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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

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

Saturday, December 30, 2023

What do Christians HAVE to BELIEVE?

As longtime readers of this blog know, I came out of a religious organization (Worldwide Church of God) which asserted that beliefs were critical - that one must accept their teachings to be a part of God's true Ecclesia. However, while the Judeo-Christian Scriptures identify a few key beliefs as essential, it is impossible to find the same emphasis on beliefs within those writings. Are our beliefs about the nature of God (trinitarian, unitarian, etc.), rituals (baptism, eucharist, holidays, or Holy Days), the afterlife (heaven, hell, resurrection), prophecy (Israel, tribulation, second coming), and the like critical? In other words, what does Scripture reveal about what a person must believe to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ?

The epistle to the Hebrews informs us that, "without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." (Hebrews 11:6, ESV) Hence, we see that belief in God and his ability to reward us is essential in the servants of the Christian God. Even so, James makes clear in his epistle that belief must be demonstrated in the behavior of God's true followers. He wrote: "Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!" (James 2:18-19, ESV) In other words, a person who truly believes in God and his ability to reward us must act like he/she believes (actually attempting to be an obedient and practicing servant).

Now, before we proceed, a word of caution is in order here. My former brothers and sisters within the Armstrong Churches of God would embrace that last paragraph, but their notion of the works that are necessary to demonstrate faith/belief are very different from those of most Christians. They believe that the works which James was speaking about included obeying the individual commands of Torah - the provisions of God's covenant with Israel (like observance of Sabbaths, Holy Days, clean and unclean meats, etc.). They simply do not understand that no one is justified by the deeds of the Law (Romans 3:20 and Galatians 2:16), and that Christians demonstrate their faith by striving to follow the two great commandments which Christ identified as the principles which underpin God's Law for all people for all times: loving God with one's whole heart and soul and loving each other as oneself (Matthew 22:37-40).

According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus preached that anyone who would follow him must repent and believe the gospel <good news> (Mark 1:14). Unfortunately, this is another place where the Armstrong Churches of God go off of the rails. While (like all Christians) Armstrongites believe that Jesus came to this earth to save us from our sins and their consequences, they completely misunderstand the nature of his message - the gospel. They preach a message about the establishment of a literal Divine version of human governance over the Israelites and Gentiles of this earth! In other words, they ignore the fact that CHRIST AND HIS WORK represent God's Kingdom, and that CHRIST AND HIS WORK ARE the focus of the message - the good news! Indeed, Jesus Christ is at the center of ALL of the writings which comprise what we refer to as the New Testament canon! Don't believe me? Let's take a closer look.

In all four of the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), it is stated over and over again that belief in Christ is essential to being considered one of his disciples. In the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Peter confessed that Jesus was "the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (16:16). Christ also warned of dire consequences for anyone who would cause anyone who believed in him to stumble (Matthew 18:6 and Mark 9:42). In the Parable of the Sower, Christ also made clear that a superficial belief in his message would not be sufficient to be a lasting disciple of his (Luke 8:4-15).

In the Gospel of John, we read that Jesus came to this earth to live here as a human and was rejected by his own people (John 1:9-11). However, for all of those "who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (verse 12, ESV). A little later in the same account, we read that Jesus was asked, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" (John 6:28, ESV) Jesus replied: "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (Verse 29, ESV) Indeed, the author of the Gospel states at the end of his account: "Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name." (John 20:30-31) In fact, if you plug the word "believe" into a concordance, you'll see just how important the authors of these gospel accounts felt that it was to believe in Jesus Christ!

Even so, the Armstrong Churches of God scoff at traditional Christianity's favorite passage of Scripture. You know the one: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16, ESV) Indeed, they are quick to tell anyone who will listen to them that there is a whole lot more to salvation than simply believing in/on Jesus Christ. Instead, they believe that their little package of doctrines is THE TRUTH, and that "TRUE" Christians must believe and practice everything in the Bible, which they refer to as "God's word."

