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Resurrection in Jewish and Christian Thought

The notion that humans who have died can be resurrected by God is found in both the Hebrew Old Testament and the Greek New Testament, and al...

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Our Quest To Understand

Throughout the history of humankind, we have sought to understand ourselves, our world, the cosmos and God. In modern times, we have employed the scientific method to get at the answers we seek; but we have always employed comparisons to help us to understand things. Our units of measurement were originally based on body parts, amounts of water or alcoholic beverages, the temperature at which water boils or freezes, the distance between two points, the length of a day here on earth, etc. We classify plants and animals based on their similarities to/differences from each other. We say that someone is tall or short compared to the height of the average man or woman. We often seek to understand things by comparing them to two extremes (e.g. hot/cold, acid/alkaline, infinite/finite, etc.). In short, when we attempt to explain/describe/define/measure something (and to truly understand anything, one must be able to explain/describe/define/measure it), we always resort to some type of comparison.

In the realm of trying to understand God, we have often resorted to the basic formula that Man is less than God or God > Man. Likewise, we reason that the Creator must of necessity be greater than that which has been created. With these simple comparisons, we attempt to explain/describe/define/measure the notion of God. From these things, we deduce that God must supersede space, time and gravity - that "HE" must be omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient. Some of us have even reasoned that since we are the "highest life-form" on this planet that God must look and act like us. But we would do well to stop and ask ourselves: How close to truly understanding God do these elemental comparisons really get us?

Yet, When Zophar confronted his friend Job, he resorted to the only thing available to him - comparisons. "Can you solve the mysteries of God? Can you discover everything about the Almighty? Such knowledge is higher than the heavens—and who are you? It is deeper than the underworld—what do you know? It is broader than the earth and wider than the sea." (Job 11:7-9)

In considering these things, I'm reminded of some questions that were asked long ago in the book of Isaiah: "To whom can you compare God? What image can you find to resemble him?" (40:18) and "'To whom will you compare me? Who is my equal?' asks the Holy One." (40:25)

For those who think that they have God figured out, you may want to reconsider your confidence in your notions about God. Truly, God cannot be contained!

Monday, December 23, 2019

A Christmas Carol

A post that was originally posted over at The Painful Truth Blog five years ago recently made another appearance there. The post by Butler Shaffer was titled "The Case for Ebenezer Scrooge" (the principal character from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol). Shaffer informs us that he "decided that Mr. Dickens had given Ebenezer Scrooge an undeserved reputation for villainy." According to Shaffer, the "true heroes" of that age were the industrialists and the financiers. Thus, in his attempt to vindicate Scrooge, he mounts a passionate defense of Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution.

Shaffer accuses Dickens of launching an ad hominem attack against his client, but his defense sounds more like an ad hominem attack against Dickens, Bob Cratchett, the spirits and Socialists in general! Cratchett is transformed into an unambitious and lazy person who is content to stagnate, instead of a person trapped by the circumstances of the larger labor market, geography and his own education (In other words, there probably wasn't another job just waiting for him around the corner as the author implies).

He characterizes Mr. Dickens allegations as being concerned with Scrooge's wealth, and the fact that he insisted on retaining it for his own use. Shaffer dismisses the obvious objective of the author: To cause Scrooge to take a second look at his "materialistic pursuits" which "had rendered him an unhappy person." Contrary to what Shaffer alleges, Mr. Dickens is concerned with making Mr. Scrooge a happier and more productive person.

The Capitalist system and industrialization which it produced gave rise to several problems. It obviously encouraged greed and materialism (one of the points Dickens made in this piece). It also led to immobility (as evidenced by Cratchett's circumstances). The formation of monopolies distorted the marketplace and prevented it from functioning according to the supply/demand model. Likewise, this system gave rise to an inefficient use of resources and environmental damage. And, finally it gave rise to a concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and the boom and bust cycle which has plagued the entire history of its operation.

The problem is that: although we humans are often characterized as rational beings, we don't always act rationally! We don't always act in our self-interest either. Humans are also emotional beings. We are, thankfully, also occasionally motivated by things like love, compassion, mercy, empathy and kindness. Mr. Dickens was trying to acquaint his principal character with that other side of what made him human.

And, just for the record, Scrooge did not receive condemnation at the hands of Mr. Dickens - He received redemption! Scrooge finally learned the lesson that there is more to life than making and accumulating money.

What does all of this have to do with a blog about God? As I've said many times over the past few years (and it bears repeating), GOD IS NOT A CAPITALIST OR A SOCIALIST! Both of these economic systems were designed by humans for humans, and neither one of them is anywhere near perfect. God does not endorse Supply-side Economics, and the Bible is not the source for concepts like the "Invisible Hand" or tax cuts to stimulate economic growth. And, just as you can be a Christian and be a Capitalist, you can also be a Socialist and still be on God's side! Capitalism does not equal righteousness, and Socialism does not equal evil! Apparently, this is super hard for some folks to grasp.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Do Christians have anything to learn from the Jewish festival of Hanukkah?

Tonight, Jews around the world began their celebration of Hanukkah - that celebration will conclude at sundown on Monday, December 30. And, although there has been some interest among a few Christians regarding the festivals outlined in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus, the festivals of Purim and Hanukkah have elicited almost no interest from the Christian community.

I believe this is unfortunate, because it underscores Christian ignorance about the religious and cultural traditions of which Jesus and his followers were a part. In the tenth chapter of the gospel of John, we read that "it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon's porch." (John 10:22-23) So here we have a direct reference to Christ observing this festival (it commemorates the re-dedication of the second temple by the Maccabees).

I suspect that the festival is dismissed by many Christians because it appears outside of the canon of the Bible among the writings commonly referred to as the Apocrypha (I & II Maccabees). It should be noted, however, that this history and festival was embraced by the Jewish people and was an integral part of the traditions into which Christ and his early followers were born. Moreover, the story and traditions surrounding this festival are crucial to understanding and properly interpreting other parts of the Judeo-Christian canon.

The book of Daniel outlined the history of several world empires. One of the empires referenced there was that of the Greeks. In accordance with what is recorded in that book, after the death of Alexander the Great, his kingdom was divided among his generals. Ptolemy took Egypt and established a dynasty there. Likewise, Seleucus took Syria and established a dynasty there.

One of Seleucus' successors, a man known to history as Antiochus IV Epiphanes, attempted to force the Jews (Judea was part of his kingdom) to abandon their religion and adopt Greek customs. He even took over the temple and placed an idol (the abomination of desolation) in the holiest part of that edifice. This, of course, was abhorrent to devout Jews and engendered a great deal of resistance to his rule.

To make a long story short, one family (the Hasmoneans or Maccabees) eventually defeated the Syrian Greeks and liberated the temple. According to Chabad.org, "Judah and his followers built a new altar, which he dedicated on the twenty-fifth of the month of Kislev, in the year 3622 (139 B.C.E.). Since the golden Menorah had been stolen by the Syrians, the Maccabees now made one of cheaper metal. When they wanted to light it, they found only a small cruse of pure olive oil bearing the seal of the High Priest Yochanan. It was sufficient to light only for one day. By a miracle of G‑d, it continued to burn for eight days, till new oil was made available. That miracle proved that G‑d had again taken His people under His protection. In memory of this, our sages appointed these eight days for annual thanksgiving and for lighting candles." https://www.chabad.org/holidays/chanukah/article_cdo/aid/102978/jewish/The-Story-of-Chanukah.htm

Should Christians be interested in a festival that portrays the restoration of the proper worship of the true God? Also, is there anything in the festival's preoccupation with light that might be of interest to Christians? After all, doesn't the gospel according to John tell us that Jesus was "the light of men" - a light shining in the darkness? (John 1:4-9) Wasn't Jesus reported to have declared that he was "the light of the world" and that those who followed him would not walk in darkness? (John 8:12) I may be wrong, but this one looks like it might be worthy of a closer look by Christians!  

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Are Christians Headed for Heaven?

