Thursday, April 17, 2014

Truly Unleavened, Resting in Christ

I'd like to wish a meaningful spring Holy Day season to any readers who are celebrating the Days of Unleavened Bread (DUB). Especially at this time of year, we should remember the great sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us and the hope His resurrection gives us. I hope you find some quiet time to reflect upon both of these amazing truths. On a physical level, I hope you find some quiet time, period.

For me, there was not much rest around the DUB. I spent most of my spare waking moments cleaning crumbs from every nook and cranny of my house. I'd meditate on my spiritual state while wiping down the pantry, only to get distracted moments later. I'd try again later that evening and dose off, drained from the extra housework. This cycle continued until Passover, where I was almost thankful for the cold water in the footwashing basin that jolted me into alertness.

Afterwards, I'd race home to start preparing for the Night to Be Much Observed - because everyone knows only Laodiceans pay a restaurant to cater a meal on the Sabbath. Later that week, when I finally got a chance to sit, I'd realize that I failed once again. I got so caught up in the physical preparations that I glossed over the spiritual ones. I hoped God was merciful enough to consider me worthy to take the Passover, because I certainly didn't think I was. Maybe you've found the balance between spiritual and physical aspects of the DUB. If so, I commend you. I readily admit I did not. And I know I wasn't the only one.

Please know I'm not criticizing anyone for keeping the DUB or questioning their sincerity. I kept it for decades, and most of my family still does. I know that the majority of people who keep the Holy Days of Leviticus 23 believe they are obeying and honoring God by doing so. Who could blame them for that? Not me.

In more recent years, some ministers admonished us not to go crazy cleaning our homes, since the physical act was only symbolic of the spiritual. I understood what they meant, but it just didn't seem logical. If removing leaven was a command, and if it symbolized putting sin out of our lives, then was it possible to go overboard? God would never tell us to give less than our best efforts at removing sin. Deep down, I knew God didn't really expect me to find every crumb. But how much was enough? After all, these same ministers also warned us that we might not "make it" into the Kingdom if we didn't eradicate sin from our lives.

Really, my struggle with the DUB reveals the COG's faulty salvation model on a smaller scale. We believe that, by grace, our past sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ's sacrifice. And we rightly believe there is nothing we can do to earn that forgiveness. But after that, as UCG explains it, "to remain justified after being forgiven, one must behave in a righteous or just manner from that time forward" (from The New Covenant - Does it Abolish God's Law?). This sounds good on the surface. Scripture instructs us to do things like flee temptation and overcome sin. Besides, we have the Holy Spirit - the power of God - as a tool to help us! And who would argue that refraining from sin is a bad thing?

Here's a question that no COG minister has been able to answer for me: how much sin do I have to overcome to "make it?" Most agree God doesn't expect me to become 100 percent sin-free. So how righteous do I need to be? I'm not playing games like Paul's opponents in Romans 6:1. This is a deadly serious question - your eternal destiny hangs in the balance. If God doesn't expect you to be perfect, what percentage do you need to achieve - 98 percent righteous? Is "C" a passing grade for the Kingdom? And does God grade on a curve?

Rod Meredith, LCG's presiding evangelist, sets the bar pretty high in his booklet, Who or What is the Antichrist: "When we accept Christ's sacrifice we must also make a literal covenant with our creator to quit sinning in the future." In the same passage, Meredith explains that we abide in Christ and the Father "by obeying God and living as Jesus actually did - by every word of God."

How do you define "every word of God?" That's important to know if we've promised God that we will quit sinning in the future, presumably by the end of our physical lives. Is it every command ever given in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments? Including observing new moons and swearing off clothing made from mixed fabrics? Is it every instruction Jesus gave? Must we completely root out every impulse of lust? What about snapping at someone who's hurt us, or even just wanting to do so? Is it the list of do's and don't-s that Herbert W. Armstrong intuited as he developed COG doctrines? Is it the ones that Meredith carried forward to LCG? Or maybe to be on the safe side, we should stick to Gerald Flurry's more conservative restrictions. Hope you didn't like spending time with those non-member grandkids. I apologize if I sound irreverent, but I'm just trying follow these doctrines to their logical conclusions. Because if you accept them, you believe that your behavior factors into your salvation.

Underpinning the COG's doctrines about salvation is the related teaching that, in this lifetime, believers are like fetuses who will be born into God's Family at Christ's return. If we don't achieve a proper, yet undefined, level of righteousness in this life, God aborts us. Think that sounds horrific? Don't blame me, I didn't come up with it. You can thank Herbert W Armstrong. Check page 45 of his booklet, "Just What Do You Mean... BORN AGAIN?". I can't post a link directly to the paragraph containing this statement, but electronic versions of the publication are easy to find online.

Most COG splinters still embrace Armstrong's fetus analogy, although they conveniently leave out the part about God aborting His own children. Splinter groups can edit and sanitize their literature all they want, but this is the foundation of their doctrines, directly from the man who created them.

So back to God's grading scale. Righteous behavior is a pass/fail proposition, according to James 2:10-11. Would God have accepted Jesus' sacrifice if He had sinned even once? LCG's Meredith tells us we are to live by every word of God. Well, in His his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that sin is about the attitudes in our hearts, not just our physical behavior. I don't know about you, but my Passover examination always showed me how badly I was failing in this area. I might as well have been dusting crumbs off of a bakery counter covered with doughnuts. Just "trying harder" to be more patient with my kids, or to avoid silly spats when someone hurt my pride wasn't working. That approach wouldn't change my heart if I lived to be 250 years old.

