Various Articles and Thoughts Vol. 2

Explaining Chocolate

            How do you explain chocolate to someone who has never tasted chocolate? It has such unique qualities that it is certainly not enough to say it is a food or a candy. One could describe chocolate by way of taste such as earthy, sweet and bitter, then by way of texture such as smooth and velvety. One could also continue with other descriptive words like luxurious, comforting, rich and exotic. All of these words help by working together, but still something is lacking. How do you describe a new concept or object which has never been seen, understood or experienced by someone else? The best one could do is to make comparisons. You take something they understand and use that to make a comparison to the new. The two objects may only have one thing in common so you must narrow the comparison exclusively to that one trait. Chocolate is as bold as coffee. Then you have to find the next things to compare it to: Chocolate is as luscious as cream and melts like butter. On the packaging of some of the more expensive chocolate the makers use phrases such as, hints of this, undertones of that, with notes and aromas of something else. While explaining chocolate to the uninitiated is a difficult thing to do, there are concepts far more complex and of greater importance.

            We live in an age two thousand years after the establishing of the church. So it is not a new concept for some, but in the first century it was new to everyone. How do you prepare a people for the kingdom of heaven who either have no idea what it is or who by assumptions have come to the wrong idea. Christ had three and a half years to get people ready so they could enter into it, spread it across the earth, be leaders in it, and keep it pure. He had to prepare them for the fact that the kingdom would come in their lifetime and be “present with power” (Mark 9:1) but He would not be in their sight – He was to rule from heaven. How do you teach people those concepts? He had help from centuries of prep done by the Holy Spirit working through the prophets of the Old Testament and then finally through John the Baptist. The final step of instructing before the kingdom arrived was the direct teaching of Christ. How did He do it? How do you describe to people something that has never existed on the earth before? He spoke of who would be in it (John 3:3), who would not be in it (Matthew 5:20) and who was trying to keep others out of it (Matthew 23:13). He spoke of the character necessary for its citizenship (Matthew 5:3-16). He used examples of behavior (Luke 18:16-17). He used John the Baptist as a benchmark (Matthew 11:11) by stating that, He who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Jesus then employs parables.

            Jesus takes a familiar object or situation as a means to describe the unknown. Herein He prepares us for something never seen before or experienced by man. There are eleven parables in Matthew that begin with the words, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” It is like a merchant, a hidden treasure, a field, and a net bringing in fish. It is also like a householder, a king settling accounts, and a landowner looking for workers. Each describes a different aspect of the kingdom in ways we can comprehend. There is no one thing comparable in every detail with the kingdom so the goal of each parable is to explain one or perhaps a few characteristics. No one parable carries enough information to make the others useless or even redundant. Every parable brings a unique quality and a necessary piece to the puzzle. Metaphorical language is a powerful tool especially when used in this way. All the pieces from each parable must be placed together to get a growing and detailed picture of what is being described. The Bible uses it so skillfully that Christ could ascend into heaven ten days before His kingdom began. The apostles still had questions but when the kingdom arrived they recognized it immediately.

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We Will Remember You Always

            While recently walking through an old graveyard I noticed an inscription. On the base of a headstone were these words, “We Will Remember You Always.” I could not help but think those words were sincere. It was the heartfelt sentiment of wife, children, family and friends. Here was someone who played a significant part in their lives with strong emotional connections to them all. This person was loved and missed. Those who had this message engraved in stone had done so at a time of loss and they meant every word. They would remember their loved one. But the words came up empty when I realized those who loved this person so greatly were now lying somewhere under their own headstone. The people who knew this man to remember him were all dead by now. There could not be anyone still alive to carry the sentiment. The memory of this man would remain after he died but only while the people who loved him were still alive. They would outlive him on the earth but not by much. Given enough years even the youngest would be gone. Eventually the circle of people who knew and loved this man would slowly vanish. Words like, “always,” “forever,” and “eternally” have a hollow ring when applied to a place like this earth. Nothing here is eternal. Even the earth itself has a limited time and it too will no longer exist. Eventually most are completely forgotten on the earth. Ecclesiastes expresses this idea well.

            Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 For the living know that they will die; But the dead know nothing, And they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun.

            All who live on the earth (or under the sun) have a chance of everything on the earth. Its fame, its glory, its rewards and its memory are for the living. Soon everything passes and one generation is replaced by the next which is also replaced in time. But there is a home where the word “forever” does not sound empty. It is a place where one will be remembered always.

            In Luke chapter sixteen Jesus tells us of Lazarus and the rich man. One man is known by name; the other is nameless and is only remembered by what he was. In Matthew 7:23 Jesus states, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ These are cast away never to be considered again. The very memory of them appears to be condemned and banished with them. But Christ has a different message for those who are saved. He states in Revelation 3:5 “He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.” God knows all who belong to Him. Their names are always remembered in a place where the word “always” lives up to its meaning. To be remembered by God is far better than being remembered and adored by all of mankind. Being known eternally in heaven is far better than the short time anyone is remembered on this earth. The words on the headstone mean little here on earth. The sentiment is strong but the reality is empty. In heaven the words carry a glorious meaning.

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 Useless Map
Part 1

                It was a bright, summer day. A fellow preacher and myself were travelling in a country where neither one of us had been. We both took turns at the wheel as we drove mile after mile on gravel and dirt roads from one remote town to another. Eventually we followed a road we believed would take us to a set of farms on the coast. That was our destination and goal for the day. All seemed well enough until our road suddenly ended at a fence. I could not believe it. The road just took us to a fence with a field beyond. We actually stepped out of the car to inspect the fence. That was it? This is where the road leads? Why would anyone make a road to this fence? There was no gate nor was there so much as a path or trail on the other side to offer hope that somehow you could continue on. It was a fence with a seemingly endless pasture stretching to the horizon. Obviously it was a dead end but not according to the map. This road was nothing like the image printed on the paper. Reality said one thing, the map said another. The map was not just inaccurate, it was lying to us. We took the long, dusty trip back from a pointless road. A few days later I met a man who had traveled in from New Zealand. He said he had gotten lost the day before and had a terrible time making his way to find civilization. He asked if I had a map. I told him it was untrustworthy but he could look at it for what it was worth. He said his map was a neatly folded misdirection – a work of fiction responsible for getting him lost. Our maps were compared. Though we both came from different sides of the earth we brought the same map. It had not helped him anymore than it helped us. He looked at me and asked, “Where can you get a reliable map of this place?”

How reliable do you want a map (or a GPS) to be? If you did not buy it for accuracy then why did you buy it? Most people want a map to give them a true description of geography and roads so they will not get lost. A map that is roughly approximate may not be very helpful when precision is vital. A map of lies will send you in the wrong direction every time. Such a map will never represent reality nor get you to your intended destination. Our useless map took us to a fence and we were never able to get to those farms. Who knows if those farms actually existed?

Obviously maps are only useful when they reflect what is real. The same is true with Bible translations. How reliable do you want your Bible to be? There are so many versions of the Bible in English. The bookstores are flooded with variations packaged to appeal to one demographic or another. If you do not want your Bible for accuracy then why do you want it? An inaccurate map leads to places you did not want to go. An inaccurate Bible also leads to places you do not want to go. It matters what version of the Bible you use. Some were translated from the original languages out of dedicated and respectful scholarship. Are they perfect? No. No translation can be perfect, but what kind of version do you think you will get if the translators went out of their way to get it wrong? These versions are created with the intent to obscure the actual teaching of the Bible and advance some new doctrine. These are useless maps intentionally filled with lies. A translation whose only selling point is that it is easy to read may not be the best option. Loose approximation or paraphrasing of the Biblical text will be inaccurate and will always be based on subjectivity. It taints the text with what the translator wants rather than be bothered by what the original text says. Every translation has its flaws but how many flaws do you want your Bible to have?  If you are to travel in a foreign country how flawed would you allow your map to be? The greater the accuracy of the map the more likely you will arrive at the destination you intended. The more accurate your Bible translation the closer you will be to the actual words of God.

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Purity of the Church

“I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you…” These are the words of Christ to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:2-4. Revelation is written to the seven churches of Asia to prepare them for what was going to “shortly take place.” Many chapters in the book describe harsh events that will begin to occur in their lifetime and would affect them. Christ warns His churches of these things and encourages them to overcome. The message of Revelation sounds extremely urgent and critical where time is in short supply and terrible persecutions would begin. Yet Christ took the space of two chapters in Revelation to correct these congregations. Why would He do that? To us it may seem a trivial thing but Christ is interested in His church being pure. He would not protect a church that did not belong to Him. His knowledge and judgment of each congregation was thorough. He knew their history and their current conditions. He could recite their deeds. He understood their problems. And He did not want them to be hit by the severity of trials without preparing them. Some of them could not face these persecutions because of their corrupted state. Five of the churches had persistent problems. These problems would only get worse in times of trouble. A church can withstand terrible persecutions from outside when there is spiritual strength within. Spiritual corruption and compromise will cause a congregation to fall to pieces in the best of times. Ephesus had left their first love. Sardis was dead. Laodicea was lukewarm. Both Pergamos and Thyatira had allowed false teaching. One congregation had done well in the past but was now faltering. Another congregation did not have such a good history, was making steps for the better but was still not where it needed to be. These conditions had to be corrected.

            Faithfulness in a congregation is vital. The doctrine of Christ is the charter of the church. It is His testament and is unchangeable and set. Any attempt to modify the doctrine of Christ is an affront to Christ Himself. It is there by His authority. Any change will do great and eternal harm to souls and to the body of Christ. Action against His teaching has the effect of taking a part of the army of God and turned it against Him. It is the act of stripping His children away from Him. Christ knows the truth about His churches. He knows who is faithful and who is not. He recognizes the wheat and the tares. He knows the strength and the weaknesses of every congregation. It is time to take notice but not as a Pharisee noticing others, but as a tax collector looking inward (Luke 18:11-14).

