Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Money, Is It Evil?

A couple decades ago there was a TV preacher whose slogan was something along the line “Money is evil, therefore send your money to me.” Besides the obvious misquoting of scripture, there was a total lack of intelligence in that slogan. Stop and think: If money were truly evil, why in the world would God want something evil? He doesn't, but that money-loving, scripture-twisting preacher knew that many people didn't know their Bible.

Today, money-loving preachers abound and, unfortunately, because they claim to represent God and the Bible, give a very bad name to both. But what does the Bible itself say about money? What about the intentionally misquoted passage I mentioned at the outset?

In 1Timothy 6:9-10 we read that the “love of money” (the insatiable desire to be rich) is what true Christians are warned against. What about money itself? Ecclesiastes 7:12 says that it has value as a “protection.” How can money be a protection? Proverbs 30:8,9 gives a bit of insight here. In part it says that having sufficiency can keep us humble, satisfied, and discourage theft based on hunger. (Note the “New Living Translation” here.) Yes, it can protect us from defaming our God through wrong action and it can help us make an honest living, providing for ourselves and families with a good conscience.

So money itself is not evil. However, the insatiable pursuit of it can be if we shove aside not only good morals and ethical living, but develop a “I will stop at nothing in order to get rich” mentality.

More info here.

Friday, July 25, 2014

What Is God's "Holy Spirit"?

Why refer to God's power as hagion pneuma (holy spirit, aka holy wind, or better yet holy breath)? Think back to Jehovah's first creative act toward mankind. After forming the body, he (God) blew into his (Adam's) nostrils the breath of life. -Genesis 2:7.  What better way to remember our creator & commemorate our becoming living beings than by that first holy life-giving pneuma (breath, wind, air)? By it we are thus reminded that our very life is dependent on that first breath? That power to create life from inanimate material is still exclusively Jehovah's. (Reference 1, Reference 2, Reference 3)

Benefits of Serving God

Recently I performed and internet search for “benefits of serving God.” The results were dismal at best. A great deal of vague rhetoric and flowery words but little reference to actual scriptural proofs. Here is the list I quickly fleshed out by reflecting on scriptures I've learned….

So, have you ever asked: “What do I get from serving God? What immediate and future rewards are there?”
  • Mark 10:29,30 A large spiritual family of support. (For those that put a lot of weight in "blood" relations, Jesus here assures you that you will become part of a much larger family. Today, that "family" is a worldwide brotherhood. See Fast Facts on this link.)
  • Hebrews 12:11 Righteous in God’s eyes. (We all appreciate being admired by others. Imagine being considered by God as a person who truly acts and speaks in a right way for the benefit of all.)
  • 1John 5:14,15 God willingly, gladly listens to us. (Hearing and listening are two different things. Listening means that God hears your words with attentive interest. Your concerns are his concerns.)
  • Luke 11:13 Strength to remain faithful & firmly resolved by way of “holy spirit.” (See this link then reflect that God can, in effect, "breathe power" into us to rise to any test of faith.)
  • Philippians 4:7 Inner peace. (Make no mistake about it. This is NOT merely rose-colored-glasses. When a person learns what it really means to "know" God and to be known by him, the effect is a real calmness based on knowledge and confidence that God truly cares for those that make the sincere, concerted effort to know Him.)
  • Matthew 6:33,34 Our needs will be provided, so no need to worry. (Jesus was here talking about food and shelter. In today's world, many people would list dozens, if not hundreds of more "needs," but life's real necessities are demonstrated by what disaster relief services provide today--shelter, clothing, food & water. Those are the necessities to maintain life. But is that saying that Jesus and Jehovah expect us to merely subsist? No, but that is another discussion.)
The above was only with less than 30 minutes reflection. As I remember more, I'll revise this post.

What is God's Tent (Rev.21:3)

Rev.21:3 mentions that the 'tent of God.' will be with mankind. Why a "tent"? Tents are typically associated with temporary conditions, whether it be camping or refugee situations or with nomadic peoples. Is God’s “residence” with mankind only temporary? Will he pull away from us?

