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Destination Truth: The Road Goes Ever On

Yes, I borrowed the title of this post from a television show and my favorite author (J.R.R. Tolkien). The topic of this post has been on m...

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Implications of Extreme Life

Yesterday (17 February 2017), Victoria Jaggard published a piece for National Geographic entitled "Weird Life Found Trapped in Underground Crystals." (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/02/crystal-caves-mine-microbes-mexico-boston-aaas-aliens-science/) As related in that article, scientists have apparently discovered microbial life within fluid that has been trapped inside of giant crystals for millennia. The crystals were found inside of caves which lie deep beneath the Naica Mine in Mexico. Scientists have also noted the extreme environment in which the microbes were discovered (the caves are so hot that explorers have to wear special insulated ice suits that permit them to stay in the caves for only minutes at a time). Moreover, after successfully extracting the microbes and culturing them, scientists discovered that they were genetically distinct from any other life on earth.

As the article points out, these microbes suggest once again that life on earth can exist in extreme conditions/environments and can remain dormant for long expanses of time. Think about the implications of that for the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, and the likelihood that our own exploration could contaminate other worlds!

We know that there has been much speculation in the genre of science fiction (literary and film) over the years about how life on earth began. Did life on earth get its start from microbes that originated on other worlds? Did a meteorite or asteroid crash into this planet and seed life here? Did aliens either intentionally or unintentionally seed our planet with life in the distant past? Could our own exploration of the universe unintentionally seed other worlds with earth life? What would happen to these microbes if the earth exploded one day and hurled debris into space? If the microbes survived on a piece of debris or some man-made spacecraft, could they seed life on some distant planet or moon that provided an environment which was hospitable enough for its survival? Over millions and billions of years, would such life evolve into more complex forms (maybe even humanoids like us)?

And, finally, if the discovery of these microbes makes all of these scenarios seem a little less far-fetched, does that suggest anything about the purpose of life itself? If so, does that imply some design or designer? At any rate, I believe that the existence of these microbes on this little orb we call home gives us a few more things to think about and possibilities to consider. After all, why is life so tenacious? Does the impetus toward self-perpetuation suggest any answers to some of the most profound questions that we have? What do you think?  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

A Godly perspective on REVENGE?

It has been widely reported in the press that Donald Trump recently offered to destroy a Texas Senator's career for opposing certain policies which he supports. (http://www.dallasnews.com/news/politics/2017/02/07/trump-offers-destroy-texas-senator-help-rockwall-sheriff) By now, most of us have also heard about his reaction to the judges who ruled against his so-called "Muslim Ban." This brings to mind many past Trump statements and actions which have been focused on attack and revenge.

Just before the election last year, David Corn of Mother Jones reminded all of us that "Donald Trump Is Completely Obsessed With Revenge." (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2016/10/donald-trump-obsessed-with-revenge) In his article, he pointed out that:  "Following the first presidential debate, he spent days of valuable campaign time (and hours of valuable sleep time) slamming Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe. At other times during this contest, he could not let go of his feud with Rosie O'Donnell. He tried to smear Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the American-born federal judge hearing a fraud case against Trump University, as a "Mexican" unqualified to preside over this litigation. For days, he derided Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of an Army captain killed in Iraq, after Khizr criticized him during a speech at the Democratic convention. He launched misogynistic attacks against Carly Fiorina and Megyn Kelly. Rather than attempt to unify his party after a divisive primary fight, he threatened to finance future campaigns against GOP rivals, most notably Ohio Gov. John Kasich. He encouraged violence against protesters at his rallies. And there were the mean and nasty nicknames: Lyin' Ted, Little Marco."

Corn went on to point out that these incidents were not random or isolated events, but that they represent an integral part of the man's philosophy and modus operandi. Indeed, Corn used Trump's own words to make his point. At the National Achievers Congress in Sydney (2011), he said:  "Get even with people. If they screw you, screw them back 10 times as hard. I really believe it." The following year, Trump said:  "One of the things you should do in terms of success: If somebody hits you, you've got to hit 'em back five times harder than they ever thought possible. You've got to get even. Get even. And the reason, the reason you do, is so important…The reason you do, you have to do it, because if they do that to you, you have to leave a telltale sign that they just can't take advantage of you." In 2013, Trump tweeted:  "Always get even. When you are in business, you need to get even with people who screw you. – Think Big." In 2014, he referenced a famous quote by Alfred Hitchcock:  "Revenge is sweet and not fattening."