The following is an excerpt from an interesting article (The New Testament Doesn't Say What Most People Think It Does About Heaven) that appeared on Yahoo and was taken from a Time article of 16 December 2019 (originally authored by retired Anglican Bishop Nicholas T. Wright):

"The followers of the Jesus-movement that grew up in that complex environment saw “heaven” and “earth” — God’s space and ours, if you like — as the twin halves of God’s good creation. Rather than rescuing people from the latter in order to reach the former, the creator God would finally bring heaven and earth together in a great act of new creation, completing the original creative purpose by healing the entire cosmos of its ancient ills. They believed that God would then raise his people from the dead, to share in — and, indeed, to share his stewardship over — this rescued and renewed creation. And they believed all this because of Jesus.

They believed that with the resurrection of Jesus this new creation had already been launched. Jesus embodied in himself the perfect fusion of “heaven” and “earth.” In Jesus, therefore, the ancient Jewish hope had come true at last. The point was not for us to “go to heaven,” but for the life of heaven to arrive on earth. Jesus taught his followers to pray: “Thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.” From as early as the third century, some Christian teachers tried to blend this with types of the Platonic belief, generating the idea of “leaving earth and going to heaven,” which became mainstream by the Middle Ages. But Jesus’ first followers never went that route.

Israel’s scriptures had long promised that God would come back in person to dwell with his people for ever. The early Christians picked this up: “The Word became flesh,” declares John [1:14], “and dwelt in our midst.” The word for “dwelt” means, literally, “tabernacled,” “pitched his tent” — alluding to the wilderness “tabernacle” in the time of Moses and the Temple built by Solomon. Studying the New Testament historically, in its own world (as opposed to squashing and chopping it to fit with our own expectations), shows that the first Christians believed not that they would “go to heaven when they died,” but that, in Jesus, God had come to live with them.

That was the lens through which they saw the hope of the world. The book of Revelation ends, not with souls going up to heaven, but with the New Jerusalem coming down to earth, so that “the dwelling of God is with humans.” The whole creation, declares St. Paul, will be set free from its slavery to corruption, to enjoy God’s intended freedom. God will then be “all in all.” It’s hard for us moderns to grasp this: so many hymns, prayers and sermons still speak of us “going to heaven.” But it makes historical sense, and sheds light on everything else.

What then was the personal hope for Jesus’ followers? Ultimately, resurrection — a new and immortal physical body in God’s new creation. But, after death and before that final reality, a period of blissful rest. “Today,” says Jesus to the brigand alongside him, “you will be with me in Paradise.” “My desire,” says St. Paul, facing possible execution, “is to depart and be with the Messiah, which is far better.” “In my father’s house,” Jesus assured his followers, “are many waiting-rooms.” These are not the final destination. They are the temporary resting-place, ahead of the ultimate new creation."

Although this blogger has given up on his former dogmatic approach to what happens to us when we die, he still favors the rest and resurrection model of his former affiliation. What do you think?

Sunday, December 15, 2019

IT'S NOT A PUZZLE!

In my last post, I referenced the fact that many folks view the Bible as a jigsaw puzzle and believe that they've figured out how to make all of the pieces fit together to make a picture. However, while the analogy reflects the Fundamentalist perspective on Scripture, it does not bear up well under close scrutiny.

Think of an actual jigsaw puzzle, and how most of us tend to solve them. Don't most of us want to see what the completed image is supposed to look like? And doesn't that image often influence the way that we put the pieces together? What do we do if some of the pieces are missing? What do we do if we end up with extra pieces? What if some of the pieces simply don't fit? Do we force them anyway to create the image that we have in our mind? What if the puzzle is one of those double-sided or 3D wonders? And, isn't the finished product always subject to being taken apart and put back into the box?

There's also another angle to consider: If the Bible is a jigsaw puzzle, doesn't that make God a puzzle master? Why play games with something so important? Why are there so many ways to put the puzzle together? Does God help some folks to assemble the puzzle while hindering others? If so, doesn't that constitute cheating? Hmmmmmm, maybe this isn't such a good analogy?

Friday, December 13, 2019

God Isn't Going to Condemn You for Being Wrong!

Dennis Diehl recently posted an article as part of his "Adult Sabbath School" series over at Banned by HWA that was subsequently withdrawn. In the post, he asked for advice to help folks who may now feel trapped within one of the descendants of the Worldwide Church of God. In addition to offering some of my own advice along those lines, it later occurred to me that this phenomenon touches on a much broader problem within the Christian community. In short, there are a lot of folks out there who have serious doubts about their beliefs and/or have profound disagreements with some of the teachings of the church/group with which they're associated; but they feel compelled to keep those doubts/disagreements private.

Whether they're motivated by a desire to conform, preserve unity, a fear of damnation or a combination of all of these, I suspect there are a great many folks who have simply chosen to go along to get along. In some cases, they have seen the ridicule, abuse and rejection that folks have experienced who didn't toe the party line. In other instances, folks genuinely feel that expressing their doubts and disagreements will result in the loss of their salvation (or cause someone else to lose theirs) - that those doubts and disagreements must be the product of some faulty reasoning on their part. As a consequence, they push down the feelings of cognitive dissonance and pain that their thoughts have engendered within them. For many of these folks, there is TRUTH and there is ERROR; and they must be on the wrong side of the equation!

The problem is that this amounts to a suppression of conscience. Scripture tells us that fear and doubt are NOT good motivators, and that anything that doesn't spring from personal conviction is basically useless (even sinful). In the fourteenth chapter of his epistle to the saints at Rome, Paul said that everyone should be "fully persuaded" in his/her own mind, and that anything that isn't motivated by faith is sin! In other words, your behavior and salvation should NEVER depend on the acceptance of what other people believe to be true. And, as Martin Luther is reported to have said long ago still applies today, it is DANGEROUS to go against one's conscience.

There are folks out there who will tell you that the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle, and that the pieces can only be made to fit one way - meaning their way. They present this as a question of whether or not you have God's Holy Spirit - the evidence that you do being your complete acceptance of the way in which they have assembled the puzzle.

Nevertheless, Scripture clearly states that God is NOT going to condemn anyone for their failure to comprehend or understand "His" will in some matter. Jesus spoke in parables, so that only his disciples would understand his message. He also said that no one could come to him unless the Father draws him/her to Christ. Paul said that God had concluded everyone together in disbelief so that "He" could have mercy on everyone. Hence, if God truly is the revelator, then doesn't that make "Him" responsible for what is revealed and to whom it is revealed?

Moreover, doesn't true comprehension/understanding involve acceptance and integration of that knowledge by the person receiving the information? In other words, if you don't really see or believe what has been revealed, how can you be held responsible for rejecting it? Doesn't condemnation require complete understanding/acceptance/integration at the time of rejection? How is it fair and just to condemn someone for rejecting something that they don't believe? Doesn't the anonymous epistle to the Hebrews teach us that belief is a necessary prerequisite to pleasing God? And, if that's so, doesn't that suggest/imply that anyone who lacks that belief hasn't even begun the process?

I remained within the Armstrong Church of God for much longer than I should have for a number of reasons that obviously seemed legitimate to me at the time. For a long time, I repressed/suppressed my doubts, questions and disagreements about/with Armstrong's theology. For a long time, I was even in denial about my feelings - I couldn't even acknowledge them to myself. When I finally came to terms with the cognitive dissonance (the disparity between my own experiences/knowledge with the "TRUTHS" of the church), I was finally able to begin the process of resolving those disparities to my own satisfaction/relief. Likewise, coming to terms with my own turmoil, finally gave me the strength and ability to face/confront the hostility of others within my community.

Still, even after I had reached that level of personal resolution, I lingered for several years. Like many of the folks before me who have continued to participate in groups/organizations in which they've lost confidence, I continued to work within the community in the hopes of ameliorating the negative consequences of those teachings or trying to persuade my associates that those teachings were flawed and unworthy of their allegiance. Over the years, I came to understand that this was a fool's errand. The old adage that "one convinced against his will is of the same opinion still" is absolutely true.

In the final analysis, our relationship with God is a very individualistic one. And the more collective in nature that we attempt to make it, the greater the potential for cognitive dissonance. If you believe in something, then live it! That also applies to me. I'm not going to reach my potential by trying to live your beliefs, and you're not going to reach yours by trying to live by mine or anyone else's!  

Monday, December 9, 2019

You'll have to overlook him!

