Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Matthew 8:10 Complete Confidence, Nothing Like It!

When a Gentile army officer came to Jesus asking for him to heal his servant, Jesus responded that he would handle the matter when he got to that town. The army officer told Jesus he didn't need to be there personally, just give the word and the army officer knew it would happen. As basis for this confidence that Jesus’ mere word would be enough, the army officer reasoned that he also (the officer) is a man with authority and when he gives a command, he knows his subordinates will do what he wants without his having to be there and make sure it gets done.

When Jesus heard the officer’s conviction about Jesus’ ability and authority, he was so impressed he commented to everyone around that he had never seen this level of conviction even among those that should have had it, the nation of Israel. Why should Israel have had that confidence, both individually and as a group, a nation? It was due to the history of faithfulness that Jesus’ Father had unfailingly demonstrated in the past. Yet even those who felt Jesus was indeed the Messiah demonstrated failings in confidence. In contrast, the officer did not have all this history behind him. He may have heard from word of mouth about the actions of the God of Israel, but it was not his frame of reference.

Today, with the weight of evidence and so great a cloud of witnesses, we should at minimum have the confidence that the officer expressed—Jesus (and by extension, his Father Jehovah) need only give the word and it will be done. God wants to reward loyal ones.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Psalms 119:165 Love God in What Sense?

Psalms 119:165 reads: “Abundant peace belongs to those who love your law….”

Question: In what sense should we love God’s law? Jerome K. Jerome is credited with the quib: “I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.” Is that the sense “those” should love God’s law? Is it merely as an observer, casually taking it all in? Do we love God’s law like we love watching an interesting movie, watching the waves on the beach?

In case anyone would actually feel that way, James 1:22 indicates that merely hearing or observing is NOT enough. We must ACT. Yes, loving God’s law means that we are obeying God’s law. Just looking at the Bible on our tables does not give us “abundant peace.” We must read and apply it.

Deut.4:7 Incomparable God and People

Every now and then (occasionally) I hear historians remark that the Israelite's laws were really borrowed and adapted from other older “peoples” (national groups). They claim that the Israelites were nothing special and their laws were nothing new. I have always been at a loss for a reply because, admittedly, I am not a historian nor do I really know history beyond what I learned in school, see in the news, experienced in life, and in reading the Bible.

Well, it turns out that reading the Bible is what finally gave me a reply. At Deuteronomy 4:7 God reasons with the newly formed nation of (now ancient) Israel: “For what great nation has gods as near to it as Jehovah our God is to us whenever we call on him?” Ah, match and set, bingo, checkmate! While the God of the Israelites and then the early Christians, and now the God who has preserved his Word (The Bible), is still well-known through those writings, where are the gods of those nations that historians claim were just as good? I’m waiting…....

Those gods are gone, along with the nations. If those other nations were so good, why are they not around today. Tell me, which "great nation has righteous regulations and judicial decisions like this entire Law that I am putting before you today?" Genesis 4:8 The answer is “as plain as the nose on your face,” there are none. Neither their gods nor their nation, nor their laws have survived. Ancient Egypt? Gone. Ancient Babylon? Gone. Their gods, their laws, and their people--all of them--gone! In stark contrast, evidence of Israel’s history is well-preserved. Their peoples (ancestors) can be traced back. Their God has proven true.

Genesis.6:6 God Regrets Making Mankind

The word “regret,” as used in the Bible, has caused some people to be confused and perplexed because of what it seems to imply. I’ve already written an article on the use of that word at Exodus 32:14.

On my first attempt to read the Bible from cover to cover, before I decided to become one of Jehovah’s Witnesses (around 44 years ago), I encountered a passage that shocked me. I remember circling the passage in red ink and scribbling across the margin “What’s This!?”

The passage is Genesis 6:6, which says: “Jehovah regretted that he had made men on the earth, and his heart was saddened.” I was appalled at the idea that God would regret he did anything because in my mind he is perfect and incapable of making mistakes and therefore incapable of feeling regret. At the time, the only Bible version I had was the New World Translation (NWT) (the 1953-1960 edition). I was sure it was just the Jehovah’s Witness Bible that said that. Surely no “real” Bible would have that.

Well, I was wrong. All the Bibles have it. The NWT 2013 edition has a footnote on the word “regretted” found at Genesis 6:6 that clarifies that God was “grieved.” In commentary on the verse, Jehovah’s Witnesses say that the grieving was such that God would now have to take drastic action to remove rebellious mankind from off the earth. That is in complete agreement with the other translations (linked above) that give that sense to the scripture.

