Tuesday, April 30, 2013

John 1 And The Trinity Teaching

This is a departure from my usual commentary/narrative style. This purpose of this post is to capture some snippets found on the web regarding the trinity teaching, John 1:1, and research done by some whose knowledge of Greek is admittedly much deeper than mine.

(At times, the below-referenced website "" does not respond. If that happens, here is a link to download a 100-page book that contains some of the same material.) (This article provides a rebuttal to Julius Mantey's arguments regarding the New World Translation's rendering of "a god" at John 1:1c.) (This article shows how Coptic Greek is very specific in separating God and the Word. Note: In this PDF, there is a link that is either no longer a live website ( or is a typo.)  This article on wikipedia demonstrates that Jehovah's Witnesses are NOT the only ones choosing a rendering that disagrees with the mainstream teaching that Jesus is God. It compares 19 translations of John 1:1c, showing which chose to go with "the Word was God" and which chose a rendering that doesn't make Jesus out to be God Himself. 

Two of the more interesting quotes from the Wikipedia article are:
“[It] is clear that in the translation “the Word was God,” the term God is being used to denote his nature or essence, and not his person. But in normal English usage “God” is a proper noun, referring to the person of the Father or corporately to the three persons of the Godhead. Moreover, “the Word was God” suggests that “the Word” and “God” are convertible terms, that the proposition is reciprocating. But the Word is neither the Father nor the Trinity… The rendering cannot stand without explanation.”[4]Translations by James MoffattHugh J. Schonfield and Edgar Goodspeed render part of the verse as "...and the Word was divine."
An Orthodox Bible Commentary notes: "This second theos could also be translated ‘divine’ as the construction indicates "a qualitative sense for theos". The Word is not God in the sense that he is the same person as the theos mentioned in 1:1a; he is not God the Father (God absolutely as in common NT usage) or the Trinity. The point being made is that the Logos is of the same uncreated nature or essence as God the Father, with whom he eternally exists. This verse is echoed in the Nicene Creed: 'God (qualitative or derivative) from God (personal, the Father), Light from Light, True God from True God… homoousion with the Father.'"[5]

Additional Notes From The Gospel of John
At John 20:17, Jesus had just been resurrected. Mary Magdalene, thinking Jesus was a gardener, pleads with him to tell her where he has taken Jesus' body. With just a single word from Jesus, she immediately realizes who he is and apparently throws herself on him, clinging to him. Jesus' response is undeniable--he has yet to ascend to his Father, his God. Now, we are talking about the resurrected Jesus, so if he were God, this would have been the time to say so. Here is the word-for-word Greek-to-English rendering.

At John 20:31, John tells his readers why he recounted all the things Jesus did. Was it so that his readers would believe that Jesus was God or that Jesus was the Son of God? He pointedly indicates that it was that Jesus was the (preeminent) Son of God.

I wanted to keep this post only about the gospel of John because that is the main focus of those who believe in the trinity. However, one key scripture that no trinitarian has ever been able to answer is recorded at 1 Corinthians 15:28. In this verse (context here), Paul is talking about after the millennial reign of Christ is over. So he is in heaven and been ruling for some time. Paul plainly writes that Christ turns over the kingdom to God for the purpose of God being all things to all people? How could Jesus "hand over" the kingdom to God and make himself subject to God if Jesus himself is God? How would you answer it?

Monday, April 29, 2013

Does God Test Us?

Do you remember the first time your parents trusted you to be left home alone? I can’t say that I remember the exact incident but I do remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is weird. I’ve never been left alone before.” Like most parents, they gave me the typical warnings, “Don’t do anything you know we wouldn’t permit, OR ELSE!” Every child knows exactly what the “or else” means, it means punishment of some sort or another. What is at stake here is our parent’s ability to trust us. Leaving us alone for the first time was a test of that trust. It is also a test of how much we love our parents.

Do parents have the right to impose such tests on their children? Being left alone is all part of the social growing process—learning responsibility and accountability. Really, if the child never learns those he (or she) becomes a burden to society. So yes, a parent needs to train their child to act responsibly. What then about God training mankind? His tests on us are pretty much the same—tests of trust, loyalty and love.

The very first test recorded in the Bible was one of trust. Jehovah told the first human pair not to eat from just one tree. If we parents need to train our children how to act responsibly, it certainly is not wrong for God to train mankind using the same simple and straightforward lesson. Another such lesson of loyalty and obedience is recorded at Exodus 16:4. The “test” was whether or not the masses would trust in God enough to not hoard the manna and to not go looking for it on the seventh day. Both in this case and in the case of Adam and Eve, God generously provided and all he wanted in return was trust and obedience. In researching the word “test” as used in the Bible and in reference to what God does toward mankind, this was the only type of test God imposed on us—he blesses us richly and then asks back proof that we love and willingly, uncompromisingly trust and obey him. (See the additional references below.)

