Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Silence is Golden

The following reflections are on Lamentations chapter 3

After we've done something wrong (even "blowing it, big time"), when we are called to account for the issue, we may accept the punishment at first. But it is easy to begin feeling we are being unjustly punished when the situation seems to go on without end. Such was the case of the Israelites who were punished by their God for not only individual, personal transgressions against their God, but also national sins, communal guilt.

In the clips below, you will notice I cite them in reverse numeric order. The purpose is to accentuate how the writer of Lamentations builds his "line of reason."

Verse 39" "How can a living man indulge in complaints, an able-bodied man on account of his sin?"
Yes, our imperfect tendency is to start complaining. But we would never want to minimize the situation that got us in the mess we're in. Especially when we are praying to God about our situation, complaining would not demonstrate true repentance nor respect for the one we are speaking to. True remorse would help us appreciate we haven't any ground to stand on when it comes to self-justification, minimizing our guilt or even feeling we've paid enough.

Verse 37: "Who, now, has said that something should occur [when] Jehovah himself has not commanded?"
We might even start trying to "reason" with God, claiming that the time that has passed is more than enough payment (punishment) for the sin. We might, in effect, say that "something should occur" to release us. (Especially if/when we leave Jehovah, what our actions say is: "I've waited long enough. Jehovah should have acted by now.") But who are we to say that guilt for the punishment has been satisfied? Is that not up to God? If he has "not commanded" it, then what can we recall that may help us to cope?

Verses 31, 32: "For not to time indefinite will Jehovah keep on casting off." For although he has caused grief, he will also certainly show mercy according to the abundance of his loving-kindness."
Yes, first we need to keep in mind that Jehovah is not unrighteous. He is not cruel and, unlike prison systems in this world, his terms of punishment are not cold, blanket application of rules, but a carefully designed training for our growth (Hebrews 12:11). In the meantime...

Verse 26: "Good it is that one should wait, even silently, for the salvation of Jehovah."
Yes, here is the theme, "Silence is Golden." Sometimes decades of waiting may have to be endured. And though this hardly seems comforting to those that have endured a long time, it does demonstrate that type of person God wants us to be. Do we truly treasure, as verse 24 says, that "Jehovah is my share"? If so, then we will agree with the writer of Lamentations who continued in verse 24 with: "that is why I shall show a waiting attitude for him." In this regard, I remember a Hollywood disaster movie where a father told a son to wait for him at a specific location and he would come for him. Even when the situation got desperate, the (adult) son took whatever precautions he could to follow his father's direction. Now, Hollywood movies always exaggerate things but it does drive home the point that if a son can trust his father that deeply (and some in real life do), why can we not also trust our heavenly Father just as much if not more. If he tells us to wait, then wait.

So, when things are not moving as fast as you think they should, don't give into desperation and into feelings of worthlessness. Don't give up in your service to God. Don't give out on your faith or desire to live.

Waiting silently is never easy for us--and I can speak from my own personal experience. For over 17 years I've waited for changes that would once again give me a sense of restoration, a sense of worth, a sense of being valued, a sense of belonging. Sometimes I've been less patient than others. Recently a companion recommended possibly seeking a change of situation by moving elsewhere. He told a true story of man who likewise felt worthless. He moved to foreign country and reestablished a life for himself, one where he felt appreciated and valued. I cannot fault anyone for the decisions they make to better their life. However, for me & my situation,  that would seem like an attempt to take matters into my own hands instead of waiting on Jehovah to raise me up and dignify me in the midst of my brothers.

The whole of the 71st Psalm is very fitting here; especially verse 21. Although I have no desire to be "great," it would just be nice to feel I have a worthwhile purpose and am a valued member in the congregation of God. And so, I keep waiting; and I've resigned myself to the possibility that I may die waiting.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

What Is Truth?

Many I meet today would answer that question with the answer: “There is no absolute truth. Everything is relative. The object in front of you is not truth, your perception of it is your truth.” Hogwash such as this is what has kept the masses in utter confusion and abandonment to fate. “We’re all doomed to self-deception. There is no truth,” seems to be the way people come across to me.

Do you sympathize with even a twinge of that? If so, consider the following. In at least professional sports today, it used to be left up to human perception to make the call on close ties and disputed wins. Since I do not follow swimming and racing matches that closely, I hadn’t paid attention to the use of technology in those arenas. Even the use of a stopwatch in human hands has been replaced by technology (such as laser lights) in order to accurately measure achievement and scores. In those cases, it is no longer a matter of human perception or even human reflexes (in the time it takes for the human eye to perceive an event and the hand to “clock” it on a stopwatch). What the athlete accomplished is accurately and indiscriminately documented with precision instruments. Likewise in football and baseball. It is no longer what one person saw compared to what another person saw. It is now “instant replays” that show the indisputable “truth” of an event.