So we know what Donald Trump thinks about revenge, but we would do well to ask:  What does the Godly perspective on revenge look like." Throughout history, there have been a good many statements on the subject that most of us would characterize as inspired. Here are just a few examples:
“The ultimate revenge is living well and being happy. Hateful people can’t stand happy people. Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”-- Confucius
"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury." -- Marcus Aurelius
"Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love." -- Martin Luther King Jr.
"Revenge... is like a rolling stone, which, when a man hath forced up a hill, will return upon him with a greater violence, and break those bones whose sinews gave it motion." -- Jeremy Taylor
(https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes)
"When another person wrongs you, your typical first thought is one of revenge. We think that by inflicting similar pain onto this person, we’ll make ourselves feel better. While that may make our sick-minded selves feel better for a little while, it most likely will not in the long run. Seeking revenge doesn't cancel out the behaviors that hurt you. It just perpetuates the cycle of pain." -- Ashley Fern (http://elitedaily.com/life/why-we-need-to-stop-seeking-revenge/)

And then there is this one attributed to Jesus Christ:  "You have heard the law that says the punishment must match the injury: 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also. If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles...You have heard the law that says, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven." (Matthew 5:38-45, NLT)

A little later, in that same Gospel, we read:  "Then Peter came to him and asked, 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?' 'No, not seven times,' Jesus replied, 'but seventy times seven!'" (Matthew 18:21-22, NLT)

Hmmm, sure seems like God is not in agreement with Mr. Trump on this one. What do you think?

Friday, February 10, 2017

Thanksgiving is a pagan holiday, and Clinton and Obama are the Two Witnesses of Revelation!

We all know that God's Word says:  "You shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall you take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you." (Deuteronomy 4:2 - King James 2000 Bible) Moreover, secular history tells us that: "In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast that is acknowledged today as one of the first Thanksgiving celebrations in the colonies. For more than two centuries, days of thanksgiving were celebrated by individual colonies and states. It wasn’t until 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day to be held each November." (http://www.history.com/topics/thanksgiving/history-of-thanksgiving) We also know that "Lobster, seal and swans were on the Pilgrims' menu." (same source)

Hence, it is clear that the celebration of Thanksgiving is a holiday which was ADDED by men - it was not instituted or commanded by Almighty God! Moreover, secular history teaches us that the people who engaged in that first Thanksgiving were deceived by Satan the Devil! (Revelation 12:9) The Puritans were the ultimate Protestants (daughters of the Great Whore, Revelation 17:5), and the Native Americans were PAGANS! We can also see that they ate unclean foods which God has declared unfit for human consumption! (Leviticus 11) Moreover, the holiday was made a national holiday by a secular leader - a President of the United States who was then engaged in one of the bloodiest wars in human history! Knowing these things, how can any of us ever celebrate this holiday again with a clear conscience?

Having dispensed with Thanksgiving, we all need to be aware of what's going on in the world around us. (Mark 13:35) We all know that at the time of the end there are going to be Two Witnesses whom God will use to warn the world. (Revelation 11:3) We are told in Scripture that:  "4These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. 5And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. 6These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire." (Revelation 11:4-6, New King James Version)

Notice that these individuals are described as olive trees and lampstands who STAND "before the God of the earth." Olive trees are indicative of those who feed the people, and lampstands are indicative of those who give light to the people. It is clear that these are actual humans who are standing on the earth and performing these functions. Hence, these verses make plain that these are human leaders who are responsible for "feeding" people and supplying them with information (or light). Notice that we are also told that "fire proceeds from their mouths and devours their enemies." This makes clear that these individuals have the ability to use wit and sarcasm to defeat their political enemies in debate. Likewise, reference is made to the fact that they have power to influence the weather and control the spread of disease.

Think about the way these two individuals are described in God's Word! Who can you think of that is skilled in the use of sarcasm and sophisticated arguments to defeat their enemies? Who has been responsible for taking care of the people of this country for eight years and controlling the dissemination of information to them? Who has been involved in attempting to focus everyone's attention on climate change and impose policies that will impact global weather? Who has been actively involved in overhauling the nation's medical system and was over the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for eight years? Of course, the two people who come immediately to mind are Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton!