There is another type of test we face, but it is not something God brings on us. It is a test of our character that Satan and this godless world we live in put on us. Returning to the parent/child illustration, consider the situation when the child gets old enough to start socializing outside the family circle with minimal (maybe no) adult supervision. The parents’ hope is that the training they gave their child is enough to help him or her make wise decisions. So say the child goes to a party with his peers and finds liquor and other recreational drugs being used. Now, the parent didn’t put that test on their child—the situation and peer pressure did. This type of test is one that a parent would rather spare their child from, but they know that eventually they will need to trust that the child has to start being self-accountable. This is in essence the test that Job underwent—would he keep loyal to God or would he get angry and blame God. In fact, at one point his wife told him to blame (curse) God and die. Likewise, even Jesus went through such testing. Why does God allow this? There is a benefit both to our resilient character and to God to have a tested quality that proves the type of person we are. Yes, just as a parent praises a child that faced up to the challenge in an adult way, just so God commends and rewards us for standing firm for what is right.

Finally, there can be tests that no one in particular initiated. The Bible calls those “time and unforeseen circumstances.” They fall on people indiscriminately. These could be adverse weather, or earthquakes and other natural disasters that destroy homes and lives. The “test” in this case is how we react. Will we find fault with God--for him allowing this to happen? Maybe even blaming him for causing this to happen? Or will we see it as a challenge to remain in God’s love, realizing it is not him doing this? In fact, in some cases (as in the Job’s case) it is possible that it is Satan causing these “natural” disasters.

So, according to God’s Word, the Bible, the tests God puts on people are designed to show us how we can reciprocate his love and are very gentle and kind. The tests that those opposed to God put on us are designed to destroy our confidence and loyalty in God and are harsh and cruel. Finally, “time and unforeseen circumstances” should never be blamed on God. Our loyalty and unbreakable love under all such situations is what God is looking for in us.

Additional References:
Judges 3:1-6. Here, Jehovah God allows certain foreign nations that do not serve him to continue occupying some of the promise land. It was a test on the Israelites to see if with such an influence they would still remain loyal to instructions handed down through Moses and the other representatives of God (Joshua, the loyal kings, the prophets).

Psalms 26:1,2. This is a very interesting passage. Here, the writer actually asks God to test him because he wants to demonstrate how much he really loves God. In a much lesser sense, don’t we do the same with people we are trying to impress? Candidates vying for a job may ask, “Just try me out. See if I don’t prove myself worthwhile.”

God Did Not Make the Devil

I was reading a news article recently about a mother who tortured to death her own child. It was so disturbing, I could not finish the story. I won’t go into details here, however, the incident I was reading about was/is not unique. If you search the internet for “mother tortures child” you will find more than one case. Most “decent” humans would be completely appalled, if not sickened, at such a thought. The natural anger against such atrocities and the heart-rending compassion that we would have for the young victims demonstrates how we feel about outrageous cruelty.

Now, let me ask you. Do you think that we are more compassionate than God is? I don’t think so. And yet some preachers actually teach that God is just as sadistic as parents who torture their own children. Why do I claim that? Their interpretation of John 8:44 and 1 John 3:8. John, both in his gospel account and in his first letter, speaks of Satan’s “beginning”—that he was “a manslayer when he began” and that “he (Satan) has been sinning from the beginning.” Those preachers interpret that to mean that when Satan was created, God created him as an evil being. They claim that God put Satan on the earth to tempt us. In fact, some preachers go so far as to say that in reality, God and Satan are co-workers. That, dear readers, is an incredibly slanderous lie against God.

The only “test” that God is spoken of as putting on humans are tests of loyalty, not of physical, psychological, and emotional tortures. In fact, James makes it very clear that God does not try mankind with evil. If God were collaborating with the Devil, even under many governments today, that would make him co-conspirator. Never will that be, never can that be. In fact, the latter half of 1 John 3:8 indicates that Christ came to break up the works of the devil. If God were responsible for the devil’s acts, then Christ would have to break up God’s works as well—and that would make no sense at all.

So what reasonable conclusion should we reach when reading John’s words? Just as a criminal makes a start for himself (as a criminal) when he first breaks the law, in the same way Satan made a start of his criminal personality in the garden of Eden. It was at the very beginning of mankind’s existence that he became a manslayer because his words and actions resulted in condemnation to death of Adam and Eve—and by extension, to the whole human family. From the very beginning of our existence, Satan saw an opportunity, lied to Eve and has been lying ever since. But before that event, who was the one that became Satan? He was one of tens-of-thousands (if not millions) of other angels that God had made as perfect. This should not be difficult to understand. Our own first parents (Adam & Eve) were also created perfect and chose a selfish course over loyalty to God. The same with Satan.

In summary then, God made a good angel who acted on selfish desire and, in so doing, that angel made himself “Satan.” It is the same exact thing that happened with our first human parents—they were created “in God’s image” (good in every way), but they knowingly acted on a selfish desire.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Studying-Getting A Rich Spiritual Tan

Do not think of it as a drudgery, "Ah man, I've gotta study now." Instead think of it as getting a rich suntan of wisdom on the endless beach of Jehovah's vast knowledge.