One of the most frustrating parts of my experience as a former member/associate/victim of two Armstrong Church of God organizations (Worldwide and CGI) is the condescending attitude of friends and family members who still belong to one of the splinters. "You shouldn't put much stock in anything he has to say - he's been hurt!" "Everything he says is based on emotion!" "His experiences have made him bitter and clouded his objectivity!" or (my favorite) "He probably never was a real Christian anyway because he's gay!"

To me, that's like saying you shouldn't listen to what that Jew has to say about the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis) because he spent some time in a concentration camp. "His views are twisted by the suffering he endured there!" "He can't comment objectively on the party's policies and philosophies because he is bitter over what he experienced at the hands of some overzealous individuals!" "Just because some bad things happened to a few people, you can't condemn the whole organization!"

I call bullshit! If someone has had a bad experience with some organization, you may want to listen to what they have to say about it. OR Maybe not! Some of us would rather learn the hard way and go merrily on our way - after all, we do all have the right to decide for ourselves! Like I said, I call BULLSHIT! (or is that just more proof that I'm overly emotional about all of this?)

God's Promises to Abraham

THE PROMISES:

"Now the Lord had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed."
-- Genesis 12:1-3
"And the Lord said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee."
--Genesis 13:14-17
"And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for me, behold, my covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish my covenant between me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God."
-- Genesis 17:1-8
"And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time, And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies; And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; because thou hast obeyed my voice."
-- Genesis 22:15-18

WHO INHERITED THEM?

Herbert Armstrong and his followers reasoned that it isn't plausible that the Bible would ignore/not mention nations as important as the United States and Britain in terms of the prophecies which apply to our times. They assert that God never fulfilled the promises he made to Abraham through the ancient nations of Judah and Israel and reason that God had to fulfill those promises by some other means. They reasoned that the U.S. and Britain must have acquired the wealth and power which they have experienced because God was fulfilling those promises which he made to Abraham so long ago. They implied that - because these nations worship the God of Israel, have accepted their scriptures and professed their belief in a Jewish messiah - they must be Israelites themselves. They have asserted that God's promise to David required someone from his lineage to occupy his throne down through the ages of human history and have reasoned that it must currently exist somewhere else since the Bible itself records the fall of David's dynasty.

Unfortunately for Armstrong and his followers, their reasoning and assertions in this regard can be easily demonstrated to be faulty/erroneous. As a consequence, their conclusions about the "true" identity of the Anglo-Saxon peoples are not sustainable. It is much more implausible to believe that folks who lived many hundreds of years before the U.S. and Britain existed (and were only familiar with the "world" that encompassed the Mediterranean region which they inhabited) would make any mention of those nations in their writings. And, even if we assume that the existence of Judah, Israel and the Solomonic empire did not constitute a fulfillment of God's promises to Abraham, it does not automatically follow that the U.S. and Britain are of necessity the fulfillment of those promises. Using that line of reasoning, couldn't we make a case for the Romans, Spaniards, French, Germans, Russians, Mongols, Chinese or Japanese being candidates for the fulfillment of those promises? Once again, not only have the Brits and Americans adopted the Hebrew Bible, the entire Western World has embraced the Hebrew God and his scriptures (indeed, much of the Eastern World has done the same thing)! Finally, as for the promises God made to Abraham and David, what about all of the clear scriptural references to the fact that they will find their ultimate fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ?

A recent post over at Banned by HWA, provoked a discussion of the genetic plausibility of the Anglo-Saxon peoples being physical descendants of Abraham. One of the commentators on that blog, pointed out that science has demonstrated that patrilineal descent is reckoned through a series of haplogroups. He went on to point out that most European males belong to haplogroups other than the "J" haplogroup which represents Abraham and his descendants. Unfortunately, a few individuals refuse to yield to the findings of genetic science and introduce migrations, intermarriage and mutations in an attempt to make the evidence sound less convincing. The fact that DNA testing has conclusively demonstrated that the Anglo-Saxon peoples are not the physical descendants of Abraham is clearly revealed in the length of time which scientists have determined that it took these haplogroups to form. In other words, the chronology of haplogroup origins refutes the attempts of the naysayers to obfuscate.

According to Wikipedia, in their article on human Y-chromosome haplogroups, they state: "In human genetics, a human Y-chromosome DNA haplogroup is a haplogroup defined by mutations in the non-recombining portions of DNA from the Y chromosome (called Y-DNA). Mutations that are shared by many people are called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).
The human Y-chromosome accumulates roughly two mutations per generation. Y-DNA haplogroups represent major branches of the Y-chromosome phylogenetic tree that share hundreds or even thousands of mutations unique to each haplogroup.
The Y-chromosomal most recent common ancestor (Y-MRCA, informally known as Y-chromosomal Adam) is the most recent common ancestor (MRCA) from whom all currently living men are descended patrilineally. Y-chromosomal Adam is estimated to have lived roughly 236,000 years ago in Africa. By examining other bottlenecks most Eurasian men (men from populations outside of Africa) are descended from a man who lived 69,000 years ago. Other major bottlenecks occurred about 50,000 and 5,000 years ago and subsequently most Eurasian/non-African men can trace their ancestry back to four ancestors who lived 50,000 years ago."

Notice the amount of time required for the formation of these haplogroups. When we combine this information with our knowledge of the migration of human populations and history, we see that it is impossible for the vast majority of European males to be the patrilineal descendants of Abraham. Moreover, for those of us who do have Jewish ancestry, it is a bit of an affront to try to appropriate an inheritance which your DNA clearly demonstrates you are not entitled to claim.

On the other hand, if we focus on these promises relative to Jesus Christ, it is clear that we can all participate in their benefits. Christians can share in the blessings and throne which Christ inherited from his ancestors, because he has invited us to share in them! We must remember that God chose Abraham and his descendants to introduce himself to the rest of the world - not to be the small sliver of humanity that he decided to grace with his blessings and presence!

For those who are interested in exploring this subject in more detail, there are numerous other posts on this blog and elsewhere that demonstrate the falsity of Anglo-Israelism. Here are links to the principal ones that appear here:
https://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2014/09/gods-promise-to-david.html
https://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2016/02/god-david-and-anglo-israelism-part-1.html
https://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2016/02/god-david-and-anglo-israelism-part-2.html
https://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2016/02/god-david-and-anglo-israelism-part-3.html
https://godcannotbecontained.blogspot.com/2018/04/is-british-israelism-inherently-racist.html      

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Are Trump's Critics Resisting God?

Earlier today, a friend forwarded to me an article entitled "The Lord Hath Chosen...Donald Trump?" that originally appeared over at The French Press. The piece begins with an examination of Energy Secretary Rick Perry's assertion that Trump was chosen by God to be President of the United States. What about Trump's obvious moral failures? Perry is not worried about those because God has used imperfect people throughout history, and he cites the examples of Saul, David and Solomon to prove his point. There is, of course, no mention of the fact that God later rejected Saul as king and replaced him with David - no mention of the fact that God inspired the prophet Nathan to challenge David and raised up his own son and others to challenge him - no mention of the fact that God raised up Jeroboam to resist Solomon and supplant his heirs in ruling over most of Solomon's former kingdom!

Later in the article, French cites a discussion between Eric Metaxas and Franklin Graham where they seem to imply that Trump's critics are either demonic or are operating under the influence of demonic forces. As French indicates elsewhere in the piece, folks who subscribe to this kind of reasoning often quote the first two verses of the thirteenth chapter of Paul's epistle to the Romans to support their assertions. We read there: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." French goes on to point out, however, "In fact, applying the logic of Romans 13, if Christians fight for Trump’s re-election, and Trump loses, they’ll have resisted the person who God ordained to become the president of the United States."

The whole question is somewhat amusing to me because it underscores just how superficial many of us are in our thinking. Even widely respected religious leaders often fail to follow the logic of their views and pronouncements. By their own logic, whatever happens to Donald Trump is God's will - be that impeachment and removal, defeat or re-election in 2020! And, if the "main-stream" media, the "deep state" and the "socialist" Democrats, succeed in getting rid of him then I guess that makes them God's agents - doesn't it? And what would that imply about everyone who worked to protect Trump - worked for his re-election and voted for him? According to this line of reasoning, that would automatically make Trump's allies working against God - actively resisting His will!

