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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Goodbye for now...

I remember when Gavin announced his "A Farewell to Arms" on Ambassador Watch. I thought that he went out on a classy note. He wrote:
"I guess I want to say that there's very little I regret. If I've horribly offended anyone unjustly, I apologize. There are a lot of good people in the COGs, battling on, as we all do, according to our best insights. The blogs will stay up, for what they're worth, even if only curiosity value."

I would like to echo those sentiments. I hope that this blog has helped (or been useful to) others, but I can say with absolute honesty that it has helped me. Anyway, it's time for me to move on to other things. May the God who cannot be contained bless everyone who has or will stop by here and give peace and insight to all who seek it!

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Citizenship in the Multicultural Kingdom of God

From the Second chapter of Paul's letter to the Ephesians:

11 Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into ONE people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself ONE new people from the two groups. 16 Together as ONE body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.

And, continuing the thought in the Third chapter of that same epistle:

6 And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus.

14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.

Isn't that interesting? The God who cannot be limited is not limited by race or ethnicity! The God who cannot be contained wants to live within the people of this new kingdom!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Herbert Armstrong Versus God

Banned by HWA recently featured a post entitled "King Gerald Flurry, the Stone of Herb and the New Place of Safety." http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2018/07/king-gerald-flurry-stone-of-herb-and.html It discusses a modification made by the current leader of the Philadelphia Church of God (Gerald Flurry) to Herbert Armstrong's old teachings about the throne of David and a place of safety for church members during the Great Tribulation. And, although I commented there on the absurdity of these new understandings, it occurred to me that it might be more constructive and persuasive to take a fresh look at the basis for those teachings and explore again what the pertinent Scriptures actually reveal about them.

Herbert Armstrong's teaching about David's throne appeared in a booklet entitled The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy (which went through a number of revisions over the years). For those who are interested, you may view a copy of the 1967 version of the booklet here: https://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/download/viewitem.cgi In this booklet, Armstrong presented some rather astounding interpretations of Biblical prophecy and history and presented them as revelations from Almighty God. It is my hope that what follows will demonstrate clearly to anyone who is willing to analyze the scriptures referenced by these men (Armstrong and Flurry) that God's view of these matters is radically different from theirs!

In the seventeenth chapter of the book of Ezekiel, we are presented with a riddle about eagles and a cedar tree (verses 1-10). The prophet then goes on to explain that these things are symbolic of how the king of Babylon will punish the king of Israel for his rebellion against God and his overlord (verses 11-21). The history of how all of this actually played out is recorded in the twenty-fourth and twenty-fifth chapters of II Kings and the thirty-sixth chapter of II Chronicles. And all of these accounts make very clear that David's dynasty was completely overthrown by King Nebuchadnezzar.

Nevertheless, Ezekiel also gives us this hope: "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take a branch from the top of a tall cedar, and I will plant it on the top of Israel’s highest mountain. It will become a majestic cedar, sending forth its branches and producing seed. Birds of every sort will nest in it, finding shelter in the shade of its branches. And all the trees will know that it is I, the Lord, who cuts the tall tree down and makes the short tree grow tall. It is I who makes the green tree wither and gives the dead tree new life. I, the Lord, have spoken, and I will do what I said!'" (verses 22-24) This is obviously speaking of Jesus Christ.

In this connection, notice this prophecy from the book of Isaiah: "Out of the stump of David’s family will grow a shoot—yes, a new Branch bearing fruit from the old root. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He will delight in obeying the Lord. He will not judge by appearance nor make a decision based on hearsay. He will give justice to the poor and make fair decisions for the exploited. The earth will shake at the force of his word, and one breath from his mouth will destroy the wicked. He will wear righteousness like a belt and truth like an undergarment." (Isaiah 11:1-5)

Notice also this similar language from the book of Jeremiah: "For the time is coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will be a King who rules with wisdom. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. And this will be his name: ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’ In that day Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety.'" (Jeremiah 23:5-6) And, "“In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant [Hebrew a righteous branch] from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: ‘The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’ For this is what the Lord says: David will have a descendant sitting on the throne of Israel forever." (Jeremiah 33:15-17)

Finally, we read in the book of Amos: "In that day I will restore the fallen house of David. I will repair its damaged walls. From the ruins I will rebuild it and restore its former glory." (Amos 9:11, quoted in Acts 15:16) All of these scriptures make very plain that God's promises to David find their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Notice also, this passage from the New Testament which clearly identifies Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of the promises to David - in the book of Luke, we read:
"In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in Galilee, to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of King David. Gabriel appeared to her and said, 'Greetings, favored woman! The Lord is with you!' Confused and disturbed, Mary tried to think what the angel could mean.
'Don’t be afraid, Mary,' the angel told her, 'for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!'" (Luke 1:26-33) Hence, for those who profess to regard the Bible as their standard, it should be crystal clear that God regards Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of his promise to David.