No, that is not the mental imagery that is being painted for us in this passage. God himself resides in heaven and the earth is called his footstool. So God does not literally come down to reside on earth. It simply, according to scripture, could not contain him. (“But wait!,” you say, “verse 3 also plainly says that God will reside with them. That sounds like a contradiction to me.” Actually it is not. During the wilderness trek of the children of Israel (Jacob), God’s presence with and attentive protection for his people was indicated by other visible manifestations.) More than any other generation, ours can appreciate how this might be spoken of as if someone was “right there” with us. First, with the inventions of the telephone and television, people made exclamations that it felt “as if” that person were right there with them or that “It felt as if I were actually right there visiting the location.” Now, with the opportunity to use internet video communications, once again people are making expressions that are similar. (For me, I’ve personally been amazed with GoPro videos that did give a very near “real sensation” of an experience.) In a similar but not specifically detailed manner, God will reside with mankind. We will feel even more the full benefits of God’s good favor and care.

What then is the picture Revelation 21:3,4 is painting in our minds? Tents are also a protection from the elements. God’s spreading his tent over all mankind is intended to demonstrate not only his protection but his welcoming us into his universal united family. This protection will last forever as mentioned at Rev.21:4. More information is available here (see last two paragraphs).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Is Satan is a Sentient Being?

Read Job 1:6-12. Note that Satan "enters" in among the assembled (loyal) angels AND that Satan and Jehovah have a conversation. Consider: Now, Jehovah is spoken of as truthful, incapable of
lying, honest and loyal. In contrast, Satan is spoken of as having invented lying (being the very first liar in all creation), and blinding people to truth. For these two to have any conversation it would have to be between two sentient beings. It cannot be God addressing evil in general nor can evil reply in the specific crafty way it did without there being a mind behind it.

Next is the contact that Jesus (who is spoken of as never having committed a sin) had with Satan. Recorded both by Matthew and Luke, Satan challenges Jesus to three specific compromises of faith. In each instance, Jesus, loyal to God and not his own selfish desires,  correctly handles the situation. Again, if Satan were merely a disembodied concept of evil, this conversation could not have taken place.

There are other proofs regarding this matter, but as I have mentioned recently, I am striving to keep my posts brief. If you want to read more, here is a pretty extensive article.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Protection In Distressing Times

In John 18:36 Jesus states that if his rule was earthly, his attendants would have fought to secure that rule. Other translations render the word “attendants” as servants (17 times), followers (2), subjects (1), and officers (1). Was Jesus merely referring to his earthly disciples?

Consider Matthew 26:48-56 wherein Jesus told his disciples to put away their weapons because, if Jesus had wanted to, he could have had more than a mere 11 human followers defending him, he could have had 12,000 angels doing so. (In another situation, it is interesting that it was not any man that came to assist Jesus, it was angels that attended to him.)

What lessons have I taken away from this?
1.    If Jesus did not want his followers engaged in mortal combat to even save Jesus’ own life, how much less should we be engaged in military activity to protect a country that is not even part of God’s Kingdom?!

2.    Having the confidence Jesus displayed when faced with brutal enemies will help me remain calm when and if-ever I am faced with overwhelming odds.

No Part of This World

In a prior post, I wrote that God expected the nation of Israel to trust in him for national rule and military protection. When Jesus was on earth, how did he feel about depending on human rule?

At John 18:36 Jesus answered: “My Kingdom is no part of this world. If my Kingdom were part of this world, my attendants would have fought that I should not be handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my Kingdom is not from this source.” The foregoing rendering is from the New World Translation. In this link, 20 of the 21 translations cited, also use the word “world.” The one unique rendering is the “New International Version,” which renders Jesus’ words as: “My Kingdom is no from an earthly source.”

Please direct your focus to the statement that Jesus’ kingship is “not from this source.” Regardless of which ruler Jesus had been standing in front of, would he not have been able to use the same words? Before answering that, consider Jesus words in these two passages. In both, Jesus speaks of “the ruler of this world” having received a judgment (past-tense) and then at some future time “will be cast out.” Who is this undesignated ruler? Revelation 12:9 indicates precisely who it is—Satan the devil. How many governments are under his control? The Bible says ALL of them.

In essence then, Jesus was saying that his rulership doesn’t originate with any of the governments under Satan’s control, which is all of them. It comes only from God, his Father. If Jesus felt that strongly, how about us? While we pay our taxes and obey the laws of the land, when called on to express our allegiance, we always indicate we are supporters of God’s Kingdom.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Who Are You?!

A number of translations render a portion of Isaiah 51:12 as Jehovah asking his people, “Who are you?” Reading the context, we soon realize that the tone was more of “Have you forgotten who you are?” It was God’s way of getting his people to remember and reflect that they are considered a special property of his. He cares for them very deeply.

