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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Monday, December 24, 2018

The Birth of Jesus According to Isaiah

"Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." --Isaiah 7:14

"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." -- Isaiah 9:6-7

"And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:
 And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth: with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked." --Isaiah 11:1-4

Thursday, December 13, 2018

The Nationalist Church of God International

Pastor Bill Watson's latest offering on CGI's Armor of God "Biblical News Updates & Commentary" is titled Globalism vs Nationalism. If you're a Trump supporter, you'll want to hear this one. If you're not a Trump fan, you may be interested in the group's rejection of the "Globalist agenda" and enthusiastic embrace of Nationalismhttps://www.cgi.org/new-blog-2/2018/12/12/globalism-vs-nationalism

The pastor opens his message by decrying the legalization of marijuana in Canada and within many of the individual states of its neighbor to the south. He also takes a moment to bemoan the fact that homosexual marriages are now recognized in both countries, and that the U.S. is "killing" one million "babies" per year. Then, after taking a quick swipe at Senator Elizabeth Warren for having the audacity to claim Cherokee ancestry, he proceeds to his main topic.

According to Mr. Watson, the world has divided into two camps: Globalists and Nationalists. He goes on to define Globalism as the desire to create one world order and insists that it is the close ally of socialism and communism. Before going on to define Nationalism, he asks us not to recoil in horror. He says that Nationalism has been erroneously linked to things like white supremacy, Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan. The good pastor assures us that nothing could be further from the truth.

Mr. Watson believes that these erroneous ideas about Nationalism have been generated by the "fake news" (seems like I've heard that term somewhere before) to create a bias against it and its proponents among the public. He insists that Nationalism is nothing more than love of country and a willingness to sacrifice for its good. He informs us that nations act independently of each other rather than collectively, and that these nations have well-defined borders (I suppose they're intended to keep out undesirables).

Satisfied with his definitions, the pastor informs us that Globalism seemed dominant a few years ago - and that things were proceeding to the formation of that one world order. He points out, however, that the European Union now seems to be unraveling and wonders aloud if Globalism is outdated.

If you're wondering what all of this has to do with God, the Bible, the Church or the Gospel, you will be relieved to know that Mr. Watson finally gets around to the book of Revelation. He references the Beast of the thirteenth chapter and points out that this Globalist government will be manifested sometime in the not too distant future. He then moves on to the seventeenth chapter of Revelation and informs us that this Globalist system will make war with the Lamb (there is no acknowledgement that there are alternative interpretations of these prophecies extant within the Christian community).

Unfortunately (or fortunately - depending on your perspective), Mr. Watson can't seem to stay with the Scriptures. Instead, he interrupts his stroll through "God's Word" to inform us that this Nationalist "revival" that we are experiencing has sucker punched the Globalists. Thankfully, according to him, there are still nations with borders, and those who are acting to protect their identities. He assures us that these hearty Nationalists are working hard to thwart the nefarious agendas of folks like George Soros.

Finally, after this little diversion, Mr. Watson returns to the Bible and informs us that that book has an interesting take on Nationalism. He points out the "Table of Nations" and the story of the "Tower of Babel" in the book of Genesis and deduces that God intended for people to exist within separate nations (Doesn't the Gospel message inform us that Christ is going to be the king over all of the earth? Aren't there numerous passages that talk about all nations coming to Jerusalem for worship, healing, etc ? Doesn't the book of Revelation insist that Christ's saints will rule over all the earth with him? And doesn't it teach us that God will be the God of everyone who lives in this community of nations?)

Mr. Watson finishes up with an astounding statement. He tells us that "Globalism is not a good thing for Christians." Wow! So nations shouldn't be working in concert on things like trade, the environment and peace? Pastor Watson tells us that as long as the Nationalists stand in the way of the Globalist agenda we have time to do the work of God! He insists that we need more time to promote the Gospel - that God needs our help to bring His message to the world!

It may just be me, but I'm thinking that it might be a good idea for Mr. Watson and his church to rethink their stance on this Globalist vs Nationalist thing. What do you think?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Mythology of Christmas

Longtime readers of this blog know that I was formerly part of a religious tradition that rejected the celebration/observance of Christmas. We believed that it was inappropriate for Christians to embrace beliefs/traditions/practices that were clearly pagan in origin and had little or no foundation in Scripture. After leaving that tradition, it became clear to me that I had fundamentally misunderstood both the holiday and the issues surrounding it. In short, my rejection of the mythology and substance of Christmas was based on incomplete and inaccurate information.