Continuing, in the book of Ezekiel, we read: "'O you corrupt and wicked prince of Israel, your final day of reckoning is here!' This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'Take off your jeweled crown, for the old order changes. Now the lowly will be exalted, and the mighty will be brought down. Destruction! Destruction! I will surely destroy the kingdom. And it will not be restored until the one appears who has the right to judge it. Then I will hand it over to him.'" (Ezekiel 21:25-27) In the KJV, the language is "I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." The scriptures already quoted in II Kings and II Chronicles talk about this turmoil within the royal house of Judah before it was finally and completely overthrown by the Babylonians. Notice that after that final destruction that the throne would not be restored "until the one appears who has the right to judge it - then I will hand it over to him" (once again, clearly referring to Jesus Christ).

In the book of Jeremiah, we learn about God's commission to Jeremiah as his prophet (Jeremiah 1:5). We read: "Then the Lord reached out and touched my mouth and said, 'Look, I have put my words in your mouth! Today I appoint you to stand up against nations and kingdoms. Some you must uproot and tear down, destroy and overthrow. Others you must build up and plant.'" (verses 9-10)

Later, in the same book and speaking specifically about Israel, we read:
"In the past I deliberately uprooted and tore down this nation. I overthrew it, destroyed it, and brought disaster upon it. But in the future I will just as deliberately plant it and build it up. I, the Lord, have spoken!'...'The day is coming,' says the Lord, 'when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. They broke that covenant, though I loved them as a husband loves his wife,' says the Lord.
'But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,' says the Lord. 'I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the Lord.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already,' says the Lord. 'And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.'" (Jeremiah 31:28-34)

Notice also, the full context of that passage from the thirty-third chapter of Jeremiah (quoted above):
"'The day will come, says the Lord, when I will do for Israel and Judah all the good things I have promised them. 'In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous descendant from King David’s line. He will do what is just and right throughout the land. In that day Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this will be its name: 'The Lord Is Our Righteousness.’
For this is what the Lord says: David will have a descendant sitting on the throne of Israel forever. And there will always be Levitical priests to offer burnt offerings and grain offerings and sacrifices to me.'
Then this message came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “This is what the Lord says: If you can break my covenant with the day and the night so that one does not follow the other, only then will my covenant with my servant David be broken. Only then will he no longer have a descendant to reign on his throne. The same is true for my covenant with the Levitical priests who minister before me. And as the stars of the sky cannot be counted and the sand on the seashore cannot be measured, so I will multiply the descendants of my servant David and the Levites who minister before me.'
The Lord gave another message to Jeremiah. He said, 'Have you noticed what people are saying?—‘The Lord chose Judah and Israel and then abandoned them!’ They are sneering and saying that Israel is not worthy to be counted as a nation.
But this is what the Lord says: 'I would no more reject my people than I would change my laws that govern night and day, earth and sky. I will never abandon the descendants of Jacob or David, my servant, or change the plan that David’s descendants will rule the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Instead, I will restore them to their land and have mercy on them.'" (verses 14-26)

In reviewing these scriptures, it is clear to me that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's promises to David; and that ANY OTHER understanding is inconsistent with what the Bible states. And, although this treatise should preclude the acceptance of any of Herbert Armstrong's speculations regarding David's throne, as far as his contention that Queen Elizabeth II currently occupies David's throne, I have previously addressed this in a number of posts on this blog:
http://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2016/02/god-david-and-anglo-israelism-part-1.html
http://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2016/02/god-david-and-anglo-israelism-part-2.html
http://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2016/02/god-david-and-anglo-israelism-part-3.html

Finally, as for a "place of safety" for Armstrong's and Flurry's followers, this teaching is easily refuted. In his message to the church in Philadelphia, we read that Christ promised, "Because you have obeyed my command to persevere, I will protect you from the great time of testing that will come upon the whole world to test those who belong to this world." (Revelation 3:10) Please note:
1) Protection is promised, but no mention is made of a "place of safety"
2) This "time of testing" is for "those who belong to this world," not those who belong to God.

If one accepts that the messages to the seven churches reflect seven distinct and successive eras of church history, then it would follow that protection for these folks will mean death, as the folks from the Laodicean era would be the ones who actually lived through these events. OR If we acknowledge that these characteristics apply to folks in all eras of the church, then the teaching about church eras is rendered meaningless.

