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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

What Is A Ritual?

So much of the English language has been slaughtered s-o-o-o-o very badly, that it has become nearly impossible to understand what a person is saying. For example, when we hear a person say someone is "sick," we usually understand that to mean he has a health condition. However, when we refer to something as "sick," it may be taken that it was disgusting or that it was impressive. Years ago, the theme song for the original TV show "The Flintstones" had a line in it: "We'll have a gay old time." Back then, "gay" meant fun and carefree. Nowadays, no one in their right mind would ever use that phrase (“gay old time”) for fear of being severely criticized -- both from the "straight" and "gay" communities. In fact, there is yet another word, "straight." Although the original meaning of "extending or moving uniformly in one direction only; without a curve or bend" is still in use, it has also come to refer to sexual orientation. I could cite dozens of other examples.

However, the one I want to discuss is the term "ritual." Today, just the healthy habit of daily brushing one’s teeth is loosely referred to as a ritual. However, doing something, even repeatedly, does not match the official dictionary definition of that word. Be assured, I am not complaining about people loosely using words in this manner. It would be like standing in the middle of a raging river and complaining that the stream is too strong. To base one’s intellectual evaluation of a matter on common usage is wrong. Languages change with time -- it is just one of those “facts of life.”

But with regards to religious practices, what truly constitutes a “ritual”? (Although I’ve written about it before, this article takes a slightly different angle.) Originally, Jehovah had never expressed any such desire to have ritualism associated with his worship. Even though corrupted humans had set up ritual worship, it was not until some 2,000 years later that anything formalistic was set up for true worship. Before that, for those humans that were loyal to God, sacrificing an animal seemed to represent the depth of appreciation some had for the true God. The healthier, the more prized, the animal was, the greater the demonstration of appreciation. It was more than a ritual killing, it was truly a sacrifice, a personal loss of valuable livestock, that was readily given. (In contrast to making a real sacrifice and just going through a cursory ritual, notice this account.)

Focusing on the very first sacrifices mentioned in the Bible: Scripture does not say what or how much insight Abel's parents gave to him and Cain. Scripture does not say what individual conclusions Abel and Cain may have reached in seeing the angels and the flaming sword standing at the entrance to the garden. They both seemed to know enough that there was a God to be acknowledged. What Abel did was a demonstration of heartfelt appreciation for Jehovah’s material blessings. He slaughtered the animal and offered it up. Was it a form a ritualistic worship?  One definition used of “ritual” is:  An “established or prescribed procedure for a religious or other rite.” So, no, Abel’s offering was not a ritual. In contrast to Abel, what Cain did seems to have been a perfunctory offering.

Today, what can we offer God that truly goes beyond merely performing some rite or ritual of a religion? Hebrews 13:15 recommends making a “sacrifice of praise.” But Jesus cautions us that mere “lip service” is insufficient. The sacrifice of praise we offer must be sincere and heartfelt. To know how to do that, we must first learn what God really wants from us. (Hint: Rituals, rites, and ceremonies are not what he wants.)



1 Corinthians 1:16 Jesus Made All Other Things

Nearly three years ago I covered Colossians 1:15. Just now I found an article written back in 2007 wherein a man advancing the Trinitarians’ ideology has decided to focus on verse 16. The author managed to gloss right over that scripture, not even thinking what the words in that verse mean. According to the New King James Version (NKJV), it reads: “For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” This article uses that scripture as its opening argument.

Just to demonstrate that the New World Translation is not that distant from the NKJV, Colossians 1:16 in that Bible reads: “by means of him all other things were created in the heavens and on the earth, the things visible and the things invisible, whether they are thrones or lordships or governments or authorities. All other things have been created through him and for him.

The main difference between the two translations are the opening words “All things were created” (NKJV) versus “all other things were created.” (NWT) Which is correct? Indeed, most modern-day translations all agree with the NKJV, so that puts Jehovah’s Witnesses up against a wall. Where did we come up with, why do we insert “other,” into that verse? Here is the official explanation. But really, verse 16 is very dependent on what preceded it in verse 15, that Jesus was “the firstborn of all creation.” I’m not going to argue that verse all over again. If you need to set the scene, go back and read my commentary on that verse.

Having established (in that prior article) that what verse 15 says is quite literally true (without trying to qualify and rationalize “first born” as the Trinitarians do), we accept that Jesus truly is, just as Paul wrote and intended, “the firstborn,” the first creation of Jehovah; Jehovah being the one Jesus himself called his own God. So in verse 16, when Paul wrote that “all things were created” through Jesus, it is simple logic to accept that it would have to be all other things (i.e. other than Jesus himself). Obviously Jesus did not create himself, so the verse has to be understood that it excludes Jesus. Whether the reader does that mentally or the translation helps the reader get the clear intent, the same resulting conclusion should be reached -- Jesus made everything else using God’s power.

