Pastors Report - 15 Dec 2017

There but for the Grace of God...

"For who makes you superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not receive it? (I Corinthians 4:7 ISV)


At this time of year – if you are anything like me – you are counting down the days till this all-pervasive, superficial "Xmas spirit" is well and truly consigned to history. At least 3 months before December 25th, the gearing up begins and the idea of hibernation takes on a rosy glow! A desire to just be able to say..."Wake me up when it's all over" and literally apply that scripture found in Isaiah "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast" (Isaiah 26:20). In this case, the "indignation" being the madness that seems to descend in the guise of celebrating the birth of Christ. I doubt if any of you will have been totally able to escape the incessant stream of inane, shallow and utterly meaningless Xmas material currently promoted; whether at the superstores, the local shops, the often tasteless illuminations on the houses, the carols and jingles on the radio, the adverts on the TV .... and for what? I think the concept of the two trees that Mr Armstrong used to talk about so often sums it up well:

Two Trees:

Many in today's society have more than a sneaking suspicion that Xmas is actually pagan, but only those with God's Spirit can really comprehend the depth of the meaningless sham behind these satanic customs — vividly seen within the account of the two trees. What had been offered to our original parents was access to the Tree of Life – rulership on earth at that time, leading to immortal Spirit life in the very family and Kingdom of God. This fabulous future was freely offered to them by the Creator God Himself – a Being who has lived from eternity and so clearly understands what works and what doesn't, what is good and what is evil. But what did Satan have to offer? What did they choose instead? In comparison with what they already had available — nothing more than a bauble. Window dressing. Meaningless tinsel.

And so it is today. When you contrast Xmas with God's feast days, the comparison becomes ridiculous. Not only is the Feast of Tabernacles a full eight days in length – with the finances to thoroughly enjoy every moment – those eight days are full of profound meaning! They fit within a clear framework designed to convey the very purpose of life to humanity and give incredible hope for all mankind. Contrasting the very Tree of Life with the foolishness of a mere Xmas tree! The comparison is absurd:

  • Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
  • For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
  • They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
  • They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good. (Jeremiah 10:2-5)
Pagan Customs:

This is undoubtedly why God was so adamant when He warned Israel against the pagan practices to be found in the land of Canaan. Deuteronomy 13 commands that anyone – even a close family member – that encourages following the idolatrous practices of the neighbouring nations was to be put to death, it is that serious!

The statues and judgements that God gave to Israel through Moses are stunning in their simplicity and yet are so far reaching in their beneficial effect. Even the sacrificial system that was added to the law was given with a purpose in mind – looking forward to an eventual fulfilment in the sacrifice of Christ. The law itself contained within it priceless spiritual principles destined only to be more fully understood once the Holy Spirit came. It was anything but meaningless. Yet what did Israel choose?

  • And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim:
  • And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, which brought them out of the land of Egypt, and followed other gods, of the gods of the people that were round about them, and bowed themselves unto them, and provoked the LORD to anger.
  • And they forsook the LORD, and served Baal and Ashtaroth.
  • And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel, and he delivered them into the hands of spoilers that spoiled them, and he sold them into the hands of their enemies round about, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies.
  • Whithersoever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil, as the LORD had said, and as the LORD had sworn unto them: and they were greatly distressed. (Judges 2:11-15)
  • Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit.
  • Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.
  • For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:11-13)
The Danger:

The above passage of Scripture – applied to Xmas – is particularly relevant to those within God's Church as we are able to see right through the commercialism, tinsel and rituals to the celebration's pagan origins beneath. We also see God's Word reinforcing this Truth – showing that most Xmas celebrations have nothing whatsoever to do with the birth of Christ. But the problem is, being aware of such things, if not careful we can become smug and condescending – forgetting that this precious Truth was entirely God's gift to us in the first place.