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A Simple Book

A math book is used to learn mathematics.  One plus one equals two and no one denies the fact.  A science book teaches about atoms to galaxies to living things.  To master the role of Hamlet an actor must read the play.  The words spoken by the character must be memorized exactly to give justice to Shakespeare’s work. Any course taken comes with written words to learn and knowledge to retain.  Books are seen as useful and are necessary to learn what is needed. But what book is there for moral living? What is there for understanding our purpose in existing? What book is there that can solve every possible human problem? There is a book and it is not from a text book company. It is from God. What greater expert could there be on everything? His book would have to be the best possible book with all the correct answers. It has been given and preserved through the ages for us to know the most important things for our lives. Here is something so reliable you can build your life from the very words. It is, of course, the Bible. While everything else has come and failed the Bible remains as it always has. There are no new editions. There are no corrections from discovered information. There are no new ideas. It needs no help. Its words are effective and people know it. Why then do most show indifference to the Bible? It is typically seen as unnecessary with its teaching and facts unimportant. People live as though the enemies of the Bible never fail and it had never been proven perfect in every generation!

The Bible can be proven in fact of history, science, astronomy, geography, medicine and more. But too many see it as an archaic book with no relevance. Few align its significance to philosophical reading believing other men’s work superior. Many apply their own thoughts and feelings when reading the Bible and disregard the truth of the text. Can that be said of an algebra book? Does anyone read Huckleberry Finn and believe personal thoughts will change the outcome of the original book? However, the Bible, which is the word of God, is subjected to millions believing their conscience outweighs the words of God which contains a given law for mankind. How arrogant for man to think himself above His creator! This attitude gives the believer an apt name in the book of Proverbs; He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, Proverbs 28:26.

            Satan instigates the sinful ideas of man to ignore what the Bible teaches in simple and direct words. His temptation to delete God from each individual’s mind causes the wickedness seen in the world. Most want to live in peace. Most want a world without crime. They want to be around good people and to be good people. Most do not want to be a slave to sin, but they do not want the real solution. The answer can only be reached by following God’s way. That is found in the one place most do not want to go – the Bible. God offers but man disregards. Thus man creates his own way of dealing with the problems of sin but he is utterly helpless. The problems remain and escalate. God gave the solution in a simple book but man did not want it.

            For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools. Romans 1:20-22

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On a Pirate Ship
Part 4

            It is an old adage that sin will take you farther than you wanted to go and longer than you wanted to stay. Consider what is stated in Hebrews 11:25 which Moses chose to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin. The word translated as “passing” in the New King James means temporary, momentary or a brief time. Though sin may take you farther and longer it does not mean you will enjoy the trip for very long at all. If sin is not dealt with correctly the trip will be eternal. Reason suggests that we correct ourselves as we can when we can. Life and the uncertainty of it demand that we resolve all matters with sin as quickly as possible. While we have the present, let us use it for the best purpose.

            Let us talk of pirates again as a means of illustration. Pirates wanted basically three things: wealth, pleasure and power. There were two things they did not want: death, however it comes, and God’s judgment soon thereafter. The life-long plan of every pirate was selfish and short-sighted. No matter the cleverness, or skills in seamanship and theft there was one major flaw in the conclusion of every pirate’s career: piracy ended in death or a voluntary withdrawal from piracy. The idea in the minds of most of the men involved getting rich and quitting ahead. So the question for each man is: when do I quit? The steps to quitting are blocked by a number of enticements in the way. The business of piracy appeared to offer freedom, escape from responsibilities, and easy wealth. Those are powerful temptations. One could always rely on the vastness of the ocean to protect you. That is a powerful sense of security, false though it was. Some claimed their actions were done by being official privateers (a legal pirate), or doing said thievery only against the enemies of your king or even in loyalty to a deposed royal family. Justification makes everything seem right. It would be easy for each man to get caught up in a sin he would never get free of. Many would never see the light of day again. If there is any excitement in the flaunting of sins they would have found it. They were committing themselves to every type of evil while sailing on God’s oceans that could swallow them up in a second. God will not be mocked. The season for the pleasures of sin passed all too quickly. But the sins remain.

            Some of the most infamous and ruthless men in the golden age of piracy had careers that were extraordinarily short. They made their names in history because they were coldblooded, intimidating and very successful – but only for a short period of time. Blackbeard is perhaps the most famous but his career from captain to death was only two years. That was it. The first man he teamed up with as co-captains was Stede Bonnet. Bonnet had a career of about eighteen months and he was hanged. Samuel Bellamy went from a small group of men to a naval force feared up and down the coast to complete destruction and death in about six months. He died in a storm. Others were not much better. Captain Jack Rackham lasted two years. Captain Charles Vane was three years. Though the time was brief I doubt any of these men had too much pleasure in sin as quick as it was. And certainly none of them enjoy any of it now.

James 4:13-14 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.

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The Mind of an Author
Chapter 3

Do you think of how your life would be different if you had made another choice? How the path of your existence is greatly altered by one decision? Affecting all you now comprehend, you would have different friends, career, location and perhaps happiness or sorrow. The poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost is often used as eloquently stating the thought in choices we make:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Peter’s life was completely changed by the decision in Matthew 4:18-20. This is the first we read of Peter. Christ calls and Peter leaves his nets and follows. Had that decision been different he would have continued to be a fisherman in Galilee and we would know nothing of him. With that choice he became a preacher, an apostle and an elder in the church. With that choice he was saved, his family was saved as well as many others who he came in contact. A man like Caiaphas had as many opportunities as did Peter. His choice was to reject Christ. The first we read of him is in Matthew 26:3 when he is plotting to kill Jesus. Caiaphas lost everything. He became an enemy to the One he thought he served. Everyone around him would have been affected by the decision he made: family, friends, priests, and followers of Christ. Eternity will not be kind to Caiaphas because of a decision he made in his life.

What if you had not made the decision to obey the Bible and be baptized? That one choice affects not only this life but eternal life. It moves every choice thereafter. It touches everyone around you. Can you see how important it is to reach as many as possible with the Gospel so they will have life to come?

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men, 2 Corinthians 5:10-11.

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Tradition

While driving by a denominational building, I saw an elderly couple slowly walking across the parking lot. The husband was gingerly guiding his wife with small, slow steps toward their destination.  In a split second my mind started to race “What if I stopped to give them tracts? Would they read them?”  Why do they believe the doctrine of the organization? Is it tradition? Do so many blindly follow any path or teaching for the simple reason it is what has always been done?

And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. Matthew 15:9

Just as the Jews did in Jesus’ day, mankind will lean toward following man’s teaching instead of God’s commands. They will add, change and ignore what is set down in the scriptures. Sadly it is done to their own destruction since the Bible clearly states we are to follow the words of God and pattern in the New Testament. Christians still need to spread the Gospel to reach those hearts willing to repent, but many will hold to family ties and tradition.

The Bible commands us to test all things and not believe without evidence. We must read God’s word and know what is stated for our obedience and salvation. Why take one man’s thoughts? Could he have it wrong? Do you want to base your eternal life hoping he is telling you the truth? With God all is sure as we are taught in Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. Colossians 2:8

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A Commission that Changes Everything

            The Great Commission is an extraordinary set of words. These are some of the last words spoken by Christ before He ascended into heaven. In these words is a statement of authority followed by a command from that authority. This command has directed world events in this final section of human history. There are two times (at least) God sent people out to the farthest reaches of the earth. The first surrounds the events of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. God caused the world’s population to scatter across the distances of the earth, and their boundaries were established (Acts 17:26). The second is found in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16. Jesus sends His disciples to the ends of the earth for the sake of saving souls. These two events have a profound effect on world history. The first spread mankind to settle homes, towns, and cities built amid vast continents across oceans. That event was limited to one point in time; it had its effect and it never happened again. The second, however, sends out workers across continents and islands, oceans and seas, seeking the lost. This is an ongoing effort that will never end until God brings it all to an end. The words of the Great Commission demand and expect world exploration. This does not come from a first century Jewish or Romans mindset. By contrast the Great Commission comes from God’s perfect view. The words of Matthew 28:18-20 link with knowledge of past prophecies, future events and conditions of the world. It has a flawless understanding of mankind and its future.

            Sin is the problem. The only solution is the Gospel. All people who sin against God will die in their sins without the Gospel of Christ. Ignorance excludes no one from judgment. Thus the Great Commission is all the more vital and pressing. This is not some petty suggestion or gimmick for church growth that can be discarded at will. Without the Gospel people will die in their sins. Mankind desperately needs salvation, and Jesus sends His servants out on the perpetual task of love and compassion, which goes to the far reaches of the earth until God brings it to an end. This commission is the greatest form of compassion one person can share with another. The love of God and the love of man are expressed in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Innocence is destroyed every day as sin is committed by the next generation. Colossal and common mistakes are made in ignorance and lives are wrecked and placed under the weight and consequence of sin. Souls are lost daily in death and eyes are lifted up in torment (Luke 16:23). The need is dire.

            Every congregation and every member must be made ready for evangelism. A congregation that is divided or has internal problems cannot be regarded as reliable or currently able. This does not excuse it from anything. A congregation must correct itself and move forward in all responsibilities, including the Great Commission. It must be matured and prepared for the work. How is this done? This is done one day at a time and one lesson at a time by steady teaching and example. If a congregation is not already given to local evangelism, it cannot be considered committed to saving souls across the world. If a congregation must be sold on the idea of evangelism, then it is truly immature and lacks strength in numerous areas.

