Christ's shed blood, and it represents His death (Matthew 26:27-28). By dying for us, He paid the death penalty for us so we do not have to die the second death in the lake of fire. Thus, God can give us immortality.

By observing Passover, we remember and appreciate the sacrifice of Christ and the love that God the Father and Jesus Christ have for us.

Traditional, mainstream churches of this world understand most of the meaning of Passover. They do not understand it as well as God's Church understands it, but they understand the basics, that the lamb that was sacrificed on Passover in Exodus represents Jesus Christ and the killing of that lamb represents His sacrifice. But the Jews do not understand it at all, just as they do not understand the prophecies in the Old Testament referring to the sacrifice of Christ to pay the penalty for our sins.

Passover and Pentecost are the two festivals that can be useful for explaining the holy days to those outside the Church of God who are members of traditional, mainstream churches. They do not keep Passover, but they recognize most of its meaning. So Passover can be an introduction for them to the concept that ALL of the festivals of God have meaning. Pentecost is the one holy day that traditional, mainstream churches observe, and that can help introduce the concept that ALL of the festivals and holy days should be kept today.

Passover day is not an annual sabbath, a holy day. We can work on that day. But it is a an annual festival, or feast day.

An important lesson of Passover is the lesson of sacrificial love. Passover represents God's love for us, but it also represents our obligation to have the same love for each other. "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another" (John 13:34). "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 15:12).

In a broader sense, the sacrifice of Christ is representative of God's whole way of life. When we accept the sacrifice of Christ as payment for our sins, we in effect are "buying into" that way of life. We agree with God that the way of life He and Christ live, they way that Christ lived when He offered Himself as a sacrifice for us, is the right way to live, and we commit to God that we will live that same way, the way of love. We appreciate that way of life and agree to live that way of life.

It also teaches us humility, for we must humble ourselves to realize that we cannot pay the penalty for our own sins and live, that we deserve to die, that we are helpless to save ourselves by ourselves, and that we must depend on God's mercy and love to save us from ourselves.

During Passover services, we also practice foot washing, following the instructions of Jesus who washed His disciples' feet and said that He set an example for us to follow (John 13:3-15). This also reminds us and reinforces the lesson that we are to love and serve one another even when we must humble ourselves in service. This is all part of the same way of life that is illustrated by the suffering and death of Christ.

It is important to observe Passover in a worthy manner (1 Corinthians 11:29). Before Passover we should examine ourselves (1 Corinthians 11:28). I find reviewing the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:5-21) and the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7, Luke 6:20-49) as a good way to examine myself. It is also good to review the scriptural passages relating to Passover and the sacrifice of Christ.

Here are links to posts related to this subject:

"What the Sacrifice of Christ Teaches Us", dated April 1, 2012, link:

"Physical and Spiritual Healing", dated April 2, 2012, link:

"Count the Cost", dated March 14, 2013, link:

"Why Did Christ Have to Suffer and Die?", dated March 21, 2013, link:

"Passover Symbols: What Part of the Sacrifice of Christ Makes Possible the Healing of Our Character? / Should You Partake of the Passover?", dated March 23, 2013, link:

"Passover", dated April 11, 2014, link:

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Passover -- the Sacrifice of Christ, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2