Friday, September 30, 2016

The Day of Trumpets, and Understanding Our Trials

God has given His Church a gift of understanding of His plan for the salvation of mankind. It is an understanding that the traditional churches of this world and the majority of mankind do not have. He gave us that gift through the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong, and God was able to use Mr. Armstrong as a tool because Mr. Armstrong was willing to believe God's word, the Bible. Moreover, Mr. Armstrong taught that truth to the Church of God and those God called into the Church by saying, "Don't believe me, believe God, believe your Bible." Thus, the very means by which Mr. Armstrong learned the truth, by believing the Bible, became the very means those who listened to him could come to believe that what he said was the truth - they could prove for themselves in the Bible, following the example of Mr. Armstrong, believing God not man.

Yet, though that knowledge was a gift, it required a price to qualify for it. That price is obedience. The plan of God is illustrated by the holy days. Some in the world, in traditional churches, may think they can learn the lessons and meaning of the holy days by studying them but not keeping them. But that is not how God reveals knowledge. He gives understanding and wisdom to those who believe and obey Him (Psalm 111:10).

The first thing to learn about the holy days is that it is God's will that we keep them. Those who are willing and able to believe what God says are able to prove in the Bible that they should keep them. The next step is obedience. We must actually obey God by observing the holy days. Then we can study the meaning of the holy days and God can open our understanding because He sees we are obeying Him. But the world does not obey Him and cannot understand the meaning of the holy days no matter how much they study them in the Bible.

The Day of Trumpets represents many things. It represents the return of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:29, 31, Revelation 11:15). It represents the resurrection of the saints at the second coming of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:50-57, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). It also represents the beginning, the duration, and the end of the Day of the Lord, including the seven last plagues (Revelation chapters 8 and 9, Revelation 11:15-19, 15:5-8, Revelation chapters 16, 18, and 19). It represents seven trumpets to sound during the Day of the Lord.

It represents the conclusion of 6,000 years of man ruling himself under Satan's influence and deception, and 6,000 years of the world as a whole being cut off from intimate contact with God and access to God's Holy Spirit. God has designed a 7,000 year plan for teaching mankind the lesson that Satan's way brings suffering and death, but God's way of life brings life and happiness.

This life during the age of man, or you could say the age of Satan, is a life full of trials and suffering. And the world does not know why it is suffering.

Years ago, a Church of God member was talking to me about a trial he was going through, and he said, "I don't understand what God is trying to teach me".

I think that is a common problem in the Church of God.

We all go through trials at one time or another. For some of us, the trials are severe and even frequent and can be long lasting.

We can be comforted by God's promise that our trials will work out for good in the end if we love God. "And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

God can put us through trials for any of several reasons.

It may be that God is correcting us for a fault.

"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" (Hebrews 12:5-11).

All trials are not necessarily for the purpose of correcting us for a fault or sin, but some are, and it is good, when a trial comes, to examine ourselves to see if God may be correcting us for a problem.

But some trials are not necessarily correction, but simply a test of our faith. Will we still be faithful to God to trust and obey Him even when things are not going as we want or expect?

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).

Yet, it is easy to get discouraged when we are going through a trial for a long time and God does not remove the trial or answer our prayers about it. It can seem discouraging if we do not understand the reason for the trial or what God is trying to teach us.

Yet, it may not be necessary, for God's purpose, that we understand the reason for the trial at the time we are going through it. God can still use the trial to teach us things and develop character in us. God can give us the understanding of the reason for the trial at a later time. If we need to understand now, God can give us the understanding now. But if we do not need to understand right now, God may delay giving us the understanding. He can give us the understanding later.

So if you are going through a trial, don't be discouraged if you don't understand it right now. By all means, seek understanding through prayer, Bible study, and fasting if necessary. But if God does not reveal the reason right away, don't be discouraged. God will reveal the reason when you need to know it.

There is an example in the Bible of a man who did not understand his trial while he was going through it. But God worked it for good in the end. In fact, for God's purpose, it was better that God did not reveal the purpose of the trial when the trial was going on.

The example is Job.

You know the story.

Job was righteous before God, and God blessed him (Job 1:1-3). Satan told God that Job only lived righteously for selfish reasons, to be blessed, and challenged God to take away Job's blessings. God allowed Satan to take away Job's wealth, children, and physical health (Job 1:6-22, 2:1-13).

Job suffered severely even to the point of wishing he had never been born (Job 3:1-26). God was testing Job's faith in God's righteousness, and at the same time teaching him a lesson. God was also making a point to Satan and probably teaching a lesson to God's angels and to all the human race through the book of Job that Job would write. Yet, through most of Job's suffering, he did not understand the reason. It was only at the end that Job gained understanding, and though the book does not record God telling Job about His conversation with Satan, He must have told Job for Job to write it in his book. And it suited God's purpose not to reveal the purpose of the trial to Job in the beginning, for it was Job's very lack of understanding that allowed this to be a test of Job's faith. God wants us to have faith to trust Him even when we do not understand our trials.