Yet ministers like UCG's Darris McNeely would have us believe it's possible - in fact, it's the reason God created the DUB, he says. In a recent episode of Beyond Today (What Easter Doesn't Tell You), co-host McNeely tells us we can become a new creation in Christ "as a result of our putting sin out, by working on our lives and living a righteous life, and God helping us to accomplish that."

That's absolutely false. He blatantly twists 2 Corinthians 5:17, which directly states that anyone who is in Christ IS a new creation. Not he WILL BE a new creation, or that he is in the process of becoming a new creation. He is one now.

Even worse, McNeely makes this transformation about our efforts. But, oh, yeah, God helps us do it. The very next verse, 2 Corinthians 5:18, tells us that this change is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ. We are not a new creation because of what we do; we are a new creation because of what He did, both at the Cross and in our lives each day once we place our faith in Him alone for salvation. Our righteousness is nothing more than filthy rags.

It's an incredible blessing that our eternal destiny doesn't depend on just "trying harder." It's based on grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-24). And it includes all of our sins, not just those committed before we accept Jesus' sacrifice. It's ridiculous to teach that His sacrifice almost 2000 years ago paid for my past sins but did not cover my future sins as well. That it paid for the future sins of my unborn, unconceived grandchildren, but only until they officially accept His sacrifice. Jesus died once for all, covering our sins completely. We must let go of any dependence on our own efforts or goodness for salvation and place our faith in Christ alone. When we do, His righteousness is reckoned to us, just as it was to Abraham (Romans 4:18-5:1). Just as all our sins are credited to Him (Romans 5:17-19, 2 Corinthians 5:21), His righteousness is credited to us (Romans 5:17). Protestants call this doctrine imputed righteousness.

COG leaders like Rod Meredith malign this doctrine. In fact, he ridicules the teaching in the booklet I quoted earlier, Who or What is the Antichrist: "Now we just 'accept Christ' and His righteousness is somehow imputed to us - without any requirement for righteous works?".

In a word, yes. Rod Meredith's Bible must not include Ephesians 2:8-9, because that's exactly what it says. Salvation has nothing to do with our works. If it did, we could boast about what we've done. Instead, if we boast, it's supposed to be about what Jesus has done (Galatians 6:14).

The "works" part, which Ephesians 2:10 mentions, comes after we repent, accept Jesus' sacrifice and receive the Holy Spirit. Good works are part of a Christian's life, as the book of James states. They are evidence of our conversion, proving we didn't just utter idle words. That's evidence, not cause. If we are truly converted, our hearts are regenerated (Ephesians 2:1-6 and other verses describe this, which some call being "born again"), making us a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 1:23). Then God begins the process of sanctification - or making us more and more like Christ. Our lives outwardly will reflect this change within us. How could it not? But this is an effect of sanctification, not a cause.

Yes, we have a part to play in the sanctification process. It's our job to follow Jesus' example (1 Corinthians 11:1), live an obedient life of sacrifice (Romans 12:1), live at peace with others (Hebrews 12:14), avoid covetousness and coarse joking (Ephesians 5:3-4) as well as other behaviors that do not bring honor to God. It's our duty to obey the commands of Jesus and His apostles. But our responsibility is to cooperate with God, not to lead or guide the process. God is the one who transforms us into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18) through discipline (Hebrews 12:10), the truth of His word (John 17:17, Ephesians 5:25-27) and His Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13). It may seem like a trivial distinction,  but it makes all the difference in the world when we put it into practice in our lives.

Remember, Christians who accept this doctrine don't believe it gives us Jesus' character instantly, as COG ministers claim. The imputation of Christ's righteousness simply changes our legal standing with God from "guilty" to "not guilty". This justification (Romans 3:20-25), or covering of our sins, is foreshadowed in prophetic passages like Isaiah 61:10. (I plan to discuss justification, regeneration and sanctification in detail later this year. If you have questions now, please feel free to email me at marthacog@gmail.com)

We are the clay, not the potter. We can't change just by committing to trying harder. We can't just grab hold of the Holy Spirit and use it as a tool to shape ourselves. Trying to do so either leaves us with a self-righteous sense of accomplishment or a hopeless sense of despair, depending upon how honest we are with ourselves. Either way, Satan wins. Our focus is taken from Christ.

Sure, it's possible that God intended for the DUB to teach Israel about sin. Instructions about the festival urge Israel to remember God's deliverance from Egypt, though, not to purge sin. Other scriptures talk about leaven in both negative (Matthew 16:5, 1 Corinthians 5:6-7) and positive terms (Matthew 13:33), although they refer to leaven's ability to permeate, not to puff things up. I don't know if the Israelites found DUB preparation overwhelming. Maybe only modern-day crumb traps like toasters and child car seats show the total futility.