Can we in our human experience understand, even in a limited sense, the feeling that God had? Consider this (admittedly weak but still applicable in principle) comparative illustration: A family gets a dog that turns out to be a danger to their neighbors. It has already attacked one small child, and the postal carrier reported it to the police and animal control. Now, the family really loves the dog and it is wonderful around family members. But that doesn't change the fact that it is a danger to the community at-large. The family knows they must get rid of the animal, and that translates to the dog being “put down.” Even though they love their pet, they may “regret” that they ever got the dog and are understandably grieved. But they readily recognize that the dog is a definite danger. They really are not left with any choice; the dog sealed its own fate.

Although we humans are not mere dogs, the incorrigible attitude and conduct of the people was so bad that Genesis 6:5 says: “Consequently, Jehovah saw that man’s wickedness was great on the earth and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only bad all the time.” There was, however, one man and his family whose moral standard of living was higher than those around them. Jehovah determined to keep that family safe through the punishing destruction so as to have a means of preserving human life.

So, God did not make a mistake that he regretted. Rather, he was grieve that the evil inclination of man was so bad that they were a threat to themselves and he was left with no alternative than to exterminate man with the exception of Noah and his family. Sadly, as we look around today, the earth is filled with so much violence, within the family, within communities, within the world political scene, that “just as in the days of Noah, so the presence of the Son of Man will be.” Just as I cited Peter’s words earlier, that God doesn't “want” to destroy, nevertheless, it is only fair that those that want to obey God can do so without constant interference from godless people. The good deserve to be rewarded, which means the removal of the wicked. It is sad that it has to come to that, but the incorrigible leave God no alternative.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Adoption, Why Needed?

At times, parents have become so appalled over the actions of a child, especially when that child goes completely against everything the parent stands for and has taught the child, that the parent rejects the child, in effect saying, “You are no longer my child. You are dead to me.” The chasm can be so great that the parent refuses to speak to the child at all or even acknowledge the child’s existence.

Before his disobedience,  Adam was told that the day he ate of the fruit, he would die. Yet, according to Bible history, Adam lived on 930 years. Some have pointed to a possible solution for this seeming discrepancy. As personal reflection, it dawned on me that Jehovah is never again recorded as speaking to Adam. So just as the parent in the above illustration treated his child as dead, perhaps in a similar vein Jehovah treated Adam as dead. (His allowance of Adam and Eve’s life and reproduction, ensured God could carry out the prophecy of Genesis 3:15 as well as settle the issues that Satan raised.)

Thankfully, as deeply as Jehovah was hurt by the rebellion in Eden and even though he never spoke to Adam again, he (Jehovah) was still open to working a solution that Adam’s descendents could come back to his family. In fact, Paul spoke of the solution as working out (on an individual basis) being “adopted” as sons.

Indeed, Paul went on to speak about a time at the end of the millennial reign when Jesus hands over the kingdom to his Father after both having eliminated all opposers and hindrances and unifying all intelligent creation. At that point, those loyal ones on earth will join in adoption as sons just as those who were taken to heaven had earlier been adopted.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Worship, What Is It?

I was speaking recently with a man who gave the impression he had disdain for the term “worship.” From the context of the conversation, I concluded he felt that way because to him worship was little more than formalized rituals that have no relevance to today. Although that seems to be the major application in most religions today, it is NOT consistent with the etymology (or, original definition).

So I checked a few dictionaries, both in-print and online, and discovered that the word is rooted in the terms “worthiness” and “acknowledgement of worth.” With regards “worthiness,” the sources pointed to the Old English (British) use of “your worship” in reference to people of station and high esteem. In this case, the word is used as a noun, but to me actually seems closer to a descriptive adjective.

In the case of being used as a verb (an action word), “acknowledgement of worth” is very close to what true worship, the worship promoted in the Bible by Christ, is all about. (Yes, I readily admit that under the Mosaic Law, there were numerous ritual-based instructions. They served a purpose, however they are not the focus of this article. My focus is the instructions Jesus left his followers. Those instructions define what true worship means for Christians.)

So how does a Christian make an “acknowledgement of worth” regarding God, regarding the Bible, regarding everything Jesus taught? I have talked about these things before. (See links at end of article.) The point I want to make in this article is that worship is NOT ceremonialism, rituals, customs, or even memorized prayers. First, regarding our own lives, we demonstrate respect for God by living within the moral and social guidelines mentioned in the Bible. A true Christian should also studiously read the Bible. Regarding the love we have for God and fellow humans, we use our “whole strength” by freely, willingly sharing what we’ve learned with others. So essentially, we intelligently use our resources in practical and tangible ways, not in frivolous rituals. We honor God both by word of mouth (promoting his ways as beneficial) and by our personal obedience. Those things demonstrate "worth" that others can appreciate and understand.

