Sunday, March 26, 2017

Business Insider Discredits Itself

I read an article last December (2016) that confused me. It appeared on the Business Insider website. What I found confusing is that Business Insider, as noted on its “About” page, “is a fast-growing business site with deep financial, media, tech, and other industry verticals.” So why, then, would it feature an article and video by Joe Avella discrediting the Bible? From where does its expertise in this matter come? Since when does a publication named Business Insider have anything to do with religious matters? Unless the subject is how the clergy are bilking the congregation or how the clergy scandalous mismanage donations for their own personal profit, it seems completely out of place that a business-focused publication would run a commentary on the Bible's authenticity.

I wrote Mr. Avella, but he never responded. Just for the record, the article and accompanying video play into general misconceptions whose only intent is to discredit the Bible. Contrary to those claims is much more authoritative research helping readers to appreciate the rich value that the Bible brings.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Tomb of Jesus

Over the years of our marriage, my wife occasionally enjoyed driving by the former house of her grandparents (now deceased) because she spent a great deal of her youth there. Nowadays, given traffic and population growth, driving there is a time-consuming trip. I recently brought up the residence on Google Earth (Google Maps). She was fascinated that she could view all angles of the home, even overhead. Although I’m not the sort to make a regular journey to my past, recently while digging through my legal papers I found my birth certificate. I immediately brought up my parent's former address at the time of my birth (apparently demolished) and the office of the obstetrician that my mother used during her pregnancy. That office surprisingly still exists!

Strolls down memory lane, visiting someplace we were personally connected to, is one thing. Making tourist pilgrimages to the supposed burial sites of Jesus is another. Yes, you read me correctly, “sites,” (plural). From a historical, archeological curiosity point of view, I imagine that, given the chance, I would want to visit at least one of these places. But not because of its connection with Jesus, rather, more because it would reveal the lifestyles and customs of an ancient civilization. After leaving the Catholic Church and making an earnest study of the Bible, I learned the truth of the statement that we should “walk by (live by) faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7) What kindled this recent interest was reading a news article about the structural weakness of one of the supposed burial sites. A great deal of attention and interest in this tomb has been on the rise. Question is, should Christians really be so absorbed with this?

From what I gather, these sites have been elevated to places of worship, nearly, if not fully, becoming objects of idolatry. Again, for me, merely to view it as a historical sample of burial places is fine. But to make it into a religious experience just doesn’t jive with scripture. Why do I say this?

  1. Again, we walk by faith, not sight. Seeing a tomb that may or may not have been Jesus burial place is not going to make us appreciate him anymore. Reading scripture does that much better.
  2. Fixating on objects (whether person or place) is not something God wants.
    1. I am reminded of Jude 9. Satan was arguing with Michael about Moses body. Although no details are provided, might it have been that Satan wanted to make Moses’ body something to be worshiped?
    2. Just this week I was reading how the Israelites in Jeremiah’s day were using both “The Law” and the Temple as a good luck charm, thinking those things automatically provided protection and God’s approval. The Israelites were self-deceived.
  3. The Bible account of Jesus’ burial makes it quite clear that after Jesus was resurrected, the body was nowhere to be found. It is vastly more important that Jesus was resurrected and living today. Giving worshipful attention to an unproven burial site almost seems sick. I mean, think of it -- if you had buried a relative mistakenly thinking he was dead and subsequently discovered he was buried alive, after retrieving him, would you really be visiting his grave site? That is the last thing I’d want to think of doing. It would give me shivers just considering it. Instead, every day I’d be celebrating that I have my loved one back with me. Similarly, Jesus IS alive. His murder at the hands of Jewish religious leaders and the Romans, although prophetically necessary, was still an atrocity. Why focus on the negative when we have the living positive?
  4. Jesus gave very specific instructions on commemorating his death and those instructions did not include visiting his gravesite.
  5. There is not even one scripture suggesting that any of the followers of Jesus ever returned to the burial site after Jesus’ resurrection had been proven to them.

