Saturday, February 27, 2016

Who Are "Most To Be Pitied"?

In writing to the Corinthians, Paul essentially argued that if we are self-deceived in our faith, then we are most to be pitied above all men. (1 Corinthians 15:14-19) This is not some deep esoteric spiritual gem of wisdom. It is simple logic.

But there is another side of this that goes beyond what Paul’s intent was in writing the above. Paul’s intent was to put to shame fellow believers that got a “bit too big for their britches” in making some absurd claim that there would not be a future resurrection of the dead (see verse 12). Paul was actually providing strong argument in favor of believing in the resurrection.

However, let’s just for a moment ponder the possibility that we are self-deceived. In today’s world, that would mean that we all may as well just follow a hedonistic life. In fact, that is the same conclusion that Paul made in verse 32. If there truly is no meaning in life, why in the world are atheists and godless science so absorbed in discrediting the Bible. No matter what they do, they’ve accomplished nothing because in the end, it all means nothing. Whatever “name” they may make for themselves will be short-lived and, at the very most, be relegated to the antiquities of some history book that students of the future will fall asleep reading. In other words, just as King Solomon concluded, ‘It is ALL futility (or vanity)’ (or, vain pursuits).

So where am I going with this? After more than 6 decades of life and over 40 years of being associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses, EVEN IF there is the remotest possibility that I was completely credulous in my beliefs, I don’t see that anyone else has anything more worthy, more compassionately comforting, more dignifying, more satisfying, more purpose-filled than what I have. Everyone else believes it all amounts to nothing. I have learned it all does indeed amount to something worth living for.

Now, the difference between being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses and belonging to some nominal Christian church can be summed up in something one of my students said about 20 years ago. He was reluctant to make a commitment. Finally, after several months, he at least qualified to come and observe what we do in the ministry. He didn’t want to accompany me, he wanted to partner with someone else. After an hour of our public ministry (calling on people at their homes), the group returned to the car. As my student got in, he exclaimed “There is no religion like Jehovah’s Witnesses! People in other religions have no clue what they really believe and they can’t logically explain it!” This was actually a monumental realization for him because up to that time he was not sure that belonging to any religion really mattered. Now he saw with his own personal experience exactly what so many others finally realize -- we have intelligence and logic on our side. Other religions have little more than emotionalism, "clever" and/or shallow reasoning (that may sound good but is false), and rituals.

There is something else that we have that others do not -- a truly international brotherhood that cares and an educational system that helps us become solid in our faith that God’s Word, the Bible, truly holds out the best way of life. If others who do not share our conviction want to believe that their life amounts to nothing, I truly feel sorry for them. So, unlike Paul, even if we are wrong in our belief, I don’t think that we are “most to be pitied,” I think the non-believers win that distinction.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Full Circle In God's Purpose For Mankind

If you bring up my index to this blog, and then use the “find” feature (Ctrl-F) and enter “hope,” you’ll find I’ve written a few articles about it. Probably the two most relevant ones are: Death History and Future Hope and Understanding Heaven and Human Destiny.This time, I want to provide a bird’s eye view of the full-circle of events that will fulfill God’s initial purpose for the earth.

So many religions complicate and convolute the simple Bible-stated truth regarding sin, redemption and the future hope of mankind. Here is what the Bible teaches without all the unscriptural additions and folklore.

To understand the future hope, we first need to understand what the original hope was. Genesis chapters one and two state that Adam and Eve would care for animals, reproduce, Cultivate ground, and expand the original garden. There was perfect health and peace, plenty of food and water, and plenty to keep the human couple feeling happy and fulfilled.

In order to test their loyalty and true love for their creator, they were given one very simple restriction -- Don't eat from one particular tree. There were probably dozens if not hundreds of lush and delicious plants and fruit from trees to enjoy so this restriction was very reasonable. The stated consequences for disobedience was also plain and simple -- Adam and Eve would cease to exist. They would go back to the dirt they were made of.

Note that there is no mention of going off to another form of life. Becoming a different type of life (such as a spirit being) would not have been a punishment, it would have been circumventing the plainly stated punishment and, really, have been a blessing instead of curse. But quite clearly they were to cease existing -- no conscious existence at all. Death was the end-judgement, death was the punishment.

But then many might be alarmed and rightly ask, "What about us? We weren't there in the garden of Eden. It's not our fault that Adam & Eve blew it." And they would be right. We must also remember that it was not God’s fault . However, God is not so unrighteous that he would leave Adam's offspring in the lurch. Hence the provision of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus Christ. What mankind lost was everlasting life as sons in God's family. That is exactly what Jesus will restore.