One problem that nation faced back then (and throughout Bible history) was their tendency to trust in their own military might and the military alliances they formed with other nations. Repeatedly, it was these alliances that roused God’s jealousy and anger, disappointment and disgust. It was no wonder that Jehovah would ask “Who are you?” as if he were puzzled. They looked nothing like the (figurative) wife that was supposed to be his.

Can you sympathize with that sentiment? Have you ever had a child you loved and brought up that turned out so unexpectedly different from the way you raised them that you asked (either in your head or actually out loud), “Who are you?” and then perhaps continued, “I don’t even know you anymore.” Maybe you didn’t even state that in anger but rather in shock. It may have even been a pleading, “Where is the son (or daughter) I used to know that loved life, that loved me, that was such a caring person?”

That is exactly the tone that God took with his wayward nation in Isaiah’s account. God was honestly flabbergasted that after all he had done for his nation, his wife, they could actually put on the face of a harlot (in trusting in the military might of pagan nations).

Maybe with this account as a backdrop, those who do not understand Jehovah’s Witnesses’ stand on political neutrality can finally begin to grasp the concept. It really is an enduring idea in scriptures that those serving God trust in him, not in the military might of whichever nation they live in.  We are not seditionists, a common (but very false) charge against us. We are a law-abiding people individually and as a group. We are an international brotherhood whose only political loyalty is to God’s Kingdom. There are other scriptural principles involved, but in order to keep this article clear and concise, I won’t cover those here.

Conscience--Clear or Seared?

Having observed news reporters over the years—that they can exaggerate and sensationalize their reports—has made me very cynical about believing them. I have seen individuals and groups villainized when the real situation is much less devious—usually just imperfect nature coupled with poor judgment.

My mention of a particular incident below is not the focus of the article. It is merely fodder for a much broader point—that none of us are immune from making wrong choices. Some give up and give in easier than others. Ultimately we are all responsible for safeguarding our own minds and hearts. Constant determination is needed.

Breaking in the news in the past week was a story about a female “escort” (prostitute) that killed a Google executive by way of a lethal injection of heroin. Her actions, recorded by security video, appeared deliberate and without any sense of compassion—if you believe the news reports. (The executive, a married man with family, was obviously no angel himself.) While this incident seems horrendous on its own rights, it was something this woman wrote that really caught my attention. Although guilty of using illegal drugs, involved in illegal activity (prostitution) and unethical conduct (amidst a long list of other things), she said that her conscience was clear. (The report wasn’t clear if she wrote this before or after killing the Google exec.)

Seared: That account reminded me of what happens when a person burns their skin so that the nerves in the area are completely desensitized, incapable of the feeling. Although such a person might openly and readily admit that they can’t feel, it is never something that they would boast about. Because of the danger of inadvertently injuring the burned area, most are extra careful about having the burned area come in contact with objects they cannot feel.

Seared flesh well illustrates what the Bible refers to as a seared conscience. When a conscience is that badly damaged, it can no longer warn a person who is about to do something wrong or is actively engaging in something that would endanger their relationship with God. In the book of Romans, chapter 2 verse 15, we read that people’s consciences can either accuse them or, if damaged, even excuse them, freeing the person from feelings of guilt. How does this searing damage take place? Turning to Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he explains that promoting or accepting lies is one thing that damages the conscience. It can be so severe that the conscience is spoken of as being burned with a branding iron.

Indeed, from the way the news source tells the story, it appears this is what happened to the woman. But she is not alone. There are others, both men and women, whose whole heart has become so hardened through the lies their lives are wrapped in, that nothing phases them. (I do not intend to over simplify this. Obviously many intertwined psychological and social influences cause people to become hardened and uncaring. I am focusing on one main reason the scriptures give to explain how a conscience becomes seared.)

Is there any hope for such people? Can they re-sensitize their consciences to become functional enough to warn them of dangerous conduct that would threaten their relationship with God? Thankfully the answer is yes. The Bible itself contains examples of such people.

Repairing the Damage: Let’s hit on some highlights on how this repair can take place. First, the person has to become aware of their “spiritual need.” I’ve seen this realization in people when they hit “rock bottom” in their lives. They realize what a mess they have made. Next, they make efforts to fill that need by learning what God wants of them. Once they gain not only a knowledge but an appreciation, they determine to correct the things that are misaligned with God’s standards. When this is done, truly repentant ones may begin to experience certain “seasons of refreshing” from God that will encourage them to continue moving forward. All the while, each step of the way, each effort they make, is slowly repairing their damaged conscience.

