Monday, August 31, 2015

Should Beliefs Be Kept Private?

Recently a celebrity of Jewish background made a statement about her beliefs that the online community decided to stick their uninvited noses into. A few stated that religion and faith are a personal, private matter that shouldn't be made public. The celebrity quite rightly observed that as a public figure, her whole life was public and under constant, sometimes unwelcome, scrutiny.

For those who believe in the Bible, is it really so that we should keep our faith to ourselves? Is it really true that public declaration of belief is wrong? No, indeed! Actually both of those questions can and are answered by the Bible itself. But before considering that, there is a principle that Jesus mentioned at Matthew 6:21. It reads: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In my short lifetime (60+ years), I have observed that to be true about the things we choose to talk about. Someone who loves sports will readily use that as a conversation piece in public. Someone skilled in music or some artform will readily talk about those things in public. Since we all talk about the things that are important and meaningful in our lives, why in the world would talking about something as vitally important as our relationship with our Creator be considered taboo?

Then, when we consider that even homosexuality is openly discussed and even legalized in not only the USA but other countries, an intelligent person has legitimate cause for pause when they are told that talking about morals and matters of faith are wrong. “Immorality is okay, but morality is not” is essentially what is being said by those that try to squelch expressions of faith. For all the twisted excuses that people have in invoking “freedom of speech,” our faith is one specific area that is actually intended in the constitution of the USA. No, that doesn’t give radical believers the right to shove their morals in other people’s faces, but calmly sharing faith cannot and should not be compared to those extremists.

Merely silently believing in God is as worthless as knowing that natural disasters happen but never making any preparation for them. In both cases, our beliefs don’t do us or anyone else any good. The writer James makes a sobering point when he says that demons believe in God, but that belief will not save them -- in fact, they know it means their destruction. Still, some want to put God in a box (aka, “church”) and keep him there out of their lives.

Anyone claiming expressions of faith and belief in God should be kept private, has not read Jesus’ words at Matthew 28:19,20. Just as anyone is granted freedom of speech for any number of topics in public, I require others to respect my right of freedom of speech to talk about God and Bible. If you choose not to listen, you don’t have to. But don’t tell others they can’t or shouldn’t share what has meaning in their lives.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Talking Animals -- Believable?

I came across someone the other day who claimed that talking snakes and donkeys in the Bible proves how absurd it is to believe in the Bible. That person is not alone. Unfortunately for all those that feel that way, they are sadly mistaken and/or misinformed.

Indeed, the book of Genesis does mention that a snake did talk to Eve. But it was because it was being manipulated as a ventriloquist does a dummy. Who was the ventriloquist in this instance? Revelation 12:9 reveals that is is/was Satan the devil. What about the instance of the talking donkey? Numbers 22:26-31 reveals that Jehovah (or an angelic representative) was the ventriloquist in this instance.So in both instances, the animals were being controlled by intelligence unseen to the human eye.

Now that we have the basics out of the way, let's consider WHY these events happened and are recorded. In neither account was the point that animals can talk.

In the Eden account, the context tells the reader that God had set up an extremely simple means for humankind to prove their loyalty to God. It was as simple as a parent putting the cookie jar in easy reach of their child and then telling the child “do not touch this.” How much does the child love, respect and obey their parent? That is the test. In the case of the parent, eventually they will reward their child with a cookie. In the case of Adam and Eve, would God after some undisclosed time see their faithfulness and finally remove the restriction? We’ll never know because they went for the “cookie jar” (the forbidden fruit) very quickly. Satan implied that God was unfair and restrictive. Eve bought that idea hook, line and sinker. Why Satan chose a snake and not some other creature isn’t revealed and isn’t important. No matter what creature he chose, the same conversation would have played out. The important part of the account is that Jehovah God revealed to mankind why sin and imperfection are part of our lives no matter how hard we try to do what is right. The account, along with other scriptures, also reveals God’s means of fixing the situation.

But what of the case of the talking donkey? The context of the passage (linked above) shows that Balaam, enticed by riches, was on his way to utter a curse against the nation of Israel. His rewarder, Balak, was a ruler in opposition to Israel and wanted their demise. Balak believed that just Balaam’s spoke words had the power to destroy Israel. So once again, obedience to God and respect for his ways was being put to the test. Once again, the unseen spirit realm became involved in dramatically illustrating how God feels about obedience. The donkey was used because of the situation. It could have been a horse, it could have been a camel (other animals commonly mentioned in scripture as human carriers), it could have been any animal. Balaam was riding a donkey, hence God used the circumstances.

As a sideline: While researching this topic, I came across a web article claiming that God has a special hatred for snakes. That idea is so utterly absurd, I wasn’t even going to mention it. But then it occurred to me that even in Genesis we learn that ALL God’s creation was viewed as good. Obviously, this would include all animals, even snakes.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Delayed Answers to Prayers

In my experience, one important reason why Jehovah may not immediately answer a prayer is based on Proverbs 27:11. If Jehovah were to answer us immediately, we would never have a chance to prove ourselves wise in waiting and trusting in our God. Also, how could God give a reply to Satan's slander that we only serve him out of selfish interest if he did indeed immediately satisfy our every prayer. Instead, just by our mere patiently waiting, we both prove our loyal love for God and prove Satan a liar.

Beyond the above, consider these parent/child comparisons:

Timing: A child wants sees a new toy and wants it NOW! But the parent has already bought the toy for the child and was planning on giving it to him as a gift a little later. As much as the child may complain and even accuse the parent of not loving them, the complete opposite is true. Likewise, Jehovah in his wisdom knows when it is best to answer a prayer.