As our skin absorbs the sun rays so likewise we need to absorb the rays of knowledge & wisdom not just through reading, but through reflecting (meditating, contemplating) on what we read. Although physical tans can be hurried through various means, acquiring a luxurious spiritual tan takes time because it takes years for our brain to start making inter-relational connections with the things we read. In time, things we are currently reading in the Bible, will start to call back to our minds things we've read in the past.

That is one reason that associating with like-minded believers is so helpful. Listening to them express their faith helps us make new connections in the way we think and reflect on scripture. Learning from other's experience accelerates the learning process BECAUSE what may have taken us years to conclude now can be learned much quicker from others that have done this longer. After more than 40 years of studying the Bible, I can still very humbly admit that many of the new thought-connections I make are because of hearing the perspective of fellow believers. Indeed, more than few of the articles I've written here were because of a comment I heard that I expanded on.

So if you admire the deep spiritual tan (knowledge and insight) that others have, know that you can have it too. All you need to do is study, reflect, and associate with fellow believers.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How Do We Walk With God?

A friend invites you to join him on his walk. He knows the path—he’s been down it several times, whereas you are just visiting. So it is natural that you would let him set the distance, path and pace. He sets the distance and path because it is, after all, “his” walk, not yours. He sets the pace because he knows what is best to complete the walk given the needed energy and stamina. In that he is taking the lead and making the decisions, you “walk with him,” not the other way around. Granted, if this had been your “stomping grounds” and you were the authority, the tables would be turned and he would be walking “with” you.

Let’s say your friend is a forest ranger and encourages you to make a career of giving guided tours through the woods in his area. He tells you of all the studies needed to truly become an authority. You study forestry, botany, soil conservation and preservation and much more. Now you have made this “walk” of his into your own “walk of life,” a professional occupation; giving it the commitment of a lifetime “calling.”

With the illustration above as our backdrop, notice how the term “walk with” is used in the next two scriptures.

“And Enoch lived on for sixty-five years. Then he became father to Methuselah. And after his fathering Methuselah Enoch went on walking with the [true] God three hundred years. Meanwhile he became father to sons and daughters. So all the days of Enoch amounted to three hundred and sixty-five years. And Enoch kept walking with the [true] God.” –Genesis 5:21-24

“Noah was a righteous man. He proved himself faultless among his contemporaries. Noah walked with the [true] God.” –Genesis 6:9

Both Enoch and Noah had the right and humble attitude. They didn’t force God to accept their own standards, making God fit into their lives. No, rather they knew that as Creator, God knew what was best. Both Enoch and Noah “walked with” God, allowing God to set the distance, path and pace.

Now it is true that as you walk, you might suggest to your friend, "Hey, let's check out this side-path." But when we consider that walking with God means that we obey him (Psalms 25:5,9), none of us would ever suggest to our God that he change the direction he has in mind. Any such deviation would not be his course, but one we choose that is not in line with his guidance. (Quoting Deuteronomy 28:14, “And you must not turn aside from all the words that I am commanding YOU today, to the right or to the left, to walk after other gods to serve them.” See also 2 Kings 21:22, Psalms 81:12. In the NWT, “YOU” is plural, referring to more than one person.)

On a day to day basis, how do we "walk with" God? Exodus 16:4 gives us some insight. It reads: “Then Jehovah said to Moses: “Here I am raining down bread for YOU from the heavens; and the people must go out and pick up each his amount day for day, in order that I may put them to the test as to whether they will walk in my law or not."

Leviticus 18:1-5 has similar language, cautioning the people against imitating the immoral ways of the nations around them (“in their statutes YOU must not walk.”) and admonishing them to obey the counsel of Jehovah (“my statutes YOU should keep so as to walk in them.”) See also 1 Kings 3:14; 1 Kings 6:11,12)

Summing it up at Deuteronomy 10:12, we read: “And now, O Israel, what is Jehovah your God asking of you but to fear Jehovah your God, so as to walk in all his ways and to love him and to serve Jehovah your God with all your heart and all your soul." Perhaps it is this scripture that Jesus himself quoted from when providing the first of the two greatest commandments. Yes, one key element of loving God (walking with Him) is obedience as a constant feature of our life, not some sporadic or hit-and-miss lifestyle.

True Christians are likewise admonished to minimize our involvement with the “the system of things of this world” because it is ruled by Satan. Although we may, before becoming believers, have become deeply entrenched with “sons of disobedience,” we have abandoned that association in order to walk with the true God. (“Furthermore, [it is] YOU [God made alive] though YOU were dead in YOUR trespasses and sins, in which YOU at one time walked according to the system of things of this world, according to the ruler of the authority of the air, the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience. Yes, among them we all at one time conducted ourselves in harmony with the desires of our flesh, doing the things willed by the flesh and the thoughts, and we were naturally children of wrath even as the rest.”)  –Ephesians 2:1-3

Yes, like our illustrative friend at the outset, God knows the path we need to take. Whereas we are all individually relative newcomers (and short-lived at that), God is eternal. He knows exactly what we need to do. He sets the “distance,” that is, we keep walking with him for the duration of our lives. He sets the “path,” that is, he defines how to direct our lives. Finally, he sets the pace by teaching us patience and endurance.