Is this God's world or not? If it is, what are we worried about? Why do any Christians bother to vote? If this is man's world, Satan's world or man's world swayed and influenced by Satan and his demonic forces, then what on earth is God doing with these human leaders? Has anyone noticed that in the days of Solomon (Ecclesiastes) and Paul (Romans) there wasn't any such thing as a democratic republic or constitutional monarchy? What happens to these principles when the people themselves are responsible for governing the realm? What happens when a ruler's behavior and policies directly contradict God's laws and will? Are Christians obligated to respect and obey the human ruler in those circumstances? Does the Christian have any responsibility relevant to pointing out those sins/faults - or does that only apply to each other? What was Christ's attitude toward the political and religious leaders of his day? Didn't Christ suggest that he was going to eventually supplant all of them?

I came out of a church that believed in God ordained government that followed the top-down model. It was considered heretical and wicked to criticize leaders. We were expected to be obedient sheep - to follow our shepherds wherever they led us. We were told that it was God's responsibility and prerogative to correct any errors or mistakes that our leaders made - that we must patiently wait on God to fix problems in our leadership. Just to make a long story short - that ended badly.



Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving!

O give thanks unto the God of heaven: for his mercy endureth for ever. Psalm 136:26, KJV

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

PAUL AS AN APOSTLE?

Dennis Diehl's "Adult Sabbath School" is again in session over at Banned by HWA. In his most recent offering http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2019/11/adult-sabbath-school-and-yes-brethreni.html, Mr. Diehl claims that the self-appointed "apostles" of the ACOG's are merely following the example of the Apostle Paul.

While Mr. Diehl's assertion that Herbert Armstrong and his "apostolic successors" have used Paul's experience to justify their own claims will not be disputed here, I do dispute the assertion that they have accurately portrayed that experience. To say that Paul appointed himself to the office of an apostle is not consistent with the accounts presented in the New Testament. In other words, Herbert (Dave, Gerald and Ron) have twisted Paul's experience to justify their claims - in exactly the same manner that they twist/pervert/torture other scriptures to formulate their various doctrinal positions.

According to the folks over at Blue Letter Bible, the original Greek term for these folks was apostolos. We are further informed by them that the term indicates one who is sent forth with orders - one who serves in the capacity of a delegate/messenger/ambassador.

According to the Gospels, Jesus designated twelve men to serve as apostolos. This designation of twelve men who had actually been with Christ and had personally heard his teachings was viewed by the early Church as having great significance and import. In fact, we learn in the book of Acts that the first order of business after Christ's ascension to heaven was to appoint someone to fill the vacancy created by the death of Judas (see Acts 1:15-26).

Nevertheless, it should be noted that the notion that Judas should be replaced is not attributed to God - it is attributed to Peter. Likewise, we are informed that the Church chose two men for this purpose, and then proceeded to cast lots for the final choice (the Old Testament method for determining God's will in a matter). Hence, the New Testament makes clear that the membership of the Church felt that they had sufficient authority to designate a new apostolos (one who had not been so appointed by Christ). Stated another way, there was clearly no aversion to confining the designation to the men whom Christ himself had appointed.

Now, in the eighth chapter of Acts, we are informed that Saul persecuted the Church. Indeed, we are led to believe that he became quite infamous in this regard within the Christian community of the time. Then, in chapter nine of that book, we learn that Saul even sought the sanction of the high priest for his work against the Church and set out for Damascus to pursue any Christians who had fled there for refuge.

This is followed by one of three accounts in the book of Acts regarding Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus. In this version, we are told that Jesus appeared to him and asked Saul why he was persecuting him. According to the account, Saul was then instructed to go into the city (having to be led there by his companions because he had been struck with blindness).

What happened next is of particular interest to the question of Paul's apostleship. We are informed that a Christian named Ananias was informed by the Lord in a vision to meet with Saul and restore his sight. We are told, however, that Ananias expressed reservations about performing the task because of the things he had heard about Saul's persecution of the saints at Jerusalem. Continuing with the account, we read: "But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake." (see Acts 9:15-16) As a consequence, Ananias proceeded to meet with Saul and lay hands on him. Finally, Saul was baptized and immediately began to preach Christ (see verses 17-22 of the same chapter).

How does all of this square with Paul's defense of his apostleship in his letter to the saints of Galatia? Paul told them that he was an apostolos "not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father." Paul went on to relate to them his experiences as a Jew and former persecutor of the Church, and that God had separated him from his mother's womb and called him to His service "to preach him among the heathen." This is consistent with what is revealed in the above mentioned account of his conversion in the book of Acts.

Paul then proceeded to tell the Galatians that he did not "confer with flesh and blood," and that he did't go to Jerusalem to receive the blessings of the original apostolos. He related to them how he had then proceeded to preach the gospel among the Gentile regions of the Roman Empire. Finally, Paul explains how he and Barnabas eventually went to Jerusalem "and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles." Unfortunately, Paul's account here of the Jerusalem Council is colored by what was then happening within the churches of Galatia (that certain individuals sought to convince them that they were obligated to observe elements of the Old Covenant).

He was quick to point out that none of his companions in his work among the Gentiles was compelled by the folks at Jerusalem to be circumcised. Paul's insecurity about his place among the other apostolos is on full display in the verses that follow. In this account of what transpired at the Jerusalem Council, Paul clearly attempted to downplay any role that the other apostolos had in amending or sanctioning his message to (and work among) the Gentiles. Even so, he concluded that "they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter." He went on to admit "And when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship; that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision."

Hence, despite Paul's personal insecurities, his account of his apostleship to the saints of Galatia is largely confirmed by the account of the Jerusalem Council recorded for us in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Acts. It is clear from this account that the Gentile congregations chose Paul and Barnabas to represent them at Jerusalem regarding the question of whether or not they were obligated to observe certain elements of the Old Covenant. It is also clear from the account in Acts that the apostolos of the Jerusalem Church (most likely no longer twelve in number) supported the ministry of Paul and Barnabas and declined to impose those elements of the OC on their Gentile converts. Indeed, after the council, we are informed that Paul and Barnabas resumed their ministries unabated by anything that had transpired at the council. Thus, even if we conclude that the Jerusalem Council did not amount to a formal endorsement of Paul's status as an apostolos, we must conclude that at the very least it amounted to a tacit acknowledgment of the validity of his ministry by what was left of the original apostolos.

Now, having examined the scriptural accounts of Paul's experience, it is clear that neither Herbert Armstrong nor any of his "apostolic successors" experienced anything remotely akin to what Paul experienced in the First Century. And, for those of us who believe that Paul and Ananias experienced something more than a hallucination, it is clear that God and Jesus Christ sent Paul forth with their message - that he was an apostolos in the sense that that word conveyed in the original Greek.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Rituals in Worship

As longtime readers of this blog know, I came out of a church (the Worldwide Church of God) that rejected most of the rituals of traditional Christianity. They reasoned that anything which had its origins in pagan religious practices should be avoided by "TRUE" Christians. And, as was the case with many of the doctrines which they adhered to, they based this belief on a prominent scripture in the Pentateuch.

In the twelfth chapter of Deuteronomy, we read: "Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee for ever, when thou doest that which is good and right in the sight of the Lord thy God. When the Lord thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee, whither thou goest to possess them, and thou succeedest them, and dwellest in their land; Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them, after that they be destroyed from before thee; and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it." Deuteronomy 12:28-32, KJV

However, in quoting this and other scriptures to support their arguments against the use of pagan rituals within Christian worship services, they failed to mention the context of the scriptures which they were using - that these were instructions to the Israelites of old in regard to the covenant which God had established with them. If we are truly going to understand and properly employ these scriptures, it is imperative that we notice the reasoning behind the instructions quoted above. This rationale emerges in the first few verses of the same chapter.