Matthew 28:18-20 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

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Ásatrúarfélagið
Part 1

            In the news recently it was reported that a shrine will be built in Iceland for the worship of Thor, Odin and all the other names in Norse paganism under a religious organization called Ásatrúarfélagið – which is Icelandic for “the community that believes in the gods.” This temple will be the first of its kind in centuries. In the past decades in Iceland there has been a growing trend toward paganism. This shrine will be a place to observe the old rituals. But there is something quite odd about it. Modern day worshippers of Odin admit they do not believe in Odin, or any other god of the old Viking age (in fact they are atheists). This renders the name of their religious group into a lie. Perhaps they should choose a name that means “the community that does not really believe in the gods, but will build a temple for them anyway.” Having no faith they will gladly observe the yearly ceremonies as though they did – with certain limitations.
The old Norse rituals of the past were called blót, which is a word that simply means “sacrifice” (blót is where we get the English word “blood”). Horses and pigs were slaughtered in worship to some god or other then the blood was sprinkled on idols and people. This was done with large gatherings of worshippers. Also included in the blót were feasting and drinking. It should come as no surprise that modern day pagans gravitate to the eating and binging but are less than eager to sacrifice animals. They have rejected that altogether. So let us put some things together: These people want to build a temple to the Norse gods while neither believing in their existence nor wanting to worship them as was recorded by their ancestors. That is like saying you are going to build a mosque but you do not believe Mohammed was a prophet nor will you be committed to actual Islamic practices in it. What is the point? All you have done is build a prop.

            That brings us to the question: Why do they want a temple? Do they need the religious pretext and a temple to party? Partying (and perhaps making money from it) seems to be the only real goal of the organization. Ásatrúarfélagið would seem to be a religion centered on personal gratification rather than pleasing Odin and company. But this is not unique. This is an old pattern seen through the ages. Licentiousness may need no excuse but it will certainly accept one. A devil in a religious cloak can give more than an excuse for debauchery; he supplies permission and sets the purpose to whatever wickedness man may wish. Idolatry begets depravity and offers a religious setting to make it seem legitimate. It is always tied to and the cause of every sort of evil.

1 Peter 4:2 For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles — when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.

            If the people in Ásatrúarfélagið are godless folk, then why would they want a spiritual setting to sin? Perhaps people want to be anchored to something that seems greater than themselves which will authorize them to do what they wanted to do in the first place. That is the sort of desire which makes them easy pickings for any scoundrel dressed in a robe. He will gladly lead them to fleece them. This Icelandic group is not alone. The religious world is filled with souls who fashion God into a god who will allow them to do what they want to do. I suppose hypocrisy is a small price to pay and an easy tradeoff for living a lie. But there is a greater price yet.

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Ásatrúarfélagið
Part 2

            In the first segment of this article was the news of an Icelandic group called Ásatrúarfélagið which plans to build a temple to the ancient Norse gods. While the members of this group do not actually believe in the Norse gods they will build a temple nonetheless and hold yearly rituals modified to their taste. The utter inconsistency illustrates a larger, older pattern. This sort of thing is very common in the mind of man. Some will use religion only as a means to a selfish end. If one becomes a hypocrite in the process will not matter if the objective is achieved. Behind the religious props is an actor serving himself.

Matthew 23:14 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation.

            Recently Pope Francis speaking as the infallible Vicar of Christ stated that one does not have to believe in God to be saved, homosexuality is normal, and the book of Genesis is a lie. This man claims to represent God on the earth, but obviously he does not believe God. If he thinks the Bible is wrong concerning such prominent subjects as creation, homosexuality and faith then he must believe the whole book is meaningless. Pope Francis is no different from the Nordic pantheon worshippers. He does not even believe God who he pretends to embody. If one does not have to believe in God to be saved then why be a Catholic? Why build cathedrals and basilicas across the world? Why all the pomp, spectacle and ceremony if God does not have to be served or believed? The very book he claims has given him authority as Pope is the one he disbelieves and publicly disputes. Why the show of religious piety? Why does he not tell fellow Catholics he has concluded that the Bible is a sham, send them home and close the Catholic Church altogether? Here is another case of man using religious trappings for personal gain. In this case it is the adoration and worship from people across the world. While this is more ambition than the Nordic pagan partiers, it is also more destructive. The Catholic Church is self-contradictory and is nothing more than an organization centered on gaining and keeping power rather than serving Christ. Millions of souls are lost eternally because of this error now centuries old.

            What is Pope Francis doing? He is doing what the Catholic Church has always done: take popular beliefs and adopt them into doctrine. He is considered to have achieved a type of pop star status, and to have brought people back to the Catholic Church. He says what people want to hear and they follow. Currently they want to hear the dogma of the postmodern world: the Bible is flimsy, immoral behavior is good and God accepts every disorder and faithless state of man. Because of his outspoken nature he has increased the rolls, status, power and wealth of the Catholic Church. That is his job.

            If man makes the church then it cannot be from God. If man fashions the religion then he will always rig it to his own advantage. If a church is not from God then it can never come out good. The pretending pagans of Iceland and the Pope have something in common. They are led by the desires of man. That is their faith. They have no real connection with the gods or God they pretend to honor. These are nothing but religious shows with actors looking for paying fans.

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The Complex Conversation

            There were many occasions when growing up I would hear my aunts and uncles talking with older relatives. Those generations would reminisce and speak of times, peoples, places and events. Some stories were tragic. Some were unbelievable – and I do mean unbelievable in that I do not believe them still. The one thing I always enjoyed was their conversations always contained wit. I noticed this on both sides of the family. My mother’s and my father’s side did the same thing. The conversations were mixed with dry wit, absurdities, exaggerated impersonations, and just out-and-out fun. Both sides had their own unique qualities but were doing the same thing just in different styles. We kids loved witnessing this and shared with each other what we heard. We were the spectators but it was not for us they were doing this. They were not performing. They were having a conversation, an activity that was quite elaborate in that there were many moving parts to it including humor.

                        Humor seemed second nature to them. If they talked about a fox hunt, buying a washer, or even a hospital stay they could subtly modify or modulate the humor deftly as needed. These were uncomplicated people but their conversations revealed the bewildering intricacies of the human mind. In their conversations were the elements of logic, psychology, family relationships, social skills and something quite enigmatic. On the surface it would appear to be nothing more than a simple conversation. But there was nothing simple about it. This went beyond the bounds of grammatical rules (which were ignored anyway). Their stories, discussions, quips and retorts bore a complex set of other rules. Those rules were unwritten. No one could recite them. Yet everyone knew them. How is this even possible? It is so natural that few take the time to think much about it.

            What we kids witnessed is found everywhere there are people. It is the process of elaborate communication paired with instantaneous interpretation. Their wit brought it to a much higher level of sophistication. This was not scripted and rehearsed. This was pure spontaneity – remark, response and repartee. It is a highly structured and multifaceted system of communication honed and nuanced to the level of an art form yet extraordinarily practical and effective. They could communicate without saying anything. The rules and the vocabulary went beyond the limits of words. They could convey a thought which ran counter to what they just said. In an instant they could change the context or add another meaning to a statement by vocal inflection, a gesture, the tilt of the head, a look or just a pause. The words spoken and the actual meaning beyond those words could be two very different things, but everyone understood. There was communication on many levels.

            Why did they do it this way? They could have used words by a direct route, literal and straightforward, and conveyed exactly what they wanted. But they chose a method whereby messages could be sent in a mix of wordplay, bearing and wit. The mind was in play. I realize not everyone has the same sense or depth of humor, but that does not matter. At one level or another it exists in the human soul. We have all seen humor used in identical ways by many people in various situations and places. It appears to be universally used, accepted and in many cases anticipated. Who taught people to do this and why?

            Every action we take exhibits our absolute condition: we are created beings in the likeness of God. Even the most common things we do are astonishing if fully considered and not taken for granted. It is not enough to thoughtlessly accept some evolution made-to-order story. The universal abilities of the human mind are unexplainable except that we are all made of surprising stuff and that from God. The workings of the mind are much too intricate, powerful and mysterious to bypass what it all means. It is a conclusion usually ignored. A simple conversation finds spontaneous humor created out of thin air in an impromptu, highly polished game between minds. That can only be the product of a higher Mind. The evidence of God existed in their conversations.

Psalm 139:14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

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The Mind of an Author
Chapter 4

            Emily Dickinson was a prolific poet who lived in the mid-nineteenth century. Aside from close family members few knew her at all. As a young adult she was sometimes seen outside her parent’s house and property. By the time she was in her thirties she became much more isolated. In the last fifteen years of her life she was seldom seen by anyone. She developed the peculiar practice of talking to friends from behind a closed door preferring to be concealed. Though she is now considered one of the founders of American poetry few in her day knew she existed. Those in the Amherst community recognized her only for her gardening, her white dresses and her reclusive nature rather than her writing. They certainly did not realize she had penned some 1,800 poems and personally bound them in forty volumes. While she admired a number of her contemporary poets they could know nothing of her since her work saw little light. A local paper printed about a dozen of her poems in her lifetime. That was all. She died in 1886.

            Four years after her death a collection of her works was first published. It was only then people began to grasp who she was. In the following years the world discovered her through the brilliance of her verse, but she was gone. There was nothing left but her words.

            The written words of this cloistered and withdrawn woman are the only connection to her life. They are the sole means to know who she was. It would have been difficult enough to know her in her lifetime, but now it would be impossible except that her verse reveals the person. One can find her interests and dislikes. One can read into the deep workings of her mind – the imagination, sensitivity, observations, opinions, fears, and talent. Words can bring this distant poet close. The thoughts and feeling of this recluse long gone are expressed on common slips of paper. Words are enough for the task because they are powerful things.

John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

            It is certainly true that one can know the existence of God through His creation (Psalm 19:1-4 and Romans 1:18-20), but nature itself is restricted. It can only give so much information and no more. Creation proves Creator. We can understand His overwhelming power, intelligence, and capacity to form the complexities of atoms and galaxies to the sheer perplexity of life itself. These are clearly seen in every second of life. But it takes words to go further. By His words we can understand His identity, character, love, mercy, justice and wrath. Nature is incapable of this. God’s words are the sole means to know who He is. It is His words that bring us closer to Him because they convey His will to mankind. We cannot see God, but we can find Him by words He sent to ancient prophets and secured through millennia. He incorporated words into His creation and we have a mind tailored to understand them. He communicates perfectly with the power behind them. He protects them because those words save us (Acts 13:26, Ephesians 1:13) and we desperately need every one.