Jesus is indeed alive in heaven. Keep reading and reflecting on scripture; discern what the will of God is. Read more on how to commemorate Christ's sacrifice for us.

This article is along the same vein: Is The Cross Something To Be Reverenced?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Surgeon's Quest for Clarity

Have you ever been around a campfire with friends? It is pitch-black outside, a moonless sky covers you. Around the fire and your friends, you feel safe and you accept (perhaps timidly) that you are surrounded by the ominous darkness. You go to stand at the edge of the fire’s light and strain to peer into the darkness, trying to see something, anything. But you cannot make out anything at all. Your group arrived at night so you have yet to see the surroundings in the light of day. This is the experience Paul Kalanithi was having when trying to understand what lies in the darkness of death.

Some of us have an unquenchable thirst to understand, to know. Dr. Paul Kalanithi, an accomplished neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, was of that sort. Where some, perhaps many, physicians emotionally distance themselves from a patient that is near death, Paul made it a primary goal to come to know the patients in his care. He wanted to know the person beyond the charts. Although there can be huge emotional backlashes for subjecting one’s self to this, Paul bravely engaged his patients and, in so doing, engaged and stared down death itself. I call this brave because Paul recounts a friend and colleague of his that, after losing a patient, committed suicide. It can really be that traumatic on a physician. Even in difficult cases where the patient lives but the surgery took a ghastly number of hours, the exhaustion is not only a physical but psychological drain as well. On this, Paul wrote: "Before operating on a patient's brain, I realized I must first understand his mind: his identity, his values, what makes his life worth living, and what devastation makes it reasonable to let that life end. The cost of my dedication to succeed was high, and the ineluctable failures brought me nearly unbearable guilt. Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another's cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight." (P.53)


Chris, a young man I met at his parent's mom/pop coffee shop, has noble aspirations of becoming a cardiologist. On a recent visit to the shop, Chris showed me a book he was reading and highly recommended. "When Breath Becomes Air," by Paul Kalanithi. Before I explain why we even discussed this book, I need to back up a bit. When I first met Chris he was thinking that maybe a career as a heart surgeon would be good. But over time he changed his mind. He explained that he is more a "people person," and wants to build relationships with patients. Surgeons typically don't do that. After getting about half way through the book, I sent a text to Chris: "Knowing how you want to deal with the human, compassionate side of life, instead of the nuts and bolts side of surgery, I can see that this book was the right choice for you." So my knowledge of Chris' professional goals coupled with his knowledge of my failing health and struggles with cancer are the reasons we shared in the interest of this book.


The "human tragedy" of sickness and "accidents," is something doctors are constantly subjected to. The tragedies in Paul’s life were that he didn't even make it to age 40; didn’t get to see his baby daughter grow; didn’t get to achieve other goals he surely would have achieved had he lived longer than 37 years. Some of the more profound reflections he writes of are his search to understand the point at which the brain becomes the mind and, what the meaning, purpose, and point of life is. Paul wrote that in his college admissions essay, he "argued that happiness was not the point of life." He never does state what his final conclusion was on this matter. The closest he comes is when he says, "A word meant something only between people, and life’s meaning, its virtue, had something to do with the depth of the relationships we form." In saying this, he seems to have a foggy realization that being happy has its benefits. However, he summizes the real meaning in life is to embrace all the challenges, good and bad, and face them bravely with lion-like resolve -- with family and friends.

However, in the issue of life’s meaning, it really struck me that, whether he knew it or not, Paul was looking to understand God, the greater, intangible consciousness in mankind’s collective existence, and who we are as individuals. Beyond the biological, understanding death as a human experience seemed to elude him. Especially with his own mortality staring him in the face, he wrote he saw nothing but "a blank, a harsh, vacant, gleaming white desert, as if a sandstorm had erased all trace of familiarity." To further the despair of the situation, "The sun was setting." (P.65) Later in the book, Paul wrote: "Where did biology, morality, literature, and philosophy intersect?" On page 53 he wrote: "I still felt literature provided the best account of the life of the mind, while neuroscience laid down the more elegant rules of the brain."