Anyway, doesn't 1 Corinthians 5 tell us to keep the DUB? There's no doubt Paul used leavening as a metaphor for sin here. But notice that 1 Corinthians 5:7 tells the church that they already are unleavened. This likely means that God sees them as officially sinless, not that their houses are deleavened. We know many Jews exiled from Jerusalem were living in Corinth. On a related note, one major concern in Acts and Galatians is that Jewish converts were pressuring Gentile believers to follow physical observances from the Sinai Covenant. So the Corinthian church might have been keeping the DUB, but Galatians 4:21-31 reminds us it was not required for gentiles, to put it mildly. (Nor was it required of Jews who accept the New Covenant, if there is no longer a difference between Jews and Gentiles). For more information, please visit the post Were gentiles in Corinth observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread?

So if Jewish believers and some Gentile Christians kept the DUB, is it OK to do so today? I can't say for sure. Many in the COGs say they do it because they want to obey God, and that certainly is a commendable reason. But if we believe that NOT doing so will cost us our eternal life, then it logically follows that we are keeping it, at least in part, to ensure our salvation. Which is a problem, according to Ephesians 2. To me, it seems like a slippery slope, tempting those who do it to think they are more obedient and righteous than those who don't. That line of reasoning encourages us to look to ourselves and our efforts, instead of Christ, for our salvation - comparing ourselves to others instead of to Him. And that definitely is sin.

In Galatians 3:24, Paul tells us that the law was our tutor - our teacher - to bring us to Christ. For me, the DUB was exactly that. Not as the COGs explain it - as an annual cycle teaching me the way to live - but as a teacher that showed me my own efforts were in vain. That placing my full faith in Jesus and His finished work on the cross was my only hope. The purpose of the Sinai Covenant and the prophets was to point us to Christ - that is what Paul meant when he wrote that Christ is the end of the law (Romans 10:4). One doesn't continue practicing elementary addition drills when they are enrolled in college algebra.

God loves you. He loves you so much that He willingly suffered a brutal death on the cross for you. He wants you to live a happy, abundant life - not brimming with self-righteous pride or wallowing in depression. Step into the New Covenant and enter into His rest - into a life that's humble yet secure in your salvation. A life, not just a week, that's truly unleavened.   


************
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
************

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Matzo or the Egg?

Hi, it's me again. You may remember the borderline nervous breakdown I had going through my first Christmas season after leaving the Churches of God. So I'm sure you'll be shocked to read this. I know I'm shocked to type it.

I'm really looking forward to Easter.

Why not? It's all about candy, right? I mean, I've been seeing UCG promotions featuring a chocolate-smeared toddler for weeks. Easter means chocolate. I'm a girl. What more is there to explain? This is pretty much how COGWA bigwig Clyde Kilough explained people like me in a pre-Easter article last year. Yeah, Clyde, you figured it out. Evangelical Christians talk a good game, but we're really in it for the jelly beans.

COGWA literature gives me a migraine, so I decided to read the transcript for the UCG promotion instead, a Beyond Today episode titled "What Easter Doesn't Tell You." The hosts' main criticism against Easter, aside from the alleged paganism, was that "obscures the truth" that Jesus suffered, died and was resurrected that all might have the opportunity for eternal life. Why? Because it only focuses on the resurrection.

I'm sorry, but that's one of the most ignorant things I've ever heard. I'd wager almost anything that Christ's life, sacrifice, suffering and death will be discussed at my church's Easter service. They have in every leading up to it so far! They never stop talking about it! Our pastor always discusses our sin and the penalty Jesus paid for it. Even on Christmas Eve! Saying Easter (also known as Resurrection Sunday) doesn't give the full picture is like criticizing Pentecost because it, in isolation, doesn't discuss Jesus Christ's return to earth. Oh, by the way, the criticism that many of these "so-called Christians" only go to church on Easter says more about those individuals than the observance itself. You know, my COG congregation always had to set up more chairs on the Holy Days than on the weekly Sabbath, too.

Anyway, to read the banter between the hosts, you'd think we deceived Protestants believe Jesus died in a car crash and then celebrate His resurrection in a meaningless vacuum. Trust me, they know how and why He died. If anyone is leaving something about of the story, it's the COGs. They observe Passover, then throw a lavish party while His body lay in the tomb, loosely adapting Sinai ordinances through HWA's interpretative lens. They hold their annual golf scramble on Easter, where they make fun of all the pagans who skipped tee time to celebrate Tammuz rising. And then we get together on the last DUB to compare notes on who found stray goldfish crackers where.

Here's the thing. Jesus' resurrection is important. It is the entire reason we Christians have hope. That's not me talking, that's Paul (1 Corinthians 15:12-19, especially verse 19). It's what proved Jesus was the Son of God (Romans 1:4-5). And if He was who He said He was, then we know that our sins are forgiven (1 John 2:2) and we can have eternal life by placing our faith in Him (John 11:25-26). If that's not worth celebrating, then I don't know what is.

But it doesn't matter what you think, you say. We're not commanded to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. You can't just make up your own holidays for what YOU think is important. Well, the Jews did. They weren't commanded to celebrate Purim or Hannukkah, but John 10:22-23 shows us that Jesus was at the temple during Hanukkah (Festival of Dedication). It seems God gave this man-made celebration tacit approval. So if it's ok to create annual observances of the miraculous oil in the temple or Esther's triumph over Haman, it would seem that Jesus' victory over death qualifies as worthy of celebration.