Beginning in verse one, we read: "These are the statutes and judgments, which ye shall observe to do in the land, which the Lord God of thy fathers giveth thee to possess it, all the days that ye live upon the earth. Ye shall utterly destroy all the places, wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods, upon the high mountains, and upon the hills, and under every green tree: And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. Ye shall not do so unto the Lord your God." Deuteronomy 12:1-4, KJV

We notice in these verses that God begins by instructing the Israelites to destroy the places of worship which were used by the former inhabitants of the land. YHWH clearly didn't want his people using these old sacred places. This becomes even clearer as we read on into the account. "But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come: And thither ye shall bring your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, and your tithes, and heave offerings of your hand, and your vows, and your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herds and of your flocks: And there ye shall eat before the Lord your God, and ye shall rejoice in all that ye put your hand unto, ye and your households, wherein the Lord thy God hath blessed thee." Deuteronomy 12:5-7, KJV

Continuing, the principle that the Israelites would have one place of worship in their new home (the Promised Land) was further reinforced in the scriptures which followed. We read: "But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit, and when he giveth you rest from all your enemies round about, so that ye dwell in safety; Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there; thither shall ye bring all that I command you; your burnt offerings, and your sacrifices, your tithes, and the heave offering of your hand, and all your choice vows which ye vow unto the Lord..." Deuteronomy 12:10-11, KJV And, just to make sure they got the point, we read: "Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee." Deuteronomy 12:13-14, KJV

Now let's take a moment to review what we've just read. What have we gleaned from YHWH's instructions to the Israelites about His expectations regarding the way(s) in which they would worship him? First, God expected them to worship him in one place (eventually Jerusalem). Second, God did not want them to employ some of the abominable rituals that had been used by the former inhabitants of the land (things like sacrificing their children to their gods).

With that background in hand, an account in John's Gospel of Christ's encounter with a Samaritan woman takes on new meaning. The meeting takes place at a well, and Christ reveals to the woman there that he is the source of a "living water." John 4:5-14, KJV In the verses that follow, Christ also tells the woman (which he has just met) that she has had five husbands during the course of her lifetime. verses 15-18 Astonished that this stranger would know this about her, the woman replies: "Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." verses 19-20

Continuing with the account, we read: "Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." John 4:21-24, KJV - emphasis mine

Jesus revealed to this Samaritan woman what the Jews of his own day, and the church which I used to attend,  could not comprehend. New Covenant worship is not centered on a physical place or dependent on rituals. The kind of worship which Christ expected of his followers was to be sincere, relevant and heartfelt - the physical manifestations of which were rendered largely irrelevant.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

What the Bible is NOT!

THE BIBLE IS NOT:

Holy - that would be God, and those who belong to "Him."
The final authority in matters related to faith - that would be God.
The complete revelation of the TRUTH of Almighty God - that would be Jesus Christ.
Free of contradictions and errors.
A collection of manuscripts written by the finger of God (it was written by people inspired by God).
A book with all of the answers to the mysteries of life and the universe.
A science textbook.
A history textbook.
An owner's manual (it is not written in that style, does not provide step-by-step instructions and does not provide diagrams, charts, schematics, etc.)


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Do the writings of Paul present a problem for Christians?

My answer: They're only problematic for Fundamentalist Christians and Atheists. Yes, Paul's writings are often difficult and contradictory, and the apostle's neuroses and prejudices are sometimes very apparent. And, since these elements are anathema to the Fundamentalist's/Atheist's views of what Scripture should be, they are either ignored/dismissed, condemned or explained away by them.

However, for those of us who accept Paul as the most important apostle of the First Century Christian Church (look at how much of the New Testament is attributed to him), these difficulties, contradictions and frailties point to a very human individual to whom we can easily relate. Like the rest of us, Paul was himself a bundle of contradictions. Like many of us, he was a complex man with many gifts and not a few imperfections.

Our perception of Paul and his writings is influenced by a number of different factors. For instance, even among early Christians, his writings were regarded as difficult to understand (II Peter 3:16). The apostle's proclivity for having others write "his" epistles is another factor. The fact that Paul's understanding of Christian theology was sometimes at odds with some of the saints who were a part of the Jerusalem church is yet another. Moreover, Paul was not averse to giving his own opinions regarding certain issues within the church, and those opinions often reflected the cultural biases of a First Century Jew. Also, we must never forget that the apostle was always addressing problems within the various congregations which he had visited. Finally, we can be fairly certain that Paul had no idea that his letters would one day be regarded by Christians with the same reverence that his generation had reserved for the writings that we now call the Old Testament - that his epistles would be regarded as Scripture.

As I mentioned earlier, Paul's humanity is on full display in his writing. In his epistles, we find evidence of his arrogance and insecurities. Likewise, Paul's paternalistic and misogynistic inclinations are apparent in many of his writings. We can also see evidence there of his stubbornness and intolerance for the views of others.

Nevertheless, there is also another side of this great man that shines through in his writings. Something that he regarded as miraculous happened to him on the road to Damascus, and the details of the precise nature of what he saw and/or heard on that occasion seem insignificant to the subsequent impact of that event on him (and the billions of people who have read his writings since his death). Likewise, we must never forget that Paul was the first person to make a significant contribution to fulfilling the Great Commission which Christ had entrusted to his original disciples/apostles. It is largely thanks to Paul that the movement expanded beyond Jerusalem and Judea.

And, since we have acknowledged that Paul's writings are imperfect and very human, an objective evaluation of the evidence forces us to admit the breath of the Divine. Who can read his calls for unity within the church without being haunted by his eloquence? Who can read his accounts of his own personal trials and struggles without feeling compassion, empathy and inspiration? His writings also provide us with the earliest reference to what has become the principal ritual of the Christian Church - communion (and please don't comment here that I should use some other term to describe this - I'm well aware of the other names for the ceremony). Paul's writings have also provided much encouragement and solace for Christians down through the ages. And, how could anyone not be moved by the grand and epic nature of Paul's description of love in what we now refer to as the thirteenth chapter of his first epistle to the saints at Corinth?

Those of us who appreciate the writings of Paul should also remember that a great many of the problems we have with the apostle's writings are self-inflicted. As with the other Scriptures, we bring our own baggage and flawed understandings to these epistles when we read them. I've already mentioned how some folks regard them as infallible. Others are lazy in their study of background, scholarly criticisms and context. Finally, as any great songwriter will tell you, their lyrics are subject to many different interpretations - and most of them don't mind if you get something out of it other than what they had originally intended. This gets to the very nature of how we humans communicate with each other, and it is most certainly not peculiar to the writings of Paul!      

Friday, November 1, 2019

The Two Covenants

Some of the recent commentary surrounding posts here and at Banned by HWA regarding the Old and New Covenants got me thinking about the divergent views that different groups and individuals hold about them. I was reminded about Herbert Armstrong's views on the subject, and the way that he criticized more traditional Christian views of the covenants. In particular, I was reminded of the conclusion which I arrived at some years back now that Armstrong's understanding of the two covenants was weak, superficial/shallow and just plain wrong!

The Old Covenant was based on the Israelites' obedience to certain laws, statutes and ordinances contained in the Torah. Herbert Armstrong believed that the obligation to obey SOME of those laws, statutes and ordinances carried over into the New Covenant. In particular, he believed that only the sacrificial elements, along with some of the rituals that were peculiar to the Levitical priesthood, had been eliminated from the New Covenant. According to Armstrong, in addition to God's fundamental law (Ten Commandments), things like tithing, festival attendance and dietary laws were incorporated into the New Covenant. His primary proof of this conclusion was founded on the fact that Christ, his apostles and the Jerusalem church had clearly observed these elements (citing several texts within the New Testament of the Bible).

Armstrong, however, had failed to appreciate the fact that Christ had to observe all of God's various laws, statutes and ordinances in order to qualify as the innocent lamb (without spot or blemish) which was to be sacrificed to pay the penalty for the rest of us who have transgressed those laws. Mr. Armstrong liked to remind his followers that Christ didn't come to destroy the law or make the prophets obsolete. Even so, HWA apparently could not comprehend what it meant for Christ to fulfill those things. It wasn't that Christ had abolished/annihilated/done away with the law. He had simply filled them all to the full - had perfectly kept them, because we couldn't!

Under the terms of the Old Covenant, there had been various burnt offerings, sin offerings, peace offerings, trespass offerings, etc. These offerings were commonly made by spilling the blood of some animal (killing it) and presenting this to God to atone for whatever infraction(s) of the law that the offender had committed.

According to Jesus Christ, however, the New Covenant was established in HIS blood! (Matthew 26:28,  Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20 and I Corinthians 11:25). In other words, the forgiveness of our trespasses against the law is founded in the blood that Jesus Christ shed for us!