But what about the Bible and the truth it proclaims? Today, people feel there is no absolute truth. A Roman official judging a Jewish man once spoke the words of this article’s title. That official (Pilate) said those words in response to Jesus’ proclamation: “For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone that is on the side of the truth listens to my voice.” (John 18:37)

Yes, in stark contrast to Pilate and cynics today, Jesus had clearly in mind exactly what “truth” was. In fact, just one chapter prior to the above, Jesus was in prayer to his Father and said: “your word is truth.” (John 17:17) From Jesus’ much broader perspective, his Father’s word was absolute truth. Still some would argue even the Bible (God’s Word) is subject to interpretation. After all, they reason, even Wikipedia cites that there are approximately 38,000 religions just claiming to be Christian.So if not even those claiming Christianity can agree, how can there be any absolute truth? Really, is it possible to have absolute truth and know it? Yes, it is; and it is not as difficult as religions today try to make it.

I heard many years ago that the way the American government trains people to recognize counterfeit currency is not through a study of what is fake, but rather through a study of the real thing. This made sense to me. For all the countless flaws that fakes could have, new ones creeping in all the time, how could anyone keep up with such a thing? Then, it could become a matter of much confusion for the examiner. He (or she) might start doubting himself--”Wait a minute, is that a flaw or is it the real thing?” To make it much more simple, they are committed to examining the real thing, getting to know it better than “the back of their hand.” Once a person knows what the real thing looks like, it is easy to spot a fake.

Can such logic be applied to the Bible? Yes, it can. Coming to this one realization can be a real eye opener. If one examines what is truth, what is false will stick out “like a sore thumb.” One rule of thumb in this regard is the following: The truth of a matter can be known when all scriptures are harmonious on a subject. If any scripture contradicts the interpretation of another, then the individual interpretation, not the Bible, is at fault. This is the essence of Paul’s words at Romans 3:4, “let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, even as it is written: ‘That you might be proved righteous in your words and might win when you are being judged’”

But even this still doesn’t resolve for many people the biggest dispute among those claiming to be Christian--the identity of the Christ. Was he, indeed IS he God or the Son of God? While the mountain of evidence for the latter (that Jesus is the Son of God, and NOT God himself) is much clearer than all the inferences that others claim, it is still something that is of vital importance for each of our salvation. Each of us needs to closely examine both sides, having an open mind to accept whatever we can draw from the Word of God and then making an informed decision. I am not saying this is a matter of “whatever you want ot believe.” I am saying that I believe the truth is the latter but also that regardless of the conclusion you reach, you need to be 100% informed and convinced. Why? Because when it all comes down to it, each one of us will be held individually accountable by God himself. This is not a “I can win an argument” issue. This is a “I’d better have this right because my life depends on it” sort of thing.

(To aid you in this matter, I'd recommend you make a two-column list of all the scriptures that address the identity of Christ. One column for "he is God" and the other for "he is God's son." You should begin to see two clear patterns (just as I did). First, the shear weight of evidence by the count of scriptures proves Jesus is not God. Second, the scriptures used by those that believe he is God are not specifically clear. Their greatest evidence is John 1:1 which, after researching Greek, shows itself to be a linguistics debate and not a teaching of John that Jesus was God. In fact, John later states that Jesus was not, is not God--John 1:18; John 20:30,31)

Another debate is "which Bible" is God's Word? But that question belays a hint of ignorance. First of all, the original languages of the Bible (mostly Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek), are not something the majority of mankind understand. All English-language Bibles are a translation of those original languages. What does that mean for the American (or English-speaking) reader? Again, you are responsible for your own relationship with God. So how can you be sure? I own 18 Bible translations. After years of comparative reading, I have taken it down to just four that I use regularly. They are:
1. The New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures.

2. The Amplified Bible
3. The New International Version (NIV)
4. The Good News for Modern Man (see wikipedia article)

At times, due to discussions with others, I reference the King James Bible for certain reasoning points. I also have word-for-word renditions of the original languages for both the Hebrew and Greek sections of the Bible. (For those that would like to reference multiple translations, there is a website that provides that free of cost.)

So the quick answer is that no single English Bible is the original Word of God. At very least the top three of the above four Bibles are a good start to getting an accurate understanding.