  • No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him (John 6:44)
  • Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you (John 15:16)
  • For ye [also!] were sometimes darkness, but now are ye light in the Lord: walk as children of light: (Ephesians 5:8)

And should we think we are something special, it would also behove us to remember what Paul has to say about our individual calling:

  • For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:
  • But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;
  • And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
  • That no flesh should glory in his presence.(I Corinthians 1:26-29)
  • For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.
  • Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.(I Corinthians 2:11,12)
Good News Article:

I feel it's a good time of year to 'revisit' an article written by Mr Armstrong that appeared in the Good News in December 1961. In it he highlights this proclivity to look down our noses on the world at this season and shows just how unfounded it is. Be aware that at the time this was written Mr Armstrong had yet to come to a full understanding of Satan's role in the subject of human nature. But a less than full understanding in that area does not affect his explanation of what our attitude needs to be towards the world. Being able to "see, and abhor the SINS, and wrong WAYS, beliefs, and doings of the world – to really HATE these wrongs that are so contrary to God's Law – yet to have UNDERSTANDING, with L 0 V E toward the misguided and deceived people who participate in these evils." – that Godly approach remains as valid as ever and more than adequately illustrates the truism..."There but for the grace of God, go you and I".

Here then, is Mr Armstrong's article from 1961:

Heart-to-Heart Talk with the Editor

If you have really been put into GOD'S Church by God, if you have really been converted – which means changed – by receiving His Holy Spirit, then you no longer see things as you did before. If this change has really happened to you, you now see this world for what it is. And the more you see of it – the more you deal with people of the world – the more disgusted you probably are becoming.

And therein, Brethren, lies one of your greatest dangers!

Only yesterday, while we were riding in the car, my wife, seeing all the Christmas decorations, having just heard some of the insincere flattery expressed by a woman in business, made comment on what a rotten, perverted world this is. I thought I detected a trace of disgust, and even contempt in her expression, and cautioned her about it. But this is a perfectly natural reaction that will come to any of us who can now really see the rottenness, the deceit, hypocrisy, pretence, vanity, greed, lying that is constantly expressed in worldly lives.

Natural, did I say? Yes – and also I want you to realize that all this flattery, this deceit, lying, pretending, we see in people of the world is natural. The carnal mind is the natural mind. The people of the world do what is natural for them to do. That is, according to human nature. That which is natural is of NATURE – physical – material. The spiritual things of God's Spirit are not natural – not of nature, or physical – but spiritual.

It is perfectly natural for one who is converted, and now sees things through spiritual eyes, to become really disgusted with the world. It is perfectly natural, which actually means according to that SAME EVIL NATURE which still resides in us for the rest of this life, for this disgust to increase into impatience, bitterness, hatred.

I want you to see just what this is, working in us. With our new spiritual perception, we plainly SEE the evil that the world does not see. So far, so good. But right here is where the carnal nature begins to assert itself. The carnal nature is a competitive nature. It is always taking sides – and against the other side. This spirit of rivalry begins to take over, if we are off guard, do not recognize it, and then yield to it. We get into the attitude that we are now on GOD'S side. The evil WORLD becomes the rival – the ENEMY. So, yielding to human nature, we resent the enemy, and soon we allow feelings of HATING the enemy to seize us.

This attitude becomes more than just that. We begin to feel that we are better than the world – we work into a "holier-than-thou" attitude. Thus our carnal natures within us, with the unrealized invisible sway of Satan and demons, use the very presence of God's Holy Spirit within us to incite us to VANITY, rivalry, hatred, which is the spirit of murder!

Of all sins, I think probably that the greatest and most harmful is SELF-righteousness, for this, even unrealized, puts the self ahead of God, breaking the first commandment. Further, the self-righteous is the hardest person to bring to repentance and salvation. He is so deceived he thinks he HAS salvation already. He thinks he has nothing to repent of – he is already perfect. He is a blinded fool.

Suppose you have really repented, and through faith in Christ been changed by God's Spirit entering you. You do see things differently now – and you do see how wicked and rotten this world really is. Does that make YOU better than these worldly people? NOT AT ALL! It is not YOU that is better, for, as Paul said, in you is no good thing – except God's Spirit. As Jesus said, there is NONE good, except God. All that is really GOOD about you, even now, is GOD'S SPIRIT in you.

Now let's see what is the real difference between you and these "rotten" worldly people. Some of these worldly people may think they are atheists some may be agnostics – some may give little or no heed to religion – some may be members of worldly churches, and right now (this is being written in December, 1961) indulging in pagan Christmas shopping, decorating, and all that goes with it. But when you get right down to it, the real difference is that, somehow, GOD did something. GOD opened your eyes to see what they don't see.