That brings us to the next point of reason, the ending sentence: “All other things have been created through him and for him.” This sentence is what I was referring to when in the opening I claimed the Trinitarians always “manage to gloss right over that scripture, not even thinking what the words in the verse mean.” What does the word “through” mean to you? If you send a parcel “through” a shipping agent, who is doing the shipping? The agent is actually performing the work, but you are the shipper. If you are shipping a gift to a grandchild, the grandchild is not going to thank the carrier, he (or she) is going to thank you. If you are shipping illegal materials, it is not the carrier service that will be arrested, it is you. So if all [other] things were created through Jesus, who is the one that supplied the power? Answer: Jehovah God. The one Jesus called “my Father.

But does the Greek word for “through” really carry that meaning? Here is what Strong’s Concordance says: “Definition: (a) gen: through, throughout, by the instrumentality of, (b) acc: through, on account of, by reason of, for the sake of, because of.” (Italics mine.) So yes, the original Greek means exactly what I claim it means.

Finally, comes the last two words of the last sentence: “for him.” If, as the Trinitarians try arguing with their convoluted rationalizations, that Jesus is God, why did Paul write “for him”? If Paul was arguing that Jesus is God, wouldn’t it have been more appropriate to write “for himself”? Really, these last two words only work when you realize that Jesus is the recipient, God the Father is the giver. (Strong’s)

So rather than cower to the Trinitarians, we proudly declare that Jehovah is the only true God. Jesus was given certain abilities just like any father would lovingly train his son. Our teaching raises God to the level he deserves but we also praise Jesus as God’s Anointed One through whom all other things were made and to whom every knee should bend. And as to the twisted claim that we really do not have monotheistic beliefs, I would point to this article.

One closing thought: “There is actually to us one God, the Father, from whom all things are and we for him; and there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and we through him.” (1 Corinthians 8:6) So now, Mr. Bodie Hodge, who are those advancing Satan’s ideas? The weight of scripture demonstrates it is not Jehovah’s Witnesses. So who does that leave? You know, they say that when you point a finger, there are more pointing back at you.



Monday, April 17, 2017

Jeremiah 27:12-15 Why Go To Babylon?

Recorded by Jeremiah in his book at Jeremiah 27:12-15, we read that he is instructed by Jehovah to tell the people to willingly go into captivity into Babylon. At the same time, other prophets, also claiming to speak in the name of Jehovah, are contradicting Jeremiah. Why would God tell his own nation to willingly submit to captivity and, if Jeremiah truly was representing God, how would the nation of Israel know that?

Why go? God’s people had for some time (again) been disloyal to their God. (Look at this outline highlighting the nation’s idolatry, apostasy, shedding of innocent blood, and more.) His approval and protection were no longer with them. They deserved to be punished and God was going to allow Babylon to come in and destroy. Still, as big-hearted as Jehovah is, he made a concession of sorts, that those who truly did love him would submit to the “spanking” (if you will) and go to Babylon in demonstration of the acknowledgement of their failings and acceptance of the punishment. Those submitting to the punishment, would be spared their lives as opposed to those that continued in a rebellious course who would die when Babylon invades and destroys.

Identifying the Truth: Hananiah was one of the prophets mentioned by name that opposed Jeremiah and his message, predicting a completely different outcome for the nation. Jehovah told Jeremiah to predict Hananiah’s death. Adding insult to injury, not only did Hananiah lose his life, but his prophecies failed miserably as indeed Babylon did destroy the nation, killing those who obstinately remained behind, believing the fallacious words of the false prophets that God would protect them.

Lesson: It is hard for some to believe that their long-cherished beliefs may be wrong. How can a person know what the truth is when there are so many religions out there making contradictory claims? Today, we have the complete word of God in the Holy Bible. It is capable of helping us discern matters of importance. It has the ability to teach. It can help us determine whose “fruits” demonstrate goodness.




Sunday, April 16, 2017

Ostracized

As my wife & I were walking out of a store, I noticed a drama unfolding nearby. Two young children were throwing a hissy fit. Their father tried to kindly and patiently calm them, even stooping down to get to eye-level with them, but it was to no avail -- the young children wanted, demanded pizza, no negotiation, no compromise and the whole world is going to hear about it. As far as they were concerned, the whole world revolved around their whims. As I passed by, I smiled & said to the father, “Ah, the wonders of parenthood.” He laughed and replied, “Some days are better than others.” I reassured him it will get better and commended him for his patience.

As I research references for various articles, inevitably I will come across links that initially sound like they would help me make a point either for or against whatever idea I'm developing. Twice I have come across a YouTube site whose video title was craftily phrased to draw in Jehovah's Witnesses. But the real intent was to slander us. What irritated me the most was that the site is actually run by an apostate. Now, I'm not just talking about someone that left our ranks, I'm referring to a full blown hater. He has not only rejected our faith, he also rejects the Bible and God. So really, although he attacks us, his intent is to promote atheism. He isn’t content to live his life, but just like the children in the introduction, the whole world is going to know that he is throwing a tantrum.

