Friday, August 30, 2013

Sly Wolves

It never ceases to amaze me how those I meet are so quick to condemn my faith but have nothing to offer in place of it. Oh sure, they’d probably love if I came and joined their church, but based on the way they treat me, I’m certainly not attracted to that. Would you want to associate with a religion that right from the get-go does nothing but tells you what a loser you are? Me neither. Recently I was told I’d been deceived. I responded that for there to be deception, there would have to be motive. Money isn't the motive because we follow Jesus’ directive regarding our preaching work, “you received free, give free.” We don't charge people for our literature. We don't pass collection baskets. We don't require a tithe. (Matthew 10:8) He defended the right of other religions to require tithing. (I later learned he is a pastor at his church.)

During all our discussions, both in person and through email, he continually tried to find fault with Jehovah’s Witnesses and nit-picked everything I said. At one point during an in-person meeting, he showed me a Greek-language Bible that was amalgamated using numerous fragments (not an uncommon practice). He had learned to read Greek, so he could directly translate it to English. It was very impressive. But he tried to make a point about the punctuation it used compared to the punctuation in the New World Translation. He pointed to his Greek-language Bible as an authority showing the real punctuation. I politely listened and nodded, but I knew he was not telling the truth. When I got home I found three websites that have nothing to do with Jehovah’s Witnesses—all of which confirmed what I vaguely remembered—Greek did not have any punctuation. So the use of punctuation by all translators and original-language renderers is subjective and, to some degree, a form of interpretation. When I pointed this out to him, he didn't like that. I guess he thought I would swallow his lie hook, line and sinker.

At first I thought he sincerely wanted my responses to his challenges. I even acknowledged that he brought up some very good questions that deserve an honest answer. But when I attempted to respond, I discovered his real intentions. He wasn’t interested in anything that might exonerate us. He was fully convinced we are wrong. His only purpose was to raise sufficient doubt in my mind so I'd stop serving the one true God. 

I researched one other issue he raised that he said gave indisputable proof that Jesus is God Almighty. It all centered on the Greek word “proskuneo” which, when rendered in English, can be translatedworship, obeisance,” or even “prostrate.” It comes from two root Greek words meaning “towards to kiss.” His faulty argument was that since Jesus permitted others to do this toward him, he was accepting worship, therefore proving he was God. The problem with that thinking is that he was using a very narrow definition of the word. When I found an occurrence of that word where Jesus used it in an illustration about a man begging for mercy from another man, that blew his whole argument out of the water. Although I’ll be the first to admit I am not a Greek scholar by any means, I do own some well-respected reference works that made this an easy discovery. Maybe he thought I’d be too lazy or dumb to research this. He boasted about his degree from his studies. The fact is, the message in the Bible was never intended to be intellectualized. God and his son, Jesus, both worked with common folk, down to earth folk. True religion, true faith, was and is a matter of a personal relationship with God, something anyone with average intelligence can grasp. The message in the Bible was to average people that could understand simple concepts. (Downloadable PDF with more extensive analysis)

Still, I was happy for this experience. I even thanked the man and I meant it with all sincerity. He helped me once again reaffirm my faith and see how others so slyly try to twist scriptures for their own benefit.

Here are the links to the three websites regarding Greek and punctuation:

On this next link, notice the 7th paragraph, the one under the heading: "Strong's Hebrew/Greek Dictionary.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Take Pleasure In Weaknesses

2 Corinthians 12:10 (NWT) Therefore I take pleasure in weaknesses, in insults, in cases of need, in persecutions and difficulties, for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am powerful. (Other versions)

At times we may feel apprehensive or inadequate in our ministry, especially when we are challenged to defend our beliefs by people we meet. Still, Peter encourages us to "sanctify the Christ as Lord in your hearts, always ready to make a defense before everyone that demands of you a reason for the hope in you, but doing so together with a mild temper and deep respect." (1 Peter 3:15) (Other versions)

So, coming back to Paul’s words, what we can learn is to not be afraid to be "weak".  In other words, be willing to put ourselves in an uncomfortable situation so that the spirit of God can be our power and not our own learning and abilities. The fact is that the best potential new believers come from those that were adamantly opposed because these tend to research more diligently. For example, Paul himself was a persecutor of the early congregation of Christians. So don't shy away from challenges. You may actually have found yourself a new future brother (or sister) in the faith.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

What Is Our Motive

While out speaking to people about the Bible, I met a man that sincerely believed I had been misled by the teachings of the Watchtower Bible & Tract Society. What impressed me about this man was his mild spirit, respectful conversational style and willingness to allow me to explain. Most that I meet that feel we are deceived resort to insults, take an arrogant “I’m better than you” stance, and refuse to allow me to make any defense. They just want to tell me what a loser I am, while elevating their viewpoints.