Like the ranger that invited his friend to make a career out of forestry, Jehovah also invites us to make a real lifetime commitment not only to ourselves but to helping others see the benefits of following him and his son, Jesus Christ.

Although far from perfect, it is my determination to always “walk with God.”

Monday, April 22, 2013

Handling Close-Minded and Arrogant People

Luke18:9-14. This scripture is an illustration spoken by Jesus (recorded by Luke) about self-righteous ones that speak of their own standing before God as if it is so much better than everyone else's.

I met a man today that I allowed to ruin my whole time I spent in my public outreach work. (I realized later that I was the one that ruined it because I allowed the experience to consume my thoughts even though I had enjoyed several much more pleasant conversations.) The man was so completely unreasonable--condemning me because I do not believe as he does; demanding I accept his viewpoint even though it was seriously flawed; refusing to allow me to make any point; and finally, telling me that scripture was unimportant. In fact, at one point he actually said, "All you have to do is believe that Jesus is God and nothing else matters." At that point I asked him if I could share just one point from the Bible. (I wanted to help him reason on the point that if that was indeed all there was to know, why then does the Bible contain so much more instructional information?) However, his response was rude, close-minded and psychologically bullying, so I turned to leave. He acted exactly as I expected, getting one last insult in as I walked away. I refused to stoop to his level of childish behavior and just kept walking.

On top of that, another comment made by another person demonstrating complete ignorance of the facts got me worked up as well. That person made a sweeping generalization of "those people" (me and my fellow-believers), saying that they would never understand how someone could be so stupid. I really wanted to ask that person if they had ever even made an attempt to inquire what and why we believe a particular point or were they just close-minded and wanted to remain uninformed while they spouted their completely wrong perception of us. But I kept silent realizing it was not the right place or time to make an issue of things.

Then, later today, after several prayers but still not being able to shake it off (get it out of mind), I decided to read the Bible. (I am in the latter parts of Luke.) It almost seemed as if the counsel was exactly what I needed. I needed to keep a humble attitude like the tax collector, not comparing myself to others, not insulted or frustrated over other's insensitive arrogance (like what the Pharisee said in the illustration) but just humbly keep working out my own salvation while I try to reach honest-hearted people that are willing to have an intelligent and polite conversation. Here I was angered over others arrogance when in fact, I should just be focusing on what I can do to better myself. And that, in part, is what I feel Jesus’ point was in the this scripture—being humble, not comparing myself to others but focusing on what I can do to improve, refine and expand my relationship with my Creator.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Birthday Celebrations

Most people find it odd that Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate birthdays. I know I did. Even though birthdays had lost any significance to me long before I started talking to Jehovah’s Witnesses, it was one thing to personally pass on the matter; it was another to discover that a particular religion actually believed it was wrong to engage in the practice.

It’s not often I get asked about the belief—the last time was about seven years ago. My immediate supervisor had just circulated a birthday card for one of our co-workers and I found it on my chair covered over with other papers. Without saying anything, I took it back to my supervisor and placed it on his chair. I guess he must have looked at it because he came up to me and asked why I didn't sign it. I told him it had to do with my understanding of some Bible verses and asked him if he’d like me to explain. He said “not at this time.” Months later he came up to me and brought up the subject again.

I asked him if he’d ever had someone in his life that he loved so dearly that he paid very close attention to everything they did and did not do—someone he wanted very much to please. Maybe it was a grandparent, maybe a best friend, maybe a girl friend. Maybe it was something simple like every time you and that person went to a restaurant, he (or she) never put ketchup on a hamburger when everyone else did. And then at gatherings, when everyone else was passing around the ketchup, he always passed it on without using it. Even though that person never said anything, you came to realize that there is something about ketchup that he does not like. My boss said he hadn't observed that quiet disdain before, but he could accept that such a scenario is feasible.

I then told him that there is nothing specifically in the Bible promoting or condemning birthday celebrations. However, there are two indicators about how God might feel about birthdays. The first is that for all the hundreds of years and dozens of faithful men and women recounted in scripture, none are ever recorded as annually commemorating their birth. There are only two mentions of birthdays in the Bible and those are of rulers who did not worship the God of the Bible. In both instances, as part of the celebration, a murder was committed. In the second instance, the murder was of John the Baptist, a faithful servant of God and cousin to Jesus. The second indicator is how God perceives the importance of a person’s birth.