Is it necessarily their fault that they can't see the truth? Was it your fault, before you saw it? Remember, you used to see things like they do now! What good and holy thing did you do that made God open your eyes, and draw you to Him? How much can you brag? No, it was not anything better about you than these worldly people you now condemn. It was GOD'S goodness that opened your eyes. It was not because you were better than they. If you are honest, you can't see any reason why God should have called YOU, and opened your eyes and drawn you to Him, instead of one of them! It is not what YOU did – it was GOD'S goodness. The only difference between you and these "rotten people" in the world is what GOD did. He put His Spirit in YOU. And that is all that's better in you – and that is not really YOU but GOD!

Now how should we look at the world? We should look at it exactly as Jesus did. We should not be blind to its evils – Jesus was not. No, through God's Spirit, we shall really SEE how evil the world is. Jesus did. He abhorred the EVIL. But not the poor blinded people! He LOVED them. He had compassion for them. He didn't approve or condone the evil – He abhorred and condemned that. But HE SAW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN SIN AND THE SINNER! God HATES sin – but God so LOVED sinners that He gave His only begotten Son for them! Jesus, with a heart nearly bursting with compassion and love, yet HATING the evil, looked on the sinning WORLD that was Jerusalem, and said movingly, feelingly: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!"

They were free moral agents. The decision was theirs. Christ would do nothing to force them to accept His love and free salvation. But notice His recognition of their SIN! Notice He would not compromise one iota – He would not gather them, or save them, against their will, or IN their sins. Yet notice the LOVE, the overwhelming compassion, and deep heart-felt REGRET that they would not!

He didn't show resentment. God does, on occasion, blaze with righteous indignation but never with resentment which is a form of, and leads to HATRED. It would have been natural for Jesus, on the cross, to have become resentful, bitter, and to have called out to God, saying, "O God, look at the unjust, murderous, damnable thing these rotten, filthy murderers have done to me. STRIKE THEM DOWN! Torture them, O God! I want them to SUFFER! Pay them back DOUBLE! Take VENGEANCE on them, O God!" That would have been perfectly natural – just as natural as for you to work yourself up into resentment and bitterness against the world when you see its rottenness and its evil.

But Jesus was not LED BY human nature, though He had it IN Him. He was led by the SPIRIT OF GOD. And it is only those – even among us – who are led by God's Spirit who are the begotten SONS of God (Rom. 8: 14). And the Spirit of God in Jesus cried Out: "Father, forgive them! for they know not what they do!" Even here He did not condone – He acknowledged their guilt – yet pled for their forgiveness! HE KNEW THEIR EYES WERE BLINDED – they did not fully realize how terribly they were sinning!

The church people you know, now participating in Christmas customs, are not doing it because they know it is wrong – that it is an ABOMINATION in the eyes of God. They are deceived. They think it is right. "They know not what they do!" As PEOPLE, they may be just as good – perhaps better than we. Judgement of them is not ours – not now! The only difference is what GOD did for us. Let us not get self-righteous! Let us not think more of ourselves than we ought, or become resentful at the world.

It is human nature to go to extremes. Let us avoid becoming embittered at the world, on the one extreme. But BEWARE of the other extreme of condoning sin. Because we do not condemn the people of the world – because we have compassion and LOVE for them, and act kindly toward them, with full respect and courtesy – let us not go to the other extreme of approving of worldly ways and sins.

The right balance is to be able to see, and abhor the SINS, and wrong WAYS, beliefs, and doings of the world – to really HATE these wrongs that are so contrary to God's Law – yet to have UNDERSTANDING, with L 0 V E toward the misguided and deceived people who participate in these evils.

Let us SHUN their beliefs, customs, and ways – we cannot participate with them in these things – but let us not get resentful, or in any way unkind. We must LOVE even our enemies. We must treat people outside God's Church – and this includes our own families or relatives who persecute us – with full courtesy, politeness, and consideration, not esteeming ourselves better than they.

And even though we know God's WAY is better than theirs – right, while theirs is wrong – let us never mention that to them or reprove them, or argue with them. PRAY for them (not against them) but do not try to talk them into God's Truth – it just can't be done! (The GOOD NEWS December, 1961 – page 2)