I wanted to share the most compelling reasons I will be celebrating Easter guilt-free this year. The more experienced writers here at ABD did all the heavy lifting, I just want to point you to the places where you'll find background on topics where you might have questions, misinformation, or not even know whether you have all the information.

The COGs try to trace the "change" from Passover to Easter to the Quartodeciman Controversy of the late 2nd Century. They describe it as a decisive turning point for Christianity, in which rogue church leaders prevailed over followers of the apostles by replacing the Passover with Easter celebration.

In reality, the debate was about whether to observe Passover on the 14th of Nisan or on a static date, not whether to introduce pagan worship practices. Some wanted to stick to the Jewish date. Others argued that the Jewish calendar (with its postponements and such) made the observance disruptive and unpredictable. Paul's writings made it clear that gentiles were not required to observe specific calendar dates from the Sinai Covenant, so they found no reason to keep their calendar in flux. Apparently their argument had some merit, since the Jews scrapped their entire calendar system just a few decades later. Today, the timing of Easter is still based on the Hebrew lunar calendar, not pagan equinox worship. There's nothing wrong with taking the bread and wine on Nisan 14. But there's also nothing wrong with doing it on a different date instead.


Writers aren't usually known for their math skills, but I can count to three, so I always believed the COG chart showing how Matthew 12:40 disproved traditional Christianity's belief about the timing of Jesus' resurrection and crucifixion. So I was shocked to have Luke 24:21 pointed out to be, in which the disciple Cleopas describes Sunday as the third day since Jesus was crucified. Many more gospel verses alternately predict Jesus would rise "on the third day," "in three days" and "after three days". What if Jesus used a Jewish idiomatic phrase (figure of speech) that's lost on us Westerners? Might Hebrew scholars know something about how the Jews marked time using inclusive reckoning? If you're still reading this, it's at least worth considering.



Did those 2nd century leaders also push to ditch the name "Passover" in favor of "Easter"? No. They kept on calling it by its Hebrew/Aramaic name, "Pesach." Those who spoke Latin called it "Pascha." The name "Easter" wasn't used until centuries later, when Germanic tribes were introduced to Christianity. English, which is heavily influenced by the German language, adapted the name.
Even today, in countries where Romance languages are spoken, the name for Resurrection Day celebrations are reminiscent of their Aramaic roots. Spain has "Pascua." Portugal has "Pascoa." The French call it "Paques." In Italian, it's "Pasqua." You get the picture.

Arguing the suspect name "Easter" taints the resurrection celebration makes about as much sense as claiming keeping the Sabbath is pagan since Saturday is named for the Roman god Saturn. Reading paganism into Easter because Germanic tribes gave it a pagan-sounding name seems symptomatic of an the unfounded belief that history revolves around the Anglo-Saxon people. We are not the center of the universe. We came to the table pretty late as far as civilizations go.


Wait, didn't the holiday name come from the Babylonian fertility goddess Ishtar? Probably not. COGs connect Ishtar to Easter through her consort, Tammuz, who died and rose from the dead each year in Babylonian mythology. Several Easter traditions supposedly come from this vegetation god - Lent is really the weeping for Tammuz mentioned in Ezekiel 8:14 and sunrise services marked his resurrection.
The problem is, mythology places Tammuz' resurrection long after the Passover - during the summer month both the Hebrew and Babylonian calendar call "Tammuz."

And the Germanic goddess Eostre? There's little proof she ever existed. Ostara? Chances are good she was made up, too. The name came from Charlemagne, who renamed the months when he conquered western Europe. Resurrection Sunday occurs during the month he named Ostarmonath. Where did he get the name? Experts say it's unlikely that Charlemagne, a warrior against Germanic paganism, named a month after a goddess. Days of the week were traditionally named after deities but, in that culture, months were named for weather events, calendar events or customs that occurred during them.

Well, the word "ostar" means "east," and originates from the same high German word from which "Austria" gets its name. Austria was long known as the "Osterreich," or "Eastern Kingdom." The root indicates a movement toward the rising sun, which always occurs in the east. Professor Ronald Hutton, a well-known historian in British paganism and occultism, suggests the name simply meant "the month of beginnings" or "the month of openings," an appropriate name for a time of year when trees budded and flowers bloomed. The theory that many months were named for weather events seems to support this explanation (although my personal favorite still is Solmanoth, or Mud-Month, which was roughly the equivalent of February).


So even if there's some relation between possibly non-existent goddesses and the word Easter, it's a problem to deem a millenia-old observance pagan because a goddess was stapled on after the fact. The same goes for fertility symbols like eggs and rabbits, which weren't associated with the resurrection celebration until Christianity spread to the Germanic tribes. And in case you are still hung up on Ishtar, her symbols were lions and eight-pointed stars, not eggs and bunnies.

Eggs were associated with the resurrection celebration in the Eastern Orthodox church, where Christians fasted from eggs during Lent as a means of sacrifice. Once the fast was over, children went out into the bushes to look for eggs to feed the family.


Now please understand, I'm not trying to talk you into doing anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. You don't have to go get your kids' picture taken with the Easter bunny (I'm not).
Don't get up to pray at sunrise on April 20. I plan to be asleep then, and I pray my kids cooperate. But there is nothing inherently sinful about doing either of these things, as Romans 14:14 tells us.