Likewise, if we look to the twelfth chapter of Revelation, we see that the wording there clearly refers to the entire history of the church - NOT just the time of trouble at the end. We read there:
"Then I witnessed in heaven an event of great significance. I saw a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon beneath her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head. She was pregnant, and she cried out because of her labor pains and the agony of giving birth.
Then I witnessed in heaven another significant event. I saw a large red dragon with seven heads and ten horns, with seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept away one-third of the stars in the sky, and he threw them to the earth. He stood in front of the woman as she was about to give birth, ready to devour her baby as soon as it was born.
She gave birth to a son who was to rule all nations with an iron rod. And her child was snatched away from the dragon and was caught up to God and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where God had prepared a place to care for her for 1,260 days.
Then there was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon and his angels. And the dragon lost the battle, and he and his angels were forced out of heaven. This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels.
Then I heard a loud voice shouting across the heavens, 'It has come at last—salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers and sisters has been thrown down to earth—the one who accuses them before our God day and night. And they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and by their testimony. And they did not love their lives so much that they were afraid to die. Therefore, rejoice, O heavens! And you who live in the heavens, rejoice! But terror will come on the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you in great anger, knowing that he has little time.”
When the dragon realized that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. But she was given two wings like those of a great eagle so she could fly to the place prepared for her in the wilderness. There she would be cared for and protected from the dragon for a time, times, and half a time.
Then the dragon tried to drown the woman with a flood of water that flowed from his mouth. But the earth helped her by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that gushed out from the mouth of the dragon. And the dragon was angry at the woman and declared war against the rest of her children—all who keep God’s commandments and maintain their testimony for Jesus."

Hence, however one chooses to interpret the symbols in this chapter, history (both Biblical and secular) makes clear that Mary and the Church were protected in the world - they were NOT physically isolated from the rest of humanity in some cave or desert stronghold! Indeed, the entirety of the Bible reflects a Divine inclination to protect people in broad daylight. Even if we look at individuals who fled for their safety (like David and Elijah), we see that God eventually called them back to face their challenges. God clearly doesn't need physical isolation, barriers or weapons to protect "His" people, and the Biblical record reflects that fact.

Thus, for this blogger, Armstrong's and Flurry's teachings are shown to be inconsistent with Biblical prophecy and history. Moreover, after taking a close look at some of the scriptures which they have employed to support their teachings, it is clear that God's vision of the future is clearly different from theirs (and much more exciting to contemplate)! 

Thursday, July 12, 2018

God in the Verdict of War?

A recent discussion over at Banned by HWA that focused on the potential for civil conflict/war erupting within the United States inspired what follows. As most Americans realize, there is a great divide now extant in our culture and body politic. It centers around two competing visions of exactly what it means to be an American. The rhetoric and vitriol evident on both sides is enough to cause concern among even those who are devoted to a civil and respectful discourse.

Humankind has resorted to force and bloodshed numerous times over the course of its history on this planet to resolve differences among individuals, families, tribes, groups and nations. It is also customary to view one side as being righteous/good (usually the winner) and the other side as being evil/bad (usually the loser).

However, when we actually take the time to examine and dissect these conflicts, it becomes much more difficult to justify them on religious or moral grounds. Moreover, when we consider the high costs associated with these incidents (human lives, materials, financial expenditures and emotional damage), it is much harder to make the case that God was favoring one side over another.

Faced with the bloodiest war in the history of the United States (the American Civil War), Abraham Lincoln mused in the fall of 1862:  "In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God's purpose is something different from the purpose of either party -- and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true -- that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds." Later, in his Second Inaugural Address he observed that, "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other." He continued, "The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes." He suggested that the terrible costs which the nation had endured might be considered by God as payment for the horrible national sin of slavery. He concluded:  "Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.'"

When all of the deaths associated with that war were tallied together, they estimated that over a million people perished as a consequence of the American Civil War. It has further been estimated that the Union spent about 9.5 billion dollars on costs and pensions associated with the war, and that the Confederacy spent over 2 billion more (those estimates have not been converted to what those expenditures would be in today's dollars). So much of the South's infrastructure was destroyed that there is no estimate available that would begin to do justice to the cost. Maybe Lincoln was on to something in his assessment of the Divine Will?

In the nineteenth chapter of the book of Judges, there is an interesting account of a horrific crime that was committed against a Levite's concubine (she was gang-raped and murdered). Indicative of the barbarity of the day, the Levite then dismembered the corpse and sent a piece to each one of the tribes of Israel demanding justice. As a consequence, we read in the twentieth chapter of the book that the tribes got together and demanded that the tribe of Benjamin surrender the perpetrators of the deed. The Benjamites refused, and a civil war ensued. Clearly, right was on the side of the Israelites, but the casualties on their side were horrendous. Eventually, the Israelites triumphed against their brother Benjamites (virtually annihilating that tribe), but the victory had not come quickly or easily. One has to wonder, if God was in the verdict of this war, then why was the cost so high to the victors? Does God really view violence as the best way to resolve matters of this kind?