But this effort cannot be for mere selfish benefit. The whole reason for repairing the conscience is related to repairing our relationship with God. So the next step, as mentioned in Acts 2:38, is a lifelong dedication to God through water baptism. (If you were baptized as a child, that is not the baptism that Jesus or his early followers promoted.)

Repaired Conscience At Last? By this time the conscience has definitely become active and useful again. However, the story still doesn’t end there. All of us are still imperfect. We all struggle with wrong and weak tendencies—everyday. So the “trick” to maintaining a strong healthy conscience, if you want to call it a trick, is to daily keep our focus on maintaining, strengthening, and deepening our love for God and neighbor. Two vitally invigorating ways we can do that is first by daily reading the Bible and second, by surrounding ourselves with others that are determined to do what is right.

So seared flesh is both bad and dangerous. But even worse is a conscience that is so seared that even illegal activity is excused in a person’s mind. Repairing and revitalizing a seared conscience is possible for those that want it bad enough.


I apologize for two things: First that this article was so long. Second that this article wasn’t long enough. On the one hand, I try to keep my articles as short as possible. Why? Because reading long articles really frustrates me, especially when I sense the writer is not getting to the point and just beating around the bush with filler material. So I try not to put my readers through that excruciating pain. On the other hand, I feel my reasoning and proofs here need to be considerably expanded. From your (the reader’s) perspective, if you were to charge me for making unsubstantiated generalizations, I’d completely understand. My only defense is that I was trying to balance article length and substance. I welcome you to challenge me and ask questions. (Please be kind, though. My chemo treatments have admittedly taken their toll on my brain. My original main goal in starting this blog was to keep my mind active and provide an outlet for creative expression. I never expected to get the readership that I have.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Decency--A Boundary

In some sports, there is a great deal of “tolerance” as to what is allowed within the rules of the game. While cuts, bruises and scrapes, and sometimes even brutal roughness may be tolerated, removing body parts (biting off ears) is not tolerated--yet. As “sportsmanship” goes by the way that ethics and morals are going in our modern society, I really wonder if violence won’t become not only the accepted norm but the expected norm.

But currently, tolerance has its boundaries, its limits. Long ago we used to refer to these as both the rules of the game and the unwritten rule of “good sportsmanship.” Why are these both healthy and helpful? It puts all the players on a “level playing field” where the sport is fair, fun, refreshing. Although winning the game is an exhilarating feeling, a famous line in Ender’s Game highlighted another valuable insight. After Ender Wiggin realizes that he was not playing a simulation but had actually committed mass genocide on a planet, his commander, Col. Hyrum Graff, shouts at Ender, “We won. That’s all that matters!” To this, Ender Wiggin respectfully, calmly replies, “No, the way we win matters.” Yes, if players do not “play fair,” it demoralizes both the game and the players. At that point, you may as well just call a spade a spade. Its no longer a game, its a mob riot or just plain military cruelty where “might makes right.” There must be boundaries in everything we do in life, decency is one of those boundaries. Otherwise, we may as well just act like unreasoning animals--which, sadly, is becoming more and more commonplace today.

But why in the world would I be talking about sports, games and movies? No, it is not because of the current Olympic Games, although they are in the back of my mind. It is also not because I recently rented Ender’s Game, although that line in the movie did stick in my mind. It is because I watched a recently released video directed to all family members, fathers and mothers as individuals, parents as a team, teens and children. It highlighted how finding fault and placing blame on others will never make a family close. Each has to accept their own failings. But one point that jumped out at me was made in a conversation with the father and his daughter.

Rebecca, the daughter (middle teens), was slowly beginning to have feelings for “Justin,” a young man in her school. Justin seemed to demonstrate truly kind and considerate viewpoints toward all. Both Rebecca and Justin worked on the school paper together. When the subject of homosexuality came up as a topic for an article in the school paper, this young man felt tolerance, acceptance, and understanding was the best approach. While this seemed to make sense to Rebecca, something inside her felt that his viewpoint was slightly skewed but she wasn’t sure what it was that bothered and confused her.