All I ask is that you don't let your Bible reading end with John 19 and its parallel passages the night of Passover. Take some time to read the resurrection account during this season when we all agree it happened, whether it's on the first Day of Unleavened Bread, on Resurrection Sunday or on a random Tuesday. There is no wrong day to read the scripture and thank God for the events that make our salvation possible. Jesus' resurrection is just as significant as His death, don't let anyone tell you otherwise. He is risen, indeed, and it's the reason we have hope.


************
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
************

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Different Gospel

"Should you believe a movie or what the Bible says? So much hype about the movie and not much talked about opening up the pages of the Bible and reading His entire story."
The statement stood out like a sore thumb between pictures of kittens and weather-related complaints in my Facebook news feed. A friend of mine, who works in a Church of God media department, posted this comment the day the Son of God movie came out. I sighed, then mentally steeled myself for the barrage of negative comments about the movie I was sure to read in the coming days. I was surprised to see almost nothing posted that weekend, but figured the pace would pick up when people were back at work on Monday. I was mystified when, almost a week later, I had seen next to nothing said about the movie from either official COG sites or individual members.

Incidentally, my pastor shared his thoughts on the movie that weekend. Like any dramatization, the depiction was not 100 percent accurate, he admitted. Complete accuracy would be almost impossible, considering even the synoptic gospels vary a bit in some of their accounts. There's nothing wrong with watching a movie about Jesus, but it doesn't replace reading the Bible, he reminded us. Over all, he concluded that it was a great tool for sparking interest in the Bible and spreading the gospel.

Finally, it hit me. Why would the COGs draw any attention to the movie, let alone try to capitalize on it? They are preaching a different gospel.

Of course they are, you're probably thinking. The people promoting that movie teach a FALSE gospel. The TRUE gospel Jesus and His disciples taught is about the coming Kingdom of God.

That's what I thought, too. For years. The problem is that the COGs set up a false dilemma for us  - that they are the only ones who believe the true gospel. They narrowly define the gospel as being only about Jesus' second coming and establishing a literal Kingdom on earth. Then they tell us virtually no one else believes this will happen. Deceived Protestants blatantly ignore all those scriptures and only teach about going to heaven, they claim. So conscientious Christians have only two choices - attend a COG or ignore the Bible and go to the Baptist church down the street.

My friends, we have been misled about what mainstream Christianity teaches. Millions of your Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Catholic neighbors believe Jesus will literally return to this earth; that He will establish a literal Kingdom on earth. Granted, there are some differences based on teachings about when one is born again, when one enters the Kingdom of God and whether soul sleep is biblical, as well as several other doctrines. But to assert that most so-called Christians don't understand that the Kingdom of of God is literal - as LCG, UCG, COGWA and all the other alphabet soup of COG abbreviations do - is a total fabrication. Some might even call it a lie.

To be fair, Jesus Christ had a lot to say about the Kingdom of God during His 3-1/2 year ministry. His focus is understandable - He could hardly teach his disciples about His own death and resurrection when they had yet to occur. They barely understood his parables, let alone His foreshadowed comments about His death. It was only after seeing Jesus' resurrection and receiving the Holy Spirit that His disciples fully grasped the significance of what He had done. So it's intellectually dishonest to claim the true gospel focuses solely on the Kingdom of God, and that any gospel focusing on His life, death and resurrection is inherently false. Jesus' return, establishment of His Kingdom and the resurrection of believers to glory certainly is part of the gospel -  in fact, it's the consummation of the gospel - but it's not the full story. One can only see the complete picture from the other side of the cross, so we must also consider the teachings of those Jesus Himself sent into the world.

When it comes to reliable preachers of the gospel, few would debate the apostle Peter's credentials. He was taught by Jesus, both during His 3-1/2 year earthly ministry and after His resurrection. Let's turn to Acts 10, where Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius, a God-fearer and a gentile centurion of the Italian regiment. In verse 36, the Apostle to the Jews notes he is relating the same good news sent to the people of Israel. What was that message?

In short, Peter told Cornelius and his household that Jesus died on the cross (verse 39), that He rose on the third day (verse 40) and that all who believe in Him will be forgiven of their sins (verse 43). Apparently Peter's version was close enough to what Jesus taught for Cornelius and his household to receive the Holy Spirit. This message and result is similar to that of Acts 2, although Peter's Pentecost message also included an element of repentance.

The Apostle Paul might not be the COG's favorite Biblical author, but he does seem to corroborate Peter's gospel summary in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul relates the gospel by which we are saved (verse 2) - that Jesus died for our sins (verse 3) and that He rose on the third day (verse 4). Later on in the chapter, Paul details the consummation of the gospel we discussed earlier - believers' resurrection to glory.

If you're still not sure, we can check out the slightly more poetic version Paul included in Romans 3:21-26. In this passage, Paul tells us that righteousness does not come from keeping the law (verse 21), but through faith in Jesus (verse 22). That all men are sinners and are justified by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus (verses 23-26). Bonus points for style in this passage, but the basic message is the same.

Paul warns us not to be led astray by those teaching a gospel that was different from his, both in Galatians 1:6-9 and 2 Corinthians 11:4. Let's turn to the message several major COG groups call the gospel and see how they compare to what both Paul and Peter taught.