I then told my supervisor that based on those scriptures, and the complete lack of any indication that any faithful servant of God ever commemorated an annual remembrance of their birth, I felt the safe course to take in pleasing God was to avoid birthday celebrations. I assured him I would never interfere with the team’s activities in that vein nor would I ever make anyone feel bad because of my beliefs. He understood my viewpoint and thanked me for explaining it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

I Am Not Worried About Dying

In the last two years I've had several kind-hearted people reach out to me because of a post I made on Amazon. The post was about some homeopathic herbs I had bought. These herbs claimed to be good for leukemia patients. Most of those writing me had other recommendations to make. All sincerely expressed encouragement and condolence. Recently, a gentleman reached out to me pointing me to yet another unconventional treatment. Here, in part, is some of the reply I made:

I want to make sure that I convey my deep appreciation for your thinking of me enough to write me. At present, the doctor feels my situation is progressing as expected. Because of my deep faith based on decades of study, I am not worried. When I was a child with a muscular disease, I saw many other children with rare and more critical situations than mine actually dying. At a very young age I determined that if I lived just one day more than they did, I'd be grateful. In truth, I have lived 5 decades longer than those that died in their first decade of life. (I'm now in my 60's)

For the "here and now," even though I've endured many health, financial and general life setbacks, I don't view myself as having been denied a relatively good life. While working for AT&T, I got to travel the world, meet many people (which to me is the 2nd best part of life), come to understand God and the Bible more than most people (the numero uno best part), have a brain that loves drinking in knowledge (I read a lot about technology, the sciences, and of course the Bible).

So while so many kind-hearted people have expressed authentic concern, I'm not worried. As far as I'm concerned, I've lived much more than my life expectancy. If I were to die tomorrow, which I don't plan on, I would not have any regrets. I wouldn't be whining, "I wish I had done this or that."

Then, finally, there is the hope of being brought back to life on earth, but without all the problems plaguing us today as promised here.

I have been offering those that reach out to me, to answer any questions they have about God or the Bible. Questions for which they may never have found an answer. Now, I don't claim to be a genius, and I readily admit my brain is slowing down, but I know how to research. So if it takes me a few days, you can still be sure I will answer your question. I want nothing in return except to help you and others find the peace I have found. Again, I'm not talking about some emotion-filled feeling. I'm talking about using the brain our Creator gave us to understand just how sensible his ways are.

Besides the online references, I have a collection of some 18 Bible translations and a few Hebrew and Greek language reference books. Feel free to contact me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Forgiving Repentant Ones

Are we required to forgive people that are not the least bit sorry for what they did?

At Luke 17:3,4 Jesus is quoted as counselling us: “Pay attention to yourselves. If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke, and if he repents forgive him. Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” (Context here.)

Although we are urged to freely forgive others, those who sin against us should willingly, humbly and honestly apologize in order to receive forgiveness. If they are not sorry, they shouldn’t expect that we have to tolerate their inconsiderate words or actions against us. Jesus' words here make it plain that we are right to expect an apology and repentance before extending forgiveness. In some cases though, you might decide to be the “bigger man” by not making an issue of someone’s prideful hesitance to apologize. Also, Jesus' words in Luke 17 are not a license for us to be petty and thin-skinned.

Disasters Are Not Acts of God

As various “natural” and human-induced disasters and tragedies have taken place, I have heard people comment that God is punishing that particular geographic area for their sins. A few years ago when the gulf was hit by extraordinarily intense weather, one of my own blood-relatives told me his preacher said that God was punishing them. I was appalled at hearing that. I told him that those people were no better or worse than others. Jesus himself made this point at Luke 13:1-5.

In reflecting on times when the Bible did identify punishment as coming from God, in each case, the people were previously warned. Just a few examples: The apostle Peter referred to Noah as a “preacher of righteousness.” Just before Sodom & Gomorrah was destroyed, Abraham was concerned about good people being indiscriminately destroyed with bad ones just because of living in the locality. (As a result of that, Lot and his family were safely escorted out of that area before God's judgement was carried out.) Before disobedient Israelites were taken into exile in Babylon, God made sure to give them more than adequate and repeated warning. Finally, most know the story of Jonah and the whale. The reason Jonah ended up there was because he was told by God to give a warning message to a city. Instead, he ran the other way. After being vomited out, he decided to carry out the commission to warn the inhabitants of Nineveh The positive results are recounted here.

So what four points should we keep in mind when bad things happen? First, God is not the cause of "natural" and man-caused disasters that indiscriminately destroy both good and bad people. Second, unforeseen occurrences befall all people. Third, in cases where God does punish disobedient humans, they are warned first. Finally, God is able to selectively save those faithful to him in cases where he does punish people.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

What Does God Really Want From Us?