Isn't this amazing! See what a little proof-texting and creative thinking can accomplish! And, only those of you who are reading this post have been given this understanding! You are special! You have been called by God to understand these things! Send in your money right away - WE MUST GET THIS MESSAGE TO THE WORLD!

If you've finished reading this post, you should check out the post by Dennis Diehl over at Banned by HWA! You can see it at this address: http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2017/02/musings.html  

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A man after God's own heart!

Among the comments about my last post, Dixon Cartwright made an astute observation about the double standard inherent in the insistence of many Christians that David was "a man after God's own heart." Moreover, if one takes the time to survey the many Christian commentaries and sermons on the subject, the truth of this observation becomes apparent. Dixon's point also suggests some other questions:  Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership? These questions demand answers, not justifications or apologies!

In beginning to answer these questions, I think that it is important to acknowledge that most of the folks who hold David up as a fine example of Christian leadership view Scripture through the lens of Fundamentalism. For them, there can't be any contradictions or intrusions of political/cultural bias in "God's Word." However, for those of us who do not share that perspective, it is obvious that the folks who wrote the history of the kingdom period were partisans of David. In other words, they were clearly writing in the capacity of apologists for the man and his actions. If we are willing to acknowledge this and look at the material recorded there with this in mind, we can begin to get a better understanding of David, the men who wrote about him and God's perspective on both.

In short, the folks who wrote the "history" which appears in our Bible had a powerful incentive to justify David's acquisition of the throne and embellish his reputation and accomplishments for the sake of his successors and their continuing rivalry with the northern kingdom. After all, one has to explain the displacement of God's original choice as king:  Saul. And, as all serious students of history know, kings have always been interested in justifying their legitimacy as ruler - their right to rule.

With these considerations in mind, we begin to see that God was one of many props that were employed to buttress the claims of the House of David to the throne. Hence, while David may have been God's choice, it does not follow that God approved of everything he did or supported him in every instance. Indeed, if we give any credence whatsoever to these accounts, we are forced to admit that the chronicler(s) acknowledged that God was displeased with David's adultery, murder and continuous warfare. After all, according to the biblical account, God allowed David's child with Bathsheba to die, permitted him to be temporarily displaced (Absalom) and didn't allow him to build the temple (that honor was reserved for his son).

It also occurs to me that most of the folks who like to talk about David being "a man after God's own heart" fail to look at the context of these remarks within Scripture. In the book of Acts, we are told that Paul was speaking to a Jewish synagogue in Antioch (13:14-16). In this account of his remarks there, we are told that he briefly summarized the history of the Israelites to introduce them to Jesus (verses 17-23). It is in the midst of this summary that Paul quotes from the book of I Samuel about David, Christ's ancestor.

Paul told them that God himself had testified:  "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart." (verse 22). In the remarks that follow this quote, Paul makes clear that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God's choice - that he (not David) was God's ultimate choice to complete his plans for Israel (verses 23-41). In other words, David is part of a more important story and is really only incidental to the central figure of that story (Jesus). Paul makes David the means to an end.

Now, let's take a closer look at the place in the Old Testament from which Paul extrapolated this quote. In the book of I Samuel, we read that Samuel told Saul:  "Thou has done foolishly:  Thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, which he commanded thee:  for now would the Lord have established thy kingdom upon Israel forever. But now thy kingdom shall not continue:  the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the Lord commanded thee." (verses 13-14)

Notice first that Paul has attributed to God something that was originally attributed to Samuel. In this passage from the Old Testament, it is Samuel who is describing what God has done. In other words, "Because of your disobedience (Saul), God has decided to find someone who is closer to him - one who thinks more like he does." A little later in the story (chapter 16), we are told that God chooses Jesse's youngest son, David. So Paul gathers all of this together and puts it into the mouth of God (not an illogical conclusion, but the original author does not tell us that these were God's own words).

More importantly, look at the timing of these remarks. Aren't they made at the beginning of David's story - at the time God chose him to be king? In other words, this remark was made prior to the adultery, deception and bloodshed! As a young man - as a shepherd, David was a man after God's own heart. It does not say that the corrupt and lecherous old man who occupied the throne of Israel many years later was a man after God's own heart!

As a matter of fact, the only way that we could possibly hope to make this statement continue to apply to the man he became is by appealing to his willingness to acknowledge his many sins and REPENT of them! Thus we return to the point which Paul was making to the Jews at Antioch: David is not the model/example/end - Christ was/is! According to the New Testament, Jesus Christ was the only man who has ever lived who was truly "a man after God's own heart." Hence, it is inappropriate for Christians to hold this man (David) up as a model for anything other than an example of the way that we should face our sins and repent of them.