Abraham was tested when God told him to sacrifice Isaac, and God did not tell Abraham the reason. It may have been only after the test was over that Abraham understood (Genesis 22:1-19).

Even Jesus Christ, when He was suffering and about to die, cried out, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46).

But perhaps the example of suffering trials but not knowing the reason that is on the most massive scale is the suffering of this world for 6,000 years, which suffering is about to reach a climax at the end of this age. That climax of suffering and the end of this age can be illustrated by the events represented by the Day of Trumpets.

The very purpose of the 6,000 years of suffering under Satan's influence is to teach mankind the lesson that Satan's way of life brings suffering. Yet mankind is not learning that lesson yet. They will understand it later, but right now they are merely living the lesson and writing the lesson in human history, yet without understanding and learning it, yet.

But they will understand it later.

This whole world is suffering a trial it does not understand. Yet, the fact that it does not understand it at the present time in no way lessens the value of the experience, for they will understand the lesson later.

Likewise, we may suffer trials to test us and teach us lessons, trials we do not understand even if we seek to understand them, but that is no reason for discouragement, for God is able to teach us things through experience even before we understand what He is teaching us, and later we will understand more.

Yet, perhaps there is a way to understand our trials sooner and better, and in understanding our trials they become easier to bear. God pays us for what we do in this life - we reap what we sow. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

If we show kindness to others to help them understand their trial, God may more quickly help us to understand our trials, for it may be easier to endure a trial we understand than one we do not understand.

Israel and the world are about to go through severe trials in the great tribulation and the Day of the Lord. We can help them understand their trials during the great tribulation by giving them a warning message now. Then, when they go through the tribulation, they will remember our message, and that will help them understand the purpose of their suffering, and that in turn will make it easier for them to bear their trials and easier for them to repent.

It is a way we can obey God's command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Here is a link to other posts and information about the Day of Trumpets:

"What the Day of Trumpets Represents", dated September 13, 2015, link:

Friday, September 9, 2016

The Gospel and How to Preach It

In my last post I received a comment asking for an explanation of how the gospel can be preached. I decided, instead of answering the comment with a comment, I would make the answer into a post.

The Gospel in its broadest sense includes all the truth of the Bible. The gospel centers on the kingdom of God, and that includes everything about that kingdom: the coming return of Jesus Christ to establish the kingdom of God on earth, salvation through Jesus Christ which enables us to enter that kingdom, all the laws that will be kept in that kingdom (basically the whole instruction in the Bible about God's law and way of life), all the prophecies about the kingdom, all the history of what God has done to prepare for that kingdom, and everything about the King of that kingdom, Jesus Christ. It also includes the warnings about the great tribulation and the day of the Lord, which is part of the preparation for that kingdom. That is why I say, the whole Bible.

But some parts of the gospel need to be emphasized to prepare the world and our Israelite nations for what is shortly to come. So the Ezekiel warning is important, to let people know that there is a punishment coming upon our nations for our sins if they don't repent. They need to know why the punishment is coming, what their sins are, and how they need to repent. So we need to teach the main elements of the law of God so they know how to repent. This is important so that when the tribulation comes, the people will remember that God was fair to warn them but they ignored the warning. This will make it easier for them to accept responsibility for their actions, instead of blaming God and saying, "No one warned me, so it's not my fault".

It is also important that we emphasize the good news that Christ is coming to save the world and end the suffering and establish the kingdom of God over the earth, which will bring peace and happiness to mankind. This is important so that the people have hope during the tribulation, that their suffering will not be forever but that they will be rescued.

The truths that Jesus Christ paid for our sins so we can be forgiven are important, but do not need to be emphasized because most people already know about this. We can teach that to establish common ground, if that helps our message. But we need to place great emphasis on the parts of the gospel people do not know about.

I think the best ways to preach the gospel, including the Ezekiel warning, is a combination of old and new. We should keep the old "tried and true" methods of radio or TV broadcasting, magazine and booklet publishing, public lectures, and the Internet. The Internet is somewhat new, but broadcasting, publishing, and public meetings are as old as the beginning of the Radio Church of God around the beginning of 1934. God used Mr. Armstrong to build this church through radio, TV, magazines, booklets, and public meetings, and those methods still work very well.

But also we should be looking for new methods. TV only reaches a limited number of people, those who are willing to watch religious programs, maybe less than half the country. And it is TV that seems to drive the magazine subscriptions list, which drives the public meetings.

The Internet has potential here, especially if we harness the manpower of the membership. There is a potential to reach even a non-religious audience, if we handle it right. There may be other new ways that will work. This is an opportunity for creativity, imagination, and resourcefulness, not just for new opportunities to use the Internet, but even new ways to preach the gospel period, whether they use the Internet or not. Resourcefulness is one of the seven laws of success Mr. Armstrong talked about in his booklet.

All this takes money. Even new methods will need money. Using the volunteer labor of Church members is fine and can help make Internet work more effective, but the labor without the money won't get the job done. I am of the opinion that any fellowship worth its salt will be spending 35-45% or more of its income on preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public.