Ceremony and Ritual; live rock bands and rocking out in the pews; orchestra performances; impassioned preachers. Sound familiar? If so you've attended one of the mainstream religions popular today. But are grandiose demonstrations what God and his son, Jesus, want? Notice what Jesus said in Matthew 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.” What does that mean, “to do the will of the Father”? At another event in Jesus’ life, he was talking to a woman and indicated that the place of worship was not as important as the practical application of Bible principles. He said that true followers would “worship with spirit and truth.” (John 4:23)

“Spirit and Truth,” what does that mean and how is that linked with “the will of the Father”? First off, unlike what you may have heard, the word “spirit” is not something spooky, mysterious or vague. In the original languages of the Bible, “spirit” literally translates as “breath” or “wind.” In the context of this verse, it means to take God’s word in the spirit (intent) it was spoken (breathed). It also means that true worship is not showy, but rather modest and humble. Many people try to contort and convolute what the Bible teaches by taking verses out of context, apply absurdly ridiculous literal interpretations (see "Additional Notes" below), and enforcing rules and practices that God never intended. Back when Jesus walked on earth, the religious leaders of that time put a heavy burden on people by having them follow petty rules that actually worked against what God intended.  

Jesus also mentioned that true followers would worship “in truth.” Quite simply, that means that both our beliefs and our actions would be in harmony with what God really wants from us--and that is "the will of the Father." After stripping away all the fluff, all the ceremony and ritual, all the rules—what does it really come down to? Jesus does not leave us having to wonder without an answer. Jesus said it all comes down to two simple, but challenging obligations: 1) love God with every fiber of our being, and 2) love other humans as much as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:35-40) Why is it a challenge to do these two simple things--because we are imperfect. In our relationship with God, all of us admittedly fall short of total obedience and trusting him completely. In dealing with others, we tend to not be as loving to them, not be as forgiving to them as we are in overlooking our own faults.

There are other specifics that the Bible outlines that are demonstrations of Matthew 22:37 such as what exactly is entailed in 1) personal Christian activity, 2) congregating as a brotherhood, and 3) our relationship with those who don't believe the same as we do. But that is not something I want to include in the scope of this article; this is intended as a clear & concise overview.

But coming back to the religion you belong to…Do yourself a favor—list on a piece of paper all the things you do in your church as part of your worship; all the rules you can think of that you must obey; all the religious holidays you observe. Then, see if you can find those things in the Bible. If not, you've got some soul-searching to do.

Two other related articles:
What Are the Defining Characteristics of True Christianity?

Additional Notes:
I recently read a comment by an online preacher claiming two verses in the book of Job posed an impossible-to-understand contradiction. According to the King James Version (KJV), one says that Satan caused the trials on Job but another says that God brought the trials. What he refused to do was consider the context. Per the NWT, here are the two important verses involved. In the first instance, the narrator correctly identified Satan as causing the issue. The second instance was from the viewpoint of Job's relatives. Remember--Job never was told by God that Satan was doing this to him.

So taken in context of the whole Bible, the point was that Satan was guilty of the cruelty AND that the only reason God permitted this trial was to demonstrate that we humans do have the physical, mental and moral capability of being loyal to God even in adversity. But because that preacher wanted to take Job 42:11 literally and only by using the rendering of the KJV, he closed his mind to the most sensible conclusion.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

If Jesus Were Complacent

The following is completely fictitious (but with a lesson):

There was a woman named Mary who gave birth to a son. She named him Jesus. As a boy he wasn’t much different from any other boy—he followed the instructions of his parents with occasional belly-aching. But generally he was a good boy. As a teenager, he did what most teens do—sassing his parents and acting like a know-it-all. Problem was, Jesus did know it all—he was perfect—as he frequently reminded everyone, ad nauseam. As time continued, though, he mellowed and grew to be a fine respectable man his community.

He continued on in the family business as a carpenter and made a good living for himself. He attended meetings as often as he could at the local synagogue—when his carpentry didn’t press him into overtime. But hey, we all have to provide for ourselves, right?

Once in a while, he would be called on to read a passage at the synagogue, but reading aloud, in front of a crowd, was not really his cup of tea. He felt it was more important to focus on feeding himself and his family. Besides, what possible difference could one person make, anyway? There were plenty of other men whose business it was to educate the people. There were the scribes, the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Besides, who would believe the word of a carpenter from the small, insignificant town of Nazareth?

The Lesson
But you claim, “Hey, I know I’m not ‘special’ like Jesus was.” Ah, but you are special. Jesus saw in you something so special, that he revealed his Father to you. (Matt.11:27). He gave you his “precious and very grand promises” (2Peter 1:4) But to feel great, we must act great. That is, greatly depend on Jehovah, knowing that he really does want to help us excel in using our talents to praise him. It takes bold courage to "trust in Jehovah with all your heart" especially when questions (really, doubts) like, "where will I live? what will I eat" beat us into complacency. - Proverbs 3:5; Matthew 6:25-34

Grasping for Dignity and Worth

Perhaps literal prisoners are the ones that can relate most to this. However, anyone living in a figurative prison of restriction can also appreciate this. These may include those who are suffering with physical limitations due to health and/or age. Also, anyone who feels helplessly, hopelessly trapped (imprisoned) in a relationship or situation that has them living less than an ideal life. Tolerating oppression, prejudice, discrimination, or profiling that pigeon-holes you is also part of this. When we are robbed even of dignity and worth, what can help us to hold on? As overly simplistic as it may sound, here are some points I have found of value:

1. Pray often. Remember that in God's eyes, each of us has value and is precious. Whatever we are going through, he can undo it. Even if we die within this lifetime, there is always the hope of the resurrection when times will be much better.