In conclusion, my answer to both of the questions which were asked at the beginning of this post (Does God use adulterers, murderers, child molesters and incestuous fathers as "His" ministers? Is David an appropriate model of Christian leadership?) is NO. David was a secular leader - he was not a priest or minister. Moreover, even in the biased accounts of his life which we have received via the Bible, it is clear that YHWH expressed "His" displeasure with this man on a number of occasions - most notably in the fact that "He" did not allow David to build "His" temple. We can say that God used him as an example of what not to do and of the way to acknowledge sin and repent of it, but I believe it is a perversion of Scripture and logic to make David a model for what a Christian leader should look like.



Thursday, January 19, 2017

What should a Christian minister look like?

Over at Banned by HWA, several of the most recent posts on that blog have provoked a great deal of thought about what constitutes a genuine Christian minister. While most of us would readily admit that an adulterer and murderer would not qualify, agreement seems to break down when other issues are considered. In other words, what are the things that qualify a person as a legitimate minister of Jesus Christ? How important are things like gender, training and credentials?

For many Fundamentalists, Paul's statements in some of his epistles about female participation in church services exclude the possibility of that gender serving in the ministry. Of course, that assumption ignores all of the scriptural evidence that contradicts such a conclusion. What about Mary? What about Priscilla? What about Lois and Eunice? Is it correct to exclude half of humanity from participating in the ministry of the church because Jewish society in the First Century had a strong misogynistic and paternalistic bias?

What about the training of the ministry? How did Christ train his apostles? Did he send them to colleges and seminaries? Weren't most of the apostles and ministers of the early church mature individuals who had years of exposure to Christ's teachings and more years of life experiences under their belts? How many young men or recent converts were elevated to the ministry? Is Christianity a spiritual or intellectual exercise? Can love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, patience, kindness, compassion, etc. be learned in a college or seminary? How important is one's understanding of complex theological, philosophical and doctrinal matters to being a successful/effective minister of Jesus Christ?

Does a license from a man-made organization make one a minister of Jesus Christ? Does an appointment by some board or some single individual (like someone claiming to be an apostle or prophet) make one a minister? Does obtaining a degree or completing some course of study qualify one to be a minister of Jesus Christ? Does recognition by the State entitle one to perform the functions of a minister of Jesus Christ? Does the vote of a congregation entitle one to be recognized as such? What kind of official credentials did Peter, John, Barnabas or Paul have?

Didn't Paul say that exceptional character was an essential element in one qualifying to be considered as a legitimate minister of Jesus Christ? Did he have anything to say about the marital status of the individual and the harmony evident within his/her household? Did he say anything about the candidate's reputation in the community at large and within the church? Did he say anything about how the person conducted him/herself in public (e.g. displays of temper and the consumption of alcohol)? Didn't Paul say that the candidate must be able to teach and provide a hospitable/friendly environment? Indeed, even if Paul hadn't (or didn't) write those epistles to Timothy and Titus, wouldn't common sense demand that a minister of Jesus Christ exhibit exceptional character (over and above that of his/her brothers and sisters in the faith)?

And, perhaps the most important consideration of all:  What is a minister? Doesn't the very word evoke the word servant? Didn't Christ say that those of his disciples who wanted to be in leadership positions would have to become the servant of the others? Didn't Christ make clear that he didn't want the leaders within his church lording it over each other? Doesn't he use the symbolism of the care and nurture of a shepherd for his/her flock over and over again? Didn't he tell Peter three separate times to feed/take care of his sheep? Were ministers intended to rule? Were minsters intended to be repositories of authority and discipline? What does servant leadership mean?