At another point in the book he wrote: "I had started in this career, in part, to pursue death: to grasp it, uncloak it, and see it eye-to-eye, unblinking. Neurosurgery attracted me as much for its intertwining of brain and consciousness as for the intertwining of life and death. I had thought that a life spent in the space between the two would grant me not merely a stage for compassionate action but an elevation of my own being: getting as far away from petty materialism, from self-important trivia, getting right there, to the heart of the matter, to truly life-and-death decisions and struggles...surely a kind of transcendence would be found there?" This was the reason for my introduction about the campfire and staring off into the unknowable darkness.


On page 74 Paul has a personal realization that helped him see the difference between medical (biological) prognosis (of the brain) and the potential for future hopes, aspirations, plans (of the mind). It is as if he finally realized that for all his medical training, beyond the biological, his background fell woefully short of addressing giving the mind (psyche) of the patient a sense they could still live a meaningful life -- that “who you were” before the incident (whether disease or injury), will still be “who you are” after recovery. In his own battle with cancer, treatment, therapy and more, as he made any and every small gain, he came to a point where he declared that when meeting with Emma, his doctor, “I felt like myself, like a self. Outside her office, I no longer knew who I was. Because I wasn’t working, I didn’t feel like myself, a neurosurgeon, a scientist—a young man, relatively speaking, with a bright future spread before him. Debilitated, at home, I feared I wasn’t much of a husband for Lucy.”


Paul was an unpretentious, “true heart” of a person. His quest for clarity in the meaning of life and death is the stuff of fairytales but brought into the real world; with real people; on a real journey. I admire his honesty, humility, kindness, and naked truth of his coping with cancer. I would not detract from that one bit. I wish I could have had the honor to have known him personally.

But I do have some observations of my own. Apart from acknowledging a creator, life makes no sense. Evolution cannot and will never answer why we are here. It's dismal reply that there is no reason for our existence is unacceptable to thinking people. Order in the creation is not just our imagination. Once we accept that, we can then begin to accept why we are here. But we need to get past "why are we here?,” and more accurately ask “why did God put us here?”

Paul did strike a vital note in observing that caring for each other is crucial to life having meaning. But like an arrow that fell just slightly below a bullseye, he missed the more important puzzle piece of how we come into a relationship with our creator. It is not so much having a religion that does this, as building a relationship and favorable reputation with our Creator. Paul did have a religion, but I didn’t get the sense that it answered the questions he had. Starting around page 88, Paul talks about God and religion: “During my sojourn in ironclad atheism, the primary arsenal leveled against Christianity had been its failure on empirical grounds. Surely enlightened reason offered a more coherent cosmos. Surely Occam’s razor cut the faithful free from blind faith. There is no proof of God; therefore, it is unreasonable to believe in God.”

My response to this is that there is less evidence of mythological creatures that supposedly roam the earth (Bigfoot, Loch Ness, and more). The “evidence” that believers claim to have found are usually fakes that have fooled even scientists. Yet the lack of real evidence hasn’t stopped the proliferation of speculation and publications. But speaking to God’s existence, the Bible states: “Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but the one who constructed all things is God.” (Hebrews 3:4) Not only are his creative works evidence that “God was here,” but also archaeology proves that both the people and places mentioned in the Bible existed.

Paul’s conviction in God comes across as perplexed and conflicted at best. While he appreciates that it is shortsighted to merely accept what we can see, believing in what we cannot see is very subjective. One insight Paul does have is not one I would have readily seen: “To make science the arbiter of metaphysics is to banish not only God from the world but also love, hate, meaning – to consider a world that is self-evidently not the world we live in…. If you believe that science provides no basis for God, then you are almost obligated to conclude that science provides no basis for meaning and, therefore, life itself doesn’t have any” [meaning]. He then goes on to conclude that Occam’s argument (“There is no proof of God; therefore, it is unreasonable to believe in God.”) was not so much a statement that God doesn’t exist, as it was that using scientific methods is useless to that end. (It would be akin to using a common stopwatch to measure the speed of light.)