John 6:67-68 Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

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The Universe Gets Older

            It has finally happened. Some even predicted it would happen: atheists, who have tried for over a century to prove how all thing exist without God have come to the conclusion that the universe and all its matter must be eternal. Of course this idea breaks scientific laws (such as the first and second laws of thermodynamics), but who cares? Breaking scientific laws has not stopped atheists thus far. If you can break one law (i.e. the law of biogenesis) you can just as well break them all. Atheists, who laugh at the thought of Biblical miracles, will call on the “bending and breaking” of scientific laws innumerable times for the sake of a pet theory. As is evident in basic observation, matter falls apart from age and through time the universe slows its pace. The universe and matter cannot be both eternal and also have constant, predictable degradation. Like a watch that has been wound the universe is steadily running down. Anything that is eternal does not run down.

            There was a point when all agreed that matter and the universe could not be eternal. Atheists have always needed an ancient universe but never dared suggest it had no beginning. They knew how absurd that notion would be. But, as always, matter and the universe are things which do not play well with atheists. Matter must come from somewhere because it is incapable of creating itself.  The universe with all its laws governing matter, time and everything holds a little limiting law which states it cannot be self-existing either. So what do you do? Atheists have tried generation after generation. They have worked hard to make creation seem plausible without a Creator. They hoped no one would notice or care that multiple laws from nature make nature’s very existence impossible without some external force bringing it into being. Thus atheists are constantly forced to alter every aspect of their theories which are filled with invisible, baseless things such as missing links, dark matter, dark energy, alien life forms, and more – all this from people who boast they only believe what they see. To allow more time for the impossible atheists must move the age of the universe back. Just in the past fifty years the universe has changed from millions to billions to trillions of years old. Suddenly it is now declared eternal. One has to ask if the intent is to make the universe into a god. One also has to ask how an eternal universe solves any problem for atheists. It cannot. They are caught in the unbeatable task of fighting against the truth.

            It should be noted that the Bible has never moved an inch. There is no evidence in nature that contradicts the fact that it was created. Genesis chapters one and two were written about 3,500 years ago. This has never been modified once. It has yet to have one part proven less than accurate. Text books of evolution, however, are in constant flux. It is interesting to note that Charles Darwin is idolized and deified but his book, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Preferred Races in the Struggle for Life, is never required reading in schools. Why not? Aside from being notably naive, shortsighted, overwhelmingly bigoted and plagiaristic, most of his disciples disagree with much of his findings. They certainly agree with him philosophically and that is enough. Denying God appears to be the single test of scientific integrity and the only real constant in the ever adjusting notions of atheism.

            If you push against the truth you will find it does not move. A lie must always be updated because it does not describe reality. Only God can be eternal. He is the cause and Creator of the universe and everything in it. The Bible has yet to change or updated. It has yet to be found false.

Hebrews 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Psalm 41:13 Blessed be the LORD God of Israel From everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.

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Junk

Yes, without a doubt it is an American phenomenon. We have perfectly good cars sitting in rain, snow and blistering heat while junk rests in the protected spaces of the garage. Something seems backward. How is it that a car worth thousands of dollars must give up its place designed for a car to lawn furniture, shovels, empty boxes, and things intended to be thrown away five years ago but forgotten? That is a good question, and one I cannot answer. We shelter junk and leave the very things which take us to work, the grocery store and across country to the elements. It seems that junk pushed the necessities out of the house. What may have started as a temporary arrangement became permanent. Somehow the junk won the place of honor in the garage.

What happens in the garage is very similar to the rest of our lives. Cars may be vital to our way of life but our soul is our life. It is easy to have something which seems innocent take over. This would be something which captures our attention and we begin to focus on that instead of what is vital to life – spiritual life. Why does God take second place to anything? That is exactly where we put Him in our lives when anything else – career, sports, games, organizations, friends, children, family, interest – comes first.

I once knew a very committed Bible school teacher. She was an elderly woman who had taught elementary children for decades. Every Sunday morning and every Wednesday night I could hear her in the hall telling the children as they entered the classroom, “Church always comes first.” She was right. Those children are all adults now and I do not know how many kept that dedication in their lives. Unfortunately I have known many parents who wanted their children to put church first when they, themselves would not. These parents send their children to Bible class to be taught obedience to God only to have them return home to be taught the exact opposite. I have known many parents who want their children to go to heaven but will not teach them how and occupy them with anything else.

Nothing in this world will last and nothing is more important that serving God. When anything comes before church we have filled our lives with objects that do not matter. That which is eternal has substance. It will last. It is vital. All else is junk. If we let the cares of this world choke out our faith then we let the junk win. Certainly there are many fascinating and worthwhile things on this earth, but when all is measured against eternity it is nothing but junk. It can never be more. I seriously doubt that anyone on their death bed ever wished to watch more TV programs and to finish out a season. I doubt anyone wished to play another ball game, or spend just one more hour on a hobby. On his death bed the Christian knows he goes to do what he has been doing through life. He knows He goes to serve God without the interruptions, trials and problems. All the junk comes to an end and all that remains is the eternal. Then where will the things be which fascinated and occupied us so well – the sport, the job, the entertainment, the money, the hobby? Upon our death they will leave us never to return.

Satan will use anything. That is all it takes. Anything but God and you are lost. Satan does not care how you mess your life up as long as you do. If you love anything above God then you have thrown eternal life to the elements and are sheltering junk which can do nothing but clutter your life. The rubbish begins to multiply and stack up and soon the place is crowded and there is little room for anything else. How does that happen? What started as a temporary arrangement became permanent. Ephesians 4:27 says simply, “nor give place to the devil.” Those are sound words. Satan will take as much space as you allow for whatever you will allow. What may seem to be an innocent occupation of interest or talent can become something larger which can endanger our spiritual life.

Hebrews 12:1 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

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Of Trucks and Christians

Farm life is always based on practicality. It must be. There is little room on a working farm to use energy and effort on useless things. Farm equipment must be functional and effective. Tractors are never known to be elegant or stylish. All equipment on a farm must get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible. Tractors were actually introduced to farming in the late nineteenth century. Though tractors were extremely versatile there were certain things they could not do. They could not go very fast. They could turn over on a steep hill and could get stuck in tight spaces. There were certain jobs where a tractor was not practical. Thus something else must be used – enter the truck. The pickup truck was able to slog through the mud and haul things into town and bring in things from town. It could do what the tractor could not. Like the tractor the truck became a modern work horse on the farm. It had to go where it was needed and that meant it was destined to get dirty, scratched, dented and rusty. It had to run in the rain, snow, heat, cold, mud and dust. The bed of the truck was loaded with heavy things– dirt, fertilizer, wood, coal, feed, etc. It had to haul large loads where they were needed. It could be trusted with important functions of the farm.

I was in traffic behind a beautiful, spotless truck. It was brilliantly painted. The tires were wide and the suspension heavy. This thing was designed for heavy loads and rough roads. It was made to trudge and grind through almost anything. This truck was incredibly stronger and more resilient than the old farm trucks sixty years ago. By the look of things I doubted the driver ever took it off pavement. The bed of the truck was covered and sealed with a metal lid. I doubt that much was ever put into the bed except shopping bags and luggage. It is doubtful the driver did much with the truck except take himself and a date to the mall or a ball game. This fellow has a great truck which has great potential, but that potential will never be seen. Why? It would mess up the looks and comfort of the truck.

This seems to be the way of our time. We are given extraordinary things and use them for nothing. Those of the past managed to do more with less. We manage to do little or nothing with incredible resources at our fingertips. The Christian today has more money. The Christian today has more time. The Christian today has more resources. The Christian today has greater opportunities than those of the past. We are workers in God’s vineyard. We are fellow laborers and are to be using everything we have for Him. We are given talents for helping the kingdom. Are we using them? God gives us money to help spread the kingdom. Are we giving back to Him? We sit inside comfortable buildings. We drive comfortable cars. We have comfortable homes. We live comfortable lives. We do not use our full potential nor use the potential of resources around us because it would be work. It would be uncomfortable. Something might get scratched. Something might get dented. Do you realize that those who labored so hard in the book of Acts did not have the complete New Testament? They labored with less and yet their works are known to all. They did not have fast and safe transportation and yet they traveled across the Roman world. They did not have printing presses, television, radio or the internet, yet entire cities knew the teaching. We are given powerful tools for teaching the gospel. Are we teaching? We are certainly well equipped for it.

Matthew 9:36-38 But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. “Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.”

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Useless Map
Part 2

            A few years ago just after the holidays ended there were a number of articles in the news about the same subject. Each article was about someone who had received a GPS as a gift. Using their gift, each person then saw roads displayed on the GPS they never knew existed. Among the newly found roads would be a discovered shortcut that could potentially trim hours from a drive usually taken on an interstate. What a great discovery. In the articles each went on their trip thinking their lives were now improved by a shorter drive time. Invariably the shortcut was a remote road left only to snowmobiles and serious off-road vehicles during the winter months. This little detail was not indicated by the GPS. It is true that some of the facts from the GPS were accurate. There was a road in that location and it did start and end at the points indicated. It gave enough information to appear reliable but, in fact, set a trap. What seemed to be a help turned out to be life threatening by a lack of important particulars about the road. The GPS did not give the driver the most pertinent information: this road is dangerous in winter and impossible for cars so do not enter. So what happened? Each person in these articles became stranded in the snow in a remote location for hours or days. And each had to be rescued.