And members should be sacrificing zealously to support the preaching of the gospel, including contributing to a fellowship that is spending money effectively in preaching the gospel when that is possible.

I think that is the way God wants it. He wants the preaching of the gospel to be money-driven at this time, to a degree, because it tests the love of the brethren for their neighbors by their willingness to sacrifice financially. It also tests the faithfulness of the ministry by their willingness to sacrifice some of their salaries, or potential salaries, by devoting close to half of their tithe income to preaching the gospel, leaving less for their salaries.

We should set a right example, of course, and that is part of being a Christian. But we should do this at the same time as we are preaching the gospel to the world by every practical means possible, including the methods I have mentioned, because preaching the gospel is part of setting a good example.

We should preach the gospel at the same time as we strive to obey God in all other ways also. And part of our motive for overcoming our sins and obeying God's law should be to empower the gospel. The more we obey God, the more He can help us and answer our prayers, and the more God helps us and answers our prayers for the success of our efforts to preach the gospel, the more we will be successful in preaching the gospel and the more people we will reach. God can help us in many ways - by motivating co-workers and donors to contribute money, by opening doors, by inspiring those who write the articles and messages to write effectively and persuasively, by putting it into the hearts of people to respond, etc. We need His help, and the more we believe, trust, fear, and obey Him, the more He can help us.

So part of our motivation for obeying God should be our love for our neighbors. We should love our neighbors and want to get the gospel message to them, so we should want to obey God so He helps us with the gospel.

Helping others was one of Christ's motives for obeying the Father, or for "sanctifying" Himself in other words. In praying to the Father, Jesus said, "And for their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth" (John 17:19). Jesus said for "their" sakes (for the sake of His disciples) He sanctified Himself.

But there is no Bible justification for postponing our efforts to preach the gospel because we are not yet close enough to God or because we have sins we yet need to overcome. We must do both at the same time. One helps the other. To do one without the other is like trying to walk on one leg (without crutches). It doesn't work very well. We need both legs to walk effectively, and to run. Likewise, we need to preach the gospel and draw closer to God together, both at the same time, or we will not do either very effectively.

There are several ways a small group or scattered members of the Church can support the preaching of the gospel with their tithes and offerings. One of the simplest ways is to contribute their tithes and offerings to a group that has an established program for preaching the gospel. I think Living Church of God is doing the best job in that department. If one can attend a Living Church of God congregation, that is the best way. A scattered member who must stay home can also send his tithes and offerings to such a group for the support of the gospel. For members who attend small groups or fellowships that do not preach the gospel, they can contribute a part of their tithes and offerings, perhaps 30-50%, to a group such as Living Church of God, and send the rest to the fellowship they attend.

If a small group wants to preach the gospel directly, if it does not have the resources (financial and organizational) to do a TV program and publish a magazine, the simplest way is to set up a website for the public. The ministers, or qualified members, should write articles for the public on the important parts of the gospel I mentioned in the beginning of this post - the law of God, the sins of the nations, the coming punishments of the great tribulation and the day of the Lord, their need to repent, and the good news that Jesus Christ will return to save mankind and bring peace and happiness to the earth.

Those articles can then be published on the website. There should be an email address in the website people can use to respond, to ask questions, and to ask to be able to attend services.

To bring people to the websites is where money comes in. You have to advertise. There is no other effective way, right now, that I know of. And this is how God tests our hearts - with our wallets. Other things can supplement the advertising - members talking about the site on the Internet, for example - but those things are not enough by themselves.

The simplest way to advertise is with pay-per-click ads. Google can help you get started with their pay-per-click system, which they call "Adwords". It is fairly easy. You set up an account with Google Adwords. You write small ads. You schedule the ads to run based on certain key words or phrases, such as "prophecy" or "Bible prophecy" or "end times". You can schedule your ads to run only certain times of the day or week, and you can schedule them to run only in a certain area - so if your group only meets in Boston, and you want prospective members to be in that area so you can pastor them, just set up your advertising to only run in the Boston area. The ads then point to the articles in your website. When you set up the Adwords account, you give Google the number of a debit or credit card. Google deducts the cost of the advertising from your card. You can set limits on how much you can spend, for example, $500 (check with Google on how this works exactly - it might go a little over).

The way it works is this. When someone searches on a keyword you specify, such as "prophecy", your ad may appear in the search listing. Your ad might say, "New article on the United States in prophecy explains what is just ahead". If the person clicks on that ad, they are transferred to your article in your website, and you pay a fee for the click, maybe 50 cents, maybe 70 cents - it varies.

Like anything, you learn with experience.

So you need someone to write articles. You need someone to edit articles. You need someone to set up the website and the articles in the website and some money for this (websites are not expensive - you can have a site for maybe two or three hundred dollars a year, but it varies by hosting service). Then you need someone to write the ads and operate the Google Adwords site to run the ads, and you need money to finance the ads.

This isn't too difficult if you are willing to pay the price.

Or, much simpler I think, is to contribute to a group like Living Church of God that already has the expertise and the programs in place.