In doing so, they unwittingly make a mockery of Christ's statement that he was "the way, and the truth, and the life," and that "No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6, ESV) It also contradicts John's assertion that Jesus Christ is THE WORD OF GOD (John 1). Indeed, in the epistle to the Hebrews, we read that: "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." (Hebrews 1:1-3, ESV) In other words, God is communicating to humans exclusively through Jesus Christ and our belief/faith must be focused on HIM!

Once again, the essential nature of belief in Jesus Christ is the central message of the entire New Testament. In the book of Acts, we read that Paul and Silas instructed their Philippian jailer to "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved." (16:31, ESV) In his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul wrote: "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (10:9, ESV) Paul also wrote to the saints of Galatia that "we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law" (Galatians 2:16, ESV). A little later, in the same epistle, he wrote that God's promise comes to believers by faith in Jesus Christ (3:22).

In his first epistle, John said that Christians receive what they ask for in prayer because they obey his commandments and strive to please him (3:21-22). Continuing, he wrote: " And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us." (Verse 23, ESV) Indeed, toward the close of this same epistle, John stated that "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life." (5:13, ESV)

What do Christians HAVE to believe? To be a Christian, YOU HAVE TO BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST/MESSIAH, the Son of God, and your personal Savior. THAT is the essential element for one to be identified as a believer! What you believe about other things is clearly secondary - In other words, it is NOT essential!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Contrasting the Two Advents of Jesus Christ

Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

---Hebrews 9:24-28, ESV

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Trump's Christmas Greeting

Donald Trump posted the following message on Truth Social:

Merry Christmas to all, including Crooked Joe Biden’s ONLY HOPE, Deranged Jack Smith, the out of control Lunatic who just hired outside attorneys, fresh from the SWAMP (unprecedented!), to help him with his poorly executed WITCH HUNT against “TRUMP” and “MAGA.” Included also are World Leaders, both good and bad, but none of which are as evil and “sick” as the THUGS we have inside our Country who, with their Open Borders, INFLATION, Afghanistan Surrender, Green New Scam, High Taxes, No Energy Independence, Woke Military, Russia/Ukraine, Israel/Iran, All Electric Car Lunacy, and so much more, are looking to destroy our once great USA. MAY THEY ROT IN HELL. AGAIN, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Contrast this with the following passages of Scripture:

Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” ---Luke 2:8-14, NKJV

I urge you, first of all, to pray for all people. Ask God to help them; intercede on their behalf, and give thanks for them. Pray this way for kings and all who are in authority so that we can live peaceful and quiet lives marked by godliness and dignity. This is good and pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth. For, There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone. ---I Timothy 2:1-6, NKJV

I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ <Aramaic, empty head> shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. ---Matthew 5:22, NKJV

Monday, December 25, 2023

O little town of Bethlehem!

Micah 5:2 But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,

    are only a small village among all the people of Judah.

Yet a ruler of Israel,

    whose origins are in the distant past,

    will come from you on my behalf.

3 The people of Israel will be abandoned to their enemies

    until the woman in labor gives birth.

Then at last his fellow countrymen

    will return from exile to their own land.

4 And he will stand to lead his flock with the Lord’s strength,

    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.

Then his people will live there undisturbed,

    for he will be highly honored around the world.

5     And he will be the source of peace. (New Living Translation)

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Is it appropriate to bless those sinners?

You may have heard that Pope Francis is receiving a great deal of criticism and resistance to his recently issued Decree allowing the blessing of some same sex couples by the Catholic Church. The AP recently reported in an article titled Some Catholic Bishops reject Pope's stance on blessings for same-sex couples: "In an extraordinary pushback against Pope Francis, some Catholic bishops in Africa, Poland and elsewhere say they will not implement the new Vatican policy allowing blessings for same-sex couples. Others downplayed the policy approved this week by Francis as merely reaffirming the Vatican's long-standing teaching about marriage being only a union between a man and a woman."

Now, while the decree does reaffirm the traditional Catholic definition of marriage (one man and one woman) and forbids a church marriage for gay couples, it does break new ground for the Catholic Church in reaching out to gay people. In his decree, Francis noted that "The great blessing of God is Jesus Christ. He is the great gift of God, his own Son. He is a blessing for all humanity, a blessing that has saved us all. He is the Eternal Word, with whom the Father blessed us ‘while we were still sinners’ (Rom. 5:8), as St. Paul says. He is the Word made flesh, offered for us on the cross."