Notice how this agrees with what the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews has to say about the two covenants. After discussing the terms/conditions of the Old Covenant, in the ninth chapter of that book, we read: "So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant." (verses 11-15)

Continuing there, we read: "That is why even the first covenant was put into effect with the blood of an animal. For after Moses had read each of God’s commandments to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, along with water, and sprinkled both the book of God’s law and all the people, using hyssop branches and scarlet wool. Then he said, 'This blood confirms the covenant God has made with you.' And in the same way, he sprinkled blood on the Tabernacle and on everything used for worship. In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals. For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice." (verses 18-26)

The author of Hebrews continued contrasting the two covenants in the following chapter. We read: "The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared." (Hebrews 10:1-2) Then the author summarizes the points just made: "First, Christ said, 'You did not want animal sacrifices or sin offerings or burnt offerings or other offerings for sin, nor were you pleased with them' (though they are required by the law of Moses). Then he said, 'Look, I have come to do your will.' He cancels the first covenant in order to put the second into effect. For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Under the old covenant, the priest stands and ministers before the altar day after day, offering the same sacrifices again and again, which can never take away sins. But our High Priest offered himself to God as a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time." (verses 8-12)

The author of Hebrews concluded his/her thought with a reference to the testimony of the Holy Spirit. We read: "This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." (verse 16) This statement is consistent with what the New Covenant in Christ's blood accomplishes for us.

Christ summarized the Ten Commandments into two great principles: "‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37) This is the law that Christ incorporated into the New Covenant - this is the law that lives on in the hearts of the participants in the New Covenant.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

On Being First

My thanks to Gary Leonard over at Banned by HWA! for publishing my last post (That Great Day of the Feast). I am always surprised and grateful when he thinks that one of my pieces is worthy of sharing with his readers. For many years now, Gary has sought to challenge the followers of Herbert Armstrong's theology to reexamine their belief system and reclaim their ability to think for themselves.

Nevertheless, A few of the commentators on my post took exception to my remarks about their pride in being first - that my argument wasn't really with them but with God! One person even suggested that my own future in that regard may be uncertain because of those remarks.

This is a classic example of the kind of circular reasoning and mental straitjacket that has kept people in the clutches of Armstrong's theology for the last seventy years. They believe that God has revealed "His" TRUTH to them, and that if you don't see what they see you're WRONG. Worse yet, in their estimation, is anyone who has formerly accepted their position and now rejects it - that person is clearly not going to be first!

Nevertheless, in attacking me, these commentators failed to address the point that I was making in that post and my responses to them. Frankly, it DOESN'T matter what you or I think about what is going to happen to us when we die! It is what actually happens to us that matters. Likewise, our belief about the ordering of when we receive our invitation to accept Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins is a small matter when we compare it to the issue of whether or not we accept that invitation. The question is: Do we rejoice in the fact that ALL will/or have receive/d that invitation, or that we are the first to receive it?

Jesus Christ warned his disciples that "many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first." (Matthew 19:30) He went on to say: "For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when even was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen." (Matthew 20:1-16)

I am thankful to have received an invitation to the marriage supper of the Lamb, and I hope and pray that I will be ready when the door to that celebration is opened! The order in which I received my invitation does not (and should not) matter to me. And, as long as I am there, I don't care if I'm the last person through that door! Does that make sense?

Monday, October 21, 2019

That Great Day of the Feast

In the seventh chapter of John, we read that "the Jew's feast of tabernacles was at hand." (John 7:2) In the verses that follow, we are told that Christ's family urged him to avail himself of this opportunity to reveal himself to the world. (3-4) Jesus, however, sent his family on to Jerusalem without him - planning to quietly attend after the festival had commenced. (8-10) In fact, according to John, he didn't begin making public declarations or teaching until about midway through the festival. (14) And, as he had anticipated, his comments engendered a great deal of controversy and resentment. (15-36)

Then, we read: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" (John 7:37-39) How ironic is that? On this last day of the ACOG's attempt to celebrate the FOT, Jesus Christ invited ANYONE who wanted God's Holy Spirit to come to him!

The ACOG's love to quote John 6:44 "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." In the very next chapter, however, we have Christ issuing this invitation to everyone on the Last Great Day of the Feast! Did Christ really mean that salvation through him was open to everyone? What does that do to the exclusivity narrative promulgated by Herbert Armstrong and his successors? It appears that some folks are concerned with being first, and that Christ was thinking about salvation for EVERYONE! Hmmmmm, I seem to recall Christ having something to say about those who wanted to be first!


Monday, October 14, 2019

Beliefs and Opinions

I was recently thinking about some of the principles that I have learned about over the course of a lifetime relative to the formation of beliefs and opinions. As I try to apply these principles to myself, it occurred to me that others may find some (or all) of them useful in understanding their own beliefs/opinions. Anyway, here they are:

1 Your beliefs/opinions were shaped by your education, experiences, emotions, prejudices and perspective at the time you formed them
2 Everybody has beliefs/opinions
3 Those beliefs/opinions may or may not be true
4 It is not your responsibility to persuade, convert, condemn or punish people whose beliefs/opinions differ from your own
5 You have probably changed your mind about something in times past
6 There is nothing wrong with modifying/changing some belief/opinion based on new experiences or information received
7 It is OK to entertain the notion that you may be wrong about something – especially relative to the important stuff
8 If your belief/opinion appears to be very unique or in the minority, you owe it to yourself to take a second look at that opinion and/or take a closer look at the majority opinion

What do you think? Can you think of others that you have discovered that would be helpful to others?

Friday, October 11, 2019

The Real Reason Fundamentalists Believe God Is on Trump's Side

Folks on both the Right and Left have assumed that many Christians support Trump because of his stance against abortion and his appointment of people to the judiciary that support that position. However, the Pew Research Center's report on views among Evangelical Protestants regarding abortion suggests there may be something else behind it. According to the PRC, somewhere between 30-50% of the members within each organization actually support legalized abortion! https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/compare/views-about-abortion/by/religious-family/among/religious-tradition/evangelical-protestant/ So, if that's the case, what else might be motivating that support?

Think about it for just a moment - Fundamentalists believe that men should be in charge. It is an integral part of their theology! God put Adam in charge. Man was to rule over woman. The husband was to be the head of the wife. After all, God is a HE! God is a FATHER!

And, like most people of a paternalistic inclination, they view masculinity as being synonymous with control and power. Real men are expected to be decisive, aggressive, assertive and dominant. Likewise, women are often viewed as being the exact opposite of all of those things. In other words, women are supposed to be indecisive, submissive, deferential and subservient. In this view of the proper roles of men and women, men bully and women nurture. And, finally, they think that anyone who dares to step outside of these "norms" is acting in defiance of Almighty God.

Hence, it is no great wonder that Fundamentalists would flock to the banner of a powerful and successful entrepreneur and executive, who is acknowledged by almost everyone as a misogynist and bully. Trump isn't seen as weak and indecisive, and he never apologizes (even when he's obviously wrong). When Trump is attacked, he hits back and hard. In short, for many Fundamentalists, Trump is close to being the perfect specimen of the starring role in a paternalistic system. Who else would they support?

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Is God/Nature the Greatest Abortionist?

Many of us think of Planned Parenthood or seedy clinics on the wrong side of town when we hear the term "abortion." Among medical professionals, however, an abortion is defined as "the premature exit of the products of conception (the fetus, fetal membranes, and placenta) from the uterus. It is the loss of a pregnancy and does not refer to why that pregnancy was lost." https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=2091 Hence, if a woman miscarries, a doctor or nurse might refer to the event as a spontaneous abortion.

According to American Family Physician, "Spontaneous abortion, which is the loss of a pregnancy without outside intervention before 20 weeks’ gestation, affects up to 20 percent of recognized pregnancies." https://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/1001/p1243.html However, because most spontaneous abortions occur within the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, many of them go unrecognized and unreported. In fact, many of the women who miscarry during this period don't even realize that they were ever pregnant! They chalk up their experience to a late or heavy flow period. As a consequence, some researchers have suggested that the real rate for spontaneous abortions is closer to fifty percent of all pregnancies! https://www.sciencealert.com/meta-analysis-finds-majority-of-human-pregnancies-end-in-miscarriage-biorxiv

Now, according to the CDC, the therapeutic abortion rate in the United States (pregnancies terminated by doctors and reported to them) was 188 abortions per 1000 live births in 2015. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm I'll let my readers do the math, but it should be apparent to everyone that there are more spontaneous abortions in any given year than there are therapeutic abortions (even if we take the lowest possible percentage listed above)! Thus, whatever we might personally believe about the morality of therapeutic abortions, we must admit that pregnancies are terminated quite regularly by God or Nature (depending on whether you're a theist or an atheist).  