I just realized I neglected a very important component to this discussion and that is Greek original words used to convey "worship" in the days of Jesus. Bowing down to, or making other demonstrative gestures were common in acknowledgement of humble submission to another. The various Greek words used in the Bible all convey nuances of humble submission. So again, worship is not ritual.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Romans 10:13 Salvation From God and His Son

I was preparing some notes I had gathered to write an article on differences I observed the Mormon religion had with the Bible. I had come across some indisputable evidence demonstrating the fallacies of their beliefs (or so I thought). But then I reflected that I had never been a Mormon so, unlike observations I have made about my former Catholic faith, I really could not speak with any experience or authority on the matter. I also remembered that I have a dear relative that is Mormon that I respect as an intelligent person and I knew she also taught the religion to children in her faith. So I determined to write her asking help in understanding her acceptance of points I felt no rational person could ever believe.

Besides respect for my relative, there is another underlying reason I have for contacting her--I know that things found on the internet can be misstated, misunderstood, taken out of context, and even intentionally twisted. I know i would not appreciate someone misrepresenting my faith (although that happens frequently), so inspite of being imperfect like everyone else, I do make every honest effort to understand something before writing about it on my blog. (I am still refining that article.)

“Driving home” (accentuating) the above point, the author of the same material I read on Mormon beliefs also commented on Jehovah’s Witnesses. (No surprise there. In fact, this fellow gives the impression that he is the only person who understands life correctly. Everyone else is demonic and associate with the Masons.) After spewing his cursory, shallow reasoning, he culminated with a point he felt completely discredited the New World Translation (NWT).

In 2013, the NWT underwent a substantial revision (PDF, Web online verison). Although it was already a modern-English Bible translation, changes in phrasing to make it easier to read were deemed necessary. This is nothing unusual, it is a trend amongst most translators today to render the Bible thought-for-thought, instead of literally word-for-word. These rendering methods are actually hotly contended. While the old camp insisted that word-for-word was the best and most loyal way to translate, the newer camp was readily able to cite instances where such thinking would completely (and inaccurately) change the intended meaning. Especially with certain idioms common to the original languages of the Bible, this is a big problem.

But I digress. He cited our rendering of Romans 10:13. (Other translations here.) The problem he had with our rendering is that the context shows that prior to verse 13, Paul was obviously talking about Jesus Christ. Yes, indeed. The thing this man so conveniently (or perhaps ignorantly) passed over was the quote marks in verse 13. Paul was quoting from the Hebrew writings, specifically from a passage in Joel, chapter 2, verse 32. Joel lived and wrote before Jesus came to earth, so when he wrote what most translations render as “LORD,” what he actually wrote in the Hebrew language was the Tetragrammaton (YHWH), which happens to be what many modern translations actually render as God’s name (Yahweh or Jehovah).

So does this prove then that Paul was making Jesus and Jehovah out to be the same person in one? No. Most claiming Christianity can readily recite Acts 4:12, essentially stating that God provided no other name by which we may get saved. Picture a father and son (which coincidentally is the relationship that the Bible says Jehovah, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, share--not twins, not brothers). Say a father and son are out fishing when the waters start to become very choppy and they hear cries for help in the distance. They go to the rescue. The father ties a lifeline to the son’s waist, throws him in the water and the son, in turn, uses floatation devices tied to himself to give to those in need that are struggling in the water. Finally, the father pulls everyone back to the boat.

Question: Who saved the endangered people, the son or the father? If you answer “both,” that would be the most accurately correct answer. It is the same case with what was done to save mankind from sin. If God had not provided Jesus, it would have been as much use as the father in the boat letting go of the rope holding his son--no one would have won. The father would have lost his son, the son would have lost his life and the lives of everyone holding onto the lifelines that were thrown to them. That essentially is the effect of a false prophet--someone who cannot lead us back to the Father because the father has not approved him.

In agreement with Peter’s words at Acts 4:12 (and elsewhere in scripture), Paul cited our need to rely on Jesus, then, quoting from Joel, demonstrated that Jehovah is where “the buck stops” when it comes to salvation.

Final note: The author of the video I am referring to concluded that as much as Jehovah’s Witnesses try to prove that there is no trinity, our rendering of Romans 10:13 demonstrates Jehovah and Jesus are the same person. I had to chuckle at that statement. First, because I just demonstrated that it was his misunderstanding (intentional or not) that was confused, not us. Second, because he adamantly claimed (without substantiation) that the weight of scripture proves Jesus is God. The truth is, the weight of scripture demonstrates that Jesus taught he was subject to God, and therefore not equal to Jehovah God.