Later, in a conversation with her father, she started to defend this young man and his viewpoints. That is when the father countered: “Tolerance must have boundaries. Decency is the boundary for tolerance.” To drive home the definition of “decency” from a principled, godly way of life, the father asked, “Does he (Justin) accept Jehovah’s standard of what is decent?” Then the father states that “if Justin accepts things that are outside the boundaries of Jehovah’s standard of decency, he can get you to accept them too.” Later, while at school, it appears Rebecca has had some time to contemplate what her father told her. In conversation with Justin, she says, “I learned something--true tolerance has decency as its boundary. We have to accept some standard of right and wrong. Without that, nothing makes sense. I try my best to live by Jehovah God’s standard of decency. And to accept anything outside of that boundary is a dead end.” Justin responds, “Why does everything have to be so black and white?” Rebecca replies, “It is not about black and white, it is about right and wrong--and loyalty.” In the ensuing conversation, Justin tries to convince Rebecca that the school newspaper is trying to make the world a better place. Rebecca says that looking beyond the moment, beyond high school, to what the real future for adulthood holds is more important. 

That enlarged viewpoint involves what God wants from mankind, not just what we want from and for ourselves. That is the crux of my article. This world continues to spiral downhill, sometimes in the most seemingly insidiously innocent, almost indecipherable ways. Therefore, those truly seeking “God’s righteousness” must first learn what that righteousness is and then strive to keep focused on thinking and acting the way he wants. 

Another point made in Ender’s Game was that the military at that time was intentionally promoting violent video games to desensitize, demoralize and embed killer instincts into the youth. That is already happening, but the source is not the governments; it is demonic in nature. The level of violence and immoral behavior, not only in video games, but also in movies is becoming ever more graphic. Nothing is left to the imagination. Shocking our senses not only of sight and sound, but also of decency is becoming so standard, that even PG-13 movies have considerable questionable content. But many feel that they can appease their conscience by rationalizing “well, it is PG-13, so it must be okay.” But decency is even lacking there. We each need to reflect, “What is my personal standard of decency? Have I let my guard down? Am I willing to raise it back up?”

Note: The movie I refer to was just released at the 2014 Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is titled “These Words Must Be On Your Heart,” taken from Deuteronomy 6:6. Another video that is currently available about how this world can affect our standards is titled “The Prodigal Son.”

Saturday, July 5, 2014

2 Corinthians 12--Third Heaven

2 Corinthians 12, starting at verse 2: I know a man in union with Christ who, 14 years ago—whether in the body or out of the body, I do not know; God knows—was caught away to the third heaven. 3 Yes, I know such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body, I do not know; God knows— 4 who was caught away into paradise and heard words that cannot be spoken and that are not lawful for a man to say. 5 I will boast about such a man, but I will not boast about myself except of my weaknesses. 6 For even if I want to boast, I will not be unreasonable, for I would say the truth. But I refrain from doing so, in order that no one should give me more credit than what he sees in me or hears from me, 7 just because of receiving such extraordinary revelations.

There is so much information here, it is definitely best to break it down into several components:

Third Heaven (Physical versus Spiritual versus Figurative): In what sense could there possibly be a “third” heaven? Twice scriptures speak of the "heavens" and the “heaven of the heavens” as not being sufficient to contain the creator of the universe, Jehovah God. Nehemiah said that Jehovah created both the heavens and the heaven of the heavens. In all these cases, what is being referred to is physical, the first "heavens" being our atmosphere, and the second (“the heaven of the heavens”) being what we today refer to as “outer space” which contain the stars (or, as older translations phrase it, “the heavenly hosts”). Once we get past those two heavens what else is left (as far as "heaven(s)" referring to a place, location or area)?

While some may want to theorize that it could be what lies beyond our galaxy, that is unlikely. This is because for the ancients, outer space included all the stellar cosmos. What makes considerably more sense is that the phrase "third heaven" is that which CAN contain Jehovah God--his very presence--the spirit realm in which the angels surround the Creator of all things. Although some may argue that Paul’s writing is the first mention of this third heaven, in actuality, the presence of God’s throne is mentioned throughout scripture. It seems very likely that Paul here refers to that as the third heaven. Indeed, he was not merely taken up into the sky (the atmosphere), nor was he somehow transported through the voids of outer space. No, he was taken (in a vision) to a heaven where there was intelligent conversation. In scripture, the only mention of intelligent life, other than here on earth, is heaven where the angels and God himself reside.)

Yet another possibility is that this third heaven is intended to be understood as being a superlative degree of an experience. In other words, Paul, in trance or vision, was “caught away” to see something that in itself was so awesome, so dumbfounding, so magnificent, that it was beyond words. But yet Paul wasn't beyond words because he mentions that what he saw was unlawful to relate. He seemed to understand what he saw and heard--BUT he felt compelled to hold back comment on it. More on this later.