One video I got suckered into watching was an interview with a witness who stood up for his belief regarding blood transfusions and survived without such. The only thing was, he was not still in our faith. After the event, the man changed his mind and left the faith, concluding that he actually risked his life for a belief. He is alive and well, but that is inconsequential to him. He then complained that his family & friends ostracized (shunned) him because he rejected the faith they hold dear. This is the topic I want to address here.

I've seen this more than once, people exercise their free will and reject the faith but then subsequently whine when the community exercise their own free will and chose not to deal with that person. It baffles me that such a person feels they can reject their faith, essentially declaring that anyone inside the faith is bad and self-deceived, yet then expect that there are no consequences for their decision. They expect everyone will still want to associate with them, want their company, want their friendship. Why do those rejecting our faith and condemning us for remaining in it have free will, but feel we shouldn't? It comes across as spoiled entitlement to me, a whiny little child that wants everything their way.

Then, the Internet rises up, pointing fingers at the ones that shun as if they (those on the internet) even vaguely understand all the details. The Internet seems full of clueless self-righteous trolls that make knee jerk decisions. The fact is, the one who rejected the faith did so knowing full well the consequences beforehand. The congregation would gladly accept that one back if they accept the faith, the Bible, and God.

But are we the only religion that has this practice? No, Catholics have excommunication. Here is a list of other religions that do the same thing. Furthermore, the practice is not limited to just religion. The field of various sciences has also used shunning to show extreme disapproval of an idea. Now, I cannot speak to the fairness of what other religions do, but I can speak first hand to the way Jehovah’s Witnesses use this practice. First, we make every attempt to kindly reason with a person. In fact, even though I am merely a “sheep” in the fold and not a “shepherd,” I was called by a friend about a year ago that decided he no longer believed in God. He said that his scientific background convinced him that God could not exist. I tried to plead with him but he would not listen to any reasoning with which I wanted to appeal to him. He informed me that he had already written an official letter and delivered it to the elders.

If, in the future, anyone who has rejected our faith, decides they have made a huge error, we gladly work with them to help them back. Once they are reinstated, scripture encourages us to assure such ones of our love.

So yes, shunning is a disciplinary action. For our faith, it is not cruelly “forever.” Nor it is it that anyone involved in the situation enjoys having to shun a loved one. It is very stressful and deeply saddening. We want all our “brothers and sisters” to be with us. But they need to make changes. It was their choice to leave. It must be their choice to change and come back.

Jehovah’s Witnesses’ message is one of love, hope, and unity. On the other side of the spectrum are detractors. Their message is hate. Indeed, they have no positive message at all. Nothing encouraging, no direction of a better way. I have met those who have begun studying the Bible with us and who have viewed these videos and read the online posts. Even these newly interested ones have no problem seeing through the intent and realize the apostates are little more than childish malcontents.

In the same video, the interviewer, the brash apostate, felt JWs had twisted and misquoted supporting medical science materials. As expected, he conveniently and completely ignored the very plain Bible directive to abstain from blood. Although I'm pretty sure he'd find some way to weasel out of that too. Those that reject the faith need to grow up and just come to terms with their adult decisions. After a person is disfellowshipped, you don't find the brotherhood (either locally or nationally) defaming that person and making them out to be so completely evil that they are worthless. No, instead we are hopeful they will return. But in contrast, the disciplined ones seem to love to exaggerate, lie and defame those that cared for them.

In case you think I am some pompous person who has never received correction, you would be wrong. I learned four things through my experiences. First, we are not perfect as an organization, but we are the best. Second, it did no good to be angry and blame others for choices I made. Third, finding fault with others because I felt slighted or treated harshly accomplishes nothing but pouring salt on a wound. I needed to “get over myself.” Fourth, God’s sanctification and the purity of the congregation are much more important than little old me. After several stumbles and falls, I am very glad to be part of a real brotherhood worshipping in truth.



2 Kings 18:4 Copper Serpent Idol

In 2 Kings chapter 18, we learn of Hezekiah, king of Judah, and his faithful acts to Jehovah. Not only did he destroy various idols that were found in the land, but had a very acute sense of knowing right from wrong in handling one particular idol. Verse 4 provides the details: "He it was that removed the high places and broke the sacred pillars to pieces and cut down the sacred pole and crushed to pieces the copper serpent that Moses had made; for down to those days the sons of Israel had continually been making sacrificial smoke to it, and it used to be called the copper serpent-idol."

Why is this significant? Back when the copper serpent was first formed it was under direction from Jehovah and had a specific purpose. I am pretty sure that some today would criticize God for having Moses make what they conclude was some sort of idol. It wasn’t. God did not tell Moses to tell the people to worship it. Rather, merely to “look at it.” However, centuries later, people were not just merely admiring a piece of historical memorabilia, they were “making sacrificial smoke to it.” In spite of the historical significance, Hezekiah saw right through the real issue -- that Satan had turned a once valuable tool into a form of idolatry. To Hezekiah, it was more important that people not be swayed by idols than that he preserve something from when Moses walked the earth.