In the section on the blessing of couples of the "same sex" and "irregular situations," the decree reads in part: "In such cases, a blessing may be imparted that not only has an ascending value but also involves the invocation of a blessing that descends from God upon those who—recognizing themselves to be destitute and in need of his help—do not claim a legitimation of their own status, but who beg that all that is true, good, and humanly valid in their lives and their relationships be enriched, healed, and elevated by the presence of the Holy Spirit. These forms of blessing express a supplication that God may grant those aids that come from the impulses of his Spirit—what classical theology calls 'actual grace'—so that human relationships may mature and grow in fidelity to the Gospel, that they may be freed from their imperfections and frailties, and that they may express themselves in the ever-increasing dimension of the divine love."

The Papal decree continues: "Indeed, the grace of God works in the lives of those who do not claim to be righteous but who acknowledge themselves humbly as sinners, like everyone else. This grace can orient everything according to the mysterious and unpredictable designs of God. Therefore, with its untiring wisdom and motherly care, the Church welcomes all who approach God with humble hearts, accompanying them with those spiritual aids that enable everyone to understand and realize God’s will fully in their existence." Now, that seems awfully mild and consistent with a scripturally Christian perspective to me, but it is apparently too much for some of the modern-day Pharisees which make up the more traditional wing of the church.

For me, it brings to mind a story recorded in the seventh chapter of the Gospel of Luke. We read there:

36 One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee's house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40 And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” 44 Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. 46 You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. 47 Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” 48 And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Yes, I think that Jesus has blessed a whole lot of sinners. What do you think? 

Friday, December 22, 2023

Those folks are responsible for all of this SH-T!

Unfortunately, when a human society is experiencing stress or problems of any kind, it has been a time-honored tradition to blame it all on some group or individual. We call it scapegoating. It turns out that accepting responsibility and blame when things go wrong is extremely unpopular among most societies. It is much more satisfying and comfortable to imagine that what we are suffering is the fault of THOSE people! Down through the centuries, Europeans have singled out Jews and Gypsies as the source of their problems. American Fundamentalists point to homosexuals, pro-choice folks, feminists, and immigrants as the source of all of America's problems. In other words, God is punishing us for their wickedness!

Obviously, when it's fags, Jews, or immigrants who are responsible for this sh-t, it can't be anything that I or my tribe have done. Immigrants are poisoning our blood, and gay folks are destroying our families. When it's them, it can't be us! It's much easier to blame the immigrants for stealing our jobs than it is to deal with corporate greed, new technologies, and global competition as the sources of our changing job market. It's much easier to blame the immigrants for siphoning off societal resources than it is to address the spending and funding difficulties that are the real sources of our difficulties. If gay folks and feminists are destroying our families, we don't have to look at adultery, domestic abuse, alcoholism and drug addiction, divorce and remarriage, custody battles, cell phone use, and a whole host of other behaviors which are the real culprits behind the demise of the traditional family.

Scripture also makes clear that the bad things which happen to us aren't always the consequence of someone's or some group's sinning. The book of Job informs us that suffering and pain aren't always the consequence of bad behavior. According to the Gospels, Jesus also told his disciples that suffering and pain weren't always the result of bad behavior (Luke 13:1-5, John 9:1-3). Likewise, the stories about Sodom and Gomorrah, Israel, and Nineveh make clear that God is very reluctant to employ collective punishments. In other words, according to the Bible, God is very reluctant to punish the innocent with the wicked!

Hence, we can see that both logic and Scripture dictate that we NOT seek out scapegoats to blame for our problems. Indeed, as Christians, we should strive to follow Christ's commandment to his disciples: "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:1-5, ESV) As flawed humans, we know that we often delude ourselves and do not have the ability to accurately discern the motivations and workings of the hearts of our fellow travelers on this planet. Likewise, unlike God, we simply cannot see the end of all things. In other words, some of the things which seem like great trials and tribulations in the present, may result in very positive consequences for us and the folks that we love someday! 