Hmmmm, when we begin to ask ourselves a few questions about what a Christian minister should look like, it becomes clear to me that many of the denominations, sects and cults who call themselves Christian don't have a clue! Maybe it's time we all take another look at this topic and rethink some of the traditional attitudes that have developed about it? What do you think? 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Recommended reading for students of the Bible

As with many of his previous posts, Paul Davidson's recent analysis of biblical alternatives to the Exodus story of Israelite origins is fantastic! You can read the post here:  https://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/the-story-of-ezer-and-elead-and-what-it-means-for-the-exodus/

I have speculated for some time (see past posts on this blog) that the account of the exodus from Egypt may only be suggestive of the actual history of the Israelites. In particular, the fact that they were dominated by the Egyptians for many years. This would make much more sense than acceptance of the story in the Bible as literal history. Archaeological findings and contemporaneous accounts simply do not support a literal understanding of the Pentateuch account of Israelite origins. There is almost always, however, a few grains of truth present in any myth.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A few more observations about God's Festivals

In my final comments on the previous post, I issued a challenge regarding the impact of the Roman's destruction of the Temple in 70 AD:  "My point is: No one told them to adapt and change the modalities when that happened. Can you cite any scriptural or historical evidence to contradict that?" A friend replied "No" to that question and proceeded to explain why that was impossible.

He pointed out the dearth of writings from the period following the destruction of the Temple, including the fact that most of the documents in our canon were written prior to that event. For the sake of my argument, I will not speculate about when the gospels or epistles were authored. Nevertheless, I would argue that the epistle to the Hebrews attempts to explain many of the Old Testament religious symbols (including the Sabbath, Temple, sacrifices and Day of Atonement) in the light of Christ's life, work and death. For me, this epistle demonstrates the continuing significance of these symbols even if a Christian was not actually observing them anymore.

As for the account of the Jerusalem Council in the fifteenth chapter of Acts, I think that the text makes very clear that Jewish Christians decided to exempt their Gentile brethren from any obligation to keep the Mosaic Law. In fact, we are told there that it was those Jewish Christians who belonged to "the sect of the Pharisees" that insisted on Gentile circumcision and had commanded them "to keep the law of Moses." (verse 5) Later, we are told that Peter pointed out that God had given Gentiles the same Holy Spirit which he had previously given to them. (verse 8), and that He had made no distinction between the two groups (verse 9). He concludes with this statement:  "Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they." (verses 10-11) After confirming that it was God who made the decision to call Gentiles into His Church, James reminds the assembly that there are still plenty of synagogues extant where Moses is preached every Sabbath (verses 13-21). In other words, it is unnecessary to introduce that subject into the new circumstances. Moreover, it is made very clear in the letter which was sent out to the Gentile congregations summarizing the Council's decision that the Jewish Christians did NOT expect Gentile Christians to observe the tenets of the Mosaic Law (verses 22-19).

My friend went on to point out:  "When I read that he <Christ> fulfilled the law, to me the plain meaning is that he kept it." Yes, it means the same thing to me. Christ fulfilled the Law by perfectly keeping and personifying every aspect of it - something that NO MAN before him or since him has EVER done! This is the very thing that enables us to be reconciled to God and saved! Christ's complete innocence before the Law enabled him to pay the penalty that our breaking of it incurred! It was/is HIS WORK which has saved us - the only thing our works have earned us is DEATH! That does not give us a license to go out and intentionally violate the Law, but it does free us from the fear of facing the punishment which would otherwise await us. There are many scriptures which also make clear that Christians are still obligated to adhere to the SPIRIT of the Law - the two great principles behind all of it (love for God and love for each other).

I also agree with my friend that there is nothing wrong with shadows. I wish to reiterate my conviction that all Christians would benefit from a greater familiarity with the festivals and other features of the Mosaic Law. I believe that a greater awareness of these things would invariably lead to a greater appreciation/understanding of Jesus Christ and the role which he plays in God's plans to save mankind. Likewise, I agree with the Apostle Paul:  whether one attempts to observe these festivals or observes some other holidays, he/she should do so to the honor and glory of God; and that we shouldn't be judging each others actions in this regard.

Finally, I think that it should be pointed out that Purim (see the book of Esther in our canon) and the Feast of the Dedication (see the books of I and II Maccabees) are not observed by most of the Christians who attempt to observe the Holy Days. While it is true that these two festivals are not listed among those in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, it is clear that Christ observed them. Doesn't it seem a little inconsistent or odd that one would observe seven of the festivals given to the Israelites and dismiss two others as Jewish? In the final analysis, aren't all of them Jewish? If we admit that Jewish Christians of the First Century kept the Jewish festivals, how likely do you think it would be that they ignored Purim and Hanukkah?

Thus, for all of these reasons and more, observance of these festivals cannot and should not be regarded as a tool for evaluating who is/is not a TRUE Christian! I am confident that Almighty God will bless anyone who seeks to worship "Him" with a sincere and adoring heart. What do you think?