The tendency of the Israelites to latch onto physical things was also demonstrated in their claim to possessing the “Law,” the holy writings (of the prophets,) and God’s temple. These things made them cocky and gave them a false sense of security that God would always approve of and protect them, even when they were flagrantly disobedient. Time and again, they were sent into captivity for their disobedience, proving that their false reasoning meant nothing to God.

But what of those who claim a relationship with God today? I am referring to anyone claiming Christianity. Many hold to the symbol of the “cross” as being sacred. It has essentially become an idol to be worshiped. Yet nowhere in scripture is there any mention of it as a holy thing. If even the copper serpent, which at least God did at one time approve of making, was destroyed because it had become associated with idolatry, should something which was used as a murder weapon to kill God’s most beloved son be elevated to even an honorary position? It does not make any sense to do so. Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are very careful not to elevate any material thing to such a degree. Although we appreciate and tour the headquarters buildings, although we respect the faithful men who teach us, we do not take pictures, light candles, and then build altars of worship around them. The scriptural precedent is quite clear: “We are walking by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)



Saturday, April 15, 2017

2 Corinthians 11:14, Satan's Disguises

“Hello, my name is Bart. I am calling on my neighbors here in town to highlight a very real threat to us all. The Bible speaks of it here at 2 Corinthians 11:14. It says that ‘Satan keeps disguising himself as an angel of light.’ Interesting question, though, in what ways do you think Satan disguises himself as light?”

I used the above introduction in my public ministry today. I had my smartphone open directly to this link so that the ones I spoke to would focus their attention on the main thought. As I did so, I couldn’t help but reflect how much technology has changed the way I talk to people. In the past I used to carry a Messenger Bag (see #2) that contained my Bible, some literature for placement and some reference material in case I got asked a question. Today, I carried only my smartphone (which has everything I need in digital format) and three printed copies of a recent article. Due to my declining health, I was only able to stay out about 30 minutes, but I did manage to talk to two men.

Perhaps I should not have been surprised, but I was -- neither of them could come up with even one way that Satan disguises himself as light. Although there are several, at least two come to mind: The 1960’s hippie movement of spiritual and sexual enlightenment; evolution, which was thought to be an enlightenment (that attempted to discredit both the Bible and the supposed simpletons that believed in creation). However, the one I was featuring has become very pronounced in today’s entertainment.

I continued my presentation: “In this recent copy of the Awake magazine, it points to a growing interest in the supernatural. (Main article starts here). “We are not telling people what they can and cannot read or watch, that is not our place to do so. However, for those wanting to know about Satan’s deceptions, I think you will find this very informative.” Both men accepted the periodical.

I really do miss engaging regularly in our public outreach, our “ministry.” I especially miss the interaction and conversations I used to have. However, I’m not one to “beat a dead horse” or follow a fruitless conversation. I am just too old and sick to do that. But for those that are sincerely willing to discuss matters with the intent that we either find “common ground” or we amicably decide to go our separate ways, I enjoy that. I don’t need everyone to agree with me 100% -- that is naive to think that would happen. But at least engaging in a two-way conversation with each party intelligently, calmly, expressing their views and then working it out -- that I love -- that is mentally stimulating -- that is socially engaging.

For those of you reading my blog that are not Jehovah’s Witnesses, first of all I thank you for giving me an ear. Second, if you have questions or would like to discuss other matters more extensively, you have four choices. You can write me, you can request a local Witness to contact you, you can visit a local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, or, finally, you can read the FAQ.



Friday, April 14, 2017

When Someone Unworthy Rules

Now as regards Athaliah the mother of Ahaziah, she saw that her son had died. So she rose up and destroyed all the offspring of the kingdom. So begins chapter 11 of 2 Kings. Not a very nice person at all. It demonstrates what happens when the moral fiber of civilization breaks down so thoroughly, that a completely worthless person ends up ruling. Although today women in government have proven themselves very capable, back in the days of the Kings of Israel and Judah, a female ruler was not permitted under God’s law. But the gender of the person being spoken of is not the issue here. It is the thoroughly corrupt character of the individual.

What I found of particular interest was the response that Athaliah had when she got her comeuppance. To set up the scene, Athaliah had actually mistakenly overlooked one of the king’s offspring that had been hidden away for a few years. Then, in a highly secured and regal moment, the young man is introduced to the public. What was Athaliah’s response? As stated in verse 14: “Then she saw, and there the king was standing by the pillar according to the custom, and the chiefs and the trumpets by the king, and all the people of the land rejoicing and blowing the trumpets. Immediately Athaliah ripped her garments apart and began crying: ‘Conspiracy! Conspiracy!’

If anything, she was the last person that ought to be proclaiming “conspiracy!” She was illegally ruling the land and only because she murdered the deserving ones. Her punishment was death by the sword.

