Since this is the Christmas season, one might expect that I would be speaking about Christmas but I am afraid I cannot do that. It was Christmas season about three years ago, Dolores and I were standing in a long line at a restaurant, and as might be expected, I struck up a conversation with a young newly married couple in their forties standing next to us. When it came time for us to go to our table the young couple asked if we would join them at their table and made the comment, “Don’t you just love the Christmas season?”
Well, my wife tensed up because she knew my answer would come. I told them that I really did not enjoy this season at all and explained that if indeed this was Jesus’ birthday then why do we exchange presents with each other. I then added that I had just heard the most ridiculous advertisement by a pet store telling you to buy a Christmas present for your dog. I concluded that mankind had turned this season into a money-making enterprise, totally forgetting about the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ. There was silence as my wife wondered what was going to happen next as we sat ordering our breakfast. Then the fellow said “You know you’re right, you really are.” My wife breathed a sigh of relief, and we went on with our conversation and all went well.
My purpose today is not to go through the history of Christmas, but in part to mention there is a great pressure, a wearing that the end of the year puts on us, with Halloween and Christmas, plus the wearing that this society puts on each one of us as well. I would like to have you turn over to Daniel 7:25-27 and we are going to read about the wearing out of the saints for it is certainly taking place:
Daniel 7:25-27 He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute [or wear out] the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time [3-1/2 years]. But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him [meaning God].
Mr. Armstrong said we may be worn out, but in the end we win. That is a good thing to hang onto as we progress. Through these next few years, we must hang onto this thought that we are going to win. This is coming, but we are going to win. I want to read you Expositor’s Bible Commentary about verse 25.
The little horn will claim divine honors even as he blasphemes the one true God. He will abandon all pretense of permitting freedom of religion [this is all going to sound very familiar] and will actually revile Yahweh, the Lord of heaven and earth, and will denounce as fools and rebels those who retain biblical convictions. By cruel and systematic pressure he will oppress or wear away, or wear out the saints as friction does on cloth or on sandals. Such continued and protracted persecution far more effectively breaks the human spirit than the single moment of crisis that calls for a heroic decision. It is easier to die for the Lord than to live for Him under constant harassment and strain.
The commentary goes on to talk about World War II and the German concentration camps, and how they wore the people out. He continues to comment about the mark of the Beast in Revelations 13:16-17:
The continued pressure will be brought to bear on loyal Christians during the reign of the Beast when no one could buy or sell unless he had the mark, which is the name of the Beast or the number of his name. The dictator will impose a new legal system on all his subjects, doubtless based on totalitarianism principles in which the service of the government or state will be substituted for the absolute of God’s law. All dissidents or opposition to the decisions and policies of the little horn will be judged as treason and punishable by death. His program will include revision of the calendar. This seems to be implied by the changing of the set times, length, or period of times. This type of calendar reform was attempted during the French Revolution when it was desired to replace the AD dating by the first year of the republic -1792. There was an attempt to revise months and weeks. At that time there were three 10 day weeks in the month it seemed, totaling 30 days. For 12 years from 1793 to 1805 this revolutionary calendar was made absolutely obligatory and those who adhered to the Christian Gregorian calendar were subject to criminal prosecution [according to Google, this was a metric calendar].
Some interesting things could be on the horizon for sure. Are we here yet? I would have to say that we are not, but the sermonette today indicated that we are very close. But our nation’s direction is wearing out the saints and changing the foundation of the nation where we were all raised. Having been born in 1930, I can see massive changes—what a contrast. The world you and I live in today is considered insane. Quoting from an article in the Whistleblower entitled Finding Happiness in an Insane World:
Until recently the freest, wealthiest and happiest nation on earth, America has become the scene of wall-to-wall conflict and polarization, anxiety and depression, anger, and violence; and—if you go to Washington, D.C.—subversion and tyranny.
What is becoming increasingly hard to find in today's America is genuine happiness, joy, and hope.
Indeed, with each passing year, virtually all nations seem to be accelerating farther and farther away from peace, prosperity, security, and sanity—an ominous trend reflected in the troubled moral and spiritual lives of their citizens. According to an astonishing new study, almost 40 percent of Europeans are "mentally ill," while 1 in 10 of America’s 300 million are taking dangerous, mood-altering antidepressants, with tens of millions more depending on other drugs, legal and illegal, to relieve the pain of conflict-ridden lives.
What is it in this nation that produces this wearing out? I know I personally think it is the advancement in technology, and the money being made from it. We Americans are at a pace now that we are not equipped to handle, and they certainly do not need God when they are that well off. I have heard that we are forced to make more decisions in one week than our ancestors made in a year. In turn, this produces this society that we are faced with today, and a very difficulty society for our children to live in too.
What is the environment that we are required to live in at this time? I am going to give you some crime statistics. Total number of crimes for 2010 - violent crime: 1,246,248; property: 9,082,887; murder: 14,748; rape: 84,767 (with a notation that 27% of all rapes are not reported); robbery: 367,832; assault: 778,901; burglary: 2,159,878 (we are having a little run on that in our area here); theft: 6,185,867; vehicle theft: 737,142. This is all this last year.