Training: A child loves sports. The parent watches from the sidelines as the child fumbles through the experience. The parent wants to come to the rescue of the child but realizes it is good training in learning to endure difficult situations. It also builds confidence and character. Likewise, the training we receive through endurance is mentioned in scripture.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Raising Children and Pets

Recently my wife and I had to put down a beloved pet that had been in our family for over 13 years. I recounted my memories of her character in a 14-page document, complete with pictures I’d taken over the years. The pet was my wife’s dog so I presented the document to her as a gift two days after having to put the dog down.

Writing this document reminded me that there are those who take exception to comparing pets to children. I have both raised children and owned pets. So my perspective is based on experience and not lofty idealism. Both children and pets have similar behavioral challenges that need to be met. Both look to you for approval and rewards. Yes, it is true that children will grow to an age where you can finally reason with them. However, if the parent hasn’t taken the time over the years to consistently teach the child how to reason correctly, the supposed asset (of the ability to reason) becomes a huge liability when the child is disobedient and rebels. 

This brings me to another comparison--that of discipline. Many parents I see today do not understand what real discipline is. It is NOT the switch (a whip made from a branch) or the belt. That doesn’t teach anything except “might makes right.” Jesus is perfect example of the correct method of discipline. And what makes it even more astonishing is that he applied it grown men (his disciples who were forever arguing who was the greatest among them). In watching “The Dog Whisperer,” I realized that I had allowed corporal punishment to dictate my reaction to bad pet conduct. He (Cesar Millan) recommended much gentler treatment to which the animals actually responded to favorably.

The same is true of how we raise children. Harsh physical punishment rarely has long-range positive effects. It may stop the bad conduct at the moment, but the anger, resentment and negative feelings will continue until they explode sometime later. While it takes more effort and time, steadily, consistently reasoning with the child has much greater and long-term benefits.

So to me, those are the similarities of raising children and having pets.

(Yes, I am aware that the Hebrew/Aramaic scriptures in the Bible talk about severe corporal punishment meted out by parents on their children. However, Christ taught us a much better way.)

Friday, June 12, 2015

True Beauty

The Bible refers to the bloom of youth which, generally speaking, starts around puberty and extends until the mid 20's. (The Bible indicates a male is an adult at age 30.) Indeed, even after puberty a person's youthful appearance and proportions are evident through their 20's and some even into then early 30's. Pro. 19:11 speaks of the beauty of "a man" (an adult) and that has to do with his character.

Pro. 31: 30 likewise contrasts a woman’s fleeting physical beauty to the everlasting beauty of character and moral integrity. Pro. 16:31 speaks of the beauty of old age-righteousness. In all those references from Proverbs it is clear that what makes a person truly beautiful both in the sight God and man, is their character, not their physical attributes.

Perhaps you’ve noticed that physically beautiful people can have ugly personalities. This proves that what gives us each our individual beauty is our hearts and minds. So to be drawn to physical beauty or sexual appeal can be disappointing in the long run. But being drawn to a person because of the beauty of character--this is enduring, endearing and dependable.

Joel 2:13 Rip Apart Heart

Pictorial Language Series

Joel 2:13 Rip apart your hearts, and not your garments, And return to Jehovah your God,

Back when Joel was alive, a contemporary way of demonstrating grief was was to rip the front of the garment apart. what God is counselling is to make more than an outward appearance of grief. Instead it should be a sincere heartfelt grief that leads to repentance and earnest concerted effort to please God through obedience.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Waiting For Deliverance Psalm 42:5

Psalm 42:5 “Why am I in despair? Why is this turmoil within me? Wait for God, For I will yet praise him as my Grand Savior.”

There were a couple points that stood out to me in the above verse. The first was “wait for God.” The second was that David felt confident he would yet praise God as his “Grand Savior.” But then as I reflected on the whole verse, it dawned on me that the whole verse can be helpful to anyone going through any type of trial. So lets start from the beginning:

“Why am I in despair? Why is this turmoil within me?” As we go through challenges, it is easy to become anxious. But as a servant of God, we need to take stock of our situation. Indeed, just why are we upset? Have we lost confidence in the love of our Creator? What exactly are we disconcerted about? Likely putting the situation into perspective will help us not to stress.

“Wait for God.” When we wait for anyone or anything, we are in anticipation of change. If we have stopped waiting, then gloom and despair can overshadow us.If we have stopped waiting on God, then we’ve abandoned ourselves to the current negative situation. The only thing we are waiting for is death. I’ve come to understand how unrelenting pain associated with declining health can actually make a person want to die, wish to die, and yes, even pray to die. Living in pain, not having any quality of life is no life at all. The next step, death, seems inevitable anyway, so why not just let it come sooner than later? But how much more positive is it when choose to “wait on God”?

For a few months during and after my chemotherapy (for leukemia), I could see no light “at the end of the tunnel.” I was so weak, in a constant mental fog, housebound, could no longer drive, and constantly feeling sick. But then, 6 months after the treatment, I began to build strength and stamina. I was once again able to leave the house and drive short distances. I was able to share in the public ministry. Then in May I discovered, quite by accident, that I had bladder cancer. The surgery to scrape the inner lining of the bladder to remove the cancer was more painful than anything I’ve experienced in the last 20 years or so (when my gall bladder calcified and died). And now, another problem that had shown up years ago and once again reared it ugly head and added to the pain I’m already facing from the surgery--the outer part of my right thigh started tingling and then went completely numb. Well, now it has gone back to sharp stabbing pains, tingling throughout my upper and lower right leg. Every step is excruciatingly painful. Really death is preferable.

But then I was struck by the words in Psalm 42:5, to “wait on God.” Waiting on him for what? David concludes he wants to praise God not only for being his God, but just as importantly, as being his Grand Savior. Yes, losing hope is a dismal way to live out the remainder of our lives. Instead, wait to see what God will do for you. Expect him to care and demonstrate that care. This is a much more positive viewpoint to have.