So just as in electronic instruments, God himself provides a perfect unbiased truth. And just like the currency examiner, we can filter out falsehood by closely examining the Bible as the standard of absolute truth. Absolute truth is what God says is true. We find what he says in the Bible.

In reading the wikipedia article, I noted its reference to what the Catholic church dictates as the measure of what true religion is. It was interesting that not even one scripture was used. This seems to conform with what my Catholic mother said: "The Bible is not important. What is important are the traditions and rites as dictated by the Catholic church." To me, that is the most arrogant form of worship, one that raises the words of men over the Word of God. In contrast to what the Catholic church outlines, here is what the Bible outlines as identifying true followers of Christ:

1. The Bible, not men, not religious hierarchies, is the source of truth. (see above article)

2. God’s Kingdom through Christ, not politics or man’s government, is the solution to mankind’s problems. (This is NOT God’s Kingdom through man’s government, it is God’s Kingdom through Christ as real and direct ruler. Matthew 28:18-20; 1 Cor.15:24,25)

3. Christians have a specific & individual obligation to God & Christ. (Matthew 24:14)

4. Christians will be known by their worldwide brotherhood of unity & peace. They maintain this even when the world is involved in war. (John 13:35; 1 Cor.1:10)

5. The true religion can be known by its practices. (Matt. 7:21-23)

There is more here:

Friday, June 8, 2012

True Christianity-Defining Characteristics

You would expect those who claim to believe & promote "something" to be in full support of it. Take, for instance, chefs. They promote their culinary arts. You wouldn't expect them to say they really don't like cooking. Or, how about sports enthusiasts, especially those that follow a certain team. Here in California, those following the Raiders are fans to an extreme. You wouldn't expect those fans to say they really don't believe in sports. What about those who have a form a worship, those myriads in nominal Christianity. I am always shocked to meet these church-goers and discover that they really don't believe in the Bible, which just happens to be the very source of the original teaching of Christianity. In fact, I dare wonder: "If you don't believe in the Bible, how can you really claim to be Christian?"

When you cut through all the rhetoric, what are the foundational, rudimentary teachings that true Christians should adhere to? Here are just a few:

What should true Christians believe about God?
1. God cannot lie. In the apostle Paul's letter to Titus, chapter 1, verse 2, he said exactly that. If you claim to believe the Bible and be a Christian, you are under obligation to believe this.

2. God is love. In the apostle John's first letter (1 John), chapter 4, he states that twice. First in verse 8 and then again in verse 16. If you don't see God that way, you are not being taught nor adhering to true Christianity.

What should true Christians believe about the Bible?
2Tim. 3:16 "All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work." If you are not taught that the Bible is a book that contemporary man can guide his everyday life by, you are not associated with true Christianity.

Rom. 15:4  "For all the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope." While certain things can bring us pleasure and relaxation, if the Bible is not predominantly one of them, then you need to examine your religion and belief system. If you cannot quote even one verse from the Bible explaining why you belong to your religion and why you have your convictions, you need to examine if you are truly dedicated to God.

Heb 4:12  "For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and [their] marrow, and [is] able to discern thoughts and intentions of [the] heart." The Bible should be your main handbook. When resolving problems, it should be your reference and not some philosophical teachings of men. Do you read it daily? You should, if you claim to be Christian.

What activity, as a religious group, should Christians be involved in?
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus himself said (chapter 7, verse 21) “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will." If you do not clearly understand what "the will" is, then your religion has failed you. It is not that hard to understand. It is not becoming rich, famous, successful in this life. It is not running orphanages, hospitals or other philanthropic works. In verses 22 & 23, Jesus states other things that do not qualify as "the will" of the Father. What is "the will"? It starts with taking in accurate knowledge (John 17:3). Then it involves our very heart--Matthew 22:37-40. Ultimately, it defines our activity--Matthew 24:14; Matthew 28:19,20

These six points barely scratch the surface of what truly defines a Christian. Indeed, if just these points were the sum total, why would Jesus state we must take in accurate knowledge? For instance, how should love of neighbor (Matthew 22:39) affect our view of ethnic, racial, social and national differences based on Colossians 3:9-11, which reads: "Strip off the old personality with its practices, and clothe yourselves with the new personality, which through accurate knowledge is being made new according to the image of the One who created it, where there is neither Greek nor Jew, ... foreigner, ... slave, freeman, but Christ is all things and in all." (See also: Acts 10:34,35; 1 John 4:20)

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Deal with Insomnia & Sleepless Nights

I suffer with insomnia in cycles. Sometimes I will doze off nearly immediately, but within an hour I am wide awake--for nearly half the night! Recently, I was on a 2 week cycle of not sleeping and I couldn't relate it to anything physical or emotional. So I did some research and discovered a hunch of mine was true--our technology can drive bouts of insomnia and it has nothing to do with worrying if we are missing a contact on our smartphones.