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

The "Christian" Right

Evangelical Christians of the Fundamentalist/Literalist variety share many similarities with the Pharisees whom Christ had to deal with during his earthly ministry. Like the Pharisees, they diligently search the Scriptures as the means to have eternal life and ignore the One whom those writings all point to as the source of that life (John 5:39). Like the Pharisees of old, they believe that they understand God's standard for righteousness and the definition of sin, but they all too often prefer form over substance and judgment over mercy (Matthew 23:2-28). They espouse "family values" and traffic in the same kind of hypocrisy that infected those Pharisees of Christ's day (like being serial adulterers, having multiple spouses - practicing serial monogamy, cheating in business and on taxes, employing deliberate deceptions and misrepresentations to get their way or achieve their objectives, etc.).

We've all known some of them. The little blue-haired old ladies who are in church every time the doors are open and wouldn't dream of saying "fart" out loud, but they have no patience or compassion for sinners and disadvantaged folks (their hearts are cold as ice). They remind me of that passage from the second epistle to Timothy - they have a form of godliness, but they actually refuse to acknowledge its power to transform lives (II Timothy 3:5). We've all heard the preacher who stands up in the pulpit and condemns homosexuals and doctors who perform abortions to the fires of Hell - that are quick to tell you what the Lord abhors. Indeed, their moral clarity is 20/20 when they are looking at other folks, but they tend to be blind to their own faults (Matthew 7:1-5) These saintly old ladies and preachers in smartly tailored suits stand in stark contrast to the sailor who drinks, gambles, and turns the air blue with what he says; but who is always ready to lend a hand to those in need - the kind who would literally give you the shirt off of his back.

Always seeing the world in black and white - wrong and right - good and evil - may be personally satisfying, but denying the grey and the color in the world is NOT living in reality! Indeed, in most quarters, a person who regularly engages in binary thinking is usually characterized as delusional. I can hear it now - "Lonnie is advocating moral relativism!" My response: Some folks need to justify their delusions! They cannot face the cognitive dissonance or moral relativism of their own reasoning! They've constructed a philosophical straitjacket for themselves, and they've convinced themselves that wearing it makes them feel safe and comfortable.

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

The ACOGs and FEAR

As longtime readers of this blog know, I have written a number of posts over the years that were very critical of the “headline theology” and “warning messages” of the Armstrong Churches of God. Indeed, since the founding of the movement by Herbert Armstrong, the preaching has focused on relating current events and trends to biblical prophecy. To be more precise, Armstrong and his followers have focused on the most troublesome headlines reported by the various news media and portrayed them as manifestations of God’s wrath - predicted long ago in the pages of the Bible. In other words, they have always trafficked in FEAR! It has been (and is) the principal hook and calling card of their outreach to the public.

Of course, I am certainly not the first person who has noticed this fearmongering as being such a prominent feature of the Armstrong Churches of God. The Painful Truth blog recently reran an article originally published in Penthouse magazine back in 1977! The article, GTA - Prophet of Doom by Roger N. Williams, presented a well-balanced and well-written portrayal of Garner Ted Armstrong’s preaching style and content (At the time, he was still the face of the radio and television programs of the now defunct Worldwide Church of God). In the opening paragraph, Williams described GTA as a “media superstar” who “has discovered the profit of fear.”

He went on to say: “He’s the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, Fear, spreading his warning of the Coming End across the airwaves to 50 million people every week and telling of The Wonderful World Tomorrow that will follow the nuclear obliteration mankind is about to bring upon itself.” Later in the article, he quoted one of Garner Ted’s aides as characterizing the Church’s message as: “The good news is that Christ is coming back. The bad news is that he’s pissed off.” In reading through the article, I found myself repeatedly thinking about the oft repeated truism that “some things never change.”

