To all my friends who have comforted me, and all those who have found any comfort here:
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
“The LORD make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
“The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Next week is Christmas 2008. I have been out of Armstrongism for about 4 months. I suppose this is as good a time of year as any to do some introspection. I don't personally keep Christmas (but I no longer fear it). Perhaps it's the years of indoctrination speaking. Or maybe I *gulp* agree with Armstrong on the origins of the day and it really does bother me. If my conscience is bothered by something, then I shouldn't do it. I know that in the COG7, Christmas is frowned upon. I support them in every way. God bless them and prosper them. But I will have my own relationship with my Savior, thank you. (Nor have they ever tried to dictate to me. It's really not like Armstrongism there!)
Even so, when in Rome...
I was reading some of the other former Armstrong blogs and some of my older material. I came across some of the stuff my new friends wrote about me and this blog back when I first left my independent COG. They were overwhelmingly supportive. They didn't even know who I was. Nor did they care. They just wanted me to feel welcomed and supported.
For all of those whom God loves in truth who are still in the COGs (desiring to find Christ but you don't know where or how), I know because I used to do this myself, you call only those in the COGs "brethren". And why? Because they share a bond with you - though many of them wouldn't give you the time of day. When you leave, they will turn their backs on you too. I can tell you that I still love my old COG associates. I've learned a great deal since I left. One of the first things I learned was that my "brethren" aren't just in the COGs.
(MARK. 9: 38-41) 38 Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” 39 But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. 40 For he who is not against us is on our side. 41 For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward."
I wasn't exactly one of the former Armstrong bloggers, yet these people to whom I was a stranger gave me more than a cup of cold water. They refreshed my heart with their kindness and sympathy and support. They saw that I was trying, and that was good enough. Jesus is clear that He will repay them for their kindness, and that reward is sure. But take this lesson - Jesus was kind to those who weren't following Him; yet many in the COG's forbid even prayer for those who aren't in the COGs.
I once got into a most literal debate about whether or not people in the COGs are to ask others to pray for those outside "the church". PRAY!! Not lift a finger, not donate, not even "be warmed and filled". Just ask God for help. There was a man who clearly took the stand that most definitely one must not ask another to pray for someone outside the COGs.
He said, "Is it appropriate to broadcast special prayer requests to the entire church for any or all unconverted friends, acquaintances, neighbors, or relatives. I still say it is not."
Well, that's a fine imitation of Christ, THE Council for the Defense, THE Savior of all mankind, THE One who died for even His enemies, THE One to whom they should be pointing people both by word and by deed. This man would apparently love his dog who can't even speak the name of Christ more than a stranger. Good thing this man said each are allowed to pray privately! Still, it was so disturbing that I haven't contributed to that group's conversation in any depth since. This is a "Christian" group, mind you. "Followers" of Christ. But, as we can see in Mark 9, Jesus was not against those that weren't in His group.
(I JOHN 4: 20) If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
(JAS. 4: 8-9) 8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you do well; 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.
I think it odd that on one hand we have people who couldn't tell me from Adam yet they welcomed me in and were exceedingly kind to me. On the other hand, I have people who knew me from my youth who don't talk to me anymore; people who were as close as brothers who won't talk to me anymore; people who won't even so much as ask their fellows to pray for 'outsiders' - least of all those who have left to follow Christ. Yet one is generous and kind as Christ was, while the other calls themselves the sole chosen people of Christ while acting as if no one else has value.
I have to say, if it's at all true that "by their fruits you shall know them" (MATT. 7: 16), I am not too keen on the fruits of the COGs. Search as I may, I could not find 'following the Old Covenant law' listed among the fruit of the Spirit (GAL. 5: 22-23). Paul tells us in I Corinthians 13 that if we have prophecy and understand all mysteries and possess all knowledge yet we do not have love then we have nothing. Jesus separates the sheep from the goats, not based on who followed Moses in the strictest fashion, but by who showed acts of love (MATT. 25: 31-46). While Jesus stood and watched the Pharisee, strict in keeping the law, praise himself in prayer to God for how he was God's chosen, Christ chose to praise the tax collector who saw himself for what he was and prayed to God for mercy (LUKE 18: 9-14). It says that out of the heart of a Christian there will flow rivers of living water, speaking of the Spirit (JOHN 7: 38-39). Where is even the glass of cool water from these who call themselves "God's elect"? In Matthew 21: 28-32, Jesus tells of a son who did not want to do his father's will but did it anyway, then another son who said he would do his father's will but never actually did. Jesus concludes "Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you" (MATT 21: 31).
Is this what you want? Is this the religion you would choose? To make your boast in the law while neglecting the weightier matters of the law, just as the Pharisee did (MATT. 23: 23)? Take great care in how you think of yourself in relation to God, calling yourself 'God's chosen'. Christ concluded, "for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted." (LUKE 18: 14)
(I JOHN 3: 18) My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.
(I JOHN 4: 11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
And where would any person get the idea that Christ is "us vs. them", or loves only those who love Him? Did your "minister" misquote I John 2: 15 to you? I tell you the truth, he did so because he wanted to make an income of you! While Christ died to reconcile man to God and tear down the partitions that separate, they work to build up partitions again and cordon off those who will pay them tithes from those who will not. Why heed him, then? Why do you still entertain the idea that the COG is God's and all else is the unclean world? Did they not also read to you Matthew 5?
(MATT. 5: 43-47) 43 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?
And who did Jesus say were His brothers?
(MATT. 12: 46-50) 46 While He was still talking to the multitudes, behold, His mother and brothers stood outside, seeking to speak with Him. 47 Then one said to Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, seeking to speak with You.”
48 But He answered and said to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And He stretched out His hand toward His disciples and said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.”
And what is the will of God?
(I JOHN 3: 11) For this is the message that you heard from the beginning, that we should love one another
(I JOHN 4: 21) And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.
Am I saying this to accuse you? No. Do you feel accused? I don't intend that. I hope that perhaps you feel pricked in the heart, but not accused. We know who the Accuser is - and who the just Judge is. But use your own judgment; look at the fruit and decide for yourself which did the will of God and which did not. Don't I say often that God loves you? And I believe that! He died for you! I say what I say here to make a contrast and to pray that you allow yourself to SEE the difference in the New and the Old Covenants. There is a great difference, and thank God there's a difference! Paul said the Old was the "ministry of death" (II COR. 3: 7) and the "ministry of condemnation", but the New is the "ministry of righteousness" (II COR. 3: 9). So I don't condemn you. Not in what I write nor in my heart. In fact, I deeply desire for you to be where I am and feel the joy that I feel. This entire blog is for you! To help you! There's a love and a joy waiting for you that I never felt while I was in the faith of Armstrong. I want you to have this. I want you to finally be confident that your salvation is definite and sure. I want to seee you follow Christ and not men. I want you to step into the New Covenant! To see you freed, that is my 'glad tidings of joy'. God bless you today and always.
Don't ever forget this:
(I JOHN 4: 16) God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
Mercy triumphs over judgment, and the greatest of things is love!