            What is at issue? For a map to be reliable it must give an accurate representation of roads and geography. A map should not leave out details. Let the one reading the map decide if the information is relevant to them or not. How accurate do you want your map (or in this case GPS) to be? A detail can mean a life saved or lost. How accurate do you want you Bible translation to be? This is certainly far more important and there is more riding on it. Is there a need for accuracy in a version? I have heard the argument that since no translation can be perfect so either all versions are legitimate or no version is. That is a foolish argument. Let us not be naive. While absolute perfection cannot be obtained by men some will do a better job of getting closer to perfect than others. There are past and current versions of the Bible created for the sake of advancing a doctrine or suppressing another. Is there anyone who is interested in translating what the Bible says and letting it stand on its own? Flawlessness cannot be achieved yet there are scholars and translators that are diligent and faithful in what they do. It may be best to make at least a comparison. We ask the question: do the details matter? We will use the New King James Version next to The Message. The passage will be 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

New King James Version
1 Corinthians 6:9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God

The Message
1 Corinthians 6:9 Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, 10 use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.

            Both versions translate the warning of 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 into English. Both offer teaching on the Kingdom of God. But here the similarities end. Are the actual details in the original that important? This passage concerns the kingdom of God and those who will not be in it. It is so fundamental that we must have every detail given. The Message has omitted several Greek words to (at best) make a very loose and sloppy summery. It is much more likely that the producers of The Message meant to obscure the actual Biblical text. While the New King James Version is not perfect it comes considerably closer to the meaning of the original Greek than does The Message.

            A map which lacks the needed facts will get someone into trouble. A translation of the Bible must include all the words from God or someone will be lost. If the meaning is missing or if the real message is concealed, then men can never know the words of salvation. The omitted words can mean the difference between heaven and hell.

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Gracefully Challenged

I am a clumsy person. My feet seem to stumble easily in most situations. It does not matter if it is sand on a beach, pine straw in a yard or puddles on pavement, I will be the predictable one to falter. Any uneven bit of sidewalk will find my foot to send me lumbering forward. Even shoes with good traction seem no benefit to me.  A January visit to Washington D.C. required plenty of walking during an icy week. I was terrified as I clutched others for stability. There did not seem to be anywhere on the sidewalk my feet could land that was not a problem. Locals were effortlessly jogging on the frozen path but I could only manage inches. Though I have assurance in other aspects, the fact remains I am gracefully challenged.

            I came upon Psalm 94:18 If I say, “My foot slips,” Your mercy O LORD will hold me up. Much meditation and interest was generated by this verse because of my own lack of poise. What happens when you slip physically, or more vital, spiritually? A comparison can be made with each circumstance bringing similar feelings and results: you are unprepared; you panic, fall and then recover. Scriptures illustrate this teaching by the use of words such as: stumble, fall or falter. From Adam in Genesis to Paul in his epistles we are given examples of entering into sin and warned of its consequences (Romans 3:23).

In your walk something in the way tripped your step. You either did not see it or did not think it a problem. If you understood the danger you would have avoided the area. Lust tempts us to overlook the danger. The apostle Peter spiritually instructs us to not give into that lust (1 Peter 1:14). Trouble certainly finds the unaware and ignorance never helps. Refusing the truth is far worse. Hosea 4:6 warns of our lack of knowing God’s word. Again Peter states plainly They stumble, being disobedient to the word, (1 Peter 2:8). The unprepared head for destruction.  

As you slip, brief panic ensues internally with heart racing, pulse quickening and a cry aloud.  It is frightening to feel out of control for even a passing second. The chance of falling only increases with aging. Eyesight fails, bones are brittle and healing slows. More often overconfidence can lead to a fall both physically and spiritually. A lamp is despised in the thought of one who is at ease; It is made ready for those whose feet slip (Job 12:5). Paul warns us of arrogance (1 Corinthians 10:12). Spiritual falling happens to all but the wise reach to God for help. Humbly one cries aloud to Him in repentance and seeks forgiveness. Jonah learned in the belly of the fish, Paul while blind for three days and me in my private prayers at home.

Finding your balance again you recover and feel able to walk on confidently, though now more cautious.  Perhaps you need to see the path clearer, use a walking stick for support and slow the pace.  We are admonished to walk steadfast to not fall again (2 Peter 3:17).  Comfort and assurance abound for one so prone to falling. We all sin in our Christian walk.  Knowing the Lord will hold us up gives us the strength to endure. God is rich in mercy, longsuffering and abundant in love. Jesus sympathizes with our struggles (Hebrews 5:2). Forgiveness is promised as we confess sin (1 John 1:9). We can confidently move ahead with renewed faith. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

I cannot sit still but must walk in my day. With care and diligence I make the necessary steps. Equally I must continue and endure in my spiritual walk. Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble (2 Peter 1:10). Never stumble? Those are beautiful words to a clumsy soul. Though I may still slip, a loving God remains near to help me up.

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Advertising the Problems

            It is true that one can have a basic understanding of a nation simply by observing its advertising. The whole point of advertising is to provide information about a product or service and to convince the buying public to want it. From this public offering one can know what is needed or desired. And because advertisers attempt to appeal to society (or a certain group in society) one can also know the general attitudes and perhaps even the problems of that country. What appeals to people tells a lot about them.

If you look at the history of advertising in this country you will see the changes through the years from pen and ink illustrations of wood burning stoves and hardware to the various forms of modern commercials. This history exposes more than mere technique or technology. It shows a constant decline in morality in every facet of society. Current advertising shows no respect for the home. It commonly presents little respect for marriage or authority but it is self-indulgence which is praised. The simple line drawings of fashions in the 1800’s are replaced by enormous, soft porn photos. The problems of a society are evident for all to see in high definition by advertisers.

Years ago when we were moving to the area we noticed a billboard we had never seen before. Right beside billboards enticing one to eat at McDonald’s, purchase groceries at Kroger or drink coffee at Starbucks loomed a smiling woman with large letters of how easy it is to divorce. It was disturbing then and continues to be disturbing. The very existence of this billboard advertised more than a service; it advertised a problem in society. The ad was from a certain law firm setting their services and price for uncontested divorces. This billboard does more than advertise a service. It gives an indication of a disease in society just like a pox or sore gives an indication of a disease in the body. If divorces were not prevalent and such big business there would be no billboard advertising divorce lawyers. If society were not so taken by immorality and complacent to sin there would be no public ads of nudity (suggested or otherwise) displayed in the malls. The ads of a society are like a barometer in that they show the current extent of moral decline. Are we shocked anymore by the large photos which hang in the store windows of the mall? Of course there are certain advertisers who purposefully see how far they can go and know that if they push the limits soon the limits will be extended as society becomes more corrupt, coarse in nature and willing in moral decline. These would persuade us that we are just that rotten, and soon we are. We should all be ashamed.

Philippians 4:8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy — meditate on these things.

Romans 1:32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

Galatians 5:19-21 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

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Testing the Temper

            A number of years ago the Pentagon came across a problem. Since equipment used in warfare must be repaired, and gear used every day must also be repaired the Department of Defense constantly buys and supplies materials for the upkeep of buildings, tanks, engines, battleships, etc. The problem was this: some of the millions of steel bolts it purchased to make repairs were not up to standard. They were of a weak metal and would break under minor stress. The manufacturer had not made them correctly. All bolts which are made conforming to the standard could easily take the cold, heat, pressure and seawater. These would last in the day to day strains and could be relied upon to keep everything together when it was most needed in war. The weaker bolts however could not be relied upon ever. What compounded the problem was that there was no way to tell the good bolts from the bad except when the bad bolts broke. The discovery of this problem came only after bolts had been supplied and used. Thus the only thing to do was to wait for the bad to break.

            The word “temper” is usually associated with anger. We may say that someone has a “hot temper,” meaning that they are not easy to live with or be around. But the word “temper” has another connotation and that is one of adding strength. Tempering steel is to make it stronger and more resilient through altering the metal by heat, or cold or by adding to it in some way. We are given a better spiritual temper when we are made stronger and more resilient through hardship. The strength is not physical but spiritual. We are each tested to see if we are up to the tasks ahead. In each test that comes our way the temper of our spiritual metal is tested. How strong are we? We can never know until we are put under the strain and stress of trials. The metals of warfare must withstand all conditions – fire and ice, rain, mud and sand. The metal of a Christian must also withstand the conditions brought about by Satan and this world – desires and fears, pressures and persecutions. We find in Ephesians chapter six the description of what is called the “whole armor of God.” We are called to take it up so that we may be able to withstand in the evil day. We are to prepare ourselves constantly so we can face the strains and stress of the war raging from Satan across our world. God will help us through His word. God told Ezekiel He would help him in Ezekiel 3:8-9, “Behold, I have made your face strong against their faces, and your forehead strong against their foreheads. Like adamant stone, harder than flint, I have made your forehead; do not be afraid of them, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they are a rebellious house.” God will do the same for us through His word. We can have bravery and confidence. We can have armor and aid through the knowledge and love of His word. Our metal must be tested. Testing is the only way to be trained and ready for the things to come. In Jeremiah 12:5 God gives a warning to Jeremiah, “If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, Then how can you contend with horses? And if in the land of peace, In which you trusted, they wearied you, Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?” Jeremiah thought he had seen the worst. What he believed was the worst was only the training ground for it. What we see today is only our training ground so we can be ready for the worst of warfare and to withstand to the end.

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It Becomes Apparent Now a Parent

Running errands while listening to the radio, a forgotten song began to play. I recalled as a teen favoring the tune but now realizing the innuendo in the lyrics. Ashamed to admit, but guilty just the same, it is one part of my youth I wish I could change. At the time inexperience overlooked listening to a song everyone liked. Many activities I remember in younger years, I do not want my own children to repeat. Now with age and understanding, many things are apparent now a parent.

Children try hard to grow up fast. It is a struggle to obey, honor and respect when feeling a parent does not understand.  What harm is it to watch a popular television show? Why can I not spend the night with my friend down the street? Why must I attend every service and function at the congregation? A good parent will demand obedience tempered with the reasons for being obedient.  Hearing “no” as a child is difficult and frustrating. Saying “no” to my child is more difficult and just as frustrating, however, commanded (Proverbs 29:15).