Paradise: Although many religions and Bible commentators try to confuse people with this concept, in scripture it is very easy to understand. Paradise is mostly used in respects to our earth in a peaceful, productive, unpolluted (physically and spiritually) condition. There is only one scriptural reference where “the paradise of God,” in context, refers to heaven. So this begs the question, why would Paul seemingly lump “third heaven” and “paradise” as if it were one and the same place? I do not have a definitive answer, but again, considering the Bible as a whole, one logical possibility is that in this particular instance Paul was referring to the same “paradise of God” that is mentioned in Revelation.

Another possibility is that Paul actually is mentioning two different visions but appears to lump them together. In this case, he may have been given insight not only into the heavenly Kingdom but also into the coming paradise as mentioned in the scriptures linked here. I don’t know which of these two, or even if there are other possibilities, is correct. Searching other current-day commentators, it appears they also are uncertain. (One thing that confuses me about the possibility that Paul was writing about paradise on earth is that he he himself was heaven-bound and was writing to a congregation of anointed, heaven-bound Christians. Why would he be shown a vision of earth when heaven would make sense for Paul's personal future? Although paradise earth is a clear and definite promise in scriptures, in this context, it doesn't seem likely to me, but I'm no scholar.)

Not Lawful to Mention: First we need to identify which law is being referred to here. Paul himself had no trouble talking about many features related to Jesus and Christianity. Similarly, Peter likewise writes about the “new heavens” (Christ’s Kingdom rule in full sway) and “new earth” (obedient mankind preserved through Armageddon). Even John, who was imprisoned when he wrote the book of Revelation, spoke of God’s Kingdom taking over earth’s administration. So early Christians did not hold back from proclaiming God’s Kingdom because of Roman law. Even in the face of accusations of sedition, they still boldly spoke out. The second possibility is Jewish law. The apostles had twice been dragged into Jewish court (the Sanhedrin) and threateningly commanded not to speak about Jesus and the culpability of the Jewish leaders for Jesus’ death. So it is unlikely that Paul was talking about any human authority or rules. If not human rules, then it must have been a directive from God and Christ.

Yet Paul and others did indeed write, speak and teach about features of the coming Kingdom. They didn't fear Roman rule, they didn't fear Jewish leaders, and there was already an abundance in the Hebrew writings speaking of both heaven and earth. So what feature(s) of this was something not lawful? Perhaps a hint is found in Daniel 12:4. There, Daniel is told to keep at least part of his message secret. Although this may or may not be related, it does demonstrate that there was at least one other time when God told a man about a matter and then told him, ‘don’t tell anyone’ until God gave permission. So did Paul see certain features of the coming Kingdom that God and Christ want to surprise us with? Could be. Time will tell.

Third Heaven and/or Paradise and Unmentionables: So is the "third heaven" the spirit realm where God himself resides or was it superlative experience? Is the "paradise" mentioned here the coming restored earth or the "paradise of God" (again, God's heavenly presence)? Are the unlawful words a yet-to-be-revealed surprise or something else? What really is the “takeaway” here? What lesson is there to learn from this passage? 

Let’s go back to the context of 2 Corinthians 12. In verses 5 through 10, Paul says that whatever it was he experienced, the point is not that he himself is anything special, but rather that God is indeed using him and has blessed him not only with privileges related to proclaiming the Good News, but also with teaser-insights into the future. One thing is for sure, whatever this vision was invigorated Paul so much that even 14 years later when he wrote 2 Corinthians, he remained determinedly looking forward to the fulfillment of that vision. 

Like Paul, we also need humility when it comes to trying to understand difficult passages like this one at 2 Corinthians. Indeed, if Paul felt he was nothing special, me even more so. I have not been given any visions, I do not claim to have any special understanding. I am only capturing my personal meditation and research here. Also, we need endurance, determination and vigor to continue faithful and proclaim the Kingdom message. We need to see the Kingdom and the paradise as clearly in our mind's eye as Paul did in his vision!

Are you curious to know what the particulars are about those unmentionables? So am I. The best way to ensure that we find out is to prove ourselves faithful so that when the time comes, we can find out.

More extensive examination of the use of the word "heaven" in the Bible.
Watchtower official examination of 2 Corinthians 12:2-4

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Catholic Pope Successor to Peter?