As for Paul's frustrated attempt to understand death, I'm not quite clear where he felt the lack. I'm not sure even Paul was clear on the lack. He seemed to accept the inevitability. He understood the medical reasons and biological processes. Maybe coping and counseling, both as a patient and a physician puzzled him -- what comfort can possibly be more than mere wishful words? There again, only by including God & his promises in the equation can any of this make sense. Knowing his design & intent can offer real solace.

Coming back to my opening illustration: We all are born into a world surrounded by the darkness of the unknown -- perhaps the greatest of which is “What lays beyond death?” The light at the campfire is the vibrant life around us. At various times in our life, we find ourselves staring just beyond the light when either we or someone we know is facing a life-threatening situation. We yearn to have something to share, but like Paul’s father and others, are left “blank” mentally – staring into the dark unknown and only having a feeble hope that “we will conquer this together,” while knowing that the reality is potentially very grim. More than just the darkness of death is the spiritual darkness that exists in this world that leaves mankind with a gnawing sense of confusion as to what lays ahead. Waiting until daylight to venture beyond the campground is the same as the bright hope that we can only find in the light of the Bible to see beyond the darkness of the human condition of imperfection and death.

 After thoughts:

In the Epilogue, his wife mentions his humor -- she didn’t feel the book conveyed that side of him very well. However, the book does mention one instance: My fellow resident Jeff and I worked traumas together. When he called me down to trauma bay because of a concurrent head injury, we were always in sync. He assesses the abdomen, then asks for my prognosis on a patient's cognitive function. "Well, he could still be a senator," I once replied, "but only from a small state." Jeff laughed, and from that moment on, state population became our barometer for head injury severity. "Is he a Wyoming or a California?" Jeff would ask, try to determine how intensive his care plan should be. (P.46)

Monday, March 20, 2017

Jeremiah 10:23 Directing Our Own Step

Jeremiah 10:23 states, "I well know, O Jehovah, that man’s way does not belong to him. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step." That made me wonder, “Has mankind even taken a single step forward since creation?”

For instance, in paradise, Adam and Eve had perfect health. Since leaving the Garden of Eden, they, and all their descendants have faced sickness and death. Even in our modern world with medical science, we still have not even come near the life expectancies mentioned in the first several chapters of Genesis. (As rapidly as the social and political scene is changing, folks having lived a mere 60 years are so stressed about the violence and lack of morality, they don’t even want to live.) Another prophecy yet to be fulfilled is that, under God’s coming Kingdom, no one will say “I am sick.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, prior to their disobedience, were ruled by a loving Creator. Since leaving Eden, man has dominated man to his own detriment. (Eccl.8:9)

In Eden, there was plenty of food. Yes, there were only two people, but the earth continues in the ability to feed all mankind. It is selfish human mismanagement of the earth’s resources that has caused needless suffering. Yes severe weather can cause problems, but there have been documented cases of donated food being left to rot on the docks because of the ruling power’s unwillingness or inability to distribute it. Under God’s Kingdom, scripture still promises there will be plenty of food.

Speaking of the weather, Jesus demonstrated his ability to control adverse weather and protect his loyal ones. God obviously did that in Eden. What human today can make such a boast?

Indeed, it seems that leaving paradise has done nothing but made us take not just one or two, or 10 steps back, but 1,000 or more steps back. We have not even come close to catching up to where we started off (human condition) back in Eden. But coming back to Jeremiah's statement, we can ask, "Can we, apart from God, expect to ever reach where we started from?" The answer is no because it "doesn't belong to man ... to direct his step."

Idol Worship From Heaven?