The Living Church of God describes it this way:
"Open your Bible and turn to Mark 1:14-15. Read what God inspired Mark to write: "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel. This is the Gospel. There is only one - and it is about the Kingdom of God."
(http://www.tomorrowsworld.org/booklets/do-you-believe-the-true-gospel)
The United Church of God asserts that Jesus defined His mission as preaching the gospel, or good news, of the Kingdom of God. And when Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God,
"He was simply continuing the messages of the Hebrew prophets whose words are recorded in the Old Testament. Centuries earlier God had inspired such faithful men as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah to look beyond the difficulties and destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to a magnificent future when God would establish His world-ruling kingdom on earth under the reign of the Messiah."
(http://www.ucg.org/booklet/church-jesus-built/responsibility-and-mission-church/what-true-gospel/)
The gospel of the Kingdom of God is the message that Jesus urges us to believe today, according to COGWA. Since He is the only Being through whom we may receive salvation, we must heed his instruction to repent, and believe in the gospel.
"Old Testament prophets had spoken of the Kingdom of God while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many of them had described the universal peace and abundant prosperity that would accompany this Kingdom. When Jesus came to earth, He gave this teaching even greater prominence. Indeed, it was the central core of His instruction."
(http://lifehopeandtruth.com/prophecy/kingdom-of-god/gospel-of-the-kingdom/)
Hmmmm. Sounds like a different message to me, or an incomplete one at the very least. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be flippant. I know these are hard things to hear. I've been in your seat all too recently. But warnings about curses against those who teach a false gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), admonitions about being led astray by false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:3) and false prophets (Matthew 7:15) should lead us to carefully examine the predictions of Herbert W. Armstrong (for starters, see our article An Inconvenient Plain Truth). If we believe the Bible is God's word, then we need to heed Deuteronomy 18:18-22, which shows HWA did not speak for God. Neither do those who still advance many of his teachings today.

The gospel is not a witness against the world. Neither is it a Terminator gospel simply warning humanity that "I'll be back." The gospel does not speculate about the lineup of God's future executive ruling team, nor does it repackage Mormon doctrines about a pantheon of divine beings ruling over planets, as COG booklets have for decades.  

The gospel the apostles taught does the same thing as the Law and the Prophets - it points sinners to Jesus Christ for salvation. In contrast, the incomplete COG gospel teaches sinners to focus on their future as glorious deities, largely looking past their Savior and the work His Father asks of us - to believe in the One He sent (John 6:29). I can see how this "gospel" led me to lose sight of who Jesus really was and who I really am - a sinner deserving death. That I can be saved from that fate is the best news I could ever hear.

--If you would like more detail on the Gospel, please see the Gospel section in our FAQ page.--


************
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
************

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Victims Of Alarm Fatigue?

Just a reminder. The book, which began here on ABD as an article, is available today (Saturday 3-1-14)  through Wednesday the 5th for FREE on Amazon in the Kindle format. I earnestly desire that we should not be dulled by alarm-fatigue, for this is what the enemy wants. Yes, prophecy is for stimulating belief, but also for encouraging one another—" and all the more as you see the Day approaching" -Hebrews 10:25. Apathy has hit the church and we need to resist it. False prophets have made the idea of Jesus' soon return seem tiresome. I want people to see the possibility that all the prophecies proceeding the return have in fact been fulfilled. Brothers and sisters in all nations; are you more focused on the things of the world, or are you one who has put your hand to the Gospel plow and will not turn and look back? We can focus on the past of being in a COG and their emphases on the return of Jesus and be repelled by this mind set or do as Paul advised, "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead," Phil 3:13.
 
Don't you see that this is an effective method that Satan has employed? Everything you learned wasn't a lie. There was some truth which the devil may convince you to throw out with the proverbial bathwater. Our job is to filter out the poison and keep what remains. If we now make our temporal existence the most important thing and not Jesus, He says we are not worthy of Him. God's time piece is Israel. My nation (USA) has a government that continues to stab Israel in the back. This is prophecy being fulfilled as there will be no one to stand with Israel! The way is being prepared for the final battle. You who make Jesus the first priority have a date with destiny. We can't know the day or hour, but we are told that we can know the season. And if we aren't dissuaded by the false alarms sounded by the enemy to dull our senses then we will be like the virgins who kept their lamps full and waited for the bridegrooms arrival. Be awake; be alert;  believe Him first and foremost and be the ones who cross over from death to life. Let us focus our eyes on Jesus and not on some man or on distractions. There is no one that stands between you and God but Jesus Himself. Again, the link to the book is Bible Prophecy - God's Agenda And Your Part In It


************
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
************

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bible Prophecy - God's Agenda And Your Part In It

I was the second writer on ABD coming on board not long after its April of 2008 beginning. Seeker had made 18 posts before I contributed a two part debunking of Armstrongs United States and Britain in Prophecy the following May. To get traction we tried to post every other day, and it was quite a grind. Later xHWA joined us and took up more than his share of the load, for which we were thankful. Now, we have other great writers which bless us with their thoughtful work; and so it continues.
When we started ABD we all used pseudonyms instead of our real names largely to protect our family members who were still in Armstrongist splinter groups (among other reasons). I chose Luc as mine. ABD became so popular in its niche that if I Googled Lucian Roske, it would pop up instantly. If I Googled my real name I wouldn't have anything. I did an article series on prophecy sometime later in 2008 in which I outlined conclusions to my own  studies. I didn't portray them as anything other than my own view back then, and I won't now. I say this because  I used those posts as the core of what became a book. Because of this I removed the posts. My main objective was, and is, to stimulate thought outside prescripted views, and to let the Bible speak for its self. Since what became the book appeared in its incipient form on ABD, I thought it appropriate to make known here its availability in the Kindle format. Naturally my real name is on the cover pic. So in some ways, this is an introduction. When I'm not Luc, I am Glen Paul Erickson.