Since it was God's original purpose for the earth to be a beautiful gem of a global paradise filled with humans that perfectly cooperated with God’s design and would live forever, that is what is being restored. Basically, after a huge interruption to God’s original purpose (through Adam and Eve’s disobedience), mankind will finally be on track again.

But what of all the thousands of people who died faithful to God throughout history. Jesus said there was to be a resurrection, that those in the grave would be brought back to life on earth.

Think about it: If God had intended to have us become angels, why didn't he just make us angels in the first place-- just like he did to the angels already existing before mankind came to be? Some say that he placed us here as an intermediate step, but that wouldn't be fair that the angels who were created as angels didn't have to go through a trial period. God is not unfair like that.

So we were never intended to be in heaven, have never been in heaven before and, for the most part, will never go there. (There are a few that Jesus is taking to form what Revelation calls "the bride" of the Christ. These will rule with Jesus.)

Essentially, this is the full-circle of paradise lost to paradise regained. The only change from the original purpose is that as a reward to Jesus for his faithfulness, he is being allowed to invite some humans to join him as rulers over the earth.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Sowing Seed, Luke 8:4-8

I just finished Luke chapter 8. In vss. 4-8 Jesus tells the illustration (“parable”) of the man who sows seed. Jesus says that some seed fell on the roadside, on the rocky soil, amongst thorny grows, and finally on “good soil.”

That made me wonder: Why was the sower so careless with where he threw his seed? ‘Why didn’t he just scatter it where the soil was “good” and rich with nutrients. His yield would probably have been better.’ If you’ve ever seen how the ancients sowed seed, you might better understand Jesus’ illustration. Naturally, as the sower approached the edge of his property, as he scattered the seed, some was bound to go beyond the boundaries of his plantation.

But Jesus wasn’t giving an agricultural lesson. His listeners readily understood the common challenges of sowing a field. He was talking about the preaching of the Good News. His illustration demonstrates God’s indiscriminate love for mankind. The preaching (casting the seed out) is done without regard to people’s race, status or intellect. God gives his hope for mankind freely to all. Their outward characteristics are not what makes any individual roadkill, rocky or thorny. It is who they are inside. Since we, as God’s fellow workers cannot read hearts, we also indiscriminately spread the good news and let each one’s response dictate what type of soil they are. And that is why, by necessity, some of our seed-like activity will need to fall even in places where it may turn out unproductive. We may attempt to plant, but it is only God who can make a heart grow with appreciative response.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Memory Mania

I'm going to take a break from scripture commentary to talk about another fascination of mine - All things technical. Specifically, this time, data. Years ago I saw a comic strip with a dimwit manager directing his subordinate tech support person to "download the internet on this diskette.” Recently I read two articles about advances in memory storage that "blew my mind.” The first was about the potential for storing one zettabyte of data in a gram of DNA. (The article and accompanying video in the foregoing link have discrepancies. The article first says a gram can store 5.5 petabytes and then says that equates to 700 terabytes. That is incorrect. It equates to 5,500 terabytes. In the video, the older gent says one gram can hold one zettabyte (which is 1 million times more capacity than a petabyte) but moments later the younger man states that it would take 4 grams to hold 1.8 zettabyte. None of the numbers mash up.) That technology still has a long way to go before it reaches the consumer market. Still, the potential is very impressive. A more recent article about a very promising technology stores much less than the proposed DNA storage, but it will probably hit the market first. It is a laser optical system capable of storing 360 terabytes on a single disk about the size of an American Silver dollar. Carry four of those things in your pocket and you'll easily have one petabyte of storage. (Currently, the largest-capacity portable, pocket-able, consumer drive is a 2-terabyte drive. So in approximately the same form-factor, this new system would be like carrying 180 of those 2-terabyte drives.)

All of that made me wonder what the largest databases in world might be. In 2008, Yahoo was estimated to be two petabytes. AT&T, as of 2014, was estimated at 323 terabytes. And YouTube came in at 45 Terabytes. That brought me full circle back to the comic strip. I wondered just how large the internet is today. The answer: Over one Yottabyte! To put that into perspective. if you could carry 1 billion portable drives, each with the capacity of one terabyte, you might be able to download the whole internet. (See this article for understanding kilo-, mega-, giga-byte and more.)

As fascinating as all this is, we shouldn't forget how fast the consumer industry of storage options has grown. I remember when floppy disks were measured in kilobytes. Today, no one in their right mind would even think of carrying anything that small of capacity. When those floppies started storing 1.2 megabytes, we techs started carrying them in our shirt pockets to perform various tasks. Decades ago (probably the late 1980's) a friend bought a 40 megabyte internal hard drive to upgrade his system. I told him he was crazy. "No one will ever need that much storage!" Fast forward to today and I have a Smartphone with an auxiliary 64 gigabyte Micro SD card installed. Put into perspective, what I have in my phone is 1,600 times more storage than my friend had on his computer’s new harddrive in the 1980's. Not only capacity, but size is amazing -- My MicroSD card can be pressed between my thumb and first finger and disappear from view. My friend’s harddrive was the size of a brick and weighed in at several pounds. (My first exposure to a one terabyte drive was back on the mid 1990's when, as the graveyard data center operator for a hospital, I started my nightly data backups on the newly installed drive. Back then, it must have cost the hospital a fortune. Today, one-terabyte portable consumer drives can be had for under $60.)