What about today? The second Psalm prophetically speaks of the nations becoming agitated because of God installing the rightful rule of his son, Jesus Christ. The nations actually think they can fight against God himself (vs.3). It is no wonder God laughs at them (vs.4). The result is the removal of all rule by man so that God tells Jesus (vs.8) “I will give nations as your inheritance and the ends of the earth as your possession.” Thereafter, Jesus “will break them [the nations] with an iron scepter, and you will smash them like a piece of pottery.” (vs.9)

More so now than any other time, I am compelled to sympathize with the apostle John when he pleaded, “Amen! Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)



Thursday, April 13, 2017

Childish Attitudes in Adulthood

Any parent probably knows the scene: You have just grounded your child for some attitude or disobedient action. The child makes it appear as if it is all your fault they are being punished because you are so strict. You try to help them appreciate that if they hadn’t done what you disapproved of, you wouldn’t be upset and they wouldn’t be grounded. It appears such a “it is not my fault that I’m in trouble” attitude even (sadly) carries into adulthood at times.

This week, part of the worldwide reading for all congregations (of Jehovah’s Witnesses) included Jeremiah chapter 23. The focus of my commentary is verses 33 through 39. In it, Jehovah says that his burden that he has to carry is the rebellious people. In turn, the people arrogantly sass back ‘no, the burden we carry is being constantly reminded of what Jehovah wants from us.’ God is understandably incensed at their disrespectful attitude -- so much so, that in verse 39 he threatens to “throw them away” from his presence, which is a little stronger than being grounded. It is more akin to being thrown out of the house -- disowned!

Thankfully, even though Jehovah has a number of times (throughout the course of recorded Bible history) punished Israel for disloyalty and disobedience, he is not like some imperfect parents that absolutely refuse to forgive. God’s mercy is so impressive that even when people have lead a life of obstinate disobedience, if they demonstrate a true change of heart, he is willing to take them back.


1 Corinthians 7:31 Scene of This World

Last night as my wife was driving us home, we had to drive briefly down the “old highway” or, as seems to be the official custom now, “BUS ##” (where ## is the highway number). When we first moved here a bit over 18 years ago, all the businesses on the road seemed to be thriving. But now, if the buildings are not at very least abandoned, they have been completely demolished, leaving nothing but bare ground. I don’t know why, but immediately the scripture at 1 Corinthians 7:31 came to mind, ‘the scene of this world is changing.’ I knew I was most probably stretching the intended meaning of the word “scene,” but it did make me wonder, and that wonder gave me fodder for this article.

Questions: What is the meaning of the word “scene,” and how is the word “world” being used?

The New World Translation (NWT) renders the passage: “and those making use of the world as those not using it to the full; for the scene of this world is changing.” Where the NWT uses the word “scene,” other translations render it “fashion.”

Barnes' Notes on the Bible: For the fashion of this world - (τὸ σχῆμα to schēma.) The form, the appearance. In 1 John 2:17, it is said that "the world passeth away and the lust thereof." The worst "fashion" here is probably taken from the shifting scenes of the drama where, when the scene changes, the imposing and splendid pageantry passes off. The form, the fashion of the world is like a splendid, gilded pageant. It is unreal and illusive. It continues but a little time; and soon the scene changes, and the fashion that allured and enticed us now passes away, and we pass to other scenes.

Agreeing with Barnes’ Notes is Matthew Poole's Commentary: “This world is like a stage or theatre where are diversities of scenes, and the present scene abideth but for a little time, then passeth, and another scene or figure of things appeareth: those who appear this day in the form of princes and nobles, tomorrow appear as beggars, and persons of a low estate and degree.”

Vine’s Expository Dictionary identifies the word “scene” or “fashion” as having origin in the Greek work Schema (4976), “a figure, fashion” (akin to , “to have”), is translated “fashion” in 1 Cor. 7:31, of the world, signifying that which comprises the manner of life, actions, etc. of humanity in general; in Phil. 2:8 it is used of the Lord in His being found “in fashion” as a man, and signifies what He was in the eyes of men, “the entire outwardly perceptible mode and shape of His existence, just as the preceding words , “form,” and , “likeness,” describe what He was in Himself as Man” (Gifford on the Incarnation, p. 44). “Men saw in Christ a human form, bearing, language, action, mode of life … in general the state and relations of a human being, so that in the entire mode of His appearance He made Himself known and was recognized as a man”

The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary says of the word fashion, “fashion—the present fleeting form. Compare Ps 39:6, "vain show"; Ps 73:20, "a dream"; Jas 4:14, "a vapor." (Scripture links) Indeed, mankind and his ways apart from God have no permanence.

So in practical terms, what is it that Paul is advising his readers? A 2015 Watchtower article explains:

As the Bible warns, there is a danger in making too much use of what the world has to offer. (Read 1 Corinthians 7:29-31.) A Christian can easily waste an excessive amount of time on things that are not wrong in themselves, such as hobbies, recreational reading, TV watching, sightseeing, window shopping, and seeking out the latest electronic gadgets or luxuries. Social networking, texting, circulating emails, and frequently checking the latest news and sports events can also waste our time and can even become an obsession.* (Eccl. 3:1, 6) If we do not limit the amount of time we spend on nonessential things, we may find ourselves neglecting the most important activity of all—our worship of Jehovah.—Read Ephesians 5:15-17.