TVs, computer screens, and today's smart phones--what do they have in common? Answer--illuminated screens. Yes, not just the content (which can keep our minds active) but the mere illumination (staring directly at a light source) has an affect on our body's ability to wind down and get restful sleep. The answer: Turn off all illuminated devices at least 30 minutes before going to bed. (BBC Report here)

If you feel the need for some mental stimulus, read a physical book. But not horror, suspense or anything that cause angst or conflict in the mind. Light-hearted, uplifting reading fits the bill very nicely because it puts us in a restful & contented frame of mind. My wife enjoys the Chicken Soup series but you may have other interests. (For me, I can't even read technical publications, which are my favorite, because it causes too much thinking when what I need is to relax the brain.)

There are numerous other suggestions that can be found on the web to handle insomnia such as warm bath (not shower); soft music (even nature sound-tracks such as rain, ocean or the like); journaling (not necessarily a diary, but a brain dump of what you did during the day, the uncompleted work you need to handle, etc.) What jouraling does is that it allows your mind to "let go" of everything that is bothering it.

Finally, just when you go to bed, take SLOW DEEP breaths. This is scientifically proven to relax muscles. Don't hyperventilate, just a few, easy deep breaths. After doing this, close your eyes and use mental imagery to project yourself to your most peaceful surroundings. For me, it is Big Sur, CA. You'll be surprised how quickly you will doze off.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Children Dying In the Noahic Flood

(Please note that I am not intending to claim I have any special insight here; I don't. Rather, in defense of my God, I am proposing a perspective that may help those grabbling with the issue.)

I met a man recently that repeatedly brought up how appalled he was with idea that God would so cruelly destroy children and babies at the time of the flood during the days of Noah. I set out to make two main points with him. First, what record, if any, exists in the Bible that indicates how God feels about putting people to death? Second, what is the parent’s responsibility in continuance of the child’s life?

In the next four scriptural citations, note what is stated regarding how God feels about anyone being put to death. The reason these are cited is that they occur hundreds of years apart, thus demonstrating consistency. (There was approximately 900 years between Moses and Ezekiel and another 600 years between Ezekiel and Peter.)

The circumstance surrounding the following scripture is the event wherein Moses was being given the two tablets (no, they didn’t come with apps).
(Exodus 34:6, 7) And Jehovah went passing by before his face and declaring: “Jehovah, Jehovah, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in loving-kindness and truth, 7 preserving loving-kindness for thousands, pardoning error and transgression and sin, but by no means will he give exemption from punishment,….”

The following two scriptures are part of the message that God had Ezekiel deliver to the disobedient nation of Israel:
 (Ezekiel 18:23) “‘Do I take any delight at all in the death of someone wicked,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah, ‘[and] not in that he should turn back from his ways and actually keep living?’
(Ezekiel 18:32) “‘For I do not take any delight in the death of someone dying,’ is the utterance of the Sovereign Lord Jehovah. ‘So cause a turning back and keep living, O YOU people.’”

The following was the apostle Peter’s observation/conclusion after having been in close association with Jesus and living a life as one of Christ’s followers for some time:
(2 Peter 3:9) Jehovah is not slow respecting his promise, as some people consider slowness, but he is patient with YOU because he does not desire any to be destroyed but desires all to attain to repentance.

So Jehovah God, in his own words, claims to be merciful and slow to anger. Ezekiel writes that God doesn’t enjoy killing people. Peter indicates God does NOT desire to destroy anyone. If that is so, then why would God do so? One possible answer is found in the following two scriptures:

(Jeremiah 9:24) “But let the one bragging about himself brag about himself because of this very thing, the having of insight and the having of knowledge of me, that I am Jehovah, the One exercising loving-kindness, justice and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I do take delight,” is the utterance of Jehovah.

(Revelation 11:18) But the nations became wrathful, and your own wrath came, and the appointed time for the dead to be judged, and to give [their] reward to your slaves the prophets and to the holy ones and to those fearing your name, the small and the great, and to bring to ruin those ruining the earth.

Yes, to be fair, God needs to exercise not only patience with the wicked, but at some point he has to finally reward those who are loyal to Him. After all, it really is not fair to the loyal ones to have to endure the wicked of the earth forever. At some point the wicked must be removed. But why children?