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Soothsayers and Prophets

How can one discern a false prophet from a real one? Folks have worried over the answer to that question for thousands of years. Why? Because the answer to that question is not a simple one! If it were, we wouldn't have such a hard time distinguishing between the two.

If we are going to address the issue in a serious and sincere fashion, it is imperative that we understand exactly what a prophet is and his/her function/purpose. I say this because I have observed that many folks have a tendency to confuse soothsayers and prophets (and I think that this applies to prophets of both a religious and a secular nature). If we Google the term "prophet," we read that this is " a person regarded as an inspired teacher or proclaimer of the will of God." In other words, a prophet has a message (from God or some other source). Likewise, when we Google the term "soothsayer," we read that this is "a person supposed to be able to foresee the future." Unfortunately, the two are very often regarded by most folks as synonyms - They are NOT!

Now, while it is true that both prophets and soothsayers will have things to say about the future, the prophet's predictions are almost always contingent upon the behavior of the folks who are receiving his/her message. And that is why evaluating the legitimacy of a prophet is much more complex than determining whether or not what was predicted actually happened. If that were our sole standard, then Jonah (along with many other prophets) would have to be judged failures or false prophets (after all, the things which he predicted would happen to Nineveh did not come to pass because the people repented of their sins). Thus, when the prophet's message is heeded, and the behavior of the principals is changed/modified, the predicted outcome is frustrated or altered. In short, the message of the prophet is directed at altering the behavior of his/her audience.

There is also the issue of the motivation of the prophet to consider. In other words, what has inspired the prophet's message? If we are speaking of a religious prophet, it is essential that we ask ourselves whether or not the individual is representing God and "His" will and truth. I'm thinking about questions like: Does the person have God's Spirit? Does his/her life reflect the fruits of that Spirit? Does his/her message agree with what is revealed in Scripture? Likewise, if we are speaking of a secular prophet, it is essential that we ask ourselves whether or not the person is representing sound reasoning and the legitimate findings of scientific research. In this instance, we might ask ourselves: What are the person's qualifications and credentials for making his/her predictions? Does his/her life's work reflect a serious and objective search for truth?

In terms of prophesying, it is also interesting to note that we are almost always concerned with the naysayers and those who predict doom. We all tend to enjoy it immensely when a prediction that the world will end on such and such a date doesn't come to pass. Still, it is incumbent upon us to ask ourselves whether or not the prophet's message modified the predicted outcome. Did the people repent? Did people modify some environmentally harmful behavior which they had been engaging in prior to receiving the prophet's message? Did they stop using DDT? Did they stop/reduce their use of fluorocarbons? Did food production increase? Were new medicines/vaccines discovered in the interim? Were greater and more efficient means employed to control population growth? Did better farming practices lead to a reduction/elimination of soil erosion?

In short, a true prophet (religious or secular) is interested in changing the behavior of his/her audience and averting or ameliorating the predicted consequences of that behavior. A true prophet hopes that his/her message will avert catastrophe, not make it inevitable. And the question that we, the audience, need to be asking ourselves about these messages is: Is this a reasonable/probable outcome for us on our present course - given our present circumstances? If it is, it's probably worth paying attention to what the "prophet" has to say! What do you think? 

Thursday, October 3, 2019

All Along the Watchtower

"All along the watchtower,
Princes kept the view,
While all the women came and went —
Barefoot servants too.
Outside in the cold distance,
A wildcat did growl.
Two riders were approaching, and
The wind began to howl." --Bob Dylan

There are a great many religious leaders who have/do fancied/fancy themselves to be watchmen for the world. They see their mission as one of protecting Christian values against the wiles of the devil and the society which "he" has inspired. They stand along the wall and sound the alarm when they see threats approaching the city of the saints.  Of course, they believe that they have been assigned this task by Almighty God. Moreover, most of these Divinely appointed sentinels believe that they will personally welcome the king back into the citadel when he returns.

Did they get all of this from a burning bush? Did God speak to them in a dream? Did a voice from heaven thunder these instructions? NO, they claim to get their commission from Scripture!

Chief among the passages which they love to quote are several from the thirty-third chapter of the book of Ezekiel. One of their favorites is "Now, son of man, I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me. If I announce that some wicked people are sure to die and you fail to tell them to change their ways, then they will die in their sins, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths. But if you warn them to repent and they don’t repent, they will die in their sins, but you will have saved yourself." (Ezekiel 33:7-9) Of course, they often fail to mention that they are referencing a record of the story of a long dead prophet's message to the people of ancient Israel. Likewise, they often fail to account for why their message is needed when almost everyone in the world today has access to the exact same Scriptures that they do!

Continuing with Ezekiel, the message which the prophet was instructed to deliver was that "The righteous behavior of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin, nor will the wicked behavior of wicked people destroy them if they repent and turn from their sins." (verse 12) Now that does seem like a worthwhile message, and one that could fairly be said to apply to all times - including our present day. Even so, the message has been delivered! There it is in Scripture. We just read it together. You can go get your Bible and read it for yourself in one of several English translations of the original Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic (or in one of the hundreds of other languages into which those same Scriptures have been translated).

And many of these self-appointed watchmen ignore the principal focus of Ezekiel's commission which is recounted in the very next chapter of the book!  We read there: "Then this message came to me from the Lord: 'Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Give them this message from the Sovereign Lord: What sorrow awaits you shepherds who feed yourselves instead of your flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed their sheep? You drink the milk, wear the wool, and butcher the best animals, but you let your flocks starve. You have not taken care of the weak. You have not tended the sick or bound up the injured. You have not gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with harshness and cruelty. So my sheep have been scattered without a shepherd, and they are easy prey for any wild animal. They have wandered through all the mountains and all the hills, across the face of the earth, yet no one has gone to search for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, says the Sovereign Lord, you abandoned my flock and left them to be attacked by every wild animal. And though you were my shepherds, you didn’t search for my sheep when they were lost. You took care of yourselves and left the sheep to starve. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I now consider these shepherds my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. I will take away their right to feed the flock, and I will stop them from feeding themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths; the sheep will no longer be their prey." (Ezekiel 34:1-10) Hmmm, that sure sounds like the political and religious leaders are a big part of the problem! In fact, it sounds like the people should have been watching them (we are told that God was watching them)!

 It might, therefore, behoove some of these shepherds/watchmen to reconsider their decision to apply Isaiah's commission to themselves: "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins." (Isaiah 58:1) Notice too, Isaiah's commission was specifically addressed to "my people" or  "the house of Jacob" - not to the world at large or society in general. Perhaps, these shepherds would be better served by taking a second look at the commission which Jesus Christ gave to his church?

In the Gospel of Matthew, we read: "Jesus came and told his disciples, 'I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20) Maybe I missed it, do you see in this commission anything about serving as a watchman?

To be sure, Jesus Christ did instruct ALL of his followers to "keep watch! For you don’t know what day your Lord is coming. Understand this: If a homeowner knew exactly when a burglar was coming, he would keep watch and not permit his house to be broken into. You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected." (Matthew 24:42-44) Why must we (Christians) ALL be watching world events? So that false preachers and prophets won't deceive us! (Read the entire chapter)

As for Christians pointing out other folks' sins, I seem to recall that Christ had something to say about that as well. In the seventh chapter of Matthew, we read that Christ instructed his followers: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged. And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you." (Matthew 7:1-6) Seems like pretty good advice to me, and consider the source!

Finally, just as Dylan implies in the song for which Jimi Hendrix is remembered, many of us (Christians) believe that someone is approaching the walls of the citadel and "the hour is getting late." Nevertheless, many of us believe that he's coming to overthrow what's behind those walls, not protect and perpetuate it! What do you think?