2. Work on your personal development and relationship both with your creator and others. Joseph (son of Jacob, administrator of Egypt's food-stuffs during an extended famine) was a prime example of this. Before being elevated to that high office, he endured being sold by his own jealous brothers, transported far from everyone he knew by his vagabond slave owners, resold in Egypt, falsely accused of attempting to rape the wife of his boss, thrown into a prison and waiting for years before anything happened to change the situation. Even though the apostle Paul lived hundreds of years later, his advice seemed to sum up what Joseph seemed to instinctively know. Paul wrote (at 1 Thessalonians 4:11) "make it YOUR aim to live quietly and to mind YOUR own business and work with YOUR hands..." Also look for the lessons that you can use in your own life as you read the Bible just as we are encouraged at Proverbs 4:7, "Wisdom is the prime thing. Acquire wisdom; and with all that you acquire, acquire understanding."

3. When (if) your situation does take a turn for the better, do not bitterly, vengefully try to get even or arrogantly feel that now you can treat others poorly. Take the advice God's word gives us at Micah 6:8, "He has told you, O earthling man, what is good. And what is Jehovah asking back from you but to exercise justice and to love kindness and to be modest in walking with your God?"

4. Ask not for positions of honor or prestige, but for the wisdom to live not only a godly life for yourself, but also to help others cope with their challenges. Strive to be modest and learn what true wisdom is. More than seeking acknowledgement from others, focus on approval from your God.

5. Find joy in little things--music, the flight of a bird, the beauty of a flower. If possible, take up a hobby BECAUSE it gives your mind something positive to focus on, some small thing to look forward to. Think how you can be an encouragement to others--seeing a smile on the face of someone that you said a kind word to, will also lift your spirits and make you feel a real sense of joy and worth.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Anger Management

Is unrelenting anger toward someone like murder? How do we normally react when we are angry at someone over a long period of time? After the initial (probable) burst of angry words, we tend to give that person the cold shoulder, the silent treatment. If that continues, what are we really saying in our hearts—possibly that we wish they were dead. Even if we don’t wish that, isn't that what our conduct is treating them as—as if they were non-existent? We've effectively “murdered” them in our heart and mind.

That idea was the main thrust of a recent lecture I heard. It really drove home how unchristian and ungodly such conduct is. In contrast to our imperfect anger, the example our heavenly Father sets for us is one of long-suffering. He is such a merciful God, that the point is driven home three times in scripture. (Ps.86:15; Ps.103:8; Ps.145:8)

Why is continued anger such a danger for us? Psalm 37:8 answers: “Let anger alone and leave rage; Do not show yourself heated up only to do evil.” Yes, evil in the form of physical cruelty can result. (Prov.14:17; Prov.29:22)

So what advice does God’s word give us? It says: “The insight of a man certainly slows down his anger, and it is beauty on his part to pass over transgression.” Prov.19:11 How do we develop such insight? By contemplating not only how God has been patient with us but also how God feels about the way we treat others. (Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:23-33; Eph.4:31,32) Yes, if we want to be forgiven by God, we need to be forgiving to others. (When we consider that the “prison” God will throw unforgiving ones into is “death,” that should be even more motivation to change our ways.) Yes, instead of allowing anger to consume us, we need to focus our attention on more productive things. (Galatians 5:22,23)

Moral Compass

Many people claim to have a solid “moral north,” like an internal moral compass. Some call this our conscience and others merely “personal integrity.” However, just as a compass’ ability to point to true north can be easily compromised using a magnet, many people’s moral compass can be compromised by the strong magnetic forces of peer pressure and personal enticements. Both of these forces have had well-publicized effects on political, sports and corporate figures, but no one is exempt.

Fantasies and Consequences

Fantasies are called that because in the fantasy there is no consequence—and that truly is a fantasy because everything in real life has consequences.

I recently heard a discourse about sexual fantasies and how unreal they are. The speaker advised: “If you really want to fantasize, think it all the way through. Don’t just fantasize your lust, think about the aftermath, when you get exposed…when you strain relationships and break your loved ones hearts…when you suffer guilt…when you endure embarrassment. Because in reality, all those bad effects and more will follow after you act on your fantasy."

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Ecclesiastes 3 verse 11

Everything he has made pretty in its time. Even time indefinite he has put in their heart, that mankind may never find out the work that the [true] God has made from the start to the finish.