As I grow older certain things are common which should not be. All forms of sexual sin are talked of flippantly and displayed brazenly in the media. Have I lost the ability to blush (Jeremiah 6:15)? Movies and television shows I watched when younger I would not allow my children to view. An ungodly meaning now reveals itself which once was disregarded. Jokes thought funny before, now with maturity, are inexcusable. Widespread acceptance of a film or show does not cleanse it. In reality, the more immoral a program the more popular it will be. Why did I not notice the sinful display before?

Even the friends chosen by a child need to be scrutinized in light of living a godly life. The influence of peers can override the authority of a parent. Beginning to carefully sift through whom is allowed time with my child while they are toddlers will establish boundaries as they grow into teenagers. Numerous trials can be avoided when good friends surround pliable minds. I made friends with those on my street but struggled with the lure to compromise.  Unfortunately I know girls who traveled down a sinful path due to neighborhood friends they should have avoided. The righteous should choose his friends carefully, For the way of the wicked leads them astray (Proverbs 12:26). Looking back, it is now obvious where things went wrong.

Christianity is not a hobby, it is our life (Romans  12:1-2). It is every part of our being which affects all we do (Titus 2: 12). Not just the punching of a time card by attending services but by God penetrating each thought and decision.  The earlier a child understands the rule and law of the Bible many doubts may not even come to mind. A godly mindset enters into everything from how time is used to not participating in certain activities. Age and wisdom make choices clear when guided by God’s word.

Holding a newborn in my arms shifts my role into parent.  It is as if along with this beautiful gift, I receive a new pair of eyeglasses. All is now viewed through lenses of keeping them innocent and pure (Proverbs 20:11).  Each parent wants better for their children and labors to reach those goals. But those same glasses magnify the evil I foolishly justified in years past. Now I see it crystal clear. It became apparent now I am a parent.

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On a Pirate Ship  (Part 5)

We will call this a tale of two pirates. One was Captain John Taylor. The other had various names and spellings. He is sometimes known as Captain Olivier Le Vasseur. It was the eighth of April 1721. A Portuguese ship by the name of Nossa Sehora do Cabo was resting in a bay of a small island then named Île Bourbon which lies east of Madagascar. This ship had just survived a terrible storm in the Indian Ocean and was heavily damaged. During the storm the crew pushed all 72 canon off the ship to keep it afloat so it was now helpless. They then managed to bring it into bay for repairs. On this morning most of the sailors were on land. For its current condition this ship would be better named Pato Sentado (which is Portuguese for sitting duck). Suddenly and easily two ships commanded by Taylor and Le Vasseur glide into the bay. One went on either side of the injured ship. This ship could not be defended so it was quickly given to pirates. What occurred here turned both pirate captains into international fugitives and placed them into pirate lore.

It was an easy take but a long day’s work. Inside the Nossa Sehora do Cabo was the personal treasures of the passengers who at that moment were on land. One passenger was the Portuguese Viceroy of India and the other was the Archbishop of Goa. These men had wealth that could make a pharaoh blush and they were traveling with it. The pirates spent their day moving large chests of gold ingots, diamonds, silver, pearls, furniture of exotic wood, and extraordinary objects. It is thought the average sailor’s share from that ship made each one a sudden rich man. We do not need to discuss whether the victims may have obtained their wealth dishonestly and were simply getting what they deserved. Theft is always wrong, and sin is easily justified by the one looking for an excuse. There is no justification for the acts of a murderous thief. It is days like this that make the wicked life seem rewarded. But this remarkable take was not the reward; it was the depth of the sin – that is all.

These pirates would be quite rich, and the captains even more so. It is generally believed that material wealth brings quick respect in a material world. With this level of wealth it would seem certain to bring power, security, friends and happiness. Yet, something different happened. The news of the theft reached across oceans as speedily as could be done in 1721. On hearing the news some men would seek for vengeance, others for bounty. Some would become envious and want the treasure. They would be chased by both the law and the lawless. Regardless of who found them there would be an expected death. How do you live peaceably while anticipating both the hangman’s noose and the assassin’s dagger?

Let us begin with Le Vasseur. Instead of bathing in tropical opulence Le Vasseur lived his few remaining years in paranoia. At any minute around any corner could be justice, a bounty hunter or a fellow thief. He hid most of his treasure and never actually profited from it. He was a fugitive. The stolen riches did nothing to improve his life. He did, however inspire a writer who would be born over a hundred years later – Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island was based on the fact that Le Vasseur’s hid his treasure somewhere and left a cyphered message as to its location.

So what happened to Taylor? Here is a slightly different story. He left Le Vasseur and headed to the Caribbean. He too knew the problems they created for themselves, but he reacted in a different way. There was a pardon offered to every pirate. If you presented yourself to the proper authorities and declared your intentions to leave piracy then everything would be forgiven. The law would no longer hold you guilty of past crimes. You were, however expected to start a new life that stayed inside the law. Taylor took the pardon. It was that easy. He left piracy, became a naval officer and lived a reasonably long life. Le Vasseur, on the other hand did not take the pardon and was hanged at 5:00 PM on July 7, 1730.

This was indeed a tale of two pirates. They both committed crimes deserving of death. While one life ended at the gallows, the other received mercy because he took the offer of mercy. It all seems remarkably like the two thieves crucified with Christ. Both are guilty but one is saved. The lessons are similar. Sin is just a lure giving nothing but pain. Mercy is offered to all and the one who accepts has a different ending.

Revelation 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.”

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The Mind of an Author
Chapter 5
Acts 17:28 …as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

            Emily Dickinson is considered one of the first voices making a distinction in American poetry. She lived from 1830 to 1886 in Amherst Massachusetts. In her lifetime there was very little of her work published or even known by anyone but her family and a few friends. Most of those poems were hand written on slips of paper. Some, however, were included in personal notes written to others. These verses were specially created for one particular person in one specific occasion. Quite often these conveyed personal insights or opinions. In a letter to her cousin she incorporated a simple bit of verse. The poem is small but profound. As a professed atheist Emily Dickinson hit upon a surprising principle one would not expect.

A word is dead when it is said
Some say –
I say it just begins to live
That day.

            These four lines have stirred up years of discussion on the concept of both life and death of a word as it relates to potential and use. It is an interesting idea to think of a word as having innumerable uses and possible contexts until it is brought into a sentence. Once it is placed in the framework of a message it is frozen in meaning. Some say it then dies – that word’s potential is no longer endless but fixed. Emily Dickinson suggested that when employed in expressed meaning a word becomes alive. It is no longer an empty, abstract tool of infinite uses but currently holding none. It is given a function. When used, a word has both purpose and place. It obtains its absolute meaning.  Here the word comes to life.

Hebrews 4:12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.

            When God gives a message it is through words. The significance of those words become unmovable. The words are permanent and have purpose leading to a completed, definite message. It can be misunderstood, ignored or minimized, but there can be only one meaning from it. He did not leave His words ambiguous or uncertain. Nor did He give us the right to form independent conclusions divorced from the text itself. Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). Each word is alive with a single, absolute definition. Together the words form sentences and the sentences communicate perfectly. There is nothing dead about this. His words are as active and vibrant today as they were in the ancient past. They are timeless and have lost nothing to the years. Moses writing in the Sinai Peninsula or Solomon writing in a palace over five hundred years later formed in ink the very words of God. Those words have never changed. They are perfect and effective in turning the human heart and saving the soul. These words are not just alive they are also powerful and eternal.

Deuteronomy 8:3 “So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.”

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Humor Voicing Tragedy

            Humor is often typified as the shallow product of a simple, carefree time. It may also be thought needless or juvenile and is only the silly invention of a giddy mind lacking the weightier elements of life and responsibility. Sometimes (or many times) that may be true. But wit is also connected to deep emotion and is seen in moments of extraordinary circumstances. Humor is part of the complex mixture that composes the intricacies of the human spirit. Humor is versatile, functional and, as odd as it may seem, practical. Humor can easily voice tragedy and, depending on its use, is not out of place. During terrible circumstances people can joke about their situation to laugh and weep seeing humor and sadness simultaneously. Laughter can be contagious and uplifting. It can be a help and a healer. In tragic times a rational, sentient mind may actively search for what is funny. How extraordinary it is. A person occupied by sorrow may find or even create humor. This is not seeking a laugh quick and cheap, but something intensely deeper.

            Bitter times may bring bitter words. But even bitter words can be the product of a mind expressing sorrow through wit. It is an effort in healing and is part of the process of grief. Beginning in Job chapter three Job speaks from his misery. His words are bitter, but it is how he says it that displays something beyond bereavement. Job is truly downtrodden, but even in this he speaks in poetic lines. The lines are filled with imagery and word play. They are intelligent and clever. At times he speaks matter-of-factly of things present and common in his day. But he also freely employs hyperbole and simile along with unattainable demands, and absurdities. It reveals not only his emotionally shattered state but the mind and soul of Job.

            Job’s emotions were so overwhelmed he wished he had not lived to see this point in his life. He now preferred the impossible – not to have lived at all. Job would rather have died as an infant than to face this tragedy. Even though his wishes were not realistic he says in Job 10:19, “I would have been as though I had not been…” He wished he had died early to avoid this latter anguish. But his words found a very clever way to express this: the idea he could exist in the condition of nonexistence is, of course, logically absurd. In fact these words match his completely futile desire of erasing his whole life. What extraordinary juxtaposition and contrast. In the midst of overwhelming difficulty Job phrased his thoughts in such a way that his message is well understood, but humor and cleverness amplifies the sense of emotion. Job had an extraordinary capacity to articulate his pain with wordplay even though no one was in the mood neither to be amused nor perhaps take time to notice and appreciate. He meant what he said. A nonexistent person cannot experience pain. If his life contained this level of hardship he would opt to forego the whole thing – even the non-painful parts. But why did he say it the way he did? It was not a joke tossed out to get a laugh. It was a high expression of profound anguish. This was a soul in an emotional free fall. Job was a noble being. When everything he had was taken away Job was still a noble being, but now in suffering. His body was covered in boils but his words reveal the man inside. Satan could inflict pain on Job, but he could not crush his spirit. Job’s words show him to be laid low, but his sharp wit and wordplay proved he was not destroyed. Satan’s expected results failed since Job did not falter. He saw in Job what he himself lacked: an irrepressible spirit steadfast in the face of calamity. Satan is never steadfast.