I read the life story of a man who, like myself, was raised Catholic. He made an observation that I hadn't really thought about before: “No wonder that for many Catholics the teaching of apostolic succession is the most important teaching, since the correctness or incorrectness of other Catholic teachings hinges on it!”

Having attended Catholic schools for my primary and high school years, I do indeed remember being taught about apostolic succession and the supposed infallibility of the Pope. However, I don’t know that I ever put those two together. To me, being a purported successor to Peter was not what made the Popes infallible. It was that he was the purported representative of Jesus Christ on earth and that, since Jesus was perfect, so is the Pope. Now I see the fallacy in that line of thought. What fallacy?

At Romans 5:12, we learn that all men are imperfect—no exceptions, excluding Jesus. So even the leaders of religions are imperfect. They sin, they make wrong decisions, and they fall short of God’s glory even though they would have us believe otherwise. (More recently, the Catholic Church has emphasized that “in matters of faith and worship,” the Pope is infallible.)

But all of this is a big smoke screen anyway. Why? Because delegating to others the responsibility of telling us what God requires of us is one of the most dangerous things we can do. Jesus said that our continuing to gain knowledge of God and what he wants is each person’s own responsibility. We can meet the requirements of this responsibility by our own personal reading, studying and contemplation of God’s Word. Willingness to discuss with others helps us refine our beliefs and ensure we are not “breaking forth against all practical wisdom.” One more thing that can help us is to seek out others who respect the Bible and truly live by standards and principles therein.

So even if it were true that the Pope is Peter’s successor, what would that prove? Nothing. Back in the time when Jesus walked the earth, he pointed out the fallacy of such thinking to his contemporaries that felt that because Jerusalem was the seat of David and the temple was the throne of God, that proved God was with them. Jesus pointedly remarked “your house is abandoned to you.” Similarly, Paul said of his peers that they had a zeal for God but not according to accurate knowledge. Similarly, my studies of Catholic history inside the Catholic education system using Catholic publications demonstrated how pervasive corruption was at the Papal level down through the centuries. After reaching an age where I started to reason for myself, I realized some of what I had been taught by the Catholic belief system was grossly wrong. Finally, when I started reading the Bible and made it my own responsibility to understand it, I learned enough to see that I needed to completely sever all ties with that religion.

If I were to recommend a course of action as a summary, it would be that you at very least start reading the Bible on your own. But do not use those written in 16th century English (King James or Douay versions). Read one in modern-day English. If you fear being duped by wrong translation, then do this: I would recommend you start with the Amplified version because of its excellent attempt to correctly convey the intricate subtleties of the original languages by using various verbs and adjectives when appropriate. Set a schedule to read the whole Bible in one or two years. Make notes about things you do not understand. Then, pick another modern-day Bible translation and do the same thing for the next year or two. Within two to four years you will have read the whole Bible twice. A second one that I would highly recommend is the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures. I have some 20 other translations in my personal library and use them all for reference.

If you accept this challenge and would like to communicate with me to ask questions, I’d be honored to help you.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Dying Before Their Time Ecclesiastes 7 verse 17

For decades I’ve heard people use expressions like, “It was his time to die,” or, “He died before his time.” Both expressions imply there is a designated time for us to die. Perhaps some are thinking of Psalm 90:10 which indicates that our lifespan is somewhere between 70 to 80 years. However, I have also heard these expressions in the context that God has predetermined each of our individual lifespans. This latter idea is not supported by scripture, but may be based on a misunderstanding of at least one particular scripture.

Ecclesiastes 7:17 advises not to become excessively wicked, concluding “why should you die before your time.” However, the context reveals the intended meaning. First, consider how illogical it would be to use this scripture to prove that God has a designated time for each of us. The context says that being excessively wicked may result in our dying prematurely. Why? Because we are receiving the death penalty, as a judgement set by God's law. So since the death penalty is sanctioned by God for incorrigible conduct, then it was indeed that person’s “time” to die because of breaking the law. 

What then would make the most contextual sense in understanding Ecclesiastes 7:17? If lawbreakers justly receiving the death penalty are dying “before their time,” it can only be that they are dying before the end of the lifespan mentioned in Psalm 90:10.

This is not to imply that someone who dies early in their life is/was excessively wicked. The Bible also says that “time and unforeseen circumstances” befall all people. Bottom line, though, God should not be blamed for a premature death.