And what do I have for a computer today? It is a laptop with a built-in one terabyte drive (HDD). It also has a dedicated SD slot and USB ports, In the SD slot I use a 128 gigabyte micro SD card (with adaptor). I use that for daily backups in case my internal drive crashes, On my keychain, I have 4 things: car key, house key, LED mini flashlight, and a 32 gigabyte USB flash drive. I use that one when visiting friends who want me to fix some spreadsheet issue. If I cannot Immediately fix it, I will copy it onto my USB drive and take it home. I mention all this to drive home the point that while upcoming storage technology may indeed seem mind boggling and more than any consumer would ever need, it is also true that the leaps and bounds we've made so far are just as impressive. Even 10 years ago, how many of us would have considered needing an external one-terabyte drive?

Side note: This article was quite literally handwritten (cursive) using my Smartphone, a stylus, and obviously handwriting recognition software that converts my writing to editable text. No worries about storage because I wrote it using Google Drive so I could access it on my PC later (to more easily add the links and more effectively proofread the document). Not that this short article would have caused any memory concerns, just that I used no local storage to complete the task.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Open Letter to AJ

Readers: As an introduction: I was recently contacted by sincere man who identified himself merely as AJ. He introduced himself in January 2016 in a response to an article I wrote over a year earlier. His last response required a much longer comment from me than the comments section of articles allows. So I decided to place it as an open letter to AJ for all to read. AJ, if you read this, and feel it is embarrassing to you, let me know, I’ll gladly take it down.

AJ: “Works of loyalty”? I’m not sure I understand the choice of words here. In any case Bart, what in your estimation is the end-goal of performing these “works of loyalty”?

Me: I thought I explained when I further wrote: “In other words, there are people I know that firmly believe (or at least they say so) that Jesus truly is the Savior, the Messiah, the Christ. Yet their immoral conduct in some cases is so bad, it would land them in prison. Are these people still saved by value of the ransom sacrifice of Jesus' blood? Can they act with unrepentant impunity and still end up approved by God and Christ? In short, is mere faith sufficient?”

In contrast, "works of loyalty" (and, by the way, I was using that as a descriptive term and not some catch-phrase) are just that -- things we willingly do from a grateful heart to demonstrate to God our appreciation, reliance, and obedience.

AJ: A correlative question would be; to whom are these works of loyalty performed for? Is it for the Watchtower Society, or is it for God Himself?

Me: From the post I would have hoped it would be evident that it was loyalty to Jehovah, Jesus Christ (our Lord) and to the direction in the Bible.

AJ: If such works are done to demonstrate one’s loyalty to God, it then implies that the sovereign all-knowing Creator somehow can’t see the true sincerity of our heart for Him.

Me: AJ, do you really see things that cut and dry? I’ve come to see in you a man that is able to reason on scripture, has been successful in coming to live a long married life, grow into a reasonable adult, and the ability to want to understand others. But really, this point seems to be the crux of your belief -- that since God can see our loyal heart we do not need to do anything. Does that really make any sense to you? How does God “see the true sincerity of our heart” if we don’t somehow demonstrate it? As I tried to you illustrate before, merely telling your wife “I love you” but never demonstrating it, will never convince her. The same goes with anyone including God. HOW does a mere imperfect human show God that he is sincere if it not through being loyal to him in every aspect of our lives. Coming back to Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22, our whole heart (of love) our whole soul (of our very being), and our whole mind of (reasoning) are necessary to prove to God who we really are. Mark 12:30 adds the word “strength” to that list. In other words it takes conscious and determined effort. These words from Jesus completely demonstrate that it is not that God can’t see who we want to be, rather he EXPECTS us to SHOW him. At Romans 6:17 Paul commended the early Christians who: “became obedient from the heart to that pattern of teaching.” The words obedient and teaching ought to tell us that merely believing is not enough. At Romans 9:16, Paul sees his conversion and service to God as a requirement to preach. I share that sense of obligation to Jehovah as do all Jehovah’s Witnesses.

AJ: “… the more jarring implications being that the human has come to somehow believe that Jesus’ 33+ years of life of righteous perfection and His substitutionary & willing sacrifice and death in paying the penalty for our sins was efficaciously insufficient, leaving us to do the rest on our own.”