            The human soul is remarkably resilient and powerful (mostly underestimated). We are designed and formed by God. He made us in his image and that is no small matter. He created us to function on the earth and then for eternity. Why would God create us to live and not give us the means to enjoy life? Why would He place us in a world with potential pain, loss and tragedy and not give us the means to emotionally cope and heal? He gave us the capacity both to enjoy living and to conquer pain. Humor can be used in both extremes. While humor is not the singular means of healing or even expressing ourselves, it is remarkably flexible for numerous emotional states. Humor may express heartache perfectly to become a sign of a soul intact attempting to lift up above the ashes and ruin. Job is utterly exhausted emotionally. His verse articulates pain. Using humor voicing tragedy intensifies that expression and reveals a spirit intact.

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The String

            It is called the Sea of Trees. It is a tall and gnarled wood with dense undergrowth where one could easily get lost. The thick canopy keeps everything underneath in almost perpetual twilight. The forest floor is uneven with rocks and twisted roots. The silence inside can be unnerving. While there is little in the way of wildlife found in the forest to make much noise there is apparently a dampening effect as sound does not seem to travel as far as you think it should. This lies in the mountainous region on the northwest side of Mount Fuji in Japan. There are other names for this thick, wooded area which are less likable. One is a name derived from a reputation the locals do not like. This place is also called the Suicide Forest.

             The Sea of Trees is visited by many people who are there for nothing more than a casual hike. But there are others who go in with the idea they will not return. For many possible reasons this forest has become the most popular place for committing suicide in Japan. There are signs at the head of the trail asking all to reconsider life and the happiness of family and friends. Every month police walk through the forest in search for the recent dead. Since the foliage is thick and the area too large they can only cover sections at a time. There are over one hundred bodies found each year. Quite often though there is a telltale sign left behind by those going in to die: a string. A person will tie a string to a tree next to a trail and then walk deeper and deeper into the dark wood while unwinding the string as a guide back out. A search party can simply follow a string to its end. The end may hold nothing more than a cleared campsite. Someone came, camped and went back home. But at the end of the string there may be the remains of a soul who chose death.

            It is a glimpse into the human mind. Why a forest? Why this forest? And why bother with a string? It seems odd that someone would go to a popular spot for suicide or that there even is a popular spot for suicide. None of the victims are from the local town, so they traveled a distance to get there. As they went they had to take rudimentary care of themselves in order to arrive at their preferred destination. But does that particular spot really matter? Obviously in their mind it did. Perhaps it is to be isolated in body (from family, friends, etc.) but not alone in deed – many others went before them to the same place for the same reason.

            It is the string that is the most intriguing. Why would anyone bother marking a way back unless they are not sure what they will do? They go into the forest still undecided. Part of them marches toward death while another part doubts. The string is a clue this person must have wanted a future but some sort of gloom still sent them further in. The string is also an indicator of what was going on inside the human mind. There was a battle raging. Satan is dragging someone toward self-annihilation while a human soul is struggling to fight back. He tempts them forward while they consider and reconsider. In the darkness of this wood there is no one to talk to. There is no one to help. There is only silent desperation. In this profound seclusion things are more likely to end badly. The string attests to the existence of the soul and the war inside. The spirit does not want to be deceived and manipulated, but sin will lead us where we do not wish to go.

Romans 7:14-20 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.

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What Else Does God Need to Do?

He has proven His power, wisdom and existence in nature.

He has recorded His word for all time.

He has protected His word through millennia in the original languages.

He has proven His word through fulfillment of prophecies made centuries beforehand.

He has proven His word by describing His church accurately through time.

He has proven His word by accurately describing the conditions of mankind (past and present).

He has given laws which are proven absolutely effective for changing lives for the better.

He has given instruction and wisdom in simple, direct language.

He shows the results of obedience by good examples – these results are testable today.

He shows the results of disobedience through bad examples – these results are testable today.

He has given historical, geographical and scientific facts thousands of years before men could confirm them.

He provided a means of salvation through His Son.

He provided a book completely universal to mankind.

He provided a book as a foundation for the teaching of mankind.

He has given a teaching for the salvation of the human soul.

He has sustained us and given us the means to learn.

He has given us time to learn.

What have we done with all God has given?

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Audacity Replaced Authority

                In the Nineteenth Century there were two empires glaring at each other in Central Asia. Russia in the southern part of its massive empire stood as a challenger to the English who held India. Between these two lay Afghanistan. The Russians needed Afghanistan as a staging point to rid India of England. England needed Afghanistan to remain a barrier to Russia so England could keep India. Each suspected the other of every sort of subterfuge, and both were guilty of the same. This whole Central Asian rivalry and skullduggery was called The Great Game. It was a dangerous game between empires with India and Afghans thrown into the mix. Then suddenly a man enters into the middle of this game oblivious to everything. Oddly enough, he was a Quaker.

            He was from a Quaker family and reared in Pennsylvania. His life took him on unexpected paths. Or perhaps it is more accurately stated that he took unexpected paths in his life. His name was Josiah Harlan (1799-1871). Harlan seemed to walk into extremely ill-advised situations with persistent pluck and cheek. When required he would bluff or act his way through any obstacle.  Perhaps the only thing that kept him alive in dangerous situations was that no one seemed capable of managing the confusion about him. His bluffing usually worked and he could be unabashedly brazen. Harlan had the outrageous habit of gravitating into, or even creating, life-threatening conditions. An example of this behavioral pattern was during the First Anglo-Burmese War. Having no medical training he joined the armed forces of the British East India Company as a surgeon. Lives of men were put in jeopardy by his medical playacting, but this was not his most dangerous caper.

            Harlan made his way into northern India looking for opportunities. In the city of Punjab he found it. Living in that city was the newly deposed king of Afghanistan who had just escaped prison in Kabul. This dethroned king grants Harlan an audience. The two talk and come to an arrangement. For a price Josiah Harlan will go into Afghanistan, remove the current unlawful king and give the throne back to this rightful yet deposed king. That was a tall order. So what was the plan? Step one: Harlan finds a tailor to make a U.S. flag. Step two: he begins to recruit men for his own personal army. Step three: he invades Afghanistan. Let us put this into legal perspective. Josiah Harlan raises an army inside British controlled India without permission or authority. What would the British East India Company have done if they knew one of their former surgeons was creating his own army inside India? This army is formed, trained, declares war on, and then invades a foreign country under the U.S. flag. This was done without any presidential or congressional knowledge. How would John Quincy Adams or Andrew Jackson take the news that the U.S. Army was apparently attacking Afghanistan? Why did Harlan use the U.S. flag? He contrived legitimacy where there was none. Without any validity an army marched into Afghanistan led by Josiah Harlan riding his elephant. It appears that audacity replaced authority.

            Audacity explains volumes in the existence of denominationalism. Among denominations biblical authority does not register as a concept. The Bible is used for one reason – to contrive legitimacy where there is none. A common attitude among the denominations is: “we do what we want to do.” But that sounds too indulgent and hedonistic. If we take that attitude and add some loosely based biblical trappings then magical things happen – instant authentication. The theory is that as long as you invoke Christ’s name anything can be validated. From this attitude is the lengthy history of denominations in self-styled faith (creeds, doctrines, practices, wars) in the assumed service of Christ. But He authorized none of it, called for none of it, and approved none of it. There is an ever increasing list of collected grievances against Christ because of things done by these purported followers. These are actions outside His will. Yet without any validity these things continue. This is sheer effrontery that harms the genuine works of Christ. Audacity replaced authority. We will see which one wins in the end.

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

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Nature and Reason

            In Romans 1:18-20 Paul writes that nature reveals God. One can know quite a bit about the Creator by looking into what is created. It is a simple use of logic from observation.

 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.

            God reveals His power, intelligence, wisdom, creativity, foresight and goodness through the vast scale and endless complexity of this creation. We each are a created soul placed into a body, living on a world set in a universe. On every level and at every observable angle are newly discovered volumes of evidence and verification that God is and is powerful. Life on earth is a constant discovery of God. To the atheist this is a persistent aggravation. The information is abandoned, altered or recast as the result of mindless happenstance. To the rest it is the unveiling of the true workings of nature leading to all that follows logically: the attributes of God. It is an obvious conclusion made by billions of individuals in their lifetime. There must be a Creator immeasurably strong, exacting in design, exhaustive in detail and (here is the unexpected part) purposeful and benevolent.

            Thales of Miletus was a Greek philosopher and mathematician who lived from 624-546 BC. He is thought by many (or at least by Aristotle) to be the first of the Greek philosophers. In his time Thales began to notice something. Nature behaved in certain patterns and under limitations. Everything he could see appeared to be under laws. Nature was obviously well ordered by them, therefore the laws themselves were well ordered. All the laws of nature (physics) kept the world predictable. When Thales perceived the mechanisms of the world as highly orchestrated, structured, and unified in result – a perfectly ordered home – he came to a conclusion.

            Thales was reared in Greek culture therefore the subject of deity had been defined for him by Greek culture. The Greeks believed in many gods who ruled the earth and beyond. There were many stories about the gods which explained how things came to be. Why is there sea? Why is there land? Why is there sky? Why is there fortune and misfortune? The Greeks (like so many others) either made or borrowed stories to answer the questions. But Thales saw something. Which of the Greek gods was capable of actually creating nature with this level of care and sophistication? None of them seemed interested enough. Nature behaved predictably. They did not. Nature could not be governed by these gods because they could not govern themselves. Creation is too logical and constant. It cannot point to them. Nature surpasses the ways of the entire Greek pantheon. To Thales nature appeared to be far superior and completely above those gods. The Greek gods were constantly bogged down with self-obsessed plots leading to bizarre and chaotic consequences. These gods were less than organized and nothing greater than apathetic. They were not so clever, attentive or benevolent as to form the workings of a universe capable of anything worthwhile. The utter lack of cooperation among them would contribute to a world with independent elements at cross-purposes. Nothing could work together. They would be easily diverted from any attempt at creation. To Thales it was obvious that the nature of creation did not match the nature of the Greek gods. These gods simply fell flat. The character and attributes of Deity had to be different – nature proved it.