“Satan has designed his world to attract and distract us. That was true in the first century, and it is even more so today. (2 Tim. 4:10) Thus, we need to heed the counsel: “Do not love . . . the things in the world.” By constantly adjusting ourselves to live in accord with such counsel, we will avoid being distracted and we will be able to grow in our “love of the Father.” This, in turn, will make it easier for us to do the will of God and remain in his favor forever.—1 John 2:15-17.”

Therefore, the “scene of the world” or “fashion” is more accurately “the present condition of human affairs,” whereas our not making use of “the world” refers to all the luster, material glitter, indeed, the sum of temporal possessions, that is put before us as valuable.

Putting all the above together, let us reformulate the scripture to be quite precise in what Paul was writing:

“and those making use of the sum of temporal possessions as those not giving it first priority in their lives; for the present condition of human affairs is changing.” (See this abbreviated Vine’s Dictionary note for kosmos, items (e) and (f).)



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Miracles Demystified

In my article titled “Was Jesus' Death A Human Sacrifice?”, I demonstrated that God holds himself to his own laws of legal precedent. Another principle is that God does not even break his own “natural” laws to accomplish miracles. He merely has a more thorough and complete knowledge of how those laws work. One scientist helped an audience to understand that what we have come to accept as “normal” conditions can change. To illustrate this, he first showed a non-conductive metal. He demonstrated that when it is super-cooled, it becomes a conductive metal. Then he spoke of helium. In a liquid state, helium can be held in an open vial. However, when super-cooled, it defies gravity, creeps up the sides of the vial, and completely empties itself out of the vial. He then asked, “Did I break any natural laws in performing these demonstrations?” The audience wasn’t sure what to say. He then said, “No, I broke no natural laws at all. I merely introduced another variable into the setup that changed the way the substances reacted." He then concluded, “Just because we don’t understand how miracles work is no reason to assume they are not scientific or that they break the natural laws.”

Before mankind understood the science behind flight, the general population and even scientists believed it was mere fanciful ideas better suited for science fiction. In their minds, it was inconceivable that something man-made (other than maybe a kite) could actually stay aloft under its own power (See 3rd item). The science of flight did not break any natural laws, people just didn’t, at that time, understand what those laws of science were. Similarly, just because we, even nearly 2,000 years after Jesus, don’t understand how Jesus accomplished miracles doesn’t mean there was not a science behind them.

Pay close attention to the definition of the word miracle: “Actions or phenomena that surpass all powers known to humans and are attributed to a supernatural agency.” (Source) The etymology (origin) of the word miracle comes from the Latin "miraculum," meaning "object of wonder" (as in astonishment or a puzzling event). In other words, if we don’t know how something works, we call it a miracle. If we do know how it works, we call it science. But do we understand the sciences completely? Consider this quote: "Science cannot say that all properties of matter and all forms of energy are now known. . . . [For a miracle] one thing that needs to be added is a source of energy unknown to us in our biological and physiological sciences. In our Scriptures this source of energy is identified as the power of God.” (Source)

So when scriptures use a phrase like “God’s power” or “the power of God,” this is not magic or some hocus pocus being spoken of in these instances. As the quote mentioned, this is, at present, an unknown energy, not one we yet understand such as electricity or radiation. Whatever this energy is (or, possibly, energies are), it demonstrates itself as an intelligently applied, controlled, and metered energy to accomplish a specific purpose. Just because we have yet to discover these forms of energy does not mean they do not exist. Because we don’t yet understand them, does not mean there is not a science behind them. 

As an example, turning magnets to face each other’s opposite polarities, will attract each to the other, “sticking” them together. However, have each magnet's’ north-to-north or south-to-south polarities face each other and they will repel each other. Characteristics of magnets have been known for centuries. But even today, any child or someone less educated would think it was magical. It is “an unknown” to them so they don’t see science, they see magic. Take note though, it is not that science is lacking, it is that the audience’s knowledge-base is lacking. If we were to show our smartphones to someone from a century ago, they would conclude it was some sort of black magic. There is no visible, connected power source, there are no communication wires (such as in the telegraph or telephone). Yet again, it is only magic because they have no knowledge, experience, or point-of-reference. In both of these cases (magnets and mobile phones), the ignorant may claim, as did Hume, that it breaks the natural laws when in fact it does not. (Hume defines a miracle as “a violation of the laws of nature.”) However, magnets and smartphones broke absolutely no natural laws. Men just needed to understand what laws were in play.

What about the description of miracles in the Bible? We would expect that the commoner living 2,000 years ago would naturally relate what they saw. No one would have expected them to break into scientific dissertations. They simply related what they experienced and saw. Even in one particular case of a young man whose eyesight was restored, he could not explain what happened to him. All he knew is that he was blind and after the cure, he could see. So even in first-hand experience, the commoners had no idea what happened, they only knew the results. In reality, the same goes with most of us today. Although we accept flight as commonplace today, how many of us can really explain how this is accomplished? How many of us could actually build a human-carrying airplane? We see it, we relate it to others, but we really can't explain it. If challenged, most likely the greater number of us would say, "I don't know how it works, I just know that it does work." How is that any different from the related and recorded accounts of "miracles" in the Bible?