We could also point out the consequences of the Crusades, and a more recent war (WWII) that most Americans still regard as righteous (and if you think that I'm suggesting they're wrong, you still haven't gotten the point of this article). We have to ask ourselves:  To what degree (if any) is God involved in our wars? Does God have any role in them? Does He allow or approve of them? And, if we say that "He" allows or permits them, are "His" purposes/objectives the same as our own? If someone is forced to do something at the end of a sword or bayonet, what does that say about Free Will? In short, is war our way or God's way? What do you think?

Friday, June 29, 2018

Theology: Mathematical Precision or Conviction Based on Faith?

If we Google the term theology, we find that term defined as "the study of the nature of God and religious belief" or "religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed." Of course, when we speak of the study of God and religious beliefs, we would all hope for objectivity and the unbiased pursuit of transcendental truth (how realistic those expectations might be is another matter). However, when we speak of theology in terms of a system of beliefs, we would all do well to be very careful in our use of the terms true and false.

For Herbert Armstrong and his followers, theology was/is an exercise in mathematical precision. Everything is based on proofs, direct or indirect. For these folks, everything (or at least the fundamentals) is clear. There is truth, and there is falsehood or error.

Hence, it is no surprise to find a minister among the Armstrong Churches of God speaking of "True Theology" see http://cgi.org/audio-archives/2014/3/17/wayne-hendrix-true-theology?rq=true%20theology To these folks, the Sabbath is a feature of TRUE theology, while Sunday is a feature of FALSE theology. Likewise, the Feast of Tabernacles stands in stark contrast to the observance of Christmas. Binitarianism is TRUE theology, while trinitarianism represents error.

Then, along comes Pope Francis, who proclaims: "This is the novelty that grace ignites in the heart of those who open themselves to the mystery of Jesus: the non-mathematical certainty, but even stronger, interior, of having met the Source of Life, the life itself made flesh, visible and tangible in the midst of us." see https://www.catholicnewsagency.com/news/belief-in-christ-cannot-be-reduced-to-a-formula-pope-francis-says-95860 Of course, there are a great many Catholics who would agree with the ACOG view of theology (the truth vs. error aspect, not the particulars).

Who is correct? For Christians, should our pursuit be one of mathematical certainty or one of reinforcing our conviction that Jesus is the Way to Life? And, Is the pursuit of absolutes even reconcilable with a Faith-based approach? Hasn't the pursuit of mathematical precision only led to confusion, embarrassment and disillusion? And, doesn't certainty short circuit our study of God and religious beliefs? What do you think?

Monday, June 25, 2018

The Nature of Reality and A New Theory of Everything

Scientific American has published an article on Dissociative Identity Disorder that should be of interest to everyone who has ever thought about the nature of the life (and world) that we currently enjoy. Bernardo Kastrup, Adam Crabtree and Edward Kelly wrote the article together, and it is based on some of their observations regarding the research of others. You can read the entire article for yourself here: https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/could-multiple-personality-disorder-explain-life-the-universe-and-everything/

The article was of particular interest to this blogger in relation to past posts that have appeared here. Indeed, regular readers of this blog will recall that I have discussed the possibility that our individual minds/consciousness could be small parts of the mind/consciousness of God. Stated another way, we could say that EVERYTHING (including us) exists within the mind of God. And, of course, such a theory would have profound implications for the very nature of reality itself.

Kastrup, Crabtree and Kelly provide a sequential and easy to understand framework for the philosophical tree that underpins their article. With this background in place, they are in a position to make their point. They write: "So, for idealism to be tenable, one must explain—at least in principle—how one universal consciousness gives rise to multiple, private but concurrently conscious centers of cognition, each with a distinct personality and sense of identity.
And here is where dissociation comes in. We know empirically from DID that consciousness can give rise to many operationally distinct centers of concurrent experience, each with its own personality and sense of identity. Therefore, if something analogous to DID happens at a universal level, the one universal consciousness could, as a result, give rise to many alters with private inner lives like yours and ours. As such, we may all be alters—dissociated personalities—of universal consciousness."
They conclude: "Idealism is a tantalizing view of the nature of reality, in that it elegantly circumvents two arguably insoluble problems: the hard problem of consciousness and the combination problem. Insofar as dissociation offers a path to explaining how, under idealism, one universal consciousness can become many individual minds, we may now have at our disposal an unprecedentedly coherent and empirically grounded way of making sense of life, the universe and everything."

Was the Eighteenth Century philosopher George Berkeley right after all? Could this help to explain the mathematical universe that Max Tegmark has so eloquently written about? Doesn't the ability to imagine such things at the very least make them a possibility? A world/universe within a single mind - is that possible? (think JRR Tolkien and George RR Martin) What do you think?