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

A Contribution to Modern Christian Theology

As longtime readers of this blog know, I have been highly critical of Herbert W Armstrong, his teachings and the organization which he founded. Many of my posts have underscored the things of his which I have rejected, and I have described in some detail the hurts and damage which I and others have endured as a consequence of our affiliation with the church that Armstrong founded. Even so, it may interest some of my readers to know that I believe HWA made at least one positive contribution of note to modern Christian theology.

It is the thesis of this post that Armstrong did contribute to the phenomenon of the modern Christian Church taking a fresh look at their Hebrew roots, though most of us would say that the role he played should be placed in the context of a larger trend and was very imperfect in its understanding of that heritage. Nevertheless, I believe an objective evaluation of the evidence forces us to conclude that HWA did contribute to the impulse to reexamine the Old Testament and its meaning for Christians. Moreover, I would argue that that impulse was a very positive development and has the potential to generate a greater appreciation for (and a deeper understanding of) the spiritual foundations of Christianity.

In particular, HWA's insistence that Christians were obligated to keep the Sabbath and observe the Hebrew festivals forced many within the Church to take a fresh look at these fixtures of the Old Covenant. After all, it was impossible to refute Armstrong's observation that Christ had kept the Sabbath and observed these days (this served to remind many folks that Jesus was a Jew). Likewise, Armstrong insisted that these observances still had symbolic meaning for Christians, and that all of them pointed to God's great plan for humanity. And, although mainstream Christianity largely rejected Armstrong's conclusions and regarded him as part of a cultic fringe, it did force Christian leaders to confront a part of their past that many of them had previously ignored and/or dismissed as unimportant/insignificant.

Like many others who have studied this topic before me, I came to the conclusion some years back that Christians are NOT obligated to keep these institutions of the Old Covenant. However, just as others who have examined these issues and celebrated these festivals, I came away from my experiences and studies with a profound sense of the symbolic spiritual meanings/implications of them. In short, it has led me to a greater appreciation of the fact that the only Scriptures that the early Christians had available to them was the Hebrew Old Testament. This knowledge has reinforced the conviction that Christ was and can be preached from the Old Testament. In short, studies of this nature serve to reinforce the Christian doctrines of salvation through Jesus Christ and underscore a theological consistency within Scripture that might otherwise go unnoticed.

Although I have personally pointed out many errors and inconsistencies within the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, I have also noted on numerous occasions that there is a legitimate basis for the faith we profess encapsulated within them - that there is also a high degree of intellectual and spiritual harmony contained within those disparate writings. Fortunately, even some of our most vociferous Fundamentalist/Evangelical brethren have begun to discern the value of these writings and have slowly incorporated them into their messages. Indeed, some of them have even attempted to observe these fixtures of the Old Covenant in an effort to better understand/appreciate their significance to the Christian faith.

As I have posted about the continuing significance of the Sabbath for Christians in the not too distant past, I will not address that festival here. Nevertheless, as has already been suggested, the other festivals have tremendous significance for the Christian religion and can be employed in gaining a better understanding of Jesus Christ, his teachings and the work which he accomplished on our behalf.

Although the Hebrew perspective of the coming Messiah was focused on his role as the savior of the Hebrew NATION/People, the notion that the penalty for sin must be paid (if not by the blood of the guilty, then with the blood of the innocent) is also firmly rooted in the writings of the Old Testament.
Abraham told Isaac that God would provide himself with a lamb (Genesis 22:7-8). Moses instructed the Israelites to take for themselves a lamb (one for each household) without blemish and kill the Passover (Exodus 12). The Gospel of John refers to Jesus as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Peter called Jesus "a lamb without blemish and without spot" (I Peter 1:19).

Likewise, although Armstrong contradicted many scriptures in his attempt to interpret/explain the significance of these days, the Scriptures themselves make very plain that all of them pointed to Christ and his work. The connection to the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread (Leviticus 23:5-8) were not only implicit in the events surrounding Christ's death - they were also elegantly attested to by the Apostle Paul in one of  his letters to the saints at Corinth (I Corinthians 5). Firstfruits and Pentecost (Leviticus 23:9-21) did not go unnoticed by Paul (I Corinthians 15:20, 23). The Feast of Trumpets is similarly tied to Christ through Paul's commentary on the events surrounding his return to earth (I Thessalonians 4:16). The Day of Atonement (HWA had virtually zero understanding of this one) outlined in the sixteenth chapter of Leviticus is expounded upon in the ninth chapter of the book of Hebrews. And, finally, the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:34-43) takes on new meaning when we understand that John wrote that "the Word was made flesh and tabernacled (look at the original Greek) among us" (John 1:14). By the way, for those who are interested in exploring the symbolism of these days in more detail, Ron Dart's The Thread is an excellent treatise on this subject.

There is an old saying about giving the devil his due. I hope that I have done that with this post.

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Regression of CGI

After having had several articles accepted for publication in the Church of God International's quarterly newspaper The International News, it has been extremely disheartening to see that organization slide back into some of the intolerant, highly partisan, anti-intellectual and racist attitudes which characterized the ghost of Armstrongism past. Instead of growing in grace and knowledge, it is painfully obvious that CGI has decided to return to their proverbial vomit.

It is hard now to believe that once upon a time they accepted an article from me with the thesis that God is not a Republican or Democrat - that "He" is not a Capitalist or a Socialist. In the most recent issue of their newspaper, the following answer was proffered to someone who had inquired about the church's stance on the current occupant of the Oval Office:
"I would ask the question, If Jesus was born in our time and in our culture today, how would He advise one to vote?"
"...do you think He would be in favor of overthrowing our Constitution and Bill of Rights in favor of Socialism or Communism, which would negate the very right to vote at all?"
"Supporting, enabling and/or encouraging illegal immigration is, therefore, a violation of God's Word. What is the biblical solution to illegal immigration? Simple - don't do it; obey the laws. Illegal immigration is, quite simply, a sin..."
"One political party seems to advocate, 'no borders, everybody is welcome, and everything is free,' while the other says we need to stick to our constitution and the law. Which is closer to what the Bible says?"

I guess God is a Republican after all!

Likewise, in their most recent offering for their program Armor of God, Pastor Adrian Davis delivers a message on "Resisting Postmodernism." Davis clearly believes that God is on the side of the Capitalists, and that Socialism is synonymous with communism and dictatorship. He reminds us that science doesn't have the answers to the really important questions. He rails against philosophy, relativism and too much reliance on intellect.

I guess God is a Capitalist after all!

In previous posts on this blog, I've pointed out Pastor Bill Watson's rabid Trumpism, and his resurrection of the old Worldwide doctrine of Anglo-Israelism. Hence, I don't think that I'm being an alarmist when I point out CGI's regression. After a brief flirtation with more liberal notions, it appears that the organization is steadily drifting back toward Armstrong orthodoxy.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Jesus Christ on Religious Leaders

In the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Jesus Christ made absolutely no attempt to spare the feelings of the religious leaders of his day in terms of what he had to say about them. In fact, he was quite blunt in his assessment of them. Of course, he knew that he wouldn't hurt anyone's feelings anyway! He knew that instead of eliciting sorrow or remorse, that his comments would engender anger and bitterness in them. "How dare this common, uneducated upstart challenge us?"

This is of particular interest when we consider just how prickly some of our modern Christian ministers/pastors are about any criticism of them or their ministries. Some of these folks absolutely flip when anyone dares to challenge one of God's servants (meaning them). Like the scribes/Pharisees/Sadducees before them, they believe that their critics are deserving of the severest censure/scorn and/or the Lake of Fire!

When I think about some of the pastors that I've known during my lifetime, Christ's criticisms of the religious leaders of his day are more meaningful to me. Christ said that they didn't practice what they preached. He said that they loved the honor and respect that were shown to them more than the joy of serving others. Christ called them hypocrites and said that they were an impediment to people entering God's Kingdom. He went on to say that they loved to win a convert and then often proceeded to make them even more reprehensible than they were themselves! Christ questioned their judgment and enjoined them to focus on the things that were really important (justice, mercy, faithfulness). In short, he wanted them to be less concerned about appearances and more concerned with the reality of their own greed and self-interest. Any of that sound familiar?