I recently skimmed through an article by a Bible commentator claiming that the above verse was grossly misrendered and that instead of God putting “time indefinite” into us, what he put was “darkness,” that is, God veiled the future so we couldn't see through that veil. When I read something so contrary to what I’ve understood, it makes me want to dig into the original languages to see what was actually said. With that, below is some reference material I transcribed

Young’s Analytical Concordance (p.1073) renders the Hebrew word as “indefinite time.”

KJV with Hebrew & Greek word references. (This reference uses square brackets to designate the numerized / categorized list of all Hebrew words and parenthesis for Greek words.)

He hath made [H6213] (8804) every [thing] beautiful [H3303] in his time [H6256]: also he hath set [H5414] (8804) the world [H5769] in their heart [H3820], so that [H1097] no man [H120] can find out [H4672] (8799) the work [H4639] that God [H430] maketh [H6213] (8804) from the beginning [H7218] to the end [H5490].

In the above quote, keyed off the King James Version, the two points to notice are the Hebrew codes  highlighted. Using Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, in the back-material section "Hebrew & Chaldee Dictionary," here are the translations of those words. You will note that Strong's provides the reader as many possible "flavors" of the word in order to grasp the original intent of the word:

H5769 (p.89) (KJV "world"): States that this word is from 5956. "Concealed, out of mind(-beyond our grasp-). "Vanishing point." Then it states that in practical terms this would mean a "continuance, eternal, ever lasting, ever more, perpetual, time without end."

H5956 (p.89) means "to veil from sight, conceal." (- But this does not seem to specifically imply it being a blinding light, an impenetrable darkness or even a fog. -)

H4672 (p.70) "to come forth, appear, exist, attain, find or acquire. To cause to come.(- realize -)
(In the above, the words appearing between the “ (- -)” marks are my comments.)

Personal Reflection
This scripture does not seem to indicate that God made us with the “heart” (desire) to see an eternal life. There are other scriptures that do indicate that, but this does not seem to be one of them.

After examining the above reference materials, it appears the scripture is saying: God has made the eons of time like a vanishing point of which we cannot discern its beginning or end because of our limited ability (or, perhaps in some cases even complete inability) to understand all he has done and all he will yet do. He (God) has “put” it into our hearts the desire to understand, but our attempts are so feeble that they are humbling. We are forced to concede that we may never find out “the work that the [true] God has made from start to finish.”

In essence then, this scripture is not talking about him putting a desire for eternal life in us. Rather, it is saying that we yearn to understand both creation’s beginning and it’s far-reaching future. Indeed, scientists today spend their lifetime trying to understand how the universe started and are constantly updating both what they think happened in the past and what they feel the will happen to the cosmos in times to come. Also, faithful servants of God throughout recorded history have struggled to understand prophecies of the future.

There is another possible explanation, having to do with the King James Version (KJV) rendering of the word "world." Just as a school child may feel overwhelmed when he is handed a stack of books for the year, mankind sees no vanishing point for all the studies that can be done regarding the Earth and the physical universe. There is literally a "world" of studies to pursue.  He is overwhelmed with everything there is to learn. In fact, just like the school child, he may state "I'll never get through all of this!" Indeed, even after thousands of years of mankind's existence (per Bible chronology), we still have only scratched the surface. Every time we think we've mastered just one field of knowledge, some breakthrough comes along demonstrating just how small and finite our understanding is. Coming back to the analogy of the a student, it is as if after finishing the stack of books he was handed, he is then taken to the city library and shown shelf after shelf of books and told “you must learn this also.” In that vein, notice the rendering of Eccl. 3:11 by the following Bible translations:

Common English Bible (CEB): God has made everything fitting in its time, but has also placed eternity in their hearts, without enabling them to discover what God has done from beginning to end.

Complete Jewish Bible (CJB): He has made everything suited to its time; also, he has given human beings an awareness of eternity; but in such a way that they can’t fully comprehend, from beginning to end, the things God does.

Contemporary English Version (CEV): God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can ever fully understand all he has done, and he puts questions in our minds about the past and the future.

An article in a 2009 issue of Awake magazine also seems to explain that scripture in the same general direction:

In conclusion, then, that God set “darkness” in us (as the commentator had suggested) is a bit harsh. It reminds me of a child that once told me that honey was actually bee barf--while the mechanics may be there, it is not a true representation. In my mind, darkness implies complete inability to get any bearing. Rather than darkness, it is like the small light at the end of tunnel that we struggle to identify, or obscured vision through fog (which is like a thin veil of sorts)--we know there is something there, we have a sense of what it might be, but there is yet so much to learn--and even then, we will never stop learning. Complete understanding of everything God has done is just beyond our grasp but what we discover keeps us intrigued and searching--which keeps "eternity" or "time indefinite" in our hearts.

Supplimentary Notes:
Here are more than 20 other Bible renderings of Eccl.3:11 for your personal comparative reading:

I did not link the commentator’s article because when I attempted to go back and find it, I could not.