As might be expected the US leads the world in illegal drug use. Abortion: total number since 1973: 52,008,665. That is hard to believe. Those are potential sons and daughters of God. What a terrible, terrible thing. In 2000, 1.31 million pregnancies were terminated by abortion in the United States. Some 2.1% of all women from ages 15 to 44 had abortions, and I will not go into all the reasons. Abortion is one of the most common and profitable surgical procedures performed today in this country. It is a great money making industry.
The US sex industry video sales and rentals: $3.62 billion; internet: $2.84 billion; cable in room and mobile phone sex: $2.19 billion; exotic dance clubs: $2 billion; novelties: $2 billion; magazines: almost $1 billion. A grand total of $13.3 billion. Is it any wonder we feel worn out with the pulls and stresses pointing at us all the time? 72 million unique visitors (whatever a unique visitor is) per month worldwide, more than 20 million porn pages in 2006, 40 million regular US visitors to these sites.
There is one more website that wears greatly on all of us and that is Government Lies. I left it alone because it is so large (a little bit of humor there). I have not looked into divorce rates in this nation or same sex marriages or approval of homosexuality or couples living together, not to mention the possibility of the collapse of the dollar. All of this is constantly on our mind and it wears at us. A little later we are going to see a formula here by the apostle Paul that is going to help us.
What truly depresses us the most is that we are now a nation that no longer values God at all. I have come to learn that you cannot talk people into religion. I loaned one man ten copies of our correspondence course and he brought them back the other day and said, “Good to see you John, now you people meet on Thursday, don’t you?” I just could not believe it, but if it is not there it just is not there. What does God see when He looks on our nation?
Isaiah 59:1-15 Behold, the Lord's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God [that is exactly what has happened]; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood [bloodshed], and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken lies, your tongue has muttered perversity [or perversely]. No one calls for justice, nor does any plead for truth. They trust in empty words and speak lies; they conceive evil and bring forth iniquity. They hatch vipers' eggs and weave the spider's web; he who eats of their eggs dies, and from that which is crushed a viper breaks out [one comes after another]. Their webs will not become garments, nor will they cover themselves with their works; their works are works of iniquity, and the act of violence is in their hands. Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood; their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths [you can see this repeatedly in the actions of our government]. The way of peace they have not known, and there is no justice in their ways; they have made themselves crooked paths; whoever takes that way shall not know peace. Therefore justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us; we look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness! We grope for the wall like the blind, and we grope as if we had no eyes; we stumble at noonday as at twilight; we are as dead men in desolate places. We all growl like bears, and moan sadly like doves; we look for justice, but there is none; for salvation, but it is far from us. For our transgressions are multiplied before You, and our sins testify against us; for our transgressions are with us, and as for our iniquities, we know them: In transgressing and lying against the Lord, and departing from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving and uttering from the heart words of falsehood. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands afar off; for truth is fallen in the street, and equity cannot enter. So truth fails, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey [if you try to stand up for God and do what is right you make yourself a target, or prey]. Then the Lord saw it, and it displeased Him that there was no justice.
Satan has tried to defeat God and has failed and now he is trying to destroy the work of God that God is bringing to a wonderful conclusion. It is interesting and I do not think that we think about these things, but the fact that you and I are here points out that Satan has failed. Do you realize you are special and how important we are? Do we realize how important it is that we remain faithful? Turn over to Matthew 24:22. I think we all need to be reminded of this ever so often.
Matthew 24:22 And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect's sake [that is you and me, I pray] those days will be shortened.
This should give us impetus to study, to pray, to overcome, to do what we can to stand before God and to please and glorify Him. Although we do not look like it because we are old and tired, we are the elect. It is because of this that Jesus Christ will spare mankind. That is how important you are. Satan is aiming at our minds, but the apostle Paul sends us and the other churches a wonderful letter in I Thessalonians. This letter is written to us, the churches of the great God:
I Thessalonians 1:2-10 [To the churches of the great God and God the Father and Jesus Christ] We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God [that is who called you, and why you are here, this letter is to you and all the churches]. For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake. And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia [this nation], but also in every place [because of the Berean, 90,000 copies a day over the Internet, messages, and the answering of questions]. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything [Paul, if he were here, would be so proud of what you are doing and your overcoming]. For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we [God’s Word through the ministry] had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
Paul goes on here talking about the ministry and so forth, but then in chapter 5 (which is what we are going to center on from here on out pretty much), Paul gives us a list of things to do as an example of the way to live during this wearing out and being attacked by what is coming. I will paraphrase here a little bit:
I Thessalonians 5:1-13 But concerning the times and the seasons [you can see events on the horizon shaping up to bring Satan’s rule to an end and the return of Jesus Christ becoming a reality], brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night [and the world around us is oblivious to what is going to happen]. For when they say, "Peace and safety!" then sudden destruction comes upon them [and it is going to hit like a rocket and they will not realize and will not escape what is happening], as labor pains upon a pregnant woman. And they shall not escape. But you, brethren [because of the combination of your calling and faithfulness], are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light [of truth being led to God, that is how special all of you are] and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober [or self controlled, in this dangerous world we live in we must be careful how we exist, how we live, and what we allow ourselves to do]. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night [they are in spiritual darkness and you cannot change them no matter what you say, they are not going to listen unless they are called by God the Father. You are just wasting your time. The best you can do is to set an example of how to live, let your light shine]. But let us who are of the day be sober [self-controlled], putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation [this is where our mindset and focus should be and standing for what is right in the meantime]. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us [He went through tremendous trials so that we might make it, and shed His blood for us], that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him. Therefore comfort each other and edify one another, just as you also are doing. And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves.