For me, Williams’ evaluation of GTA and his messaging was fair and evenhanded. He did, for example, compliment GTA’s “booming golden voice.” He also described the Ambassador College campus in Pasadena as beautiful, handsomely appointed, and a “small Eden.” Williams even credited GTA and the Church for their early and thoughtful warnings about environmental damage. However, he also pointed out that this coverage wasn’t offered in the hope of correcting bad behaviors (like polluting), “but only to show that until Jesus gets here, we’re going to continue to make a mess out of things.” In other words, even the good stuff was meant to contrast with just how bad things actually were in the larger world!

Williams also pointed out that the Worldwide Church’s commentary was NOT always unbiased and objective. He observed that “The Plain Truth is largely a right-wing propaganda outlet. Articles rail against ‘the twisted ideology’ of the women’s movement, stating that the letters Ms. should stand for ‘Marxist sisters’. It denounces pornography as ‘an ideal weapon employed by our enemies to weaken Western civilization’. Garner Ted has looked like a liberal when he’s taken stands against ‘the death of the oceans’ or ‘aerosol Armageddon’ or the American SST. But in his column and occasional articles that appear in each issue, he is happier campaigning against European unity, which he believes threatens United States interests and is the fulfillment of the prophesied resurrection of the Holy Roman Empire. He bewails America’s ‘isolationist attitudes’ and fears that the CIA exposés will weaken our country and the CIA. He vehemently and consistently supported the Vietnam War, right up to the fall of Saigon, fearing at the end that his big ‘World Tomorrow Campaign’ planned for Bangkok would be eclipsed by invading North Vietnamese troops. And despite his strong, if abstract, denunciations of world militarism, he whole heartedly supports a strong American military machine…” Hmmmm, that sounds an awful lot like some of the current messaging from the Armstrong Churches of God!

Yes, some things never change! The ACOG’s continued attachment to the discredited teaching that the English-speaking peoples of the Earth are the descendants of the ancient Israelites continues to pervert their understanding of biblical prophecy, and the “warning” message which flows from it. Unfortunately, the right-wing commentary of the current ACOGs is just as biased and irrelevant as the commentary offered in times past by Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong. The fact is that this messaging is inconsistent with the commission Christ gave to his disciples (Matthew 28:19-20), and it doesn’t provide any reliable insights about what is going to happen next (other than Jesus will return someday, and God’s Kingdom will eventually envelope the entire Earth).

No, the New Testament canon makes very clear that Christians should NOT allow themselves to be motivated by fear. Paul told the Romans that God hadn’t given them a Spirit of slavery to fear, but one that instills confidence in their new role as God’s children because of what Christ had done for them (Romans 8). Likewise, in his first epistle, John wrote that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18) Christ and his apostles brought the “Good News” about what Christ was doing/had done for humankind – a message of hope and love for a weary world. In other words, it did not resemble the gloom and doom of the messaging of the Armstrong Churches of God!

Sunday, December 10, 2023

Humans Were Meant to Explore and Question Everything!

In religious circles, the notion of faith has often been abused and twisted. For many, faith is believing that everything in Scripture should be interpreted as being literal and definitive. In other words, for these folks, everything that one would ever need to know for a successful and productive life is to be found in the Bible.

The problem with this kind of thinking, of course, is that it is inconsistent with Scripture, nature, and the human experience! Indeed, all of those things teach us that humans are hardwired to cogitate, ask questions, and explore their surroundings.

The Adam and Eve narrative in Genesis reveals a fundamental truth about humans that many people miss. The story portrays the progenitors of the human race as rejecting the opportunity to have everything handed to them on a silver platter. Instead of eating the fruit from the Tree of Life, they decided to eat the fruit from the tree which represented the KNOWLEDGE of good and evil. In other words, they rejected revelation in favor of figuring it all out for themselves. And, while they were punished for disobeying God's instructions, we are told that God respected their choice! Indeed, in all of his subsequent dealings with humans, the God of the Bible involved humans and worked through them to reveal and accomplish his will.