In everything that Jesus did, he ascribed his abilities to his heavenly Father. So it was the “power of God” that accomplished these miracles. The phrases “power of God” and “God’s power” as they occur in the Bible are not limited to meaning only miracles. In truth, the phrase has been used in numerous ways. Here are just a few:

Manipulating man and circumstance: Ps.60:12; 66:3
God’s interest to intervene in behalf of his loyal ones: 2Th.1:11; 2 Tim.1:8; 1 Pet.1:5;
Ruling “power”: Mark 9:1; Rev.12:10
Strength or ability. Ps. 18:29
More than words, it is action: 1 Cor.4:20
Miraculous works: Luke 9:43; Rom.15:19
Miscellaneous: Rom.1:4, 16; 1 Cor.1:18

There has been plenty of wrong ideas written about miracles. Mr. Hume’s comment is probably the worst of it because it is so completely wrong AND because the idea that miracles break laws has affected many people’s view towards God and miracles. (Not mentioned in this article is that Hume’s conclusion that 'since miracles cannot be real, neither is God real.' This is such incredibly poor logic. it is amazing that he gained such popularity.) For those choosing to believe in the Bible, you have nothing to be ashamed of. It is founded on solid ground.

Prior article along the same vein: Miracles Getting Easier to Believe




Monday, April 10, 2017

Do Animals Appreciate Beauty?

I was intrigued by an article I read recently. The last sentence in paragraph 4 states: “We admire these creations because we have a built-in sense of what is truly beautiful.—Read Psalm 19:1; 104:24.” That made me wonder, “Do animals appreciate beauty?

Some of the articles that show up in the above Google listing take the concept of “beauty” in a number of directions. One states that animals are attracted to their mate’s color, but another article disagrees and says that animals choose mates based on health, strength, and other evolutionary features. For the most part, all the articles make it plain that animals do not appreciate beauty in the same sense that humans do. They do not sit in awe of a beautiful sunset. They don’t sense an invigorating peace in walking through a calm forest of trees. The only interest they have in the beauty of flowers is to eat them. You cannot show them a masterpiece painting and expect any reaction from them. You get the idea. Appreciation of beauty is exclusively a human characteristic.

So that brought me back to humans. Why do we appreciate beauty? I expected science to say that it was partly due to the higher functions of the brain or some such thing. Instead, in paragraph 5 of a Scientific American article, I read "Our interpretation of the result comes from cognitive theories of emotion that argue that aesthetic processing is, at its core, the appraisal of the value of an object -- in other words, an assessment of whether an object is 'good for me' or 'bad for me.'" Two words stood out to me in the above. First was “interpretation.” The second was “theories.” In other words, they really don’t “know” for sure why humans appreciate beauty. It was also interesting that the article didn’t cover the beauty of nature but rather art and aesthetics.

Once again science falls short because they refuse to acknowledge that we are created by a loving God. While there are major features (not including physical) that the Bible identifies as our “being made in God’s image,” appreciation of beauty is among the smaller things that demonstrate a separation between humans and other life on this planet.

Addendum: After having posted this article, I was reading the news. The reason I made an issue about "interpretation" and "theories" in the quote above is highlighted even more in this article from Business Insider titled "The dreaming brain may provide scientists with a never-before-seen window into consciousness." (Yes, I agree, as titles go, that one is l-o-n-g.) But the point it made was debunking the long-standing science of when dreams occur (at which step in our sleep progress). It was long preached by science that it occurred during REM. This new article says that fact is 'not quite accurate.' Therefore, once again, what science "knows" (or, more precisely, what science claims to know) is always a moving target. I've noticed this in all fields of scientific "truths." Take even something as simple (one might think) as food. One day eggs are bad. The next they are good. One day chocolate is bad. The next it is good. Food sciences is not a new branch of study. You'd think they could get it right by now. LOL



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Satan's Shrewd Wording

In Genesis 3:1-5 we read the well-known story of the serpent tempting Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. Part of Satan’s claim to Eve included “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and bad.” At first I thought to myself, “What a blatant liar Satan is!” But then, knowing how Satan loves, shall we say, “turning a phrase,” (completely twisting the facts), maybe he actually told (a version of) the truth. Maybe it was like the conversation he had with Jesus centuries later. In the first two temptations, first Satan says that Jesus shouldn’t deny himself food. Jesus deserves to turn the rocks into bread. Yes, it is true that God wants people to eat -- after all, he doesn’t want people to starve to death. Jesus, however, correctly replies that misuse of God-given powers is not what he is there for. Next, Satan puts Jesus “on the battlement of the temple” and then cites a scripture that God will dispatch angels to protect Jesus if Jesus jumps. Indeed, the scripture Satan uses does say that. But once again, it is taken grossly out of context and Jesus immediately corrects Satan's sly claim by responding: “You must not put Jehovah your God to the test.” Yes, taking stupid risks is different than mistakenly taking a wrong step.