I traded email addresses with that man because I sensed a sincere and kind disposition. In fact, he stated what I normally require of anyone that wants to talk—it must be a two-way conversation and it must be respectful. In my first email, I commended him for his wonderful personality. I mentioned that it reminded me of Paul’s counsel to Timothy in his second letter to Timothy, chapter 2, verse 24. Essentially, we need to be peaceable, even under the most disagreeable situations.

I am recounting here the points I made regarding why I believe it is untrue that we are deceived followers and expanding on that.

In order for there to be deception, there must be a motive to do so. From the viewpoint of agnostics and atheists, the motive of many (if not most) religions is financial gain. So let’s take a look at that first.

Unlike other religions, all our activities (both local and global) are supported by unsolicited voluntary donations. There is NEVER a collection basket passed at ANY of our services. If you scroll down to the “Fast Facts” section on the “About” page from the site, you will see that we are active in more than 230 “lands.” Yet whether it be a prosperous or deprived land, we freely share the good news both in the public outreach (our “ministry”) and at our meeting places. The only time in the 42 years that I've been one of Jehovah's Witnesses that I have ever heard anything about money is under two specific conditions: 1) The accounts report that is read monthly, and 2) a talk about once a year on how donations can be made and what they are used for. At one time I was the person in charge of collecting and depositing the donations, so I know firsthand how donations are managed.

Another thing that impressed me is that we do not have paid clergy. We call all male believers “brother” and female believers “sister” regardless of what responsibilities they have in the congregation. How do those that have been assigned as teachers make a living? The same way that everyone else does in the congregation—they hold down a secular job. (There are some in the congregation that I am in that are retirees drawing a pension.) But the main point is that absolutely none are paid for the services they render the congregation from congregation donations.

Finally, (with regards to financials) is the matter of the donations from the public. My personal experience is that I give away about a dozen or so magazines every month without even asking for a donation. (We are encouraged to ask for such, but I’ve never felt comfortable doing so.) In 42 years I’ve been a Witness, I think the donations from the public I've received, all of which I pass on to the congregation donation box, have amounted to less than $50.  But the literature is just one aspect. Not to be forgotten or overlooked is that we have to pay from our own funds for the gas and other incidentals in bringing this message to people. While we live in the communities we serve, those like myself that are active in the ministry 3 to 4 times a week find gas costs adding up. So nobody is in this for the money.

But money is not the only motive for religions to have a following. Some just like the “head trip” of being able to control people. Is that something the Watchtower is interested in? If you read websites written by dissenters, they would have you believe that is true. Some would have you believe supporters are nothing but mindless robots spreading the message. I’m not exactly sure what motivates such slander but it is a completely false charge. Yes, the Watchtower does publish articles that are intended to help its adherents grow in godly qualities. What religion do you know that doesn’t try to direct the flock? Jesus worked hard to teach the truth to others. The first-century Christians (the writers of the Greek scriptures or, as some call it, the “New Testament”) wrote extensively about Christian beliefs and how to live. For those that think giving guidance and counsel are bad things, I can only ask what other honorable purpose a religion could possibly have. If power and prestige were motivating factors within our faith, you’d expect to see men of prominence bill-boarding their names all over the place. Yet that is not the case. While many Bible translators and publishers of religious material have no problem in putting their names all over the materials, the writers of our publication readily give credit to God who is the source of the real message of hope.

So money and riches are not a motive. Neither is power and prestige. When people I’ve met run out of all other excuses, they usually go with, “Oh, you guys are just servants of the devil. You’re only desire is to mislead. You don’t care about anything else.” I’m usually left flabbergasted, and speechless. But even if I could respond, before I can respond, I usually get the door slammed in my face. That charge is so completely unfounded that it demonstrates they are merely mimicking something they’ve heard before. They make no attempt to substantiate the claim, they just puppet it. Jesus said “by their fruits you will recognize” who is really serving God and who is not. So what are the fruits of Jehovah’s Witnesses? We are the only global religion that lives by Jesus’ words not to engage in war. We are the only global religion that practices on a global scale giving freely of the Bible’s message to all we meet. I might be mistaken about this one, but I think we are the only religion that globally recognizes what medical science has said for years—that smoking is bad. We teach that a loyal servant of God cannot be defiling his body with this habit. We teach moderation in lifestyle, devotion to God by reading and adhering to the Bible. We teach tolerance and understanding. I could go on listing many other features, all of which are admirable qualities. No, we are not perfect individuals. We readily admit we are imperfect. But individually and collectively we comprise a fellowship that is a real joy to be a part of.
Index of Blog Articles

Thursday, August 8, 2013

French Press: Making Coffee With the French Press

Most product instructions I read today are poorly written and do not address the whole process but merely the technical operations. Recently I bought a French Press and was dismayed with the poorly written instructions, so I wrote my own....