            So what was Thales final conclusion? That cannot be said entirely since everything about him comes from Aristotle who was born over a century later. The observation of Thales certainly confirmed Romans chapter 1 is correct – creation does its job very well. It demonstrates the abilities of the Creator. The limitless intricacies, the power of its laws, the overwhelming beauty and its singular purpose prove a God who is powerful, intelligent and good.

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The Question That Should Not Exist

            Atheists pride themselves as freethinkers. Their idea of freethinking is what one might expect: nothing is beyond question, nothing is sacred, everything can be examined with scrutiny and no thought is out of bounds. Skepticism is praised. Doubt is revered. Of course atheists consider themselves the exclusive practitioners of thought without limits. In essence, atheism equals freethinking. It is a shallow claim since the only requirement to being an atheist is the denial of God. Truly nothing else matters. That is the all-important test. Therefore freethinking equals the denial of God. Nothing more is needed. It does not demand skepticism or doubt in anything but God. All questioning (regardless of the question) must result in the mandatory conclusion of atheism: thus there is no God. This is far from free. One could also conclude it is far from thinking.

            For all the bragging of atheists there are plenty of subjects they will dodge. These are avoided because some matters lock atheistic faith into logical dilemmas, that is, all possible implications of a subject destroys the creed of godlessness. There is no safe option from the atheist’s point of view since every angle exposes the absurdity of a creation without a Creator. One of the items atheists evade is a very simple question. It is a question formed by a single word that often looks for something beyond the scope of naturalism*. It is something evolution cannot answer. The question is: why?

            Lawrence Krauss is an atheist, or as he describes himself – an anti-theist. In his book A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing he writes concerning his annoyance with the question. He states, “’Why?’ is not really a sensible question in science because it usually implies purpose.” “’Why’ questions are laced with intellectual baggage that is usually unintended…” “Asking ‘Why?’ presumes some purpose, which need not exist.” Science may tell how, but is incapable of telling why in a deeper sense. The question “why” may look for a greater meaning in places where, according to atheists, there should be none. And yet people naturally ask “why?” as though it should be there. That is a peculiar habit for a purposeless being in a purposeless universe. It would seem we all grow up looking for a purpose and must be taught there is none. We obviously look for some meaning in the grander scope of things as though we were made to do so. If mankind is biology only (there is nothing more) then we would have no reason to look beyond the material. We simply would not have it in us to think beyond this world. But we are also spiritual beings and as such we look for something beyond nature – purpose, meaning, justice and good. We are not satisfied with the idea that the lives, sacrifices, tears and hopes of humanity have no meaning. I suppose we now have to ask the question, why is there a “why?”

            People are instinctively driven to look for a purpose because we have a deep, emotional need to find reason and understanding in this world and beyond. Scientific discoveries are not the same and are useless. The question “why” comes from the desire to look behind the material to fully understand the purpose of a situation and circumstance. The answer may bring closure. In extraordinary grief Job asks a question in Job 10:18. “Why then have You brought me out of the womb? Oh, that I had perished and no eye had seen me!” Job looked for a reason. Why is this happening? James 5:11 states, “…you have heard of the preservation of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord…” The mind would never seek beyond the material if the mind truly believed there was nothing else. The question “why” looks for purpose. If there is purpose then there is a Mind who can design and purpose. The question “why” looks to God.

*Naturalism believes everything can be explained by natural processes only. There is nothing above nature.

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A Moment of Thought

            The world is a busy place. There is no denying that. Life naturally holds unexpected twists and turns requiring quick response. Sometimes it brings tragedy. Sometimes there are complications added to a hectic day. Things must be done. That is all part of living, but it may be best not to make life more complicated than it already is. Here is a small aphorism: So much of our time is already required; do not let the world take it all. The world will occupy every second of your life if you let it. From beginning to end there are intrusions, interruptions and impositions. Most people spend their time in constructive, necessary ways, and then fill the rest of their day with entertainment or some other pastime. Each moment finds responsibilities or distraction. There is too much demanding our attention. These things may be perceived as important. Perhaps they are. The amusement and diversion may seem deserved, and that may be, but do we stop and take a moment to think?

            I had a friendly conversation with a man. The discussion turned to the subject of God. When asked if he believed in God he said he simply had not thought about it. That struck me as peculiar and impossible. How could someone past the age of thirty (which he obviously was) not take a moment to consider God? What had taken his time? What had occupied him so completely he could not be bothered with the most pressing question of all? He seemed utterly unaware and clueless of it. “Does God exist?” is Question Number One. Our very condition, human existence, forces the question and demands the answer. The very element of our soul – of personal being – rests on that question. But here was an oblivious response I had never heard before. You live. You think. You are conscious. How is it that in all these years he could not stumble on the question: “Is there a God?” followed by Question Number Two: “Who is God?” How is it conceivable that every other rational adult through history has made conclusions to a question he had yet to include in a single thought? What had he been doing? Then it occurred to me, something had indeed dominated this man’s time. Something had diverted and was also moderating his mind. If allowed the world will steal every instant and thought with fascination, distraction, amusement, ambition, and drug.

            Do we take time to think? Do we take time to consider our own existence and what the future can bring? We are all souls living here briefly and then where will we be? It is time to think and to get reliable answers to the important questions. A moment of thought may be the best thing we ever did.

Judges 5:11 Far from the noise of the archers, among the watering places, There they shall recount the righteous acts of the Lord, The righteous acts for His villagers in Israel; Then the people of the Lord shall go down to the gates.

Psalm 63:6 When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches.

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What Would A Perfect Guide Look Like?

            What if there was one source to base all education for all people for all time? In a single place it could hold the foundational truths on which everything could be understood. Such would be a starting point to teach mankind and would be a powerful boost for comprehending ourselves and the world. It would not have to teach the smallest detail about everything. What it would need to do is provide an essential understanding of reality in subjects necessary for people to live well and advance – but that is no small task. This source would reveal fundamental knowledge so we could expand in discovery from basic truth. It must be absolutely right from the start, never needing updates or corrections. People’s lives are much too important to spend centuries speculating or best-guessing for life’s solutions. We already do that. What is the point of duplicating or doubling down on blunders? This is meant to avoid problems, not create more.

            First and foremost this source must be absolutely right but it would be useless unless it also knew how mankind learns and teach accordingly. If it were to suddenly arrive in modern times it would be too late. It would need to be in the ancient world so people of the distant past could be taught. Such a source would have to be recorded and protected to survive the centuries to modern day. What should it teach? It would have to address the human condition: origin, value, purpose, and the future of mankind. It must have a complete and correct understanding of right and wrong. Since it is to help humanity it would focus on the individual and the responsibility of the individual and that would govern at every level in society. It must know the needs of the individual and the group teaching psychology and sociology. Every facet of human interaction must be introduced covering all situations – marriage, family, friends, neighbors and authorities. This would have to be more than lofty platitudes of some ideal; it must have solutions to problems when we wander far from the ideal. There would be no need for social experimentation of any kind since that leads to devastating error with multiplying consequences. It would promote social order by building nations through law, principles, justice, ethics, and the protection of the innocent. It would be a beginning for the sciences in describing nature and the universe perfectly. It would require literacy and display major literary styles and devises. It would demonstrate all forms of the laws of logic in the most practical way by presenting examples. It would advance commerce, encourage the arts, and set basic requirements of civil engineering and principals of medicine. What an extraordinary thing that would be, but such would have to carry complete authority with it. No one on earth has that kind authority or level of mastery in anything. And how could he be trusted? There is only One capable of giving mankind this sort of advantage: a benevolent God.

            God has given us an abundant source of knowledge capable of all this and more. For the most part we (all of mankind) have ignored it. On occasion someone like Matthew Maury reads a passage (Psalm 8:8), discovers a fact and catches up to what the Bible has been telling us for millennia. The word of God shows a Creator’s knowledge of mankind and nature. The Bible is from a benevolent God who wants what is best for us here but also for eternity. Its range of benefits is broad and universal and goes beyond this world. We are spiritual beings and God does not limit His teaching to what is necessary on the earth. His word teaches us to an eternal home. What would a perfect guide to mankind look like? It would look exactly like the Bible.

Psalm 119:105 Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.

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Time Belongs to God

 The days of this year are quickly coming to an end. All that was done is done and nothing can change it. These days have become a part of our history. Everything good or bad, finished or left incomplete, all accomplishment, neglect, choice,, indecision, success, failure, victory, defeat, gain or loss has happened and is recorded forever. There are things done we can be satisfied in but there are always things present we must be ashamed of. The months passed and the seasons followed one after the other. Now the year is ending and we begin something new. This is our constant march into all that follows. It is time to take a personal look forward at what could be and what should be. This is a personal determination to do more good, to mature, to be better effective and useful for God. Our time is constantly being lost. Time belongs to God.

 Throughout the New Testament there are words which express urgency or opportunity or the passing of an important moment. In John 4:35 Jesus states, “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!” In John 9:4 He states, “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work.” Paul commands Timothy to diligently prepare for the future in  2 Timothy 4:2-3, “Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” Here in these passages the first speaks of a work that is ready and waiting for laborers. The second carries the idea of taking every effort to work while it can be done. The third teaches the idea of preparing oneself and others for the trouble that will come in time. In all instances time was vital and using that time for the proper purposes was necessary.

A new year will start. It stands with all potential for good if we make it that way. It will roll past just like all other years have done from the beginning of time. We will choose what we will do in each moment. Time Belongs to God. Let us use more of it for His purposes.