Paul then lines out our duties that will sustain us in the time of wearing out when it finally comes upon us heavily. We will take these one at a time beginning in verse 14.
I Thessalonians 5:14-17 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly [this word unruly is a military term that means those who break ranks, who start doing things that are wrong in the church. We are to warn them as part of our job during this tremendous wearing out], comfort the fainthearted [these are going to be frightening times and we all need to share that with each other], uphold the weak [lend support and comfort], be patient with all [this may be hard and difficult as well]. See that no one renders evil for evil to anyone [he is saying do not get even, inside or outside the church], but always pursue what is good both for yourselves and for all [you are not to get even no matter what happens]. Rejoice always [despite all trials and difficulties rejoice that your position is one of the elect], pray without ceasing. . .
Mr. Armstrong said that unless we pray and study at least a half hour a day, we are not going to be in God’s Kingdom. I do not know how many of us do this today, I really do not. I remember my first sales route in San Diego and I was so anxious to get out and call on my customers, and then I thought about my promise to God that I would study and pray at least half an hour a day so I stayed and struggled through study and prayer for an hour and that day turned out to be one of the best I ever had. It is really a struggle but that is what we have to do, we must be fervent in our prayer and study.
I Thessalonians 5:18-20 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you [Even in the trials of the wearing out of the saints, why? Because you have been called. Give thanks for what is happening, grow in it and understand it because of the reward that is going to be yours. This letter went out to the church because they were going to suffer]. Do not quench the Spirit [Society puts so much pressure on us to do this or to think that, but God says do not do it. Do not quench the influences of God in your life. We know what we have to do, so do not allow this quenching of the spirit to happen]. Do not despise prophecies [Or preaching].
I know some people find fault with this minister or that one, but in almost every sermon, there are good principles that we should follow and understand and not complain but thank God that we can hear them.
I Thessalonians 5:21 Test all things; hold fast what is good.
Mr. Armstrong used to always say “Don’t believe me, prove it.” That is what has to be done. II Timothy 2:15 states, “Show yourself to be approved.” This is going to be one of the most important things that we can do to prove what we believe—really prove it. We cannot just let the minister teach it to us, but we must take what he says and to prove it in Bible study.
Have you proved the Sabbath, is it in effect today? The commandments from Jesus Christ, have they been done away with? You should see the questions we get on this over and over again about the Ten Commandments being done away with. Can you prove or refute that to somebody? I do not believe that they will respond to you. I mentioned to one lady that we keep the Sabbath as God’s day of worship, and she responded “Well, God can find me on any day.” This is the type of answer we get.
When you mention Christmas is pagan they will respond, “Well that's how I worship God.” We cannot do anything about these arguments, but we have to prove God’s foundation in us and know what and why we are doing it; because if we do not, we are going to be swayed. Remember Martin’s sermon last week about false prophets and false teachers? It was a good message. Think about if we are pulled into court and they ask us, “Do you believe this? Well, this is what is really true.” Do you know better? You have got to, so do I, all of us do.
I Thessalonians 5:22-28 Abstain from every form of evil [and even from what appears to be evil, and do not even be seen in the environment of what appears to be evil. All of these points are good sermonette material. And do not even allow yourself to be seen in a store where things are sold which are wrong or evil. Pull yourselves away from all sorts of evil, this is exceptionally important]. Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it. Brethren, pray for us [the ministry]. Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
This letter is read to all the churches, even this one we are in now.
In the military, the soldiers who go overseas usually come back and train the military who are going to be going, because they know all the secrets, problems, and everything that goes with it. Our goal is to strive for what Paul is teaching us to do, here; and we can believe this because it is coming from a man who suffered.
Go to II Corinthians 11 and we will see that we have not gone through anything compared to what the apostle Paul had to go through. The training in the military comes from those who have faced the enemy in combat and who know what is really going to protect those who will face the enemy in the future. The context here is that the people were comparing ministers.
II Corinthians 11:23-33 Are they ministers of Christ?—I speak as a fool—I am more: in labors more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequently, in deaths often. From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation? If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity [weaknesses]. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. In Damascus the governor, under Aretas the king, was guarding the city of the Damascenes with a garrison desiring to arrest me; but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall, and escaped from his hands.
Can you imagine what it would be like to go through that kind of persecution? It would be a terrible thing. What is the goal that Paul strove for and that we should be striving for as well?
II Timothy 4:8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
That is you, brethren, and I pray that it is me too, that we might stand for God and come through whatever comes at us and receive the crown that God has for us.
The Berean: Daily Verse and Comment
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