When I read books, I like them in either paper or in the Kindle format. So I put the book on Amazon and gave it the minimum price. I would have made the book free if Amazon allowed it. It can be done, but it takes time. Amazon does allow a book to be free five days out of ninety. My book is scheduled to be free on Saturday March 1, 2014 to Wednesday March 5, 2014. The link is: Bible Prophecy - God's Agenda And Your Part In It

************
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
************

Monday, February 10, 2014

How Do You Like Them Apples?

Raise your hand if you've ever thought something along these lines: "If it weren't for the Sabbath and Holy Days, so-and-so would be better Christian than me!".

It's ok, you can admit it - I can't see you. If it makes you feel any better, I've thought it. I've even had the conversation. I remember a relative of mine saying it about a colleague of hers - one of those folks who organized charity drives at her office and overflowed with the fruit of the Spirit. The only problem was that she spent her Saturdays at the grocery store or ball park - at least the ones when she wasn't volunteering at the food bank.

In the COGs, we practically have a script addressing people like that. The World isn't all bad, we'd say. It was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, not just evil. Even if they don't have the Truth, that person reads the Bible and can understand parts of it. We'd conclude the person would be "really teachable" in the Kingdom. Of course, many of us would also gloat inwardly when that person slipped up and showed their "true colors". Because we knew they weren't a real Christian like us.

But every once in a while, you find that one person you just can't explain. For me, that person was Maria. (Yes, I have changed her name for privacy).

Mind you, I wasn't always impressed with Maria. The first time we met, her daughter swiped my daughter's pacifier, leaving me with a screaming infant. We had both recently joined a parenting support group, and her youngest child was just a few months older than my first. She knew the mommy ropes better than me, so I'd sometimes ask her my rookie questions during playgroup. I soon noticed she usually had better answers than the mothers - both young and old - in my COG congregation. And not just about teething and diaper rash.

If I looked back far enough in my email, I know I'd find several messages asking Maria for product recommendations, pediatrician reviews and such. And I bet most of those messages end with me thanking her for being so positive, encouraging and gracious. In those days of post partum depression, a tense church climate and the resulting loneliness, Maria's example stood in stark contrast to almost everything else around me.

The mother of an opinionated toddler, Maria was always interested in talking about discipline. Parenting books from Focus on the Family peeked out from between her couch cushions and Little Golden books. Maria's childhood in a conservative Hispanic family left her struggling to know when to crack the whip and when to extend grace. Consistency is important, she said, but still, God shows her so much mercy even when she is disobedient.

I left her house confused. Maria was a false Christian who believed the law was done away. What on earth did she think she needed to obey?

During other playgroups, we'd discuss our financial worries. Many of us had left full-time jobs and our families were down to one income. Every dollar counted. Maria weighed in about how hard it was to give 10 percent to her church during this phase of life. But God had been so faithful to her, how could she repay that with faithlessness? Did I hear her right? Maria believed in tithing? (Not all Protestants believe in tithing, and I am not endorsing it here. I'm just demonstrating my complete ignorance of beliefs outside my COG bubble).

As our kids got older, we'd share our concerns about public school. Academics were one thing, but we were more worried about social and moral standards. Still, this decay wasn't taking God by surprise, Maria said. The Bible predicted that society would spiral downward as the end approached.

What? She believed in the "end times" too? That meant she must believe that Jesus would return to earth again. She wasn't planning on hanging out in heaven for eternity? It was becoming increasingly
clear that I had no idea what Protestants believed. In fact, it was starting to feel like I had been intentionally misled. Yes, there are Protestants whose beliefs largely mirror the straw men set up and knocked down in COG literature. But apparently there are millions of others whose do not. How come I hadn't heard about them?

It was Maria's unexpected beliefs that first got my attention, but it was her conduct that really stuck with me. A former social worker, she should have been the most cynical one in our group. Instead, she gave people the benefit of the doubt, exuding grace and understanding when the rest of us were sharpening our claws. I recall only one occasion when she slipped. The group leaders met at year's end to tie up loose ends for the next leadership team. We got sidetracked complaining about one of the incoming ladies. Maria joined in - she, too, had felt the wrath of this woman's sharp tongue. She called me to apologize later that night, and I told her she had done nothing wrong - that woman was bad news. Today I cringe when I realize I was the equivalent of the cartoon devil on her shoulder, shouting over the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit.

Gradually, I stopped asking the women in my congregation for advice. It wasn't because I was too proud or thought I had all the answers. It was because I already knew what they would say, and I had seen how their answers played out in their own lives. More often than not, I'd ask Maria instead. Though I didn't realize it yet, I was already judging by the fruits. The answers I was getting from my COG brethren - women and ministers alike - often didn't mesh with what I was reading in the gospels. When they spoke, I didn't hear the Shepherd's voice.