As I contemplated writing this post, I came across an article written by Mr Vexen Crabtree back in 2014. I found "The Birth of Jesus and the Christmas Story Pagan and Unhistorical" to be an excellent vehicle to discuss the mythology which underpins this popular holiday. For those who are interested, you may read the article in its entirety at The Human Truth Foundation or this link:

The thing that I found most interesting/appealing about Crabtree's article is that it largely ignores the trappings of the modern celebration of Christmas and focuses on the very scriptures which Christians use to justify their observance of the holiday. Instead of discoursing on the pagan origins of Christmas trees and Yule logs, he attacked various aspects of the actual nativity stories recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In other words, he skips the trimmings and goes directly to the heart of the matter! After all, Christians would be hard-pressed to deny that their Scriptures record these two stories about the birth of Christ!

Crabtree wrote: "These two accounts contradict each other in many places. Many elements are certainly untrue. There are no Roman records attesting to the birth (or life) of Jesus. Events such as King Herod's killing of every male child simply did not occur - none of Herod's enemies mention it, for example, despite their routine documenting of his many misdeeds of a much lesser nature. Also unhistorical is the curious Roman census that required (for what reason?) everyone to go to cities associated with their ancestors. But similar stories are found about previous pagan god-man saviors. Likewise with the Virgin Birth, which has now been shown to simply be a mistranslation deriving from the Septuagint. And what of the 3 wise men who follow the bright star to Jesus's birthplace, bearing gifts? Other star gazers of the time, who meticulously recorded many stellar events, did not notice it. It is a Zoroastrian story, even down to the details of the 3 gifts, copied by Christians and made to be about Jesus. The stories of Jesus's birth are rewrites, modernisations, of previous stories from older pagan myths. These facts have led some scholars to cast doubt on Jesus's entire existence."

In the article, Crabtree pointed out (like Richard Dawkins before him) that the gospels were written several years after Christ's death and that the authors of these accounts simply did not know much about the actual details of Christ's origins (and there wasn't anybody who still had first-hand knowledge of those events to ask). Instead, the men who wrote those gospels turned to the Hebrew Scriptures and pagan mythology to create a suitable narrative about those origins (e.g. the messiah had to come from Bethlehem, so Jesus must have been born there and the Zoroastrian story of the three magi). As a consequence, there are numerous historical inaccuracies and adopted pagan mythologies present in the accounts of Matthew and Luke.

Although I found myself agreeing with many of the points that Crabtree was making, I was reminded of my own experiences with this subject and with the experiences of others which I had observed, read or heard about it over the years. This prompted me to ask again some of the same questions that had arisen when I had left my previous affiliation many years ago. Questions like: Why do people believe what they believe? What makes something true or false? Why do people create mythologies and tell origin stories? Do those mythologies and stories serve a legitimate purpose? Is an understanding of the evolution of thinking on a given subject essential to a "true" or proper understanding of that subject?

I found myself relating to something that Dennis Diehl had recently contributed to the blog Banned by HWA! He said: "As one of the Three Wise Men in the Christmas Play, I so wanted this story to be true.  Choirs of singing Angels out and about praising God in the Highest to a few lone shepherds seemed pretty amazing.  I did wonder why they didn't perform for the whole town but was told not to ask questions like that again.  I couldn't figure out how a virgin could give  birth and stay a virgin or how God could be the father with out...well you know. But later on learned that Mary was really with child by the Holy Spirit, so that must be God's power that did it. Then someone said the Holy Spirt was the Third Person in the Trinity of the One True God but three.  Huh?  That sounded ever much more kinky I stopped asking questions.  But it was all a grand mystery and who cared. I wanted it all to be true." http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2018/12/i-wanted-it-all-be-true.html I suspect that I'm not the only one who can relate to what Mr Diehl shared about his own experiences and feelings in this instance - which gets me back to some of those questions.