The French Press, like the crude camping method of merely boiling beans in a pan, relies on course-ground beans in order to extract the oils and aromatics from the beans. The difference with the French Press is that the strainer is, effectively, built into the device. However, it cannot and does not filter out small sediment which is a natural by-product. The filter will also become un-usably  plugged if anything less than course-ground coffee is used. This means you cannot use coffee beans that have been ground for a drip system and especially not an espresso machine.

Things You Will Need
The French Press
Microwaveable Coffee cup
1 tablespoon measuring spoon
Course-ground coffee

The following instructions assume you are making coffee for one mug. The 34-ounce Bodum French Press I am using is capable of making two mug’s worth of coffee at a time.

·         Fill your coffee mug with water and microwave to just below boiling point. (About 2-1/2 minutes)
·         While the water is being heated, if you are using whole beans, grind them coarsely, using one tablespoon of beans per mug of coffee.
·         Remove the strainer/lid combination from the Press.
·         Empty the ground beans into the French Press.
·         When the water is heated, pour it into the French Press and stir gently preferably with a wooden spoon. WARNING: Using a metal spoon may crack and break the fragile glass of the Press.
·         Insert the strainer/lid into the Press. GENTLY and SLOWLY press down. WARNING: Do not use fast or excessive pressure. This will cause the heated water to jet out of the top of the Press.
·         With the strainer still lowered, pour your coffee into your coffee mug.
·         Add whatever you normally do to your coffee such as sweetener and milk. (Note: Adding cold dairy to the coffee may make it lukewarm. To fix, merely microwave for about 30 seconds.)

Clean Up
·         Remove the strainer/lid from the Press. Brush off the bulk of the sediment from the strainer into the trash, then rinse.
·         Add water to the carafe of the Press and swish the beans and then dump down the toilet. Wash the carafe in the sink taking care not to crack it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

My 100th Post

After posting the article about the cross, I noticed the counter (on the admin screen of the blog) indicated I had posted 99 articles. So this makes number 100 and I thought it would be a good time for some reflection. The first two articles (in December of 2010) were commentaries on scripture and beliefs of atheists. The next 3 articles covered smartphones, a health topic and inter-personal relationships. At the time, I really hadn't decided any particular focus for this blog. Now, after nearly 3 years, I've tended to gravitate toward scriptural commentary because I find it so mentally invigorating. Here’s the stats:

63 articles regarding scripture and religious topics
20 articles regarding science and technology
12 articles regarding miscellaneous subjects
5 articles that are not listed on my index list.

There seems to be at least 50 some-odd people following this blog (according the admin pages) although I only have two members as of August 2013. But I didn't start this to amass a readership. My whole drive was to keep up my writing skills and hopefully be of help to some that are really looking to make sense of God and the Bible. I've strived to use both common sense and reasonableness in my thought development. The closest thing I’ve gotten to a compliment on this blog is that I present interesting “stories.” Well, at least they’re not boring, (or maybe the commenter was just being kind with the word “interesting”). Personal friends that have read selected articles have indicated they were well-written and I truly do appreciate those expressions of appreciation.

So what is next? If you notice the chronological sidebar on the right, I've not set any regularity of a posting schedule. At present, I do not have any research projects planned and the articles based on my experiences are only written after I contemplate how to present it in an interesting way. Except for the young man at the bagel shop, which happened in mid July 2013, nothing notable has happened since then.

Is The Cross Something To Be Reverenced?

As I was walking out of a bagel shop with a friend, we were greeted by a young man who was sitting at an outside table of the shop. He asked us if we were with a church-group. I made a quick observation about his attire. He had a cross on a necklace around his neck, cross earrings and other religious emblems. His demeanor was arrogant and assaultive in trying to raise himself up as being better than us because he was not part of “organized religion.” I've heard this weak argument before. It demonstrates no understanding of what the Bible identifies as Christianity. Christianity is and was always an organized effort by fellow believers to spread the message as recounted in detail in the book of Acts.

But rather than take up that discussion, I thought I’d try to get him to think on a very basic level. So I challenged him: “If someone were to murder a relative of yours with a gun, would you take that gun, put it on a chain and wear it around your neck, or would you be repulsed by it?”

The young man knew exactly what I was referring to and then went on to say that if a person doesn’t reverence the cross, that person is not truly Christian. In response, I asked, “What is more important, that Jesus died for our sins or the method and instrument of his unjust execution?” The man completely avoided the question and started throwing insults at me. I could tell he was not going to be a reasonable individual so I left.

Two things I will commend the young man for, first, he had conviction and second, he was not afraid to discuss it. So many I meet today claim to believe in God and attend some religious functions, but they have no desire to discuss something so vital for our life—salvation by belief in the ransom.