In the Judeo-Christian Scriptures, humans are portrayed as thinking, seeking, experimenting, exploring, and wrestling with God and life. Sarah devised a plan to produce offspring for her husband. Abraham questioned God about his plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob devised a plan to receive God's blessing, and we are informed that he even wrestled with God one evening - refusing to let go until God blessed him! The Israelites explored the Promised Land, questioned God's plans to give it to them, and devised their own plan for taking it by force. Over and over again, in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Israelites were instructed to seek God, meditate on the meaning and application of his laws, and to LEARN to fear/respect/be in awe of him. Job questioned why God had allowed so many bad things to happen to him.

Christ told his followers, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled," and to "seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness." In that same Gospel (Matthew), we are also informed that he told them to "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened." Moreover, he told his followers to "consider the lilies" - think about them. In the book of Acts, we read that the people of Berea were "more noble" than the folks of Thessalonica because they "searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so." The Apostle Paul told the saints at Rome that "the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead." In their epistles, both Paul and Peter alluded to the fact that a Christian's knowledge and understanding was expected to continue to develop throughout his/her lifetime on this planet. In the epistle to the Hebrews, it is noted that Christians should consider themselves to be strangers and pilgrims on the earth, and that they should be seekers of a heavenly country - a new world order.

Now, we've already noted how Scripture itself tells us that nature has much to teach us about God, his will, ourselves, and the world around us. However, the entire history of human experience on this planet demonstrates that it is part of our very nature as a species to question, experiment, explore, and learn. Moreover, all of our experiences in this regard teach us that the more we learn, the more we realize that there is so much more that we still don't understand! In other words, the quest for understanding is very human, and it is endless! Hence, whether we believe that we evolved, were created, or exist as a consequence of some combination of the two, the notion that humans are hardwired to enquire, experiment, and explore is inescapable! This is a fundamental reality and truth of human existence.

Thursday, December 7, 2023


Scripture instructs us to remember God, his laws, the Sabbath, and what he has done in the past. The Israelites were instructed to remember that God had delivered them from slavery to Egypt and to remember God's covenant with them. Christ's disciples were told that the Holy Spirit would help them to remember the things that Christ had said and done during his time on earth. Christians partake of the Eucharist to remember Jesus Christ, and what he did for them. Likewise, the New Testament encourages Christ's disciples to engage in self-reflection on a regular basis. Indeed, the word "remember" occurs one hundred and forty-eight times in the King James Version of the Bible (and that doesn't include the times when folks are instructed not to forget something)! Hence, we get the clear impression that memory and remembering are important to the Judeo-Christian God.

On this second anniversary of my father's death, I find myself remembering the past and thinking about these things. I remember his smile, his hugs, his tickling of myself and my brother when we were small, and - yes - I remember the mistakes that he made. I remember all of those things about him, and I miss him and remember the love that I felt for him. I remember too his mother and stepfather, my grandparents, the ones who raised my brother and me. In all of those memories, there is a mixture of gratitude, love, and regret over things that happened and didn't happen. Those memories also stir in me a desire to tell my own children and grandchildren about them and to try to be the very best father and grandfather that I can be for them now - to not repeat and perpetuate the mistakes and hurts of the past. In short, memory is a complex thing that evokes a complex mixture of thoughts and emotions.

I am also reminded that the Festival of the Dedication begins tonight at sundown. It is a remembrance and celebration of the rededication of the second Temple after the Maccabees defeated the Syrian Greeks, and the miracle of the oil in the lamp. It is a window on the past and future. It points to the restoration of the worship of the One True God, and the commencement of the reign of priest-kings! I am also reminded that the Gospel of John records Christ's celebration of this festival, and what he had to say on that occasion. He said: "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." (John 10:27-30) Yes, remembering can be a source of great comfort, reassurance, and hope.

Saturday, December 2, 2023

The White Horse Does Not Symbolize False Religion!

The Worldwide Church of God published a series of booklets on the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse." The first booklet in that series was titled The White Horse - False Religion. Now, while this interpretation fit rather nicely into Herbert Armstrong's interpretations of prophecy and history, it did NOT represent what Scripture actually had to say on the subject or with the broader theme of the book of which it was a part (Revelation/Apocalypse)!