Mythologies and origin stories were created by people who were subject to the same kinds of experiences, thoughts, feelings and emotions that you and I have. They were/are an attempt to answer the questions (why, when, where, how, etc.) that we have about ourselves, each other and the world around us. They were/are an attempt to understand and explain. They were/are an attempt to formulate a rationale for what we are experiencing. As such, the authors of our mythologies and origin stories have never been very concerned with actual people, events or places. Instead, they seek to answer the fundamental questions and to reveal eternal truths (e.g. god(s) as the creator, first cause, source or mover).

When we remind ourselves of these things, the act of borrowing from former mythologies or appealing to an older or recognized authority like the Hebrew Scriptures) becomes more understandable and defensible. Approached from this perspective, things like the exact date or year of Christ's birth are not important. Likewise, it becomes unimportant to us whether he was actually born in the time of Herod the Great or during the governorship of Quirinius. In the end, the essential question is "Do I accept Jesus as the promised Messiah of the Hebrew Scriptures?"

And, if one does accept that Jesus is the Christ (and some of us believe we have good reason to do so), then the inconsistencies, errors and plagiarism of the men who sought to explain his origins does not seem so significant. Moreover, the fact that early Christians sought to explain and embellish the people and events which they had experienced in real time makes us more amenable to the notion that their stories and mythologies have a basis in fact/reality.

For Christians, these narratives about the origin of Christ seek to explain some fundamental truths: That Jesus came from God to save a weary and troubled people from sin, fear, disease and death - that He was the fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham, Moses and David - that He came to bring us peace, tolerance and love - that His arrival was worthy of universal acclaim - that it was the most important event in human history - and very worthy of the notice of emperors, kings, governors, magi and shepherds alike - and that it was a great honor for the mother who bore him.

For Christians, the fact that people before them had noticed the special relationship between a mother and her child should not be regarded with amazement or disdain. Likewise, the fact that others before them may have noted the irony that life presents to us in the reality that many of the women who have cared for and nurtured infant sons down through the eons of time have had those sons grow up to save or rescue them from some peril should not trouble or dissuade them from accepting Jesus and his story. Even at this distant date, it is not hard to imagine folks wanting to acknowledge God's greatest gift to us with gifts of their own to Him!

I know all too well, however, that many of the folks who read this will continue to be preoccupied with pagan influences, technical errors and inconsistencies. That is unfortunate. Even so, I have no problem wishing the rest of my readers a very Merry Christmas and rejoicing with them in the words attributed to angels so long ago: "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men!"

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Kids Got Screwed When It Came To Receiving Gifts!

Is it any wonder that most of the children who have been raised in the Armstrong Churches of God don't stay in the church? For the sake of this post, I won't question the motives of Herbert Armstrong and those who have followed in his apostolic footsteps. Nevertheless, if we take an objective look at the consequences for the kids, we begin to see why they might feel like they got the short end of the stick when it came to receiving gifts from their parents and other family members.

Think about it. There was no Christmas - no gifts under the Christmas tree or in their stockings. There were no birthday gifts, because everybody knew that only wicked folks celebrated birthdays. There weren't many gifts any other time of the year either, because "God's Work" needed every penny they could get (and everyone was supposed to be giving a full ten percent of their GROSS income AND special offerings on all of the high days).

What about festival gifts? The official advice/guidance/directive from the church: "Some members have purchased gifts for their children so that the children might better enjoy the Feast. Gifts for small children at Feast time helps make the Feast special for them — a time to look forward to each year. But in other cases, some people have overdone the giving of gifts at Feast time, sometimes buying expensive items they couldn't really afford. Usually such items are used during the rest of the year as well. This goes far beyond the principle of using the festival funds to provide a joyous, happy Feast." https://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getmagazine&InfoID=1357653949

And, just in case you might have a little extra money to spend on the kids at the festival, the church said: "it has always been the practice of the Church members who have more than they need to turn in this excess to the Church." (same link) There was also the tithe of the tithe to suck up those extra funds: "Several years ago, because of the considerable expenses of providing the facilities and handling year-round administrative needs for the Feast, Pastor General Herbert W. Armstrong directed all members of the Church to send in one tenth of their festival tithe to cover these costs. This is commonly referred to as the tithe of the tithe." (same link)

Poor kids - they never had a chance! Wonder what they were thinking when they saw all of the gifts that their Catholic and Protestant friends received from their family and friends? Oh, that's right, my bad - they weren't supposed to have any friends outside of the church anyway! Never mind.