Me: Using that reasoning, then “the end” (Matthew 24) should have come immediately after Jesus died for us. There would have no reason to continue. And yet the very reason we have Mt. 24:14 is to show that there is a directive from Jesus to preach. At Hebrews 6:1 Paul urges fellow Christians of the 1st century to “press on to maturity.” Why? What is there to mature if merely acknowledging the Christ is all that is necessary? At 1Corinthians 3:9 Paul states that the early Christians were to see their calling as “becoming God’s fellow workers.” Starting back in verse 5, Paul shows just how Christians are God’s fellow workers – through their preaching work. The Christian “body” (congregation) in verse 9 is spoken of as a field under cultivation. So this is not the case of seed here, a seed there, all independent of one another. Since the direction is to view ourselves as a Christian body (Romans 12:4), that in itself shows that there is something more than just accepting the Christ into our heart.

AJ: If these “works of loyalty” are required, then how you know when you’ve done enough Bart?

Me: Philippians 3:12-15 answers that question. We should never view anything we do as having done enough. Would anyone ever tell even their mate such a thing: “Hey, I’ve done enough to show you my love”? That should never happen. The one claiming to love should always be wanting to do more.

AJ: And that’s the very thing that brings me to my knees in gratitude & daily, and in submission to the King of kings that God has appointed…

Me: AJ, I am glad you are thankful. But why even drop to your knees? Using your reasoning, doesn’t God already know you are thankful? Is he so unaware that he doesn’t already see how you feel? AJ, I am not sure our conversation can progress because we both seem firmly convinced. Just as you are convinced that works demonstrating our love are unnecessary, I am likewise convinced that even human relationships demonstrate they are absolutely necessary. Then there is the “great cloud of witnesses” mentioned in Hebrews 11, each of which demonstrated their love and loyalty. Why would any of those had to demonstrate their faith if your reasoning is true? Didn't God just "know" they were loyal. Is faith (faithfulness), love and loyalty even possible without action?

Addendum: One last thought that just came to mind: I was asked by a friend one time: "If your life were a silent movie, what about your life would show the type of person you are?" I answered, "My actions." He responded, "Exactly. It is our actions that demonstrate who we really are. No matter what we claim, our actions always tell who the inner man is."

See also: "Can We Earn Salvation?"

RSV and the No-Name God

Revised Standard Version 1952
Before starting this article I wondered how relevant an article on the RSV Bible would be. The RSV is relatively “old” (1950-ish) compared to other modern Bibles. I was surprised to find that it, along with the New RSV, is much in use. So then I wondered which religions use it. I expected it to be more a Protestant Bible. Again, I was wrong. There is even a version specifically for Catholics. Then it finally dawned on me the main idea of this article is very much still relevant given that most churches claiming Christianity would agree with the assertions the RSV made. In the preface, it says: “The use of any proper name for the one and only God . . . is entirely inappropriate for the universal faith of the Christian Church." (See paragraph 17)

They allude to why they drew that conclusion when they say "one and only God." While it is true that Jehovah is the only TRUE God, even the Bible acknowledges there are" many gods and many lords." (1Corinthians 8: 5,6) In that people do indeed worship other (fake) gods, and to some extend people’s belief in these affects their lives for better or worse, gives evidence that the beliefs and actions alone can raise even the unreal to godlike status. Even one's belly can become a god. (Philippians 3:19) So the claim made by the RSV that “the use of any proper name for the one and only God, as though there were other gods from whom He had to be distinguished….” is false reasoning.

Especially now, in this ever-shrinking world, the need to differentiate (by name) the TRUE God (Jehovah), from the myriads of false gods worshipped by people coming from India, China, and other places, demonstrates how short-sighted the RSV was. Just identifying the true God as merely "God" would seem foolish or arrogant (or both) to those with non-Christian, non-Jewish backgrounds. In talking with people from those cultures, other religions claiming Christianity have resorted to saying God's name is Jesus. However, this is not what the Bible says.

Another statement made by the preface of the RSV is: “the use of any proper name for the one and only God ... was discontinued in Judaism before the Christian era.” Yes, but not because they didn’t recognize the Tetragrammaton as the legitimate representation of the name of the true God. Rather, it fell into disuse because of a phobia that using God’s name even in praising him could somehow be viewed by God as using His name “in vain.” So they banned the use of it altogether.

Early in the history of Christianity, a meeting is recorded that drove home the need that God’s name be used. Rather than debate what form that name should take, whether it be merely referring to the Tetragrammaton (YHWH or JHWH), calling him Yahweh, or Jehovah, the important thing is that we do differentiate him from the myriads of false gods that are worshipped today. But to totally forget it is a different type of sin.