It has been weeks since that encounter and it took a long while for me to reflect on it. I’m still not sure what I would or could have done differently. Admittedly, I tend to get defensive and take an adamant stance when others start verbally assaulting me. I try to always call to mind God’s direction that a true Christian should always be peaceable, even when under adverse conditions. However, just for the record, I wanted to document the facts about the cross.

A Wikipedia article makes this observation: “During the first two centuries of Christianity, the cross may have been rare in Christian iconography, as it depicts a purposely painful and gruesome method of public execution and Christians were reluctant to use it.” Another article indicates that the cross came into use around the third century. Finally, a third article I found on the web identifies the cross as being of pagan (not Christian) origin. You, the reader, should note that I took care to NOT use any literature written by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the above references. The reason was to show that this is not merely some doctrine that we (Jehovah’s Witnesses) made up. But it was after diligent search that we came to same conclusion as the articles cited above. However, now that the facts have been corroborated, here is what we officially believe.

But lets come back to the second question I posed to the young man, “What is more important, that Jesus died for our sins or the means of his death?” Although prophecy did indicate that Jesus would die by the standard Roman means of being put on a pole, a stake, the vastly more important fact is not how he died but why he died. In fact, the majority of the Christian scriptures accentuates the WHY of the matter, not the HOW. And as far as HOW he died, making a religious symbol of it should be as offensive to us as it was to the first-century Christians.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Bible, Fact Or Fiction?

Recently an anonymous commenter wrote that the whole set of my articles were nicely written “stories.” He (or maybe she) went on to explain that just as in the movie “Life of Pi” (the commenter misspelled it “pie”), it all depends on what the audience wants to believe. The commenter thus implied that truth is whatever one chooses to believe. I’ve already written an article addressing the relativity of “truth,” so herein I wanted to address the accusation that the Bible merely contains unprovable stories. One thing that separates fact from fiction is that facts can be proven.

Archeology has several times come to the defense of the Bible. People, places and events have been corroborated. With this proof alone, reasoning people can easily see that the Bible is more akin to a history book than it is a child’s fable.

Scientists have also come forward in favor of the Bible. For instance consider this personal experience of a  man whose study is neurophysiology. Raised an atheist, it was his own studies that convinced him the Bible was more than meets the eye. Also, here are two articles from biochemists, one a man the other a woman, who started out as atheist but changed by reason of their field of study. Yet another article is about a designer of robots that gained an appreciation that God truly exists.

The brochure “Was Life Created” may be of interest to some of you.

Other real-life experiences from the sciences and medical fields:
Nuclear Physicist (Apr.2004 Awake article)
Orthopedic Surgeon (Aug.2013 Awake article)
Kidney researcher (Sept.2013 Awake article)

Consider It All Joy

After the initial greeting to his audience, James, the writer of a small letter that follows Paul’s letter to “the Hebrews,” says the following: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you meet with various trials.” It may sound like an odd piece of advice, but for the first century Christians, it was a running theme and their modus operandi. For example, one of the first beatings the apostles faced was at the hands of the religious leaders that were trying to intimidate them into submission. One might think that such a severe treatment would be a “real downer” for them. But instead, they were actually honored to stand up for Jesus and rejoiced over it.

But James cites another reason to be joyful. In verse 3 he says that successfully meeting trials adds endurance to our personal repertoire of Christian maturity.  But it is one thing to have lived through a trial, it is another thing to come out spiritually unscathed. Hence, in verse 4, James advises that we need to learn from the trial so that we emerge “complete and sound in all respects, not lacking in anything.” That is easier said than done, especially when the trial we are experiencing seems to drag on without letup. Discouragement can easily set in, followed by doubts, wondering if any of this has any purpose—does God really see it and care?

James may have anticipated that feeling and so he continues in verses 5-8: “So, if any one of YOU is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him. But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about. In fact, let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from Jehovah; he is an indecisive man, unsteady in all his ways.”

What is the “wisdom” that we may be lacking? Jesus spoke of this in his “Sermon on the Mount.” He reasoned with his audience that “not one of them [sparrows] will fall to the ground without your Father’s knowledge… Therefore have no fear: you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Peter states it succinctly: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time; while you throw all your anxiety upon him, because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:6, 7)

Yes, wisdom should tell us that God does care. But like a child squirming because it doesn’t want to get a medical shot (injection), sometimes we may get pouty and fight against the trial. Admittedly, I have personally felt a situation that I’ve been enduring for nearly 2 decades “is hopeless.” I’ve even felt as Job did: ‘Just let me die and bring me back when things are better.’ (Job 14:13) Really, no one in their right mind would desire to go through what I’ve been through—especially as hopeless as the situation seems to be.

But that was the whole reason for my writing this article—to remind myself that giving into feelings of hopelessness betrays a lack of faith. That is definitely not how I want my God to know me. I want to have full confidence in Him and demonstrate it by standing firm in the faith.