If a police officer showed up at your home and arrested you because your neighbor’s kids had committed a crime, you would be justifiably outraged. It is not your responsibility to raise other people’s children. Parents are the ones responsible for raising their own children.

On the other hand, let’s say the children are, as the cliché says, “perfect angels.” What if the parents of those children had suddenly, tragically died in an auto accident and the State showed up at your home and forced you to permanently care for the children? Once again, no matter how good those kids are, you would rightly say that it was unjust for you to be forced into that situation. Now, IF those kids had a good reputation, you might be willing to watch those kids for a short while until living relatives can be found. And if no relatives were found, you may even choose to adopt them if your circumstances allow. But being forced without having any say in the matter, even if the kids are “perfect angels,” you would feel an injustice was done to you. Thankfully, in our modern society, there are methods for handling such situations that do not involve forcing citizens into possible financial ruin by taking on children that are not theirs.

Now, lets consider the flood of Noah’s day. How does the Bible describe general moral fiber of that day?
(Genesis 6:11, 12) And the earth came to be ruined in the sight of the [true] God and the earth became filled with violence. So God saw the earth and, look! it was ruined, because all flesh had ruined its way on the earth.

Just before that citation (in verses 8 & 9), it says that Noah was not like the general populous. In comparison to his contemporaries, he had found favor in God’s eyes, was righteous & lived his life in harmony with what God wanted, in effect, he “walked with God.” According to the account, only Noah and his family worked on building the floating, enclosed barge (the “Ark”). He worked on it for some 40 years. Besides building, what else did he do during that time?

(2 Peter 2:5) and he [God] … kept Noah, a preacher of righteousness, safe with seven others when he brought a deluge upon a world of ungodly people;

Obviously, Noah must have drawn a crowd that came to see what this man was building. What would he have told them? The most logical is, “God told me to build this thing because a flood is coming to cleanse the earth of wickedness.”

So for 40 years this went on. That is enough time to raise up at least two generations of offspring. But what of those that were young children or even mere babies? Take a look at children as young as pre-school today. I’ve seen them swearing worse than I ever did even as a teen. I’ve seen them flip off adults including their own parents. I have read accounts of those in their early teens attacking and even killing their parents and siblings. Why is this notable? Because Jesus said at Matthew 24:37, “For just as the days of Noah were, so the presence of the Son of man will be.” So what you and I see in this world today is pretty much the way it was “in the days of Noah.”

Well, then how about mere babies? Everyone has an opinion of just when babies become children. The fact is, each child's learning rate is different. Regardless, it all comes back to: "Who is responsible for these?" The answer is always "the parents." No one else can rightly be held responsible for raising the children.

With all this as a backdrop, lets consider: Would you really force onto Noah all the babies and children of those disobedient peers? Would it really be fair & just to make Noah raise all those brats? Ok, so maybe you reason: “Well, babies haven’t had time to become brats.” Yes, but its not Noah’s fault that they were born. Its not his responsibility to raise those kids—it’s the parents’ responsibility. The parents could have repented and saved the lives of their family. They chose not to.

But lets say that somehow you can reason that there should have been some exception clause. Just where would you draw the line? At the “age of reason”? I can remember things as far back as age 3. Lets say those children in Noah’s day had at least that same mental capacity. Lets say Noah is forced to take all kids under the age of 4 with him. First of all, since the parents considered Noah to be a wacko, would you really expect them to just say “here, take my kid”? Or how about Noah goes up to them and demands to take their children. Wouldn't they laughingly mock him?

But take this absurdity to the next level. Lets say that Noah actually does take their children. How many children are we talking about. I wasn't there, were you? Since the earth was "filled with violence," would you say maybe 20, 50, 100 children? Even 100 is probably a small estimate. Once they are on the Ark, how are eight adults going to care for all those children AND the animals they were commanded to take. Then, after the flood, when those kids are in their 20’s or 30’s, seeing as they remember their parents and the flood, do you really think they wouldn’t attack Noah and his family, blaming them for their parents death?

Really, as cold as it may sound, it does boil down to “who is responsible for a child’s life?” While any adult might come to the aid of an endangered child, in the context of something as monumental as the flood, it is the parents sole responsibility. God provided plenty of warning and no one listened; no one else helped with the Ark. Nobody likes the idea of people “having” to die, not even God. But when you consider all angles of the ramifications, the decision God made was really the only one that made sense. Noah was not responsible for raising the children of his rebellious, incorrigible, and completely corrupt contemporaries..

Addendum (Reference): w1968-1015, Article: "Why God Decreed Extermination for the Canaanites"