First of all, as with any passage of Scripture, it is essential that we get the immediate context of that passage. In this respect, we should note that the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" is an integral part of the seven seals on the scroll which only Jesus Christ (Lion of Judah, Root of David, Lamb that was slain) was qualified to open (see the fifth chapter of Revelation). Indeed, each of the four horsemen is associated with one of the first four seals. Hence, we can see that these things are meant to be symbolic of what will happen before the second advent of Jesus Christ.

In the sixth chapter of Revelation, we read: "Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer. When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, 'Come!' And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword. When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, 'A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!' When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, 'Come!' And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth (verses 1-8, English Standard Version, here and throughout)."

In trying to understand this passage, we must remember some things about the book as a whole: 1) John incorporated symbols familiar to the Old Testament prophets in his book, and he expected his readers to be familiar with them (e.g. the numbers 4, 7, and 12, lampstands, olive trees, horsemen, multi-headed beasts, a dragon, the colors red, white, black, and grey, Babylon, etc.) Hence, in this instance, John would have expected his readers to be aware of the horsemen described in the first chapter of the book of Zechariah in the Hebrew Bible. 2) John revealed that the theme of the book was Christ's intention "to show to his servants the things that must soon take place." (Revelation 1:1) As part of this theme, John continually contrasted Christ's Kingdom with that of this world's governance under man influenced by Satan. And the book makes very clear that Christ expected his followers to remain faithful to his Kingdom - even if that meant suffering persecution and death at the hands of this world's system. 3) Within the book itself (Revelation), another rider on a white horse is clearly contrasted with the one we find in the sixth chapter. This rider appears after God's triumph over this world's system is announced from heaven in the nineteenth chapter of the book.

We read there: "Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords (verses 11-16)." This rider is clearly symbolic of Jesus Christ, and we notice that he has a sword instead of a bow, many crowns atop his head instead of a single one, and that he himself is clothed in white. Notice too, that as we continue with this account in the nineteenth chapter, we are informed that this rider (accompanied by his heavenly army) defeats all of the armies of this world arrayed against him (verses 17-21).

With this context in hand, the imagery of the four horsemen of Revelation 6 comes into sharper focus. Please note that the first rider is seated on a white horse (white is symbolic of righteousness), and that he had a bow (a weapon of war). We are also informed that he was wearing a crown (symbolic of governance), and that he was actively engaged in the conquest of others (extending his power and authority). Of course, this is typical of ALL of the great human empires mentioned in the Bible (Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome). They all sought to expand their power and authority over others - to conquer the world known to them. Moreover, it is interesting to note that this very human motivation to control the nations/peoples surrounding you has so often led to the very conditions which the other three horsemen symbolize (war, famine, and death). In other words, the desire to conquer often leads to fighting, starvation, disease, and numerous casualties.

In Revelation, the imagery of the "Beast" and "Babylon" are used to portray man's system. Throughout the prophetic writings of Scripture (Old and New Testament), this system of men influenced by Satan has been portrayed as having a number of features which distinguish it from God's system. Among the more prominent of these features are: 1) reverence for and allegiance to the State - the State (often personified by its leader) becomes an object of worship, 2) military power and prowess are celebrated and highly valued ("Who is like the beast, and who can fight against it?"), 3) people and resources are ruthlessly exploited by the State and its leadership, 4) the glory, aggrandizement, expansion, and enrichment of the State is made the primary objective of everyone. In other words, the State and its leadership take the place of God, and everyone is expected to honor, serve, and support the State and its leadership - it becomes the religion of its citizens!

Hence, although the "White Horse" does NOT symbolize false religion in the sense that the booklet mentioned at the beginning of this post suggested, the need for humans to subdue and control resources and each other can and does often lead to state idolatry. In other words, what the "White Horseman" symbolizes is much more insidious and pervasive than any "apostate" version of Christianity. Indeed, under this human system, religion becomes a tool of the State - it's made to serve and protect the State's interests, NOT God's will.

For those who may be interested in a better understanding of the book of Revelation and its symbolism, I am pleased to recommend two presentations by the Bible Project which cover that book:

Revelation 1-11

Revelation 12-22