I remember the last time I saw Maria. It was during the buildup to the last COG split my family would endure. I had an emergency project due, and my computer wasn't cooperating. She let me use her computer and held my crying son so I could finish, even though her critical mother-in-law would soon arrive at her messy house for dinner. I just couldn't make sense of it. I was surrounded by true believers who were slandering one another without a thought. Kindness and peace left my congregation long ago, lodging with this false Christian instead. Maybe it had been that way all along and I was just too blind to see.

Maria left our playgroup when school started the next month. I never got around to asking her where she went to church. Part of me didn't want to know. It felt like a step toward admitting I was wrong, and I wasn't ready for that. Yet. But over time, God would lead my spouse and I to the conclusion we had to leave.

When you're born into the COGs, trying out new churches is a daunting task. All we really had to go on was that a) our previous beliefs had serious problems and b) we knew very little about what Protestant churches teach. Everywhere we went, we'd hide ourselves as far back as possible. One place, we tucked ourselves away up high, directly across from the choir. My gaze kept coming back to one face. It was Maria. Suddenly, the lesson God had been trying to teach me all along sunk in. She was a better Christian than me, because all those years I didn't know what it meant to be a Christian.

While I accepted Jesus' sacrifice for my past sins, I did not place my faith for salvation in Him alone. Just like many, many others in the COGs, I placed my faith in the web of cherry-picked worship practices I'd been taught to observe. As well as trying to be a good person. That isn't Christianity, it's Armstrongism - a theology cobbled together from Judaism, Christianity, Mormonism and the Jehovah's Witnesses, with a few original doctrines thrown in for good measure. The one true religion, suppressed for almost 2,000 years, which God revealed to an apostle/prophet who wasn't even able to predict the correct outcome of World War II (Plain Truth, September-October 1941, p. 7, Herbert W. Armstrong.) If you're a second-generation COG member like I was, these details might surprise you. But this is what Herbert W. Armstrong claimed. More on that, and why it matters, another day. I promise.

Now, several months later, I am a member of Maria's church. We didn't choose it because she goes there, but because we can see how it fostered the spiritual fruit that got my attention. These days, I'm trying to focus less on my past and instead identify with my status as a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17). I am starting to see flickers of the things I saw in Maria and so desperately wanted in my own life. And now I finally understand why.

Peace
Maria had peace because she knew God had forgiven her sins and justified her because she placed her faith in Jesus for salvation (Acts 13:38-39, Romans 3:20-26). Likewise, I am starting to understand that Christ's righteousness has been credited to my ledger (Philippians 3:9). No condemnation remains for me (Romans 8:1). I am at peace with God (Romans 5:1). I am no longer trying to maintain my salvation through spiritual growth and praying I am good enough to "make it" by the end of my life. In that scenario, which is what the COGs teach, my work is not counted as grace, but as debt (Romans 4:4). I rest from this work in the spiritual peace I receive from Jesus (Hebrews 4:9-10), a peace beyond understanding and explanation (Philippians 4:7).

Joy
Maria was joyful because she wasn't spending her life wondering whether she would be good enough to "make it" - she fully realized how short she fell and how blessed she was to be redeemed (Colossians 1:14). As a Christian, her identity is in Jesus, and so is mine (Galatians 2:20). Christ loved me enough to die for me while I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8), so it's hard to argue that God's love hinges on perfect obedience. My value does not fluctuate with my latest sin or spiritual victory. I am worth the same every day - the cost of our Savior's blood. In Protestant churches, His sacrifice is a focus every week instead of just during the spring Holy Day season - a practice that is simultaneously humbling and encouraging. Dwelling on Christ's suffering each week gives me greater perspective than simply putting Him back up on the shelf for another year after the Last Day of Unleavened Bread. It makes me much more aware of what my sin cost. There is nothing cheap about grace.

Love
On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus commanded His disciples to love one another as He loved them (John 15:12). My old COG ministers paid this command lip-service, but then minimized its importance while bashing "so-called" Christianity. There is nothing weak or feel-good about practicing the kind of self-sacrificing love Jesus discusses in John 15:13. Following this command, which is what identifies us as Christians (John 15:14, 13:35), has far-reaching implications for how we regard ourselves and others. This agape love is the foundation for the other fruit of the spirit, which is why forbearance, gentleness or other several other traits listed in Galatians 5:22-23 seem to overlap. After all, these traits are fruit - a by-product - of the Holy Spirit living in us and guiding our lives. They are not simply a habit we can produce by gritting our teeth and trying really, really hard.

Love. Joy Peace. They aren't just nice ideas. They're part of the abundant life God wants for you. If you're a reader here, chances are good that you're frustrated with what you see in the COGs. You can tell something is wrong. Take a step back and judge by the fruit - whether it's a minister or a Maria. A healthy tree does not put forth rotten apples; likewise, hardy fruit doesn't grow on sickly branches (Matthew 7:16-18).

Don't let fear paralyze you. God will not not forsake you. Satan is not trying to draw you away from the truth. God is drawing you to Himself. If you don't hear the Shepherd's voice, choose another direction. Keep asking, seeking, knocking and He will open the door.




************
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
************