So how could Satan’s claim to Eve be viewed as cleverly true, yet shrewdly evil? Well, after both Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes were indeed opened -- opened to the gaping hole of despair and the knowledge they disappointed their Creator. As far as “knowing good and bad,” they found out that what God says is good, is good, and what God says is bad, is indeed bad. They became like God in learning (the hard way) that God alone sets the standard of acceptable conduct. And although they also became like God in becoming self-governing, they realized to their crushing disappointment, that was actually a very bad thing for humans to do. Really, what Satan did to Eve was to speak in generalities. The only specific thing Satan did lyingly, blatantly, claim is that Eve wouldn't die. If Eve had given the rest of his claims a moment of thought, she may have had a notion to ask: "Specifically how will my eyes be any more open than they are now? Specifically what good and bad is there that I don't already know? 

(As a sidenote, isn't it awkwardly interesting how, after God called Adam and Eve to account, the serpent (Satan) was noticeably quiet. Satan made no defense for what he coerced Eve to do nor did he defend Eve or even help her make a defense. He had accomplished what he set out to do -- break human integrity, perfection, and obedience. He never really had any interest in bettering the human pair's lot in life.)

The lessons I gain are twofold: First, I must have more than "surface" knowledge of God and Bible. I cannot blithely go about my life, thinking that just loving God is enough. Second, when I hear things that just don’t seem to be “on the level,” I need to take time to reflect on what I know from principles taught in the Bible to ensure there is not some hidden “got ya” in whatever the option is for me, especially ones dealing with less evident, less precise principles that may not be easily discernable. I need to ask, “What am I really being offered? What are the consequences and potential pitfalls? Is this a crafty trap?"



Does Good Need Evil for Balance?

I was listening to a speaker who said that there were people that believed that evil is needed to balance good. I had never heard that before. Or, at very least, I’d never heard it phrased quite that way. I am acquainted with the Chinese idea of the Yin and Yang, which supposedly are opposites that need each other and, in being opposite, actually complement each other. I’ve also known of the supposed dichotomy of good and evil; that is to say, they are necessary for each other.

There are so many angles I could take this article. I found references that speak of good and evil being relative terms, explaining that while an investor might rejoice over the good profits he gained, it is just as likely that someone else suffered loss for that transaction. Others state that it is just our frame of mind that makes things good or bad. Still others stated that there is, in reality, no good nor bad, it is just the “universe doing its thing.” It almost made me want to make a tinfoil hat for my head (LOL).

First of all, the easiest to dispel: The “universe” is not a cognizant thing. I know there are some that want to believe it is, but such metaphysical concepts are beliefs more akin to non-Christian religions. Although the Bible does use poetic language such as sun, moon, and stars praising God, it is just poetry, not a statement of metaphysical leanings. The Bible makes quite plain who the sentient beings are in all the universe. They are: God, “the Word,” angels (both good and bad), and finally humans. (I’m not even going to get into an offshoot discussion regarding life on other planets. I am merely stating who the Bible identifies as sentient.)

Regarding the other two claims, they are essentially the same. By claiming “it is all in your head,” it is the same as saying there really is no such thing as good and bad. But that simply is not true. Those committing heinous crimes that go beyond mere killing to include completely unnecessary torture of their victims are evil. Those people and their actions are not merely “all in my head.” Can those committing evil change their ways? Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact that while they continue in their evil ways they are indeed evil.

But coming back to the speaker’s claim I mentioned at the outset. Is evil necessary to balance good? Let's say you bought yourself an island that you were going to develop into a resort. You plan on making individual huts right on the beach that are fully furnished. Further inland, you will make a 20-story condo complex overlooking the whole island. There will be a fully stocked wet bar both on the beach and at the condo. The most delicious and exotic foods will be carried in daily from elsewhere. All the amenities you can possibly imagine you will bring. Would you then reason to yourself, “You know, I need to keep it ‘interesting’ for my clients? I’m going to have my staff be some of the most unscrupulous individuals one could imagine. There will be pickpockets, shady sales people trying to sell timeshare packages, and more.” Hopefully, you would never do this. Nor would any respectable person do such a thing. He is going to depend on repeat and referral business. If vacationers start complaining and posting negative reviews, the business will die. This is all to demonstrate that evil is not needed to help a person appreciate good.

Unfortunately, the sad reality is that even if you put both staff and visitors through a thorough screening, there will still be some problems, but at least not ones you “built into” your resort. Likewise, God never intended nor designed for evil to be in his creation. The rebellion of Satan and, subsequently, the rebellions of Adam and Eve (neither of which God wanted) are what introduced evil into our world. Both evil angels and evil humans were not designed by God to be such. They were given everything they could possibly want. Yet, both allowed greed to take over in their hearts. In time, God plans to remove all evil so that those who want to live in peace can and will. So just as surely as you would keep your island as free of evil as possible, God plans to do the same for all creation.

I’m sure psychology students would love to take me to task. Please don’t. I won’t allow your comments through. I have no appreciation for the convoluted reasonings I’ve heard from your sort.