Speaking of the idols the nations worshiped, God tried to reason with wayward Israel in Jeremiah 10:8, 9 say, "They are all unreasoning and stupid. Instruction from a tree is an utter delusion. Silver plates are imported from Tarshish and gold from Uphaz, The work of a craftsman, of the hands of a metalworker. Their clothing is blue thread and purple wool. They are all made by skilled workers." With God "calling a spade a spade," one would have to wonder how idol worshippers could possibly justify such stupidity in their minds. Acts 19:35 enlightens us -- they claim that heaven itself provided the image. (Context here.) The context, of course, makes it very evident that those making the images knew it was nothing more than a money-making venture.

When I read the phrase “the great goddess Artemis,” (vs. 27) I had to wonder if this wasn’t the Catholic Church’s origins of Mary worship. This might explain the visions of Mary such as the famous “Lady of Fatima.” The Catholics have deified Mary, praying to her, essentially putting her in the place of Jesus as an intercessor to God. Regardless of the origin, the position the Catholic Church has allowed its adherents to give to Mary amounts to idolatry.

Jeremiah - A Prophet With Backbone

Way before Jesus came to earth and uttered his famous rejection of the Jews, there were pronouncements (denunciations) against faithless Israel that happened repeatedly throughout their history. Jeremiah was commissioned by Jehovah to speak "the word of Jehovah" to the wayward Israelites. Here is just a few examples:

Jer.7:3, 4 This is what Jehovah of armies, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will allow you to keep residing in this place. Do not put your trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah!’

Jer.8:5 Why is this people, Jerusalem, unfaithful with an enduring unfaithfulness? They hold fast to deception; they refuse to turn back.

Jer.8:8 How can you say: “We are wise, and we have the law of Jehovah”? For in fact, the lying stylus of the scribes has been used only for falsehood.

Jer.9:26 "all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.”

In verse 3, we discover that this was not merely Jeremiah’s words of disapproval, it was the God of Israel severely reproving Israel’s false, self-comforting, rationalizations. It was clear from the above that the Israelites were using both the Temple and the Law as talismans, or good-luck charms. They felt that by having the Temple and the Law, they could do no wrong, nor would God do anything but bless them. In Jer.7:4, Jehovah point-blank tells the Jews that they are only deceiving themselves by claiming the Temple means automatic approval and protection. The collective sin and refusal to change demonstrated who they really were. As far as Jehovah was concerned, "all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart." That is, they were spiritually unclean, which was just as objectionable as being physically unclean, which means they had no advantage over the other “nations” they so sneeringly degraded.

Today, in our era, the “Oral Law” seems to have supplanted the “Written Law” so much so, that Jeremiah 8:8 is still true, “the lying stylus of the scribes has been used only for falsehood” in claiming God’s approval.

So Many Baptist Religions!

I read an article by a Baptist who claimed that Baptists alone have the truth. His reasoning was odd, but more than mere reasoning, his basis seemed completely unclear. The first question that came up in my mind was “which Baptist” religion is he talking about? There is Northern Baptist (not something many hear about), Southern Baptist (seemingly predominant), Primitive Baptist, Reformed Baptist, “Regular” Baptist (heaven knows that irregular Baptists are probably cranky and need a laxative), and the list goes on and on. What is the origin of the Baptist church? According to this wiki article, it dates back to the 1600’s. However, Baptists contest that and claim they date back to the time of Christ.

One thing that struck me in reading the history was how the Black community, wanting an identity unique from the white community, basically started their own organization(s) of the Baptist religion. Other major divisions followed as social changes took place. In contrast, the Bible says: “Now I urge you, brothers, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you should all speak in agreement and that there should be no divisions among you, but that you may be completely united in the same mind and in the same line of thought.” (1 Corinthians 1:10) Today, among Jehovah’s Witnesses, you will find that many congregations throughout the world have a mix of whatever nationalities and ethnicities exist in the country. Here in the USA, in California where I live, the congregations are a mix of Caucasians, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Eastern Indians, just to